16 Examples of the Madness of Sir Isaac Newton

16 Examples of the Madness of Sir Isaac Newton

Larry Holzwarth - September 21, 2018

16 Examples of the Madness of Sir Isaac Newton
Newton preferred his own company to that of others, even to the end of his long and productive life. Wikimedia

16. He was a solitary and reclusive, preferring his own company to that of others

Over time, Isaac Newton developed the personality which led him to prefer to be alone, avoiding social contacts except when necessary for the advancement of his work. In his writings and those of his contemporaries, he exhibited little in the way of a sense of humor, and he did not easily share his achievements with others by making note of their contributions. He did not express his emotions other than in bursts of anger; other feelings remained under strict self-control. He did not speak or write of his own desires, and the only indications of his possessing a sense of remorse were in the lists of “sins” he prepared for himself while in his youth.

He was not free from a sense of sexual desire, since he wrote of the means to control it, and thus remain chaste, a condition in which he apparently remained throughout his life. “The way to chastity is not to struggle with incontinent thoughts but to avert the thoughts by some imployment (sic), or by reading, or by meditating on other things, or by convers”, Newton told a relative late in his lifetime. The only record of any potential romantic involvement was an adolescent one, before he began his academic career. Probably the best description of Newton’s personality comes from Humphrey Newton, who served as his secretary for a time at Trinity College. “His behavior was mild and meek, without anger, peevishness, or passion, so free from that, that you might take him for a stoic.” But clearly, he was not without his demons, as human as are all.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Mercury Poisoning: A probable cause of Isaac Newton’s physical and mental ills”. L. W. Johnson, M. L. Wobarsht, Notes and Records, The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science. July 1, 1979

“Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer”. Michael White. 1997

“Isaac Newton’s Personal Life”. The Newton Project, Oxford University. 2018. Online

“Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton”. Rob Iliffe. 2017

“Balancing Newton’s Mind: his singular behavior and his madness of 1692-93”. Milo Keynes, Notes and Records, The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science. September 20, 2008

“The Newton-Leibniz Controversy”. Gerald L. Alexanderson, Leonard F. Klosinski, Bulletin of the American Mathematics Society. February 1, 2016

“Robert Hooke, Britain’s Leonardo, papers go online”. Roger Highfield, The Telegraph. October 8, 2007

“Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist”. Thomas Levenson. 2009

“Isaac Newton Used This Recipe in His Hunt to Make a Philosopher’s Stone”. Danny Lewis, Smithsonian Magazine, April 11, 2016

“Notes In Which Isaac Newton Sought to Unlock Secrets Of Bible Sold At Auction”. TOI STAFF, Times Of Israel, 13 December 2020

“Isaac Newton: Was He a Jerk Due to Asperger’s?”. Ross Pomeroy, Real Clear Science, October 31, 2013

“Einstein and Newton showed signs of Autism”. Hazel Muir, New Scientist. April 30, 2003

“The Personality of Isaac Newton”. Milo Keynes, The Royal Society. 1995

“Why Was Isaac Newton Such a Jerk?” Stephen Ross Pomeroy, Forbes Online. November 4, 2013

“Celebrity Meltdown: Isaac Newton (1642-1727)”. Staff of Psychology Today. November 1999

“Flaws of Gravity”. Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair. April 2008

“In the Presence of the Creator: Isaac Newton and his Times”. Gale Christianson. 1984

“How Isaac Newton Lost His Marbles and more medical mysteries, marvels, and mayhem”. Dr. Jim Leavesley and George Biro. 2010

“The Cambridge Companion to Newton”. Bernard I. Cohen, George E. Smith, editors. 2002