Standing on the shoulders of giants
For a long time I have had a web page about the origin of the inscription on the outer edge of the UK two pound coin “Standing on the shoulders of giants”, so I have recorded the most important information from that older page here before removing it.
The quote is generally attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, the famous physicist, mathematician and more, who wrote in a letter to his colleague Robert Hooke on 5th February 1676:
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”
The phrase is understood to mean that if he (Sir Isaac Newton) has been able to discover more about the universe than others then it was because he was working in the light of discoveries made by fellow scientists either in his own time or earlier. There is some suggestion that the phrase may have also had a sarcastic undertone as some historians report that Robert Hooke began to disagree with many of Newton’s theories and Hooke himself was reportedly of quite short height.
Whilst the exact phrase above is attributed to Sir Newton, the main idea to which it refers can be traced back many centuries earlier, at least to Bernard of Chartes who died around the year 1130. The following is attributed to him:
“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more than they do, indeed even farther; but not because our sight is better than theirs or because we are taller than they. Our sight is enhanced because they raise us up and increase our stature by their enormous height”
My thanks to Alan Williams for leaving a note about the quote from Bernard of Chartes in my old guestbook.