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Isaac Newton - Creativity and ScienceIsaac Newton - Creativity and Science


Isaac Newton (1642-1727)


English scientist (pictured right in 1689).

Famous for

  • his laws of motion and gravity 
  • the invention of calculus.

The greatest ever scientist, according to Albert Einstein.

Born in Lincolnshire, England, he went to:Isaac Newton - Creativity and Science

  • Grantham Grammar School (like Margaret Thatcher , the British prime minister, pictured right)
  • Cambridge University (where he became a professor of mathematics, the post later held by Stephen Hawking)


His most famous book is...

Principia (1687).

 Isaac Newton - Creativity and Science

Why was he so creative?

1. Practical experimenter

He loved making things and experimenting with new ideas.

As a child, he made a working windmill, driven by mice in a treadmill!

He was one of the first people to test his ideas and theories by experiments.


2. Curiosity

He was fascinated with the things around him and how they worked.

For example, his interest in colour led to his experiments with prisms (see point 3).


3. Questioning

He never stopped questioning tradition and existing ideas to find new knowledge.

“My best friend is truth”, he said.

This led to his revolutionary discoveries about gravity, motion and colour.Isaac Newton - Creativity and Science

Using a prism (pictured right), he proved that:

  • sunlight was divided into different colours.
  • colour was not a mixture of light and darkness (as had been thought to be true for centuries).



4. Inspiration and perspiration

His theories relied much more on incredible hard work than flashes of inspiration.

The famous story of his discovery of gravity from an apple falling on his head was probably made up by Newton to disguise the fact that it had taken 20 years of intense effort to work it out.

He often worked 18 or 20 hours a day.


5. Determination and courage

He was prepared to endure physical pain and nervous exhaustion in his search for knowledge.

He put an ivory toothpick underneath his eyeball to see different colours!

 Isaac Newton - Creativity and Science

6. Competitiveness

He liked to be the first person to find something, leading to his vindictive and unresolved dispute with Gottfried Leibniz (pictured right) over which one of them had invented calculus first.

He also had a bitter rivalry with Robert Hooke (pictured right below), the English philosopher and architect.

Isaac Newton - Creativity and Science


7. Seeking simplicity

He looked for simple, universal laws to explain complicated things (like his laws of motion).

He hated over-complicating the truth.


8. Thinking, concentration and solitude


  • had incredible powers of concentration. Isaac Newton - Creativity and Science 
  • never stopped thinking about solutions to problems.

When asked how he wrote his masterpiece, Principia (pictured right is the first edition), he replied “by thinking on it continually”.

His years of solitary study at home (1665-7) were particularly productive, when he was forced to leave Cambridge University, because of the plague.

As an only child, he loved working on his own, particularly after:

  • the death of his father.
  • being deserted by his mother when she re-married (he was then brought up by his grandmother).

This desertion may have given him the ambition to prove himself.

Isaac Newton - Creativity and Science 

 9. Lifelong learning

He was single-mindedly obsessed with learning and finding new knowledge.

Time spent doing anything else was wasted, he believed.

He didn’t marry and hardly had any friends, although the astronomer, Edmond Halley, pictured right (of Halley’s Comet fame), encouraged him greatly.

Newton described himself as like a boy on a beach finding smoother pebbles or prettier shells (i.e. new bits of knowledge), whilst

“the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me”.


10. Arrogance with some humility

He had an arrogant self-confidence in his genius.

He purposely made his book, Principia, unintelligible to most people, because he didn’t want ignorant people criticizing it!

But he never lost his gratitude for the knowledge he gained from others.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”, he said in 1675.

As a Christian, he was also humbled by his insignificance relative to God and His universe.

 Isaac Newton - Creativity and Science

11. Applying different subjects

He applied his detailed knowledge of mathematics, physics, astronomy and alchemy.

Particularly important for alchemists is the philosopher’s stone that converts base metals into gold. This explains the title of J.K. Rowling’s (pictured right) first Harry Potter book!

 Isaac Newton - Creativity and Science

12. Imagination

Like Albert Einstein (pictured right), imagination was vital to his work.


Key quotes on learning and wisdom

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

My best friend is truth.

Truth is ever to be found in simplicity


Key quotes on science and creativity

I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent.

I do not invent hypotheses. (Newton’s slogan).


Key quote on innovation

There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.


Key quote on change

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.

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