13 April, 2016

Standing on the shoulders of giants

All of you have heard Newton's famous quote:
"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants" *
It turns out that not only doesn't this quote originate from Newton, in fact, it was a very common saying at the time (such that Newton wouldn't even think there were people who hadn't heard it before).

That's how the "How to fly a horse" book describes it:

"Newton’s line was, in fact, close to a cliché at the time he wrote it. 
... Newton got it from George Herbert, who in 1651 wrote, "A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees farther of the two."
... Herbert got it from Robert Burton, who in 1621 wrote, "A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself."
... Burton got it from a Spanish theologian, Diego de Estella, also known as Didacus Stella, who probably got it from John of Salisbury, 1159: "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 of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size."
... John of Salisbury got it from Bernard of Chartres, 1130: "We are like dwarfs standing upon the shoulders of giants, and so able to see more and see farther than the ancients." 
We do not know from whom Bernard of Chartres got it." 

Take care,


* Some of you might have heard Murray Gell-Mann's interpretation:
"If I have seen further than others, it is because I am surrounded by dwarfs."

1 comment:

ComradeVVA said...

I heard that he said actually saying it in a sarcastic manner, i.e., talking to people that were much shorter than him or something.