What did Isaac Newton mean by 'standing on the shoulder of giants'?

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In summary, Isaac Newton said that he was able to see further because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. He meant that he was able to make his discoveries because of the work that other people did before him. 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.
  • #1
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"I was able to see further..."

Hello,
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 into me in a right way, what did he mean by 'shoulder of giant' ?
Thanks,
 
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  • #2
He means that he was only able to make his discoveries because of the work that other people did before him.
 
  • #3
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:
 
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  • #4
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:
 
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  • #5
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" )

"In computer science, we stand on each other's feet."-- Brian K. Reid
 
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  • #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)
 
  • #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)
 
  • #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.
 
  • #9
heartless said:
There are still much more people in our communities who don't care about science, great knowledge and wisdom.

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:
 

Related to What did Isaac Newton mean by 'standing on the shoulder of giants'?

What does it mean to be able to see further?

Being able to see further refers to having an increased range of vision, either through the use of technology or by naturally having better eyesight.

How is it possible to see further?

There are several ways to see further, such as using telescopes, binoculars, or other optical devices. Additionally, some individuals may have naturally better eyesight or may have had corrective surgery to improve their vision.

What are the benefits of being able to see further?

The benefits of being able to see further include being able to observe objects that are far away, gaining a better understanding of the environment, and potentially detecting potential hazards or threats from a distance.

Can everyone see further?

No, not everyone has the ability to see further. Factors such as genetics, age, and eye health can affect one's ability to see further. However, with the use of technology, most people can enhance their vision and see further.

Are there any risks associated with seeing further?

While there are no inherent risks associated with being able to see further, using certain optical devices for an extended period may cause eye strain or fatigue. It is always essential to use these devices responsibly and take breaks when needed.

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