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How Isaac Newton Turned Isolation From the Great Plague Into a "Year of Wonders" | Kerry McDonald

Focus on your potential

Our lives are upended and our routines are disrupted due to the pandemic. While there is much to despair about, we could also use this time for reflection and discovery.

The sudden change could unleash your imagination and inventiveness in ways that could not be possible under normal circumstances. This could be your year of greatness.

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How Isaac Newton Turned Isolation From the Great Plague Into a "Year of Wonders" | Kerry McDonald

How Isaac Newton Turned Isolation From the Great Plague Into a "Year of Wonders" | Kerry McDonald

https://fee.org/articles/how-isaac-newton-turned-isolation-from-the-great-plague-into-a-year-of-wonders/

fee.org

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Key Ideas

Isaac Newton's Quarantine

During the bubonic plague in 1665, Newton was among the students forced to return home from Trinity College, Cambridge.

Away from university life, curriculum constraints, and professors to guide him, Newton seemed to thrive. At home, he built bookshelves and created a small office for himself. Free from distractions, Newton discovered differential and integral calculus, formulated a theory of universal gravitation, and explored optics.

Creativity unleashed

Isaac Newton mentioned that during his isolation days, he was in the prime for his age for invention and focused on Mathematics and Philosophy more than any other time.

His forced time away from university life allowed his creativity to flourish. The discoveries he made during his time of social distancing would form the foundation of his career for years to come.

Focus on your potential

Our lives are upended and our routines are disrupted due to the pandemic. While there is much to despair about, we could also use this time for reflection and discovery.

The sudden change could unleash your imagination and inventiveness in ways that could not be possible under normal circumstances. This could be your year of greatness.

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Isaac Newton's productivity

Isaac Newton's productivity

In 1665 Isaac Newton, a young scholar of Trinity College, fled from the Bubonic plague to his home, about sixty miles from the university. While in solitude, he would invent calculus, create the sc...

Newton's brilliance

The idea that the plague woke the brilliance in Newton is wrong and misleading as a measure of how well we apply ourselves during our own plague spring.

Isaac Newton had begun to think about the most pressing questions in science in 1664, a year before the plague broke out. Similarly, when the epidemic finally burned itself out in 1666, Newton kept on doing the same kind of work when he returned to Trinity College. Retreating to the country itself was not the decisive reason for his inventions.

Keep stoking your passion

Doing the work was what mattered to Isaac Newton. He kept at it before the plague, during, and after his return to college. He wrote that during the plague year, he had been in the prime of his age for invention and minded Mathematics and Philosophy more than at any time since.

Newton was able to do what he did not because of the forced solitude, but because of who he was. You should use this time of solitude, not to emulate an impossible standard, but to keep going at whatever aspect of your life that fires your passion.

Early accomplishments addiction

Nowadays everybody seems to be obsessed with the idea of early achievements: parents encourage their children to work for good marks in order to be able to attend and graduate a famous college, and...

The obsession for early achievement

While encouraging your child to be ambitious and hard-working is a good thing, putting pressure on him in order to be sure that he will have great success throughout his lifetime can prove quite risky.

It so happens that unless the high expectations are met, both parents and children tend to know depression at its finest level.

Late bloomers and meaningful success

While society encourages individuals to have success as early in their life as possible, following pre-established processes that sometimes end up in huge disappointment, people who know success later on in their life are at least as impressive.

Recent research has shown that it is in our 30s, 40s and even 50s that we reach the peak of our curiosity, executive functioning skills and wisdom. Furthermore, with the age we also get rid of the fear to quit, as we understand that experience, good and bad, eventually does lead to success. So go ahead improve yourself at your own pace, without thinking twice about what the world has to say about it, as this is your own life and your happiness depends on it.

Where ideas come from

Ideas come to us when we have a specific problem but we do not focus on solving the problem directly.

It’s not at all obvious how to go about thinking up some new twist on these things...

Unconscious processing

Henri Poincaré, the father of chaos theory and the co-discoverer of special relativity, relates his own discovery. "the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it.”

The Irish mathematician, Sir William Rowan Hamilton, had a similar epiphany while strolling by the Brougham Bridge. He was so delighted that he stopped and carved the defining algebraic equation into the bridge.

Don't overthink

The first phase of solving can be described as “worrying” about a problem or idea. It evokes anxiety and gives the impression of productivity.

But, overthinking can lead to a dead end. The key to solving the problem is to take a break from worrying. Focus your attention on some other activity. Take a long hike or a long drive, to give your mind the space to have a good idea.

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