"Of all Isaac Newton’s gifts to humanity, my personal favourite is his famous turn of phrase, written in a letter to Robert Hooke in 1676: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
There is such a beautiful humility and economy in the words, a vivid evocation of the process of human learning. The Principia Mathematica is a work of genius, no doubt, but in that phrase Newton acknowledges how his work builds on the breakthroughs of Kepler, Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo and so on.
Since then, of course, Newton’s model of classical mechanics has been superseded by quantum physics, with the likes of Einstein, Planck and Bohr building on, and sometimes dismantling, those earlier theories."He continued:
"I could perceive how the evolution of the internet and all its infinite promise resembled a faintly cosmic thread, running from [Leonard] Kleinrock’s original packet switching research 50 years ago to Fadell’s beautiful gadgets today. That morning, even as I heard their respective stories, I hadn’t made the full connection between Kleinrock’s fridge-sized Interface Message Processor in UCLA and Fadell’s thermostat or smoke alarm.
Perhaps it is fitting, then, that Newton didn’t actually coin the phrase himself – he was invoking a metaphor that had first been recorded many centuries before and attributed to the 12th-century philosopher Bernard of Chartres. The giant Bernard and Newton refers to is not any one particularly gifted thinker – instead, the giant represents the sum of all human knowledge."In full here.