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Re: [Phys-l] Newton's birthday

Chuck Britton wrote:

During Newton's lifetime - his birthday was never anything other than December 25th.

A few decades after his demise, England (and the colonies) went Gregorian and the powers-that-were chose to 'update' his birth date to January 4th.

Let's not KEEP changing it. Let it lie - either the Dec 25th that he knew or the Jan 4th that the politicians updated it to.

At the base of his Westminster statue - the Latin inscription ends with:
He was born on 25 December 1642, and died on 20 March 1726/7. - Translation from G.L. Smyth, The Monuments and Genii of St. Paul's Cathedral, and of Westminster Abbey (1826), ii, 703-4.[58]

indicating the uncertainty as to when the 'New Year' actually occurred in 1726/7. The 'official' change to Jan 1 wouldn't occur until 1750.

All calendars have a bit of fascinating arbitrariness about them.

At 10:35 AM -0800 1/4/10, Leigh Palmer wrote:

According to my Julian calendar* December 25, 2009 coincides with 7 January 2010 Gregorian. I think that is the proper anniversary of Isaac Newton's birth. Google's a bit early.


*Intercal, a very nice Macintosh application written by Dennis A. Elliott

I take Chuck's point, and I have now learned that if a birthday is taken to mean the sidereal anniversary of one's natal day, then the day nearest N sidereal years after that day is properly reckoned to be one's Nth birthday. As the Gregorian calendar is more accurately in sync with sidereal years than is the Julian calendar, 4 January is more accurately Newton's birthday than 7 January, as I mistakenly suggested. Thanks for clearing that up for me, Chuck.

This is a Gegenbeispiel that demonstrates the fallacy of the superannuated canine conjecture*.

and Hugh Haskell wrote:

To get away from the details of the calendar shift, over which the debate will undoubtedly continue endlessly, I would like to recommend a diversion. I encourage everyone to read the charming children's book "Tibaldo and the Hole in the Calendar," by the physicist Abner Shimony (Springer-Verlag-Copernicus Books, 1998). It is written for the 9-15-year age group and shows how one boy dealt with a lost birthday when his twelfth fell among the days that were removed from the calendar when Europe (i.e., the Catholic Church) modernized their calendar in 1582.

There is good science entwined with a delightful story. It is somewhat anachronistic in that Tibaldo and others espouse positions that ran strongly counter to contemporary beliefs, but it is done convincingly and I enjoyed reading it even though I was considerably older than 12 when I read it.

... and that's the second neat new thing I've learned this evening. The application "Intercal" (see <>) I mention above displays the October 1582 page with the famous discontinuity. Thanks, Hugh.


* "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."