Thomas Young Physician Polymath

					Michael E. Moran, M.D.
Southwestern Urology
Tucson, AZ
Adjunct Associate Professor of Urology
University of Florida
Child Prodigies- not all become adult prodigies
Polyglot- childhood through adulthood
Polymath- comparison of Young to others
Historical significance in various areas
       - physics
       - mathematics
       - physiology
       - engineering
       - languages
       - biology
       - botany
       - medicine
       - acoustics/music
       - history and biography
       - invention
Child prodigies have included Mozart, Gauss and Tiger Woods
Each continued there brilliance into their adult lives
Thomas Young likewise demonstrated early reading and memory skills
He was reading by age 2
He began to memorize poetry by age 4 and started his lifelong fascination
      with languages (Polyglot)

       He was largely self taught
       By age 8 studied surveying
       Formal interests in Science (all types)
      From 8-17 masters chemistry, biology,
    physiology, botany, entomology,
    astronomy, geography, and philosophy
From Greek πολύγλωττος (literally, many-tongued) < πολύς (polus),
many + γλῶττα (glōtta), tongue; compare to French polyglotte

      Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn- Dutch scholar and linguist at Leyden 1647
       called similar languages “Scythian”
      Sir William Jones- 1786 was a linguistic prodigy, specializing in Indian
       languages; noted similarity of Latin, Greek, Persian and Sanskrit
      Thomas Young- prodigy, continued quest for languages all of his life
      Accomplished with Latin by age 6, Greek by age 8, Hebrew by 10 or 11
      French, Spanish, Italian before college (began to acquire Persian and all
       dialects prior to age 17)
      Started the Indian languages

                          Wrote extensively about languages for journals
                         Learned German during Medical School in Edinburgh
                         Coined the term “Indo-European languages” for the
                         Encyclopedia Britannica in 1816 (400 languages)
Aristotle, Da Vinci, Descartes, Leibnitz, della Porta, Kircher, Goethe,
Voltaire, Fuller

   Πολυμαθής-The dictionary definition of a polymath is a very learned person, of
   encyclopedic knowledge. There is also the connotation of having an
   understanding deeper than that found in an encyclopedia, that is, an expert in
   many fields.
"Mr Thomas Young, of Little Queen Street, Westminster, a gentleman conversant
with various branches of literature and science, and author of a paper on vision
published in the Philosophical Transactions".

 Young presented first paper at age 19 “Observations on Vision”
 Elected a fellow, the following year (15 names on certificate)
 16, January 1800 “Sound and Light”
 From 1804-1829 he was the Foreign Secretary for the Society
 Elected to the Paris Académie des Sciences in 1827
 Became the Natural Philosopher for the Royal Institution 1802-3
 Gave lectures Mondays & Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and Fridays at 8 p.m.
“I shall esteem it better to seek for
substantial utility than temporary
Count Rumford, Sir Joseph Banks and
Th. Young and Humphry Davy
Banks recommended Young to Rumford
He gave 60 lectures on everything in
science, math and applied mechanics
The legacy of this Herculean effort still
exists in his published syllabus
Volume I- 736 pages, 43 plates on
mechanics & physics
Volume II- 450 articles on mathematics
Volume III- complete bibliography 414
pages (over 20,000 references)
James Gillray’s caricature of the proceedings at
the Royal Institution (National Library of Medicine)
Young considered his studies
of light his most significant
He took on the prevailing theory of Newton
Mathematically investigated reflection, refraction,
and interference
Measured the wavelengths of all visible light
No one understood what he had proven, until
Fresnel came along later (1816)
He presages Maxwell’s equations, Fermat’s
principles and ultimately Einstein’s special theory
Lord Rayleigh “Its expositions in some branches
were unexcelled even now…”
 Helmholtz “[Young] was one of the most acute men
who ever lived, but had the misfortune to be too far
in advance of his contemporaries.”
  Young’s first formal investigations were of the eye
 “…the eye and the ear led him to the consideration
 of sound and of light.” Young
 He investigated in detail the anatomy and
 physiology of the eye
  Understood accommodation, developed the theory
 for astigmatism (named by Whewell), improved
 Christoph Scheiner’s optometer,
 “On the theory of light and colors” 1802- the theory
 of 3 color vision
  “Now, as it is almost impossible to conceive each
sensitive point of the retina to contain an infinite
number of particles… it becomes necessary to
suppose the number limited…”
  In his theory of color vision, he goes one gigantic
 step further, the brain processes the primary colors
 to produce the whole range of color vision
   1801 Thomas Young fitted a lens to a cornea with a surrounding wax collar to
   retain fluid behind the lens, neutralising it and thus showing that the cornea
   was not involved in accommodation.


