Living in quarantine was an incentive for Newton to change the history of Physics

Living in quarantine was an incentive for Newton to change the history of Physics

At times we have had to be subjected to various types of home quarantines due to an epidemic. The psychological and sociological consequences of this have, of course, been negative, but also positive, we see below.

During the Plague, for example, confinement at home and social distancing surely favored geniuses like Shakespeare or Newton so that, surrounded by time, tranquility, silence and other inappropriate elements of hectic social life, he carried out some of his masterpieces .

Newton’s quarantine

In Japan there is a unique phenomenon in the world in which generally adolescents decide to lock themselves in their room and not go out for weeks or months, the Hikikomori . Also in the West we are used to cases of monks or others who decide to become anchorites, isolating themselves for a good time or forever from the world. But it is the first time in recent history that many of us are going to be forced to stay a long time within four walls (although now we have a fifth in the form of a screen that allows us to see much further).

Perhaps we can extract some motivation from other quarantine stories whose results were more than remarkable. It is the case of Isaac Newton , who during the quarantine by the plague of 1665, made some of his greatest contributions to Physics.

Newton was in his early 20s when the Great Plague of London ravaged the city . He was just another undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge. And it would be another 200 years before scientists discovered the bacteria that caused the plague. But even without knowing exactly why, people practiced some of the same things that we do to avoid illness.

To ensure social distancing, Cambridge sent the students home to continue their studies. For Newton, that meant going to Woolsthorpe Manor , the family estate a few miles northwest of Cambridge. He then acquired some prisms and experimented with them in his room, even making a hole in his blinds so that only a small ray could pass. From this arose his theories on optics. It was one of the advantages of having time to meditate and experiment in comfort and without structured classes.

In London, a quarter of the population died of Plague between 1665 and 1666. It was one of the last major outbreaks in the 400 years that the Black Death ravaged Europe. Newton returned to Cambridge in 1667, theories in hand. Two two years later, Newton became a teacher .

For his part, during a plague quarantine in 1605, William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth and King Lear . "The plague was the most powerful force that shaped his life and that of his contemporaries," wrote Jonathan Bate , one of his many biographers. The plague closed the theaters of London. Shakespeare felt that writing was the best use of his time. "This meant that their days were free, for the first time since the early 1590s, to collaborate with other playwrights," writes James S. Shapiro in his book The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 .

We may be condemned to be within four walls (or five), but our minds never will be.