Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Rambam and Newton - Two kindred spirits without a doubt.

My friend Rabbi Benny Buchman directed me to this speech made by John Maynard Keynes in honor of Sir Isaac Newton.


Here are some excerpts:

“He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.”

He then describes his mental processes. JMK claims that Newton arrived at his great ideas by intuition and only afterwards figured out the proofs.

Certainly there can be no doubt that the peculiar geometrical form in which the exposition of the Principia is dressed up bears no resemblance at all to the mental processes by which Newton actually arrived at his conclusions. His experiments were always, I suspect, a means, not of discovery, but always of verifying what he knew already

Compare this with the following quote of Rambam in Moreh 2:38 where he explains prophecy and revelation:

“Some persons are so strong and sound in their imagination and intuitive faculty that, when they assume a thing to be in existence, the reality either entirely or partly confirms their assumption. Although the causes of this assumption are numerous, and include many preceding, succeeding, and present circumstances, by means of the intuitive faculty the intellect can pass over all these causes, and draw inferences from them very quickly, almost instantaneously

Newton's interest in understanding the why and who of our existence led him to conclude:

Very early in life Newton abandoned orthodox belief in the Trinity. At this time the Socinians (An adherent of a 16th-century Italian sect holding unitarian views, including denial of the divinity of Jesus. Wikipedia) were an important Arian sect amongst intellectual circles. It may be that Newton fell under Socinian influences, but I think not. He was rather a Judaic monotheist of the school of Maimonides. He arrived at this conclusion, not on so-to-speak rational or skeptical grounds, but entirely on the interpretation of ancient authority. He was persuaded that the revealed documents give no support to the Trinitarian doctrines which were due to late falsifications. The revealed God was one God.”

Here is another paper that deals with Newton’s interest in Maimonidean thought and Judaism in general.

Quite an amazing thing - the greatest Jewish philosopher and the greatest scientist of all times were kindred spirits!


  1. Did you know that Newton tried to established the correct measurment of the Amma? He actually came pretty close to the Chazon Ish's measure.

  2. Chardal,

    The man was fascinating. The others who were quite interesting are apparently some of the founding Fathers and writers of the US constitution were also knowledgeable ablout torah, hebrew and Rambam. I just herad about it or read in passing and will investigate more.

  3. To be frank, the Rambam was not the greatest Jewish philosopher; Crescas was.