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Isaac Newton's Notes Digitized 92

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First time accepted submitter nhstar writes with an excerpt from an article in the Register: "If you're looking for a bit of light reading this holiday season, Cambridge University is here to help: they've digitized and made available online over 4,000 pages of the pioneering scientist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton's most important works. 'Anyone, wherever they are, can see at the click of a mouse how Newton worked and how he went about developing his theories and experiments,' Cambridge University Library's digitization manager Grant Young told the BBC."
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Isaac Newton's Notes Digitized

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:12PM (#38350040)

    Link to the book:

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:12PM (#38350044) Homepage Journal

    Being able to develop theories, without worrying some lawyer will come pounding on your door, claiming you are infringing this copyright or that patent.

    Dear Sir, it would pleasure us if you would cease and desist with observations on gravity as our client holds the patent on Apples Falling From Trees And Striking A Person Upon The Head. Should you continue with in your present direction we shall have you summoned to the King's Court and sort you out. Dewey, Cheatham & Howe, LLP

    Of course they had their battles, who stole an idea from who, but it was usually sorted out with a lot of yelling and smearing of reputation, rather than getting solicitors involved.

  • by confused one (671304) on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:14PM (#38350058)
    Egads! How can you compare reading 16th century works to light?
  • by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:20PM (#38350138)

    > The remainder of the Newton papers, many concerned with alchemy, theology and chronology, were returned to Lord Portsmouth.

    Anyone know how many pages did he spend on physics and how many did he spend writing the rest of the subjects?

    Would be interesting to see his insights on what he thought about other subjects ...

    • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:27PM (#38350214) Homepage Journal

      > The remainder of the Newton papers, many concerned with alchemy, theology and chronology, were returned to Lord Portsmouth.

      Anyone know how many pages did he spend on physics and how many did he spend writing the rest of the subjects?

      Would be interesting to see his insights on what he thought about other subjects ...

      Yes. He was warden of the Royal Mint and had a great impact on modern coinage, but you don't hear a lot about that.

      • by sci-ku (2526824) on Monday December 12, 2011 @10:42PM (#38351232)
        Unless you're like me and got through The System of the World. I wonder how many other slashdotters can attribute 90% of what they know about Newton to Neal Stephenson?

        I thought I had a vague idea of Newton's clinical shyness, but Stephenson's picture is vastly more informative and interesting. No idea how truly accurate it is, but I'd guess quite a bit.

        Highly recommend reading if you haven't: The Baroque Cycle []
        • by 9jack9 (607686) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @12:31AM (#38351956)

          Ha, yes. Newton, Liebnitz, William of Orange, all of that stuff. Learned it all from The Baroque Cycle. Nothing like fiction to teach you history! Oh, and we can't forget Lord Gy.

          • by wdef (1050680) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @03:42AM (#38352768)

            Quicksilver, bah. Having invested in reading the first half of the book I had just started to enjoy the characters when he suddenly shifts gears to modern times. You see I'm actually interested in Newton and Co and not just as plot devices. I was annoyed enough to stop reading.

            And while I do think Snow Crash is immensely clever in an intellectual sense, it is also tainted with postmod silliness (a samurai-sword wielding pizza delivery boy is more suited to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Also Stephenson is not a great prose stylist which is something I demand from a writer (Quicksilver looked more mature in that regard). Gibson's work is better prose and few scifi novels have broken ground like Neuromancer did.

            How's that meme again? Oh yeah, let the holy wars begin.

            • by aiht (1017790) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:13AM (#38352868)
              Modern times? I think you may be partaking in the Confusion. The periods covered in Quicksilver are Old Daniel Waterhouse era (circa 1700, I think) and Young Daniel Waterhouse era (e.g. 1666).

              Anyway, I'm inclined to agree with you about the prose style - but I find he's improving.
              I recently read Reamde and I thought that it was very well written, very polished, while Cryptonomicon had some rough edges. Of course, YMMV - I tend not to be very discerning in that regard, if the story holds my interest.

              As for holy wars, I'll leave that to others. I like both Stephenson and Gibson.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:39AM (#38352974)

          I'm going to be in the 10%. Most of what I know about Newton is from reading the biography Isaac Newton, the Last Sorcerer.

      • by JasterBobaMereel (1102861) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:34AM (#38354226)

        Newton, Invented milled edge coins to stop people trimming the edges (when the metal in coins was actually worth something)

        Spent most of his life researching esoteric alchemy and biblical numerology ... and most of his notes are to do with this and not physics ...

