The Mental Illness of Isaac Newton

This statue was shot outside the British Library in London, UK   Image Source:  Wikipedia

It is almost a platitude to acknowledge Isaac Newton as one of history’s greatest geniuses. In all likelihood, his intelligence level outstripped what contemporary IQ tests are even designed to measure. He articulated the law of gravitation, the three major laws of motion, made important discoveries in astronomy, optics and mathematics, making it possible to calculate distances, speeds, and weights. These discoveries laid the foundation for numerous important modern discoveries.

Nevertheless, Newton was not exactly what one would describe as mentally healthy. Exactly what was responsible for his mental suffering is controversial, but many speculate that he suffered from bipolar disorder. Beginning in early life, he was extremely reclusive and spent most of his childhood in solitude, building miniature mills, carts, and machines.

He was neurotic, arrogant, and in later life, prone to fits of explosive rage, which he discharged on family and friends. At one point, he threatened to kill his parents and burn their house down. He was particularly reactive when his work was criticized, which would be the occasion of fits of rage and withdrawal from the scientific community, refusing to speak with scientists who disagreed with him.

Indeed, he was highly introverted and rarely contributed to conversations at all. He befriended only one person at Cambridge and recorded struggles with anxiety, depression, self-loathing and suicidal ideation in his journals.

He would also have periods of intense remorse over his rage, during which time he would list the wrongdoings of which he had become guilty during these periods. With the exception of his niece, Catherine Barton, and the Swiss mathematician Fatio de Duillier, he does not seem to have developed meaningful or deep interpersonal relationships at all.

At his worst, Newton hallucinated individuals with whom he would carry on conversations, as well as suffer from grandiose delusions and delusions of persecution.

Article source:

Image source: Wikipedia

Born:  25 December 1642,  4 January 1643, Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England

Nationality: English

Died: 20 March 1726/7 (aged 84), Kensington, Middlesex, England

Resting place: Westminster Abbey

Fields:  Physics, Natural philosophy, Mathematics,  Astronomy,  Alchemy, Economics

Institutions: University of Cambridge, Royal Society, Royal Mint

Alma mater: Trinity College, Cambridge

Academic advisors: Isaac Barrow, Benjamin Pulleyn

Notable students: Roger Cotes, William Whiston

Known for: Newtonian mechanics, Universal gravitation, Calculus, Newton’s laws of motion, Optics Binomial series, Principia Newton’s method

Notable awards FRS (1672)

Originally posted on my blog:

2 thoughts on “The Mental Illness of Isaac Newton

  1. Just Plain Ol' Vic says:

    There really seems to be a correlation between extreme genius (or creativity) and mental health issues (typically untreated). Interesting.


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