04 January 2015

Newtonmas


T
o my mind today, this eleventh day of Christmas, is the climax, or maybe anticlimax, of the Yuletide season. I warped my own mind years ago, as I’m sure I’ve written many times, by turning Christmas into Newton’s Birthday—at least, as far as I was concerned. One of the results is that all the lights and holly and tinsel are entwined in my memories with reflecting telescopes and equations and prisms.
Which is all very well and good, except—well, Newton wasn’t really born on 25 December. I mean, he was, but he wasn’t. The date on which he was born was indeed 25 December, but that was by the calendar established by Julius Caesar back in Roman times. We use the Gregorian flavor of that calendar, and there were then ten days difference between them.
Now for traditional observances, like holidays and saints days and the like, I’m perfectly happy to observe it on the established date, because that’s, like, you know, the tradition and all. I’m even willing to make allowances for people born before 1588, since there was only the one calendar in use. But Newton was born on 4 January according to the calendar we now use, and which was then in use in large sections of Europe, but not the benighted backwater that was England. So by the rules I live by Newtonmas should be celebrated on 4 January, not 25 December, no matter what date Newton preferred to have his cake and candles and presents on, assuming that those were the birthday customs of his day.
Others may do as they like, of course, but today I am remembering Sir Isaac and all that he has brought us—calculus and the laws of motion and the theory of universal gravitation. I’m not as big on his work on ancient chronology or Biblical prophecy, though he seems to have regarded this as at least as important as his contributions to the sciences. As these encroach on the matters I’ve studied, I can safely say that he was wrong.
I have a certain sympathy for Newton, in that the world of human relations seemed to be a mystery to him. He supposedly had few friends, no sexual relationships, and would lecture to an empty classroom if nobody showed up. While I am in no way qualified to make such a judgment, I’ve often wondered if he were a high-functioning autistic, or something along that line. Henry Cavendish strikes me similarly. But I don’t care enough to develop the theme at the moment.
Happy Newtonmas. Or something.

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