Posted tagged ‘Isaac Newton’

For a good time in Edmonton (Crack o’ Dawn edition)

June 16, 2010

Anyone in the greater Edmonton/University of Alberta area tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. can come and hear me talk about “Newton’s coins and Einstein’s letters: living lives in science and society.”

I’ve been very kindly invited by folks running the first university-wide celebration of graduate student research in engineering to talk about some aspects of life beyond grad school, so I’m going to talk on what those giants have to say about life beyond the cocoon of pure research.

Time: 8:30
Place: The student center on the campus of the University of Alberta.

Come one, come all!

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I’m Baaaaaack….with some Newton notes…

November 29, 2009

A return to full blogging this week, I promise, but just to get things going (barring that little amuse bouche re Google voice recognition) with a teaser for a renewed assault on the “Diary of a Trade Book” series, I thought I’d post a reactions to a couple of bits of Newton and the Counterfeiter news.  (As always: Amazon,PowellsBarnes and Noble,Indiebound and  across the pond at Amazon.co.uk,WaterstonesBlackwellsBorders,John Smith & Son.)

First, still very happy with the Library Journal’s placement of the book on their year-end, “Best of” list — but I have to say that I was truly chuffed by the implied institutional critique and explicit compliment coming from Henry Bass, book editor for Essence, who compiled his list of those who should have been finalists for the National Book Awards.  Among them, he said, blushing, mine own Newton….

My thanks to Mr. Bass, and my heartfelt admiration for his exquisite and discriminating taste…;)


Next: I’m so far behind in acknowledging (and disseminating) positive reviews and blog mentions that I can’t even begin to dig myself out just yet … but one post that did stand out for me was this one by Paul Levy at the Running A Hospital blog.  Why such special notice from YT (beyond the obvious desire to point up praise wherever I can get it)?

Because, as astute readers of this blog will note, I’ve been having trouble keeping up with even the minimal task of getting something up a few times a week, just because I’ve got a day job and students and a wife and a kid and all that stuff.  I should complain:  Paul Levy’s day job has him runnimg  the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center here in Boston, which, for all that I find that no spare second survives the crush of the demands on my time, is unquestionably a more demanding job than mine — by a Secretariat-at-Belmont margin, I’d guess.  So if he can find the time to say nice things about my book, I can find the time to wonder how the heck he managed to read it, much less write about it.

More, and more substantive stuff to come…but for now, channelling my inner Ed Murrow:  good night and good luck.

Image:  Hokusai, “Portrait of a man of noble birth with a book,” before 1849

Newton and the Counterfeiter News: A whole hour of me talking about the book for your pleasure

November 6, 2009

Here, via MIT World, is the video of my talk in the MIT Writer’s Series to explain the who, what, why of that book I’ve mentioned here once or twice, Newton and the Counterfeiter.  (Amazon,PowellsBarnes and Noble,Indiebound and  across the pond at Amazon.co.uk,WaterstonesBlackwellsBorders,John Smith & Son) Bonus video: a wonderfully generous and over the top introduction by my colleague, Junot Diaz — short story artist and novelist beyond compare, Pulitzerite and all that, and a kind man.

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Isaac Newton, God and the eternal war between faith and science: Killing the Buddha/Newton and the Counterfeiter edition

August 3, 2009

Just a quick heads’ up:

I have a new essay up at Killing the Buddha on Isaac Newton, God, and the unintended damage done to faith by Newton’s personal commitment to a divinity immanent throughout nature.

The piece, adapted that opus readers of this blog may have heard of — Newton and the Counterfeiter (AmazonPowells,Barnes and NobleIndiebound) — argues that the proper way to understand the full (and astonishing) range of Newton’s interests and creative output is to recognize that all of it was directed to the same end:  to know (in Hawking’s anachronistic phrase) the mind of God.

It was a grand ambition, a passion, really, in all the resonance of that term.  It was also, I argue, one that was bound to end in tears.  Newton told the clergyman Richard Bentley in anticipation of the first Boyle Lectures that  “When I wrote my treatise upon our System, I had an eye on such Principles as might work with considering men fore the beleife of a Deity”

But, of course, it was easily grasped at that time and ever after, that the principles of natural philosophy do not, in themselves require the active presence of a god concerned with space and time….and from thence all our quarrels flow.

Go check it out.  Let me know what you think.

Image:  Michaelangelo, Sistine Ceiling “The First Day of Creation,” 1509

Diary of a Trade Book (Newton and the Counterfeiter) 9.1: Voices in my head, or why Neal Stephenson has to stop talking to me.

June 18, 2009

Just a little story here.  Last post I talked about getting blurbs from busy and very accomplished folks.  One of those was Neal Stephenson, author of some of best novels-of-ideas/racing action reads of recent memory.

The connection between his work and Newton and the Counterfeiter (Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound) is pretty obvious, at least if you are (a) familiar with the three volumes of The Baroque Cycle, Neal’s massive fiction on the roots of both the scientific and economc revolutions of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century and/or (b) have gawked at the leaning tower of manuscript that Neal donated to the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle.  (Fun venue tucked in Gehry’s worst building, IMHO.)

