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Newton and the Falling Apple



by Prof. Kirthi Tennakone

Can someone claim an extraordinary discovery instantly on exclusive basis of an incidental happening? An archetypal example is the legend that Isaac Newton arrived at the theory of gravitation after a falling apple bonked him on the head. As succinctly pointed in The Island, editorial “Docs, politicians and shamans” 18 December 2020; the ignorant tends to think Newton was an ordinary person who had that epoch-making aha moment solely because of the shock of the apple. History tells breakthroughs have not happened that way.

There is no evidence to the effect that an idea leading to a major discovery; a theory, cure for a disease, transformative invention or any other finding had originated abruptly in the mind of a discoverer wholly as a result of an extraneous real-world event. Similarly, there exists no convincing proof that that telepathic invention of paranormal agents has provided correct disclosures or valid solutions to real problems.

The history of science points to the conclusion that the anecdote of the falling apple and Isaac Newton has been decorated by story-tellers and perhaps by Newton himself. Newton arrived at the theory of gravitation after years of unprecedented deep contemplation and hard work.


Isaac Newton and Theory of Gravitation

Isaac Newton born prematurely on Christmas day in 1642 was a physically weak child. His father died a few months earlier, when the widowed mother got married again, his grandmother adopted him. He was sent to a grammar school for few years and schooling discontinued to coach him as a farmer. Newton hated farming, quarreled with his stepfather devoting time to read and make mechanical gadgetries. His schoolmaster advised his guardians to send the boy to school again, saying he is talented. Newton ranked topmost in class, has said, he worked hard to revenge, the classmates who bullied him.

Newton was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1661. His mentor there was Isaac Barrow – the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Barrow introduced the frontiers of mathematics at the time to Newton, knowing his capability. In 1665, when the College was closed because of the plague, Newton returned to his village home in Lancashire, leisurely continuing studies and exploring almost all contemporary problems in mathematics and physics.

Newton returned to Cambridge in 1666 and continued to interact with Barrow. In 1669 Barrow tendered his resignation in favor of his student, recommending Newton to the Chair he occupied – an incident unheard in the history of academia.


Astronomer Edmond Halley visits Cambridge to meet Newton: The most consequential discussion in world’s history

Discussions, whether secretive or not often lead to consequence of utmost importance. Wars, revolutions, declarations of peace and political upheavals would have been catalyzed that way.

A discourse between two individuals that changed the world forever was the meeting of the astronomer Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton in Cambridge in 1684. That discussion resulted in the publication of Principia Mathematica-the monumental work of Newton which transformed the world.

Newton, holding a prestigious chair in Cambridg, gained acclaim as an extraordinarily clever physicist and mathematician. Nevertheless, he feared the criticism of senior peers. Notably, the polymath genius Robert Hooke and did not publish things that might lead to controversy. Hooke, contemporaneously working on theory of gravitation, wrote to Newton in 1679, expressing his views on the subject. Newton never replied! Later as an influential office-bearer of the Royal Society, Hook prompted the astronomer Edmund Halley to consult Newton.

Edmond Halley keen to understand why the comet subsequently named after him reappeared every 75 years, visited Cambridge and met Newton in August 1684. Newton explained he had already solved the problem of planetary motion. According to his theory of gravitation, objects move around the sun in elliptic orbits. Halley persuaded Newton to publish his work, agreeing to meet the cost of printing.

The first edition of Newton’s Principia was launched in 1687, awakening the whole world – the birth of the age reason.

Robert Hooke reacted furiously, accusing Newton of plagiarism, referring to his 1679 communication. The acrimonious rivalry between Hooke and Newton which started in the late 1670s continued until former’s death 1703. Newton’s other major work ‘Opticks,’ which he postponed publication, because of an argument with Hooke at the Royal Societyin 1672 was sent to printers immediately after Hooke’s demise!


Newton’s arch-rival Robert Hooke wrote the Preface to Robert Knox’s Book on Sri Lanka

Unlike Newton, Robert Hooke had been a social being. He mixed with people of all ranks and wakes of life in coffee houses. Through persons encountered, Hooke got acquainted with Robert Knox, who had just returned to England after captivity in Sri Lanka and was inquisitive to learn his experience in Sri Lanka. Hooke exhibited Talipat leaves Knox carried to England at the Royal Society. He tested cannabis brought from Sri Lanka by Knox and gave a talk at the Royal Society in presence of the science stalwarts; Robert Boyle, Christopher Wren and Edmond Halley. He told society this intoxicating agent referred to as Cansa or Bangha in Ceylon; takes away memory and understanding for a time. Hook was probably first to examine psychoactive drugs scientifically.

Robert Hooke wrote the preface to the Robert Knox’s book “Historical Relations of the Island of Ceylon and the edited the text. In preface signed 1st August 1681, discusses the virtues of publishing; and state “There are but few who, though they know much, can yet be persuaded they know anything worth communicating and because the things are common and well known to them, are apt to think them so to rest of mankind; this prejudice had done much mischief “. He also commented that some avoid communicating because of the fear to be in print, while others delay it. Presumably, what Hook attempts to insinuate is: had Newton published his work on gravitation much earlier; the bitter controversy with him would not have arisen.


Story of the falling apple

Newton, in any of his writings, has not mentioned that a falling apple hinted him the law of gravitation. The story of the apple surfaced in 1752, a quarter of a century after Newton’s death. According to a biography of Newton written by his close friend William Stukely in 1752; he had visited Newton in April 1726 to interview him. While having tea in the garden, Newton pointing to apple trees there, said that he fathomed the concept of gravitational attraction 60 years ago, noticing an apple detaching from a tree and falling. The authenticity of this story as written by William Stukely remains controversial. Later the story was made sensational by saying, the apple bonked on Newton’s head.

Apart from Newton’s work, the idea of gravitational attraction had been around as evident from the published work of Robert Hook. Strangely in the same year Newton was said to have been inspired by the falling apple, Hook in a communication to the Royal Society had stated that planetary bodies mutually attract each other via gravitation. Therefore, the decoration of the apple story could have been a gimmick to cement the standing that Newton was the first to consider gravity as attraction between two objects – not Hooke.

What Newton really did was far more challenging. He demonstrated mathematically that the force attracting the apple to the earth, also keep the moon revolving around the earth and planets around the sun. Even if Robert Hook had been the first to conceive the idea of gravitational attraction, the originality of the monumental work of Newton would not be blemished. Unfortunately, Newton failed to realize this, and when he became the President of the Royal Society he did everything possible to eclipse Hooke.

Newton feared criticism, but suppressed and attacked his adversaries. Oppositely, many feared Newton because of his unmatched intellect. Newton was elected to British Parliament honouring his most distinctive social status. He spoke only once. When he raised the hand, the dumbfounded house feared, what an issue this great man is going to raise. But Newton said; please close the adjoining window, chilly wind is blowing!

Many men and women have the potential of reaching the pinnacle of a genius. It is by study, dedication and desire to find the truth and not by unfounded declarations, exaggerations or ranks they strive to achieve.


Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation



By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.





The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.





In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Album to celebrate 30 years



Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal



The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.



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