Miles Kington: Newton's apple tree bears fresh fruit

The answer was to have orchards on hillsides, so apples roll away from their parents. And so it is that he is remembered as the inventor of sloping orchards
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The Independent Online

We all know the Isaac Newton story - about how an apple fell on his head, and he got thinking about things and therefore discovered gravity - but what if it had gone wrong? What if the apple had given rise to a completely different train of thought?

Here are half a dozen or more equally likely scenarios...

1. When Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree and an apple fell on his head, he stared at it and thought to himself: "How extraordinary! Apples are falling out of trees the whole time, and people are walking or sitting under apple trees the whole time, but this is the first time an apple has ever fallen on my head! Nor have I ever heard of an apple falling on anyone else's head! What are the odds against that...?" And so he started investigating the laws of chance and probability, and went on to make a fortune at horse-racing, and that is why Newton is called "the Father of English Gambling".

2