The Dark Side of Isaac Newton, Piers Bursill-Hall
From Ami Andrews
This public lecture was part of the Young Researchers in Combinatorics workshop at ICMS.
We were delighted to welcome speaker Piers Bursill-Hall (University of Cambridge) for this public lecture.
We tend to talk about maths and its history in isolation from the individuals who actually did the mathematics; the personalities and the non-scientific lives of most of the great mathematicians remains generally unknown. About Isaac Newton, however, we know a lot – and it isn’t pretty. One of the greatest mathematicians and physicists of all time, he was one of the most unpleasant people of his age … and there is some stiff competition for that title. Being a thoroughly horrid person doesn’t make him less of a great mathematician, but perhaps it makes for a slightly more three-dimensional history. They don’t tell you about this sort of thing at school, so let’s take a walk on the dark side …
Bursill-Hall was educated (for a very weak definition of educated) in England, Canada, the USA, and France, and quite unintentionally found himself in Cambridge researching mathematical foundations of quantum logics, and then teaching history of mathematics and history of science in the maths faculty for over 40 years. He has yet to decide what he will do when he grows up. His research has ranged over ancient mathematics, early Islamic science, Renaissance maths and mathematical arts, and ‘higher maths’ in the Enlightenment, and recently a side trip into ethics in mathematics (yes, there is such a thing). His annual undergraduate lecture courses on the history of mathematics and some aspects of history of science are on Zoom, and have a large and remarkably diverse audience from around the world.