I have always been fascinated by Isaac Newton’s character beginning in late grade school. In fact, I’d say it was his character that I find most interesting. All the ‘genius’ and ‘achievements’ that everyone raves about never appealed to me at all.
As I have grown older I have found this fascination may have a deeper side. It seems that we may have a similar trait. It’s this similarity that will be a good start to describe his traits as I see it.
First of all, I have traits of a condition called Asperger’s Syndrome (though I have not been diagnosed). This made me do things like spend all day thinking about a single subject when I was younger. It was hard for me to change subjects too (that is, I couldn’t think this then that then the other thing; I had to focus on a single subject most of the day). I also had problems associating with people and, still, am much of a loner. There’s a multitude of other things as well.
As I began to learn about this unusual condition I was amazed that to find out that a man I admired, Isaac Newton, appears to have similar Asperger-like traits (though he appears to be worse than me). Unlike a lot of us, his condition (if he has it?) helped him do something in the world. This may be one reason why I admire him so much.
He’d spend all day thinking about things. He’d get so involved with thought he’d forget to do things like comb his hair and eat. This complete and utter devotion to thinking is one reason why he became so ‘learned’ and knew things so well. This Asperger trait would become his greatest strength.
He had a hard time relating and associating with people. Like me, he never married and never had any relationship with any female (which is not uncommon with people with Asperger’s Syndrome).
Like me, he had a ‘mental breakdown’ in his mid-age years (I in my late thirties and he in his fifties). I feel mine, and probably his, was a result of this very focused life and the lack of human relationship.
Newton was lucky in that his fame made people want to associate with him (if it wasn’t for his fame and ‘achievements’ he would of probably been like a lot of us – eccentric loners that no one wants to associate with). After his ‘breakdown’ people helped him and got him a job at the Royal Mint. His fame also got him as President of the Royal Society later on.
He was a private person who kept to himself. He also seemed to not look into other peoples lives and didn’t seem to care.
His private life was very powerful, it seems, and that’s where he ‘lived’. The ‘outside world’ of society and everyone else was hardly noticed by him. He’d have theories and ideas he’d not speak to anyone about for 10 years or more. Who knows, he may have had ideas and theories no one ever knew that could have been even more impactful on science?
I sometimes get the impression that, in his early years at least, he got irritated with people asking him questions and that. I have this notion that Newton, like a lot of us, just wanted to live in his own world oblivious to the outside world. But his ideas were so powerful he was, in a sense, ‘dragged’ out into the world. Perhaps, this is why he hated criticism and didn’t like people refuting him?
Some people said he had no sense of humor. But I’m aware that other accounts describe how he’d laugh at jokes. I think he was a serious-minded person in general and not someone who joked around but he’d laugh at things.
He was very religious. Even a lot of his scientific inquiry was really nothing but a way to learn the ‘laws of God’ (not to prove God wrong as science would later try to do). Not many people know that he spent a lot of time looking into religion, probably more so than science.
He seemed a very self-sufficient person who did things for himself. He made a lot of his own tools. When he was younger he was supposed to have his own smith shop. Many of his accounts describe how he’d make pies and that.
They say he was about 5’-6” tall.
His tomb is at Westminster Abbey in London. It’s in the floor in front of the Isaac Newton monument, which is on the left side of the choir screen as you walk in the west doors.
(I wrote this in 2009)