Most notable, Neal’s characters include one Isaac Newton, whom we first meet as an awkward, prudish, timorous boy at Trinity College in the 1660s.  I understand that Newton acts throughout the whole multi-stranded epic, but I don’t know.

Why don’t I have at least that one fact down?

As I’ve worked to publicize my book, I have gotten asked more than once some version of these questions — have I read Neal’s telling of the story of science and gold?  Is mine a non-fiction version of the history Neal reimagined?  What did I think of Neal’s Newton?

And my answers are:  no, maybe, and I have no opinion…because though I have read almost everything Neal has put between book covers (I missed The Big U., but I have it on very good authority that I may have dodged a bullet there), I put down Quicksilver after I was about 75 pages in.

Why?

Because Neal’s Newton was too loud in my ear.  He was a real character; things happened to him, he felt, responded, changed and spoke.  I could see that Newton in my mind’s eye, and the last thing I wanted — absolutely the worst possible thing for a writer — would be to start hearing Neal’s Newton arguing with mine — and I certainly didn’t want his version colonizing mine.

Even more dangerous — Neal’s books are full of incident. Stuff happens all the time.  These three books centered on precisely the historical moments I was interested in, and for reasons that overlap with mine.  It was hard enough to keep track of my sources anyway.  Did I need the grief of remembering whether it was Enoch Root or John Locke that said something or other?

I did not.

So I didn’t just put vol. 1 down, I got it out of the house, as fast as its little legs could carry it.  I’m reclaiming it from my brother now, and look forward to reading the whole trilogy without peril this summer.

One last note:  I happened to meet Neal when he gave a talk at Harvard a couple of years ago.  He was speaking to the History of Science department there, so the bulk of his talk and reading centered on his rendering of the daily life of the scientific revolution within The Baroque Cycle.  Talking to him afterwards I made my confession that I had had to banish that work to the Boston equivalent of Siberia (Brighton, where my brother lives) — and I did receive my dispensation.

And one more last note:  there is nothing new under the sun.  Some version of everything has been written — and if I or anyone were to worry about that, I, we, would never get anything done.  But still, sometimes, it’s better not to read.

Image:  Frontspiece to Voltaire’s Elémens de la philosophie de Neuton (1738).

Friday Isaac Newton Blogging: Nick Montfort Cell Phone Fiction Edition

April 2, 2009

Nick Montfort, my prolific colleague in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at MIT, is presenting a reading as I write this (actually, as I wrote this, as it took me a shockingly long time to finish this modest post).  Nick is in some ways the apotheosis of an MIT humanist:  his academic pedigree includes the Media Lab, a B.U. MFA, and a Ph.D. in computer and information science from Penn.  He gave a reading at MIT recently that was, or was supposed to have been (many technical glitches), a technologically enhanced tour through the still not-that-well-known but (to-me) astonishingly beautiful world of machine-mediated poetry (and a little prose).

Given my current passion, it’s easy to see why the following exercise in the art of concision appealed to me.

This one comes from one of Nick’s collections, called Ten Mobile Texts:

A MINIMAL LIFE: Newton was a young man. Then, he devoted his life to wondrous discoveries, such as the calculus. As a result, he was an elderly virgin.

Go here for more — and mouse into the spaces in between for invaluable commentary.

Image:  Kunisada Utagawa, The Ghost, 1852.  From the series An Imaginary 36 Poets (Mitate Sanjurokkasen no Uchi).

On Darwinism as a Term of Abuse

December 11, 2008

A while back, I posted a short piece criticizing the Rt. Rev. and the Rt. Hon. Lord Habgood, P. C., former Archibishop of York (number 2 in the Anglican hierarchy) and Ph.D physiologist, for his use of the terms “Darwinism” and “scientific orthodoxy” in a review of a history of creationism.  In that post I wrote,

Just to reduce this to the absurdity it is: does anyone out there think “Newtonianism” is a good term to describe the branch of knowledge that enables us, inter alia to calculate the trajectory of a comet?

Well, someone does.  Leslie Darrow, proprietor of the Mid-Anglican blog had this to say about what seemed to me to be about as banal an observation as I could imagine:

I don’t know why not. Calculating the trajectory of a comet doesn’t need anything more sophisticated than Newtonian mechanics.

I replied that I was afraid Darrow was being either silly or obtuse, for reasons that I think are obvious.  No one refers to the ideas in The Principia as the corpus of Newtonism.  Mechanics, maybe, or in the case of problems involving Newtonian gravity, celestial mechanics, but not Newtonism, or Isaackery or anything of the sort.  No one.

Similarly, no one refers to this or this or this as successful applications of the methods of Darwinism.  They are all, of course, results achieved under the umbrella category of evolutionary biology, using methods from specialized biological disciplines ranging from field ecology to molecular genetics — the latter a practice for which Darwin lacked even the vocabulary to imagine

That all seems pretty standard issue stuff  — and even if you don’t want to go all philosophical on me, it comes back to the practice, the use of terms in science.  Do we refer to the study of molecular genetics as Watson-and-Crickism?

We do not.

Unfortunately, Darrow proceeded to dig herself in deeper.

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