    • by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday December 12, 2011 @09:49PM (#38350862) Journal
      Newton was a prolific writer and wrote more on theology than anything else (he was a theologean as well as a scientist, alchemist, etc), one example is that he wrote almost a million words looking for meaning in the numerology of 666, including a 6X6 magic square that contained only primes and summed to 666 on each row, column, and diagonal. He also claimed that "Jesus was sent to Earth to operate the levers of gravity". He is remebered for his undeniable genius in science, most of his other writings are (by modern standards) the ramblings of a madman.
  • Luckily (Score:2, Informative)

    by Zaldarr (2469168) on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:30PM (#38350238) Homepage
    Luckily they aren't in bleeding Latin. I got a hold of a Project Gutenberg copy of Principa and I open the PDF only to find that most of the words ended in 'us' and 'um'.
    • by Sparx139 (1460489) on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:57PM (#38350462)
      I don't think that's changed, the version of Principa is in latin at least. It's awesome that it's Newton's own annotated copy, but being able to read it would be useful
      • Re:Luckily (Score:4, Informative)

        by JasterBobaMereel (1102861) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @09:41AM (#38354294)

        Newton spoke English (17th century English) and so his notes are in that ...but this is Pre-Johnson's Dictionary so there is no standard English and no standard spelling so he wrote in Lincolnshire/Cambridge English ...Because of this most published works were written in Latin which did have standard spelling and could read by most intellectual Europeans

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:33PM (#38350268)

    As far as I can tell:

    1. You can't link to a specific page in the archive, which makes sharing a bit tricky; and

    2. You can't download full-resolution pages.

    Still a useful resource to have, but it's a bit unfortunate that these kinds of digitization projects seem to always want to roll-their-own slightly opaque interface.

    • by decora (1710862) on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:46PM (#38350380) Journal

      the masses: we need digitize our books. google is doing it, why cant we?

      library admin: i understand. let me find a vendor.

      vendor a: our product costs 5 billion

      vendor b: our product cost 8 billion, but we will give you kickbacks

      vendor c: our product cost 3 billion

      library admin: dear management, i need 8 billion dollars

      management: wow cool. so we can be like a real business right? ive always wanted to play business man and make a profit

      library admin: yes, we will own copyright on all materials, and our special interface will provide centralized control so we can keep out the riff raff

      hippie: but arent you a taxpayer funded institution whose job is to disseminate information as efficiently as possible?

      management: have the hippie shot

      library admin: consider it done

      4 years later...

      library admin + manager: press release! our new surfable hierarchy tiered book access gateway (SHiTBAG) allows students all over the country to improve their lea blah blah blah blah blah

      oracle sales manager: so, we are looking at a 4 year contract, and that will be 50,000 seats, so basically we are looking at 10 billion dollars

      libray admin: awesome. the more money i am in control of, the more power i have inside the bureaucracy. ps, can i get an invite to your sweet conference in boca this year?

      users: what the fuck is this shit? java plugin has crashed? please set your JAVA HOME? what the fuck is JAVA HOME?

      users buddy: nevermind all that, let me show you this thing called 'bit torrent'

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @05:26AM (#38353118)

        That might be how it works in the US, this however is the UK, the world is not like the US.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @05:27AM (#38353124)

        I'm one of the members of this project and this post has irked me (to say the least). I think what has bothered me most are the assumptions that the poster made.

        The costs that the poster gave show no connection with the reality of academic funding in the humanities in the UK. We were generously funded by JISC and two anonymous donors (for whose support we are extremely grateful) - the total funds were approximately 0.00125% of the 8 billion.

        All the work was done in-house by what amounted to less than three full-time positions working for nine months. Approximately half were responsible for digitising/encoding the materials (images and XML) and 1.5 full-time position's worth of work was involved in the development of the front and backends for the project - all of which are based on open-source software.

        More importantly, these materials are all open access. The Newton Project ( has been releasing its materials as open access resources for over a decade. This was _before_ UK HE funding bodies made it a requirement.

        • by decora (1710862) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @08:12PM (#38364006) Journal

          first of all, it was a joke, so i didnt mean to harsh on you. i love all scanning projects. its the saviour of civilization (what is left of it).

          But now that i have actually visited your site, i notice you are claiming copyright on the works of Isaac Newton, who died over 300 years ago. I don't know what kind of opyright law they have in the UK, but in the US all of this stuff would be, technically, public domain.

          It is awesome to bring it to the public. on the other hand, where are the pdf files? Can you download it to your ipad? etc etc etc? No.

