“Would you mind not standing on my foot?” said a voice. “It hurts even though I’m not a physical manifestation in your world.” Given that I found myself in a rather large Gothic cathedral, I should have bolted like a rabbit, but on a closer inspection, staying there seemed to be a better idea. The place was Westminster Abbey, the tomb of the legendary Sir Isaac Newton.
The rather curious British accent was enough to remove any doubt I had in my mind- I was indeed visited by the ghost of Newton himself. His translucent body whose toe I had stepped on helped with the deduction too, but it was mostly the pictures of him in science textbooks, that I had seen, which helped me connect the dots.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m as scared of the unexplained as anybody else – but Newton himself? This incident would keep my audiences enthralled or highly amused every single time I narrated it. After all, how many of your friends have had a nice chit-chat with a legend? Even your ordinary guy who seems to have claimed to meet a ghost, does so with a nondescript every day variety.
After what seemed like ten minutes of processing all that had happened, and then moving my leg after repeated requests, it was time for a conversation with arguably the most famous English physicist ever.
Me: (obviously trying to make an impression on the science celebrity) Hello, Sir Newton. As you may know, I have heard loads about you. I am…
Sir Isaac Newton: Belt up, laddie. I ain’t here to listen to you rumbling on about your nonsense. Graciously accept my thanks for moving your foot and kindly bugger off.
Well, this passive-aggressive behavior was quite uncalled for, but surprisingly it didn’t surprise me. I kept pestering him and boy did I know the best questions to get him going!
Me: Why did you and Leibniz have such a fallout?
Man, this one really pissed him off.
S.I.N.: That is none of your business, you cheeky monkey. But I guess if I didn’t tell you something, you might bite my arm off. So listen, and listen carefully, for I am not a fan of repeating myself. This is how it happened. I invented calculus ten years before Leibniz published his alleged works. I played it down for a while but I couldn’t resist for long. Indeed I had first created it, and it was only logical, given our vast pool of mutual friends and the correspondence we had, that he had plagiarised my work. I pressured my friends and the Royal Society to stand against this atrocity. This adversely affected both of our careers, his more than mine. I regret it sometimes, Leibniz was a good friend. And it is also possible that he did invent his own version of calculus independent of me. I’ve overheard how this tale has come to be told and don’t confuse this with eavesdropping – a man has no choice of freely walking away from a certain spot once he is in the afterlife. So I’ve heard that the rest of the world today follows his symbols, and the credit for developing calculus goes to me. It does sound like a fair deal.
This was indeed the answer I was hoping to hear. Anyhow, having got the attention I needed, I proceeded with some non-controversial questions.
Me: So, Sir, what are your views on the current state of physics?
Me: It’s what we call Natural Philosophy these days.
S.I.N.: Ah yes! I’m sure I’ve heard of it, but you can’t depend on this old lad’s memory. I hope the field is doing great, and I do hope people never lose their curiosity because that will not do us any good. So that makes me ask you, how have you contributed to natural philosophy?
Damn, this was definitely unexpected!
Me: You know, I’m only nineteen now. Am I not too young to be discovering or inventing cool and crazy stuff?
S.I.N.: I had already postulated my three laws of motion by the time I was nineteen.
Me: Uhhhh…*Clearly drawing a blank*
Me: Uh.. the education system has changed quite a lot since the time you went to Cambridge. We also no longer have Bubonic Plague epidemics that lead to indefinite vacations and gravity discovering siestas. All the people are now quite content with knowing your theories and Kirchhoff’s theories and Maxwell’s theories and Gauss’ theories …. (I ranted on for about ten minutes or so in a confused, half-excited, half-ashamed, convoluted state of mind)
Newton, now visibly taken aback, tried to console me.
S.I.N.: Calm down dear lad, it’ll be all right!
Me: No, it won’t. Nothing turns out to be all right. Look at your own theories. Nearly everyone of them was overridden by someone else.
S.I.N.: What? But that is preposterous! Not my theory of gravitation!
Me: Especially your theory of gravitation. A young patent office clerk who went on to be one of the greatest physicists of all time, named Albert Einstein came up with a far superior version of gravitation on a large scale.
S.I.N.: And surely my theory holds up in the small scale.
Me: Even less so. Quantum gravity is really in the process of discovery currently. There is no explanation available for the weird things that happen in the world of the super small. Yours is a very nice approximation, though.
S.I.N.: An approximation? My theory? My beautiful theory? Down in shambles?
Me: Don’t be disappointed, sir. You still are pretty much a household name and are almost worshiped by us students. Well continuing with the topic, I presume that you know about the debunking about your theory of light.
S.I.N.: Why are you doing this?! At least spare my corpuscle theory! So, Huygens was right all along then? Light is indeed a wave!
Me: Not quite so.. It has been concluded that light is both a particle and a wave. Actually, it has been hypothesized that everything is both a particle and a wave. Depending on the environment, the ‘thing’ chooses whether to be a particle or a wave.
S.I.N.: Interesting….there were some sticks in the mud during my time too. I didn’t believe them eventually, but all these years in my grave have given me enough time to contemplate various things, this being one of them. Now that you have brought me news and enlightened me about my theories, I guess they were right. It sure makes me feel good that Huygens wasn’t right either. Now I would really like to be left alone. Haven’t you got things to do? Places to be? Sprint off, child and let me rest in peace.
(And then something hit me.)
Me: Well, this might seem funny, but I don’t remember how I got here. More importantly, I don’t remember having enough money to ever get to London. Which means you’re either a hallucination or a dream ..
S.I.N.: Right, dear boy. I’m indeed a figment of your imagination. You really thought ghosts existed? I should be laughing at you right now, but that would mean your subconscious image of Isaac Newton laughing at back at you, and that would be most humiliating for, and so unbecoming of Sir Isaac Newton! Cheerio!
Want to know more about Newton? Here are some youtube links you can enjoy:
1) The Calculus Controversy : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axZTv5YJssA
2) Newton’s three laws : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGO_zDWmkvk
3) Newton’s Law of Gravitation : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=391txUI76gM
4) Corpuscular theory : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uO2uyvf-E3k
5) Newton vs Einstein : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MJ0lTEhoL8
6) Everything about Newton : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPRV1h3CGQk
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