What we can learn from Newton’s Professor

As the Chinese saying goes: 一山还有一山高, “There’s always another mountain that’s higher.”

As teenagers, their parents are constantly second-guessing what manners they are presenting as they enter puberty and adolescence. Parents, being parents, want their teenage children to grow into confident, independent adults capable of articulate thoughts and actions.

A value that resonates with parents who want their teenage children to have is humility. Humility is a desirable value that makes a person innately humble and modest in all that they do and achieve.

We all know who’s Issac Newton. He was one of the most brilliant minds in the last millennium. Though he was born a weak and tiny baby in 1643, he lived to a ripe old age of 84. He was fatherless when born —his father had died three months earlier — and when he was two, his mother remarried and placed him with his grandmother for the next nine years till his step-father died. So he was missing the love of both parents from young.

He was insecure and a loner, but a brilliant intellect. From tinkering with mechanical objects such as clocks and windmills, to a firm command of Latin, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661, somewhat older than the rest due to his interrupted education as his mother wanted him to manage the farm that she inherited from her dead second husband.

At that time, the Scientific Revolution was well underway with many discoveries made in basic and modern science, but Cambridge University was still a traditional learning institution. Newton immersed himself in natural and mechanical philosophies during his undergraduate days, and from 1664, he thought and wrote eagerly, compiling his ruminations into a set of notes, and this was the start of his scientific quest.

Besides natural and mechanical philosophies, he was also into the Hermetic, explaining natural phenomena in alchemy and magic. All these he embraced and influenced his thinking, with the antithetical tension fueling the fundamentals of his scientific quest.

Newton was also a mathematical genius – he discovered the binomial theorem and developed the calculus but didn’t publish it, independently of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the German philosopher and mathematician, who also developed calculus but published it much later. In 1669, he wrote all these mathematical findings and circulated the manuscript through a limited circle. People began to notice Newton. With this, he became the leading mathematician in Europe.

Newton graduated in 1665 but was largely unrecognized. Most of his brilliance was done on his own and he continued this trait for two years after graduation as the plague closed the university. During this time, he came out with the foundation of calculus, the idea of light splitting into colors, and the basis of the law of universal gravitation. But all these went unheard in the scientific community.

After Trinity College reopened in 1667, Newton was elected to a fellowship. Then two years later, Isaac Barrow who was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics and Newton’s tutor during his undergraduate time, resigned from the chair and recommended Newton to succeed him. So at the young age of 26, Isaac Newton became the second Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge University. With this professorship, Newton was finally able to publish his brilliant thoughts for the scientific community and became the culminating figure of the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century.

Isaac Barrow (1630-1677) was an English classical scholar, theologian and mathematician. He entered Trinity College in 1643 and graduated in 1648. Subsequently, he was elected a fellow in 1649 and received his master’s degree in 1652. In 1663, he was elected the first Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge.

As a professor, Barrow met Newton in Trinity College, and though Barrow was not Newton’s official tutor, Barrow encouraged and furthered Newton’s studies. Barrow was fully aware of Newton’s brilliance and both of them had a close relationship on campus. In terms of mathematics, Barrow was regarded as second only to Newton.

Barrow’s resignation in Newton’s favor was a value that a truly modest person would do, to shore up Newton’s capability and endorse him officially. This spoke volumes of Barrow’s humility and his willingness to let someone more brilliant take the limelight.

As teenagers, this is a good value to instill upon the character. No one likes a person that clings onto power; there will always be another person that’s better than you.

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As the Chinese saying goes: 一山还有一山高, “There’s always another mountain that’s higher.” As teenagers, their parents are constantly second-guessing what manners they are presenting as

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