The Ten Days of Newtonmas
“Isaac Newton was born 25 December 1642 according to the Julian calendar that is old-style. If converted to the Georgian calendar, we have to add ten days, and so his date of birth was 4 January 1643 new-style.” — The Renaissance Mathematicus
Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Pancha Ganapati, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, HumanLight, Kwanzaa, Jediism, Festivus, Goatsmas, or something else — or even nothing at all — we owe a YUGE debt to this devout but unorthodox Christian who was a bit of a jerk and into the occult but was also “one of the most influential scientists of all time and a key figure in the scientific revolution” (Wikipedia). In his honor, I humbly offer this sometimes arrhythmic version of “The Ten Days of Newton.” And I wish you all a very merry Newtonmas!
The Ten Days of Newtonmas
On the tenth day of Newtonmas,
One of our greatest natural philosophers gave to us,
Ten confessed sins,
Nine moons of Jupiter and Saturn moving according to the same law that makes an apple fall,
Eight volumes of mathematics,
Seven colors of light,
Six planets orbiting according to Kepler’s Laws,
Five lessons of life (#3 is misattributed*),
Four rules of reasoning,
Three laws of motion,
Two branches of calculus,
And a universal law of gravitation.
Of course, as we all know, Isaac Newton isn’t the real reason for the season. However, unlike Jesus, we do know that Newton was actually born in December (Julian calendar). So if you feel like poking yourself in the eye right now, please do it gently with your finger instead of with a bodkin like Newton did. And, please…
“Imagine a world in which we are all enlightened by objective truths rather than offended by them.” - Neil deGrasse Tyson
- Wait a minute. Why are there only ten days of Newtonmas when December 25th through January 4th is actually eleven days? Which of Newton’s birthdays (Julian or Gregorian) is not part of Newtonmas and why? There are many theories about this: Ten is even, we have ten fingers and ten toes, or it just allows us to celebrate Christmas (instead of Newtonmas) with our Christian family and friends on the 25th and then start celebrating Newtonmas on the 26th. My own theory is that the 4th is not part of Newtonmas due to social pressure and discrimination against the holiday which is reflected by the fact that most people have to go back to work by the 4th and can’t celebrate that day! But others say we should really have Eleven Days of Newtonmas, and you do have to admit that eleven is a pretty cool number too.
- The celebration of Newtonmas was recorded as far back as 1892 September 8. From “A New Sect of Hero Worshippers,” Nature, volume 46, ISSN 0028–0836, page 459: “At Christmas, 1890, or Newtonmas, 248, for the first time, the members of the Newtonkai, or Newton Association, met in the Physical Laboratory of the Imperial University, to hear each other talk, to distribute appropriate gifts, and to lengthen out the small hours with laughter and good cheer.”
- As of 2016, a first edition of Principia Mathematica is the most expensive printed scientific book ever sold at auction ($3.7m).
- While Newton is believed to have died a virgin, the post you are currently reading is not my first on this topic. It started as a Facebook note in 2015, and based on some feedback I updated it to better represent some of Newton’s flaws — which compelling heroes need. And after another year around the Sun, I have also updated it with some new information for 2016. If you think I’ve misstated anything, please leave a comment below and I’ll make updates as appropriate before the end of Newtonmas 2016.
- Someone noted that the “shoulders of giants” quote in the original cover image for my Facebook note might have been a swipe at Robert Hooke who was short and hunchbacked. So I replaced it with a portrait of Newton. But perhaps it really was a “brilliant attack on scientific egotism” as more commonly believed?
- (*) Lesson #3 (“We build too many walls and not enough bridges”) in the “five lessons of life” is apparently a misattribution — so here’s my substitution: Don’t trust Business Insider or Donald Trump on this question.
- As an apocalyptic Christian, Newton appears to have believed that the start of the “Millennial Kingdom” would come in 2016…or 2060 (or various other dates depending on when you start counting) and bring “divinely inspired peace.” The jury is still out on that, but I’ll try to update this post again next year with my findings…
- And what’s the real story with Newton and the apple? I’m not sure, but as Karl Popper once said: “History is affected by discoveries we will make in the future.”
This post is a slightly updated version of one that was published here on December 27, 2015, immediately following my original Facebook note.
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