          So, although my post was 'in jest', i hate to say that it is rooted in truth, even in your highly commendable and worthwhile, admirable project.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:47PM (#38350382)

      1. You can't link to a specific page in the archive, which makes sharing a bit tricky; and

      Maybe use the "bookmark direct link to this page" feature on the right of each page?

    • by pavon (30274) on Monday December 12, 2011 @11:25PM (#38351506)

      To the left of the image were links providing direct URLs for the specific page you were viewing, and a download link for the image. The site is down right now, so I can't check if they are full resolution or not.

      The only complaint I had with the interface was that there were no navigation buttons in full page mode, and that it was a little slow to load pages, which considering that the site is down now was probably just a heavy load issue.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:54AM (#38353022)

      I'm one of the team members involved in this project. Our work is currently ongoing, and we'll definitely be addressing the ability to link to specific pages as our work progresses.

  • by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at.> on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:47PM (#38350384) Homepage Journal

    ...that according to the BBC, there was a lot of pushback against some of Newton's workings because they weren't very good. I've not studied the papers that are up enough to verify the accuracy of the BBC's claim but if there is any basis to the statements then this may damage Newton's place in history as it will give credence to the view that he "acquired" material from Huygens and Descartes on the grounds that if he didn't really grasp the material he was writing about then he was less likely to be the original author of it.

    • by waterbear (190559) on Monday December 12, 2011 @09:04PM (#38350538)

      according to the BBC, there was a lot of pushback against some of Newton's workings ... this may damage Newton's place in history...

      There are plenty of nuts who are keen to get publicity by claiming to debunk Einstein, Newton, or almost anybody famous who will get them some attention.

      'Never at Rest' by R S Westfall ( []) was widely reviewed as a good scientific biography. The biographer more or less admitted that he was somewhat hostile towards his subject but even so there's plenty of solid information there.

      • Debunking isn't necessarily the same thing as criticizing the workings. Plenty of theory holds up even after a person has had their knuckles rapped and told to go through the calculations again. (Black hole evaporation was discovered by such a process.) The problem with Newton (and, indeed, Einstein) is that there are questions of originality. Einstein was well-aware of spacetime theory prior to coming up with relativity, for example. Newton was well-aware of prior work on laws of motion and on calculus. All three things are correct, so no work is getting debunked. Both Einstein and Newton did original work on top of whatever they borrowed, so neither person is being debunked. The only question is what did they know and when did they know it.

        Newton is particularly troublesome, in this regard, as it is firmly established that he caused the suicide of a fellow member of the Royal Acadamy through extreme libel. Sorry, but the only "nut" in that case was Newton himself.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:48PM (#38350390)

    Oh no, surely somebody will figure out how to summon an Archangel, and that'll move us right into Quantum 4!

    My dreams of being an Echo of Homeline keep getting fainter and fainter.

  • by waterbear (190559) on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:51PM (#38350414)

    It seems weird that they chose to digitize a printed copy of the Principia that had many of its pages so badly burnt away that they can't be read. There are better copies around even in the same library that could have been scanned. Perhaps the best scanned image of Newton's Principia is one that was put online by the Bibliotheque nationale de France ( [])!

  • Awesome (Score:4, Informative)

    by starseeker (141897) on Monday December 12, 2011 @08:57PM (#38350460) Homepage

    There have been a number of other notable manuscript digitization projects of late:

    British Libraries Digitised Manuscripts []

    "Homer Multitext" - several manuscripts including Venetus A []

    The Archimedes Palimpsest []

    Personally I think such projects are absolutely vital to the long term preservation of these manuscripts. Modern technology makes possible the duplication of these source documents in high fidelity facsimile (Taschen in particular has published a number of fascinating editions, including Blaeu's Atlas Maior - another example would be The Book of Michael of Rhodes from MIT Press). So often works survive only as a copy of a copy of a copy, and we are left to peer through the murky glass of multiple interpertations at the far distant original author's intent. (The current definitive edition of Euclid, for example, is available to us only because of a single surviving early copy in the Vatican's library (which so far as I know has not been digitized, unfortunately, except for a couple images here: [])

    We should be scanning and then printing many copies of these early works and depositing them in libraries around the world in order to help these early glimpses into our history survive (at least in SOME form, even if the originals are lost). Of course, multiple copies of the digital data is also very important, but we have no way of knowing how well digital data will survive on thousand-year time scales. Fingers crossed that we will see multiple volume facsimilie copies of Newton's notebooks (one volume for the facsimile, one for a modern translation ) on Amazon in the next few years...

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Monday December 12, 2011 @09:02PM (#38350530) Homepage Journal

    If you really want your mind blown, take a look at some of Sir Isaac's alchemical writings which are included in these collections.