                      Thomas Young
da Vinci
His interest in sound was first in music
 It was said he learned to play virtually every
instrument, including the Scottish pipes
Developed theories of music
Circular Well temperament (perfect tuning)
He was fascinated by sound (waves)
Developed the “ripple tank”
Studied the speed of sound
Hearing (all aspects of the ear)
Studied the human voice
Fit nicely with his study of language
Developed universal alphabet (language)
                                   Young heard about the Rosetta Stone
                                   Given his intense Interest in languages
                                   he became interested
                                   He only had time to work on it during
                                   holidays and some evenings
                                    First modern human to decipher the
                                   cartuche and some numbers
                                   Published a dictionary of Coptic language
                                   Champollion subsequently went on to
                                   decipher the entire hieroglyphic language
                                   The rift between the English claim vs. a
                                   French claim at precedence followed
                                   Young stated, “…if he [Champollion] did
                                   borrow an English key, the lock was so
                                   dreadfully rusty, that no common arm
                                   would have the strength to turn it…”
The Rosetta Stone- 1801 Napoleon
Most of Young’s previous biographers consider this
area, Dr. Young’s one area of weakness
He first attended the Hunter’s lectures (1792),
medical student at St. Bartholomew’s, Edinburgh
Medical School, the degree from Göttingen, finished
with a degree from Oxford
His thesis at Göttingen was De corporis humani
viribus conservatricibus
Croonian Lecture- Functions of the heart and
arteries- 1809
Appointed to St. George’s Hospital in 1811 and
gave 36 lectures there
Wrote Introduction to Medical Literature, including a
System of Practical Nosology- 1813
Used measurement of haloes of light to measure
minute structures “blood and pus”
Young’s Rule- calculating dose of drugs for children
A Practical and Historical Treatise on Consumptive
Diseases- 1815
  Optometer- improved greatly
  Color Diagram Charts (Triangle of Young)
  Co-tidal maps*
  Kymograph Recorder
  Ripple Tank
  Sound recorder
 Multiple new mathematics equations (Young’s
  First to measure the size of a molecule
 Major contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica-
 between 1817 & 1825 contributed over 70 sections
  Subjects as expert (often with original
contributions) included: cohesion, chromatics, Egypt,
hydraulics, annuities, bridges, languages,
roadmaking, weights & measures, tides, double
refraction, calculus, medicine, etc…
                               During his encyclopedia
                               period, asked to be Royal
                               Naval advisor by the
                               Admiralty- new ship building- Copely Medal
                               Asked to be consultant for Life Insurance Co.s
                               Royal Commission on Weights and Measures-
                               developed new standards
                               1818 Superintendent of the Nautical Almanac and
                               Secretary of the Board of Longitude
                                On top of all of these things he was involved with
                               his family, friends and extensive correspondence as
                               the foreign secretary for the Royal Society

And Young himself wrote: “It is probably best for mankind that the researches of
some investigators should be conceived within a narrow compass, while others
pass more rapidly through a more extensive sphere of research.”
“History is unkind to polymaths. No biographer will
readily tackle a subject whose range of skills far
exceeds his own, while the rest of us, with or without
biographies to read have no mental ‘slot’ in which to to
keep polymath’s memory fresh. So the polymath gets
forgotten or, at best, squashed into a category we can
recognize, in the way that Goethe is remembered as a
poet, despite his claim to have been a scientist, or
Hume as a philosopher, for all the six dumpy volumes
of his History of England.” - Alexander Murray
1. Wood, A: Thomas Young: Natural Philosopher
   1773-1829. Cambridge Univ Press, London 1954
2. Pettigrew,TJ: Biographical Memoirs of the most
   celebrated Physicians, Surgeons, etc. Whittaker
   &Co, London, 1839
3. Robinson,A: The Last Man Who Knew
   Everything. Pi Press, NY 2006
4. Young,T: A Course of Lectures on Natural
   Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts. 1807
5. Young,T: An Introduction to Medical Literature,
   including a System of Practical Nosology. 1813
6. Young,T: A Practical and Historical Treatise on
   Consumptive Diseases. 1815
7. Arago,M: Biographical Memoir of Dr. Thomas
   Young. Edin New Phil J 20:213-241,1836
8. Hilts,VL: Thomas Young’s “Autobiographical
   Sketch.” Proc Am Phil Soc 122:248-260,1978
9. Dr. Young. Lancet 2:255 (23 May 1829)
10. Larmor,J: Thomas Young. Nature 133:276-9,1934
11. Rowell,HS: Thomas Young and Göttingen. Nature 88:516,1912
12. Rubinowicz,A: Thomas Young and the theory of diffraction. Nature 180:160-2,
13. Oldham,F: Thomas Young. Br Med J 4:150-52,1974
14. Cantor,GN: Thomas Young’s lectures at the Royal Institution. Notes and Records
   R Soc Lond 25(1):87-112,1970
15. Mollon,JD: The origins of the concept of interference. Phil Trans R Soc Lond

Shared By: