- QUESTON: If great but not-popularly-known scientists could be represented as a chess piece, and that chess piece was on a game board opposite Popularly-Known-Celebrities-Not-Known-to-Scientists (and etc.), what piece would the great and dusty Robert Hooke be? And conversely, (on that opposite side), what piece would someone like, say Paris Hilton be?
See also earlier posts: The History of Dots Part 9: the Cell and Robert Hooke and Horse Poop and the Stars: Robert Hooke, 1673 (No, it Wasn't Pegasus) and When a Compliment is Not: Newton and Hooke and the "Shoulders of Giants"
I wonder about poor old Robert Hooke. He was such a tremendous thinker, a terrific rush of ideas, with revolutionary insights in many fields; he was a leading architect, a physicist, a microscopist, a chrononaut, a mathematician, an everything. He carried the Royal Society for years, carried on hundreds if not thousands of experiments, and of course was famously on the other side of a bad series of arguments with Isaac Newton. At the end of his long life, Hooke was afraid of not being remembered, of not having enough money to see himself through hi sold age, afraid of others taking credit for his work. He just seemed not to matter, anymore, in the last decade of his life (and a period in which he was still doing significant work), and I just wonder why he managed to become so semi-invisible.
He was so dedicated. I have an image of him scurrying with a friend, removing the estimable library of a patron and donor to the Society, trundling the books in wheelbarrows across a mile and then-some of bumpy London streets finding a home for these great treasures. He was an older man at this point, marching these books across parts of the city that he helped to restore after the fire, passed buildings that he helped to build and design, bumping his way through London, a great and famous scientist, saving books by the handful. [An idealized portrait of Hooke, at right.]
He was a tireless, relentless observer and experimenter, who lost little effort in a stranded idea and pursued interesting and problematic questions relentlessly. More than others too he chased his won glory—minor but long and insistent—the years of which wore thin on many people in the scientific community. But there were many characteristics of the man that made him not quite so lovable and endearing—not that Newton was any of those things, as he was not, but if you are going to be a secondary luminary to a super nova you’ve got to have something else going for you that the other man doesn’t have—sharing, helpful, greatly generous—to get you into the long pre-dusty pages of history. Also it would’ve helped if Hooke chose his battles with a little more aplomb and ingenuity—the war which began in 1672 with Newton went very badly for Hooke and followed him to the grave (and far beyond).
He just didn't "catch on", I think--at least he not for the long term. His brain teemed with ideas, but perhaps by the last decade of his long life, his tireless brain still working on innumerable bits, he just sucked the air out of a room.
He also never had his likeness recorded during his lifetime. And that is saying a lot. And I still don't know why.
Back to chess: I figure Hooke to be a Knight. I prefer Knights. He moved like a Knight. He importance was "higher" than that of a Knight, but, well, the Knight seems a good fit (and so he seems to get downgraded, in a way, even in this game). And Paris Hilton? I think she might be a queen (with a small "q")--as someone who is ultra-well-known but not for anything in particular except for the quality of being well-known.