Monday, March 22, 2010

Great Minds

I’m thinking about Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and JS Bach (1685-1750). They lived so differently and yet were both so brilliant. Newton was able to think clearly and elegantly explain some mysteries of our known universe. Bach was prolific in composing powerful, meaningful music. Both believed devoutly in God. Bach was social with a large family. Newton was a priggish outsider prone to jealous grudges. Both were teachers. Bach wrote and shared prodigiously, even weekly. Newton guarded his treasures of knowledge like a Dragon often only coaxed into sharing by flattery and assurances that there would be no criticism or competition. Bach was undiscovered outside of Leipzig until 100 years after his death. Newton made “natural philosophy” (science) cool, was famous, hailed and even knighted in his lifetime. Bach died making music. Newton, experimenting to the last, nevertheless spent his latter years (27) as head of the English mint for coins and was secretly both a biblical scholar and an (illegal) alchemist.

It seems that a love for music and the responsibilities to his family propelled Bach into a position of constant creation. Whereas the discoveries for which the introverted Newton is most famous were made during an 18 month period of total seclusion induced by the black plague. Bach was welcomed into a family four generations deep in musicians. Newton’s father died shortly before Isaac’s premature birth and was left to his grandparents at the age of 3 as part of his mother’s new marriage contract. Who is to say if Bach would have been so prolific without the support and motivation of his family? Who is to say if Newton would have had the time or inclination to meditate and discern solutions if he had been more social? Frankly, I am inspired and grateful that the potential and achievement of human greatness grows in a variety personalities and circumstances. There is hope for all of us.

I can see myself, like Isaac Newton, paranoid of criticism and anxious to seek knowledge without interruptions, obligations or food. Still, I find that like J.S. Bach, I am motivated not only by a love of learning and love for my children, but also inevitable deadlines. Reading about eminent thinkers and contributors inspires a vision of myself as potentially great. I’m not referring to delusions of grandeur, just applying my honest faith in the greatness of humanity to myself as well as to others. These people were human. They had oddities (especially Newton). They had parameters. Nevertheless, they contributed. What will I contribute? What will I share?

P.S. Bach’s music was launched into outer space using Newtonian
Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement
"Gavotte en rondeaux" from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue No.1 in C major

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