When genius fails us

Noted alchemist and religious historian Isaac Newton.

Noted alchemist and religious historian Isaac Newton.

Of all the articles I’ve written over the last four years, none elicited stronger responses than “The Problem of Richard Feynman”. While many people responded positively, I was also lambasted by a conservative blogger, accused of trying to boost sales of my nonexistent book or otherwise make money on an unpaid blog, and generally told my intellect was too inferior to dare criticize someone as great as Feynman. So, to prove that I’m a glutton for punishment, I revisited the theme in an essay for Nautilus last week.

Think, for instance, of the foundational figure in physics, Isaac Newton. His role in establishing calculus and what we call Newtonian mechanics is so important that we ignore or downplay the fact that much of his life work seems misguided and downright weird to modern eyes. Newton considered his alchemical and theological work to be as significant as what we would identify today as science. Even more disturbing to modern sensibilities, he thought of the science and screwy stuff as aspects of a whole, a single system of the world encompassing the knowledge imparted by God to Moses and other people in antiquity. [Read more...]

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