    Old boy was into some way deep shit. Dude did. not. play. What I wouldn't give just to be able to buy him drinks and ask him questions for maybe twelve hours.


    Plus, he had dealings, scientific and otherwise, with some very interesting characters.

  • by starseeker (141897) on Monday December 12, 2011 @09:16PM (#38350618) Homepage

    Looks like they're using a non-commercial Creative Commons license for the images:

    Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-NC 3.0)

    That trend seems to be popular when it comes to such efforts, and by and large I'm OK with it - preserving early manuscripts is not a zero cost operation, and the NC license allows the data to be distributed and made available for scholarship while still giving the holding institution the chance to recover some of the (usually non-trivial) expense of digitzation. Hopefully if they don't want to publish printed bound versions themselves they'll be willing to negociate with someone who is intersted...

    • by vadim_t (324782) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @05:34AM (#38353140) Homepage

      I'm not ok with it. I find it extremely offensive.

      The funding was already provided, by a donation of 1.5 GBP, so all the costs have already been covered. Work funded by the public should be in the public domain, and I think that should be made a law. Additionally, it's public domain content, which IMO should be illegal to restrict.

      It's fundamentally unethical to take public money and then double-charge the public by putting restrictions on the result.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @07:41AM (#38353590)

        If you are in America, there is no sweat-of-the-brow copyright, which means this material is, and always will be, public domain. A faithful replica does not come with its own copyright. In the UK, however, there is, so the library can legally (and bizarrely) claim copyright on the material. Of course, once it's on the Internet, it's only a matter of time before it ends up freely available. If this was an American project, the only recourse they could have against you would be breach of the ToS, which might get you banned from the site. Having said that, Aaron Swartz came very close to being locked up and fined for millions for downloading JSTOR material with a laptop in a cupboard at MIT and posting them online, with such fancy-sounding crimes as wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. Because it's worse when you do it with a computer, obviously. Luckily for him, JSTOR didn't press charges, and instead accelerated their own program of free release of material.

        In the UK, there is also history of prosecution of this kind of thing, from when a Wikimedia Commons contributor reassembled and uploaded 3000 images "protected" by the Zoomify image tiler from the National Portrait Gallery, and they tried to do him for something like hacking. However, as far as I know nothing has come of that case, except for the fact that the NPG no longer shows high-res images on their site, which is a shame, but that information won't stay locked away forever, and the images at Commons are usable for derivation, whereas the Zoomified images are totally useless, unless all you wanted was a 256x256 pixel square.

        In my opinion, it's only a matter of time before all this protected information is made fully available, by hook or by crook, and the institutions jealously guarding their precious "property" need to wake up to the fact. For example, the US National Archives and Records Administration has recently released hundreds of thousands of high-res scans of their collection via a WIkimedian-in-Residence, and have even started linking their own database to the transcribed documents at Wikisource. That is the future of the information culture, not jealously sitting on it and withholding from the public.

  • by sizzzzlerz (714878) on Monday December 12, 2011 @09:39PM (#38350782)

    I checked out a version from my local library just so I could try and read it for myself. This edition was a fairly recent translation from Newton's original work, which was in Latin, into modern day English. Even with that and with an advanced engineering degree and some study of orbital mechanics, I couldn't begin to grasp what he was saying. His mind worked on levels far above mere mortals. I can only imagine that reading his personal notes would be like staring into the face of the Sun without protection. He was an amazing individual, his devotion to alchemy not withstanding.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 12, 2011 @09:43PM (#38350810)

    I've scanned Principia and I find no references to Daniel Waterhouse or Enoch Root, or the Salomonic Gold. Could Neal Stephenson been writing *fiction*?

  • by cvtan (752695) on Monday December 12, 2011 @09:45PM (#38350830)
    I'm getting the sinking feeling that these guys, while smarter than the average person, were also better educated than we are. He is British and yet writes this complex tome in Latin. I got the same sinking feeling when reading The Leatherstocking Tales series by James Fenimore Cooper (Last of the Mohicans etc.). There are passages of French dialog that are not translated. Apparently, as an educated person, you are just expected to know French. My language requirement in college was satisfied by taking Fortran! I hang my head in shame.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 12, 2011 @10:11PM (#38351020)
      He was brilliant, yes, but consider this: a person knowing a second language is much more likely when a) he is a theologian and many of his text books are in Latin and/or b) he didn't waste all that time in school learning, you know, science.
    • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday December 12, 2011 @11:05PM (#38351372)

      Yeah, well, he had plenty of time to learn Latin since he didn't have to take Calculus in high school!

