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I was able to see further

  1. Jan 1, 2006 #1
    "I was able to see further...."

    I recently was looking through some website about Isaac Newton and I found this interesting quote:
    "I was able to see further because I was standing on the shoulder of giants"
    Those are a powerful words, but yet I don't think I understand them well. I wanted to ask you guys if you can explain in to me in a right way, what did he mean by 'shoulder of giant' ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 1, 2006 #2


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    He means that he was only able to make his discoveries because of the work that other people did before him.
  4. Jan 1, 2006 #3


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    I believe the quote is "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

    I like the other version "If I haven't seen further, it's because some giant's shoulders were in my way". :biggrin:
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2006
  5. Jan 1, 2006 #4


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    This was apparently written by Newton in a letter to Robert Hooke. Some think Newton was only making fun of Hooke's short stature, but this is still a matter of some debate.

    Regardless of what he really meant, the quote has been retained as a symbol of how science is done. Even the most famous of scientists could not have accomplished what they did without the many contributions of past scientists. With all of the praise that is heaped upon the likes of Einstein and Newton, it's easy to forget this. Science is a community effort. :smile:
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2006
  6. Jan 1, 2006 #5


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    Does the text of that letter exist anymore? If he greated Hooke as "Shorty" it could end the debate.

    I'm partial to these versions:

    "If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing on my shoulders." -- Hal Abelson (Jeff Goll according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hal_Abelson" [Broken])

    "In computer science, we stand on each other's feet."-- Brian K. Reid
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  7. Jan 1, 2006 #6
    The surest way to make a monkey of a man is to quote him.
    Robert Benchley

    Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. The words erroneously repeated.
    Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1911)
  8. Jan 1, 2006 #7
    Apparently versions of this sentiment go way back before Newton:

    Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness on sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.
    John of Salisbury, Metalogicon (1159)

    Dwarfs on the shoulders of giants see further than the giants themselves.
    Stella Didacus, Eximii verbi divini CONCIONATORIS
    ORDINNIS MINORUM Regularis Observantiae (1622)

    A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself.
    Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621-1651)
    "Democritus to the Reader"

    A dwarf on a giant's shoulders sees farther of the two.
    George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum (1651)

    If I have seen [a little] further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
    Isaac Newton, letter to Robert Hooke (5 February 1676)
    in H. W. Turnbull (ed.), Correspondence of Isaac Newton (1959)
    [Since Hooke was rather short, this may not have been intended as a compliment.]

    I like this one:

    Newton won the race in part because, as he put it, he had stood on the shoulders of giants and in part because he just happened to be the biggest giant of them all.
    Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science (1993)
  9. Jan 1, 2006 #8
    Allright, thank you guys for helping me with this.

    I agree, all scientific discoveries are based on one's teachings and discovieries before.

    "Science is a community effort"
    Yeah, it is the community effort, or rather many dedicated and eager to know more - people's effort. There are still much more people in our communities who don't care about science, great knowledge and wisdom.
  10. Jan 1, 2006 #9


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    I was actually thinking of the scientific community. It's true, however, that the general public also contributes to science, perhaps most notably with its tax dollars. :wink:
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