Human Journey

Patterns in Creativity: Leonardo and Newton – Corcoran Gallery of Art

To former students and other friends in the Washington, DC area. I would love to see you at the lecture,

on December 7 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. These two transformative geniuses share many traits, and differ in many others.

I plan to weave into the talk the late “Great Steve Jobs,” who died two months ago and is already on the fast track to achieving secular Sainthood.

Many would consider it insane to speak of Jobs in the same breath as Leonardo or Newton, and, of course only time will tell if Jobs’s contributions come anywhere near those of Leonardo and Newton. Because of the unprecedented pace in the development of information technology, however, hundreds of millions of individuals have already seen his influence. His personality was more like that of Newton — confident, irascible, recalcitrant, remorseless, and unable to suffer fools well — but unlike Newton, he was not reclusive. I plan to use my iPad connected to a projector to show slides, and my iPhone as a remote to control the iPad. IF these two device are unable to ‘recognize’ each other, I will be the first to demote Mr. Jobs.

Bulent Atalay, a scientist, artist and author, has been described by NPR, PBS and the Washington Post as a “Modern Renaissance Man.” He is the author of two successful books on the intersection of art, science and mathematics, with Leonardo, the pre-eminent Renaissance man, serving as the foil. His best selling book, "Math and the Mona Lisa," (Smithsonian Books, 2004) has appeared in 13 languages. Professor Atalay's academic background is in theoretical physics. He travels around the world lecturing at academic institutions and on cruise ships on the "A-subjects," art, archaeology, astrophysics, atomic physics and Ataturk, confessing that he knows much less about the "B-subjects," business, banking, biology and botany... He is the President of the Ataturk Society of America (ASA), dedicated to promoting Ataturk's ideals of science and reason over dogma and superstition, of a secular state with full equality of genders. For more details click on Bulent Atalay
  • M.Bandara

    As i see this information are very good for geography lectures

  • Thingumbobesquire

    Sir, If you find Leonardo raving about alchemical sorcery anywhere, then perhaps you have a point. Until then, please be aware that the quackery of Newton’s “dot” calculus fraud, his stealing from Hooke’s mere reworking of Kepler’s discovery of the laws of gravity, and his sponsors’ motives for keeping Leibniz out of England are well known to those of us who cannot be fooled all of the time.

  • Dear “Mr. Thingumbobesquire”,

    Thank you for submitting a comment to my blog, but I am afraid I disagree with you. It is difficult to believe that the dispute between scholars in England and those on the Continent should continue to persist regarding the provenance of calculus, or the demonstration of the inverse-square nature of gravitation.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by the comments, about “Leonardo raving about alchemical sorcery,” or “the quackery of Newton’s ‘dot’ calculus fraud,” or for that matter, “his stealing of Hooke’s reworking of Kepler’s discovery of the law of gravity.”

    Newton derived the binomial theorem in 1665-’66, and the expression for the derivative of x^n as nx^(n-1) as an example of his ‘fluxions’ (differential calculus), as well as the ‘Fundamental Theorem for calculus. Which means that he could invert the process, and achieve integration (or ‘fluents’).

    Granted his dot notation was nowhere as good as Leibnitz’s d/dx nor his integral “summa”, but he did this 19 years before Leibnitz (who published his calculus in 1684). In modern physics the dot-notation is till used for time-derivatives.

    As for stealing the Universal Law of Gravitation from Hooke, and reworking it. Hooke most likely invented the concept of centripetal acceleration, but did not know its full use. He may have suspected the inverse square nature of gravitation, but he could not prove it mathematically. He was a superb experimenter, but was “innocent of mathematics,” in the language of the past centuries. Newton’s demonstration of the 1/19 inch fall of the moon, compared with the 16 foot fall of an apple in the first second after release, led to the inverse square law. The ratio of these distances is roughly 1/3600, the connection of that fact to the moon’s distance being 60 times that of the apple (measured center-to-center), led him to conclude the inverse square nature of the gravitational force. The magnificent rigor of the ‘Principia’ is beyond any work in the sciences before or after.

    This is not an easy book to read and he demonstrates his ideas with geometry, without invoking calculus. You might look at Chandrasekhar’s recasting of each of the conjectures and proofs in the Principia in terms of modern calculus to appreciate their mathematical rigor. Chandrasekhar, recipient of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics for his theory on the collapse of massive stars into black holes, spent about ten years after retiring from the University of Chicago, to demonstrate each of Newton’s propositions in the Principia. In his formulation he used geometry rather than the calculus.

    Newton was not a pleasant person and we probably would not have liked him. He should never have gotten into those disputes with Hook, Leibnitz, Huygens nor with a number of other great men of his time. There was more than enough credit to go around. The present acknowledgment of Newton and Leibnitz as co-inventors of calculus is a compromise we have all come to live with.

    How brilliant he was emerges in the anecdote where the Bernoulli Brothers formulate the Calculus of Variation, as a byproduct of solving the ‘Brachistrochrone Problem.’ Then they want to disgrace Newton, who by this time is several decades past his mathematical prowess, by challenging him to solve the very problem that had taken them ten years to solve. According to Newton’s niece, “Uncle Isaac came home and received the letter from the Bernoullis. He retired to his bed chamber and would not come down for supper. His candle is lit till midnight. The next day he posted the answer without a signature.” The Bernoulli Brothers who received the solution, however, were shocked and horrified that someone could solve the problem in one evening, when it had taken them so many years. One of them exclaimed, “You can recognize the lion by his claws!”

    We can say that he did not have the spirit of modern science. In not wanting to share. The greatest scientist and mathematician in history, whose work represents the Newtonian Revolution, was himself no Newtonian.


    Bulent Atalay

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