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday December 12, 2011 @11:54PM (#38351712) Homepage

      Of course he wrote it in Latin - Latin was the standard language for academic discourse in his time, and as an educated man he was expected to know it and use it in his published works. The big advantage of this was that it made it relatively easy for him to communicate with his counterparts in other countries - for instance, Gottfried Leibniz also wrote mostly Latin.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @12:33AM (#38351964)

      It's just a matter of education. Our brains are hard-wired to learn new languages with some effort, and the younger you start the easier it is. If you come over to Europe, you will find plenty of idiots with the ability to get by in two or three languages.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @03:57AM (#38352818)

      I thought the same thing, until I moved to Europe a few years ago to work as an engineer in HVDC applications (High Voltage DC). I now speak German and French Fluently and am learning Spanish. It makes a huge difference if you can be around native speakers and take classes regularly. The only downside is that I occasionally find myself misspelling words in a German way (when there is a "sh" i sometimes put in the letter "c" e.g. "sch" without realising) which has baffled some of my other English colleges!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @05:42AM (#38353156)

      You think that's bad? My book club recently read the Spanish translation of a Catalan book which contained 7 languages (the bulk in Spanish, obviously; a bit of Catalan which wasn't translated; French, German, Italian, English, and Latin) and not a single translation footnote. The translator even said in the preface that it wasn't necessary to add footnotes because e.g. the reader would be able to understand that "romantic song" which one of the characters sings in Catalan wasn't really romantic. In Catalan it was "Volem pà amb oli"; in Spanish that's "Queremos pan con aceite". Obviously no need for a footnote there.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @06:52AM (#38353362)

      So what? I'm writing this in English, which is my fourth language (after Dutch, French and German).

      My daughter knows Latin and ancient Greek on top of those (I unfortunately did not see the advantage of learning dead languages when I was 12 years old, perhaps I'll study them when I'm retired.)

      Once, Greek was the language of culture, science & diplomacy. Then it became Latin, after that French. Now it is English.

      Many people in the world speak at least 2 languages: their own language and the lingua franca.

      Only people whose first language IS the lingua franca get away with only knowing one language. Now it is English.

      The French should learn that it is not French anymore, because many among them still think it is OK to only know French (I have often been in situations where French people in Asia were soooo happy to see a Belgian, because we know both French and English and could translate their problem to the hotel owner/taxi driver/police official.)

  • by anon208 (2410460) on Monday December 12, 2011 @09:51PM (#38350870)
    I find it very frustrating that many of his books are not either free or reasonably priced. Example: [] the cost for ebooks of his writting from at least bloody 40 years ago should be a little cheaper by now. They are 8 dollars for kindle edition. I guess I am mostly venting. If anyone has any legal places to get his ebooks, I am most interested.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 12, 2011 @10:26PM (#38351118)
    Schemes. Frankly least of which is again. There are
  • by ksheer (914037) on Monday December 12, 2011 @10:52PM (#38351284) Homepage
    > Isaac Newton's Notes Digitized and slashdotted (already)
  • by bigsexyjoe (581721) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @12:18AM (#38351870)
    In the 200,000 years of human history the most import event occurred 325 years ago when Newton wrote Principia. The world changed more in the last 325 years than the preceding 200,000.

    The lives of people in Newton's time where more like cavemen than modern men. Indeed many people effectively where cavemen in Newton's time. When Newton was a kid he went away to school. Because his school was five miles from his parents house! Do you live within five miles of your job? Or do you perhaps do a lot of telecommuting?

    To be fair, the world was already changing and would have kept moving forward either way. But in the book "The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History" Newton came in second. (As you can guess, I think he was robbed.) Now, in the Newton section, the phrase "this accomplishment along would have put him in the 100" appeared about four times. Calculus was invented independently without him by Leibniz. From there it probably would have taken another 100 to 200 years for it to find itself applied to physics and have all of his laws rediscovered. So if Newton had not lived, you would not be on Slashdot right now.
  • by Haedrian (1676506) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:34AM (#38352954)

    Seriously, I was so confused. Had to take a triple take before I realised.

  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @05:42AM (#38353158)

    FTFA - "The university had to undertake conservation work on some of the manuscripts, which were considered too fragile to be scanned"?!

    WTF, so a handful of guest researchers in white cotton gloves every are less prone to damage the manuscript than a single scan?!

    I doubt that.

    This was the best option. Scan (or photograph them) them and put them on the web.

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing. -- Alan Perlis