The Mystery Man Puzzle

The Mystery Man Puzzle

Create May 13, 2012 / By Barry R. Clarke
The Mystery Man Puzzle

Can you solve a mystery from history?

High achievers such as Newton and Einstein are often idealised as single-handedly advancing civilisation, as if possessed with a super-human power, and as a result are incongruously raised to an iconic or religious status. However, the debt that they owe to those who have gone before, which they usually acknowledged in their lifetime, is often omitted from the history books. Once their achievement is viewed in context, they can be restored to their rightful place alongside the rest of us mortals.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 stands as one of the finest examples of metaphorical word play in the English language:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

However, Shakespeare undoubtedly absorbed the best of the Greco-Roman writers in his preparatory years. Without the wisdom and influence of thinkers such as Ovid, Virgil, and Horace, his work would certainly have had far less power.

Isaac Newton is often credited with originating the differential and integral calculus but without the contribution of Pierre de Fermat, who had already found the method of obtaining tangents to polynomial curves in 1638, and of Bonaventura Cavilieri whose 1635 quadrature formula suggested the method of integration, Newton's development of the theory might never have occurred. His innovation in the years 1664-66 was not to invent the method but to recognise differentiation and integration as inverse processes and to extend the method to a whole new range of functions. Newton is also given sole priority for the equations of motion with constant acceleration, but the student is seldom informed that the equations are actually the mathematical generalisation of Galileo's experimental results in mechanics.

The young Albert Einstein avidly studied James Clerk Maxwell's work on electrodynamics in preparation for his 1905 special theory of relativity, however, his main achievement was not to obtain the correct transformation equations, because they had already been written down by Joseph Larmour in 1897 and Hendrik Lorentz in 1899. His inspiration was the formulation of a coherent theory based on two postulates: the constancy of the speed of light, and the idea that the laws of physics are the same in all constant velocity reference frames.

The point here is not so much that these personalities should forfeit a portion of their achievement. It is only that no one thinks in a vacuum, and that all progress depends on a careful assimilation of previous successes, which are often close to the advance being made, and which are an essential prerequisite for creatively moving the subject forward. As Newton wrote to Robert Hooke in February 1676 "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants [sic]."

In this week's puzzle, the person concealed would certainly not have earned his place in history without the work of both his predecessors and contemporaries.

Can you correctly interpret the clues and identify the mystery man in the picture?


Last Week's Solution

The house owner is relaxed as can be seen by rotating the picture counter clockwise a quarter turn to reveal a man smoking. Congratulations to our furry-tive friend Anon, a mouse, who was the first to post the answer.



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