Shoulders of Giants

Every schoolboy (and schoolgirl) knows of Sir Isaac Newton's famous remark that "if I have seen further [than others] it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Fewer know that Newton's apparent humility may have been larded with sarcasm. The remark appears in a letter (dated 1675) to Robert Hooke, who had been critical of Newton's work. It seems likely that Sir Isaac was taking a swipe at Hooke's diminutive stature.

[Newton was typically very modest. Asked one day how he had come to make his remarkable discoveries, he simply replied: "By always thinking about them." His humility is also evident in his memoirs. "I do not know what I may appear to the world," he once wrote, "but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, 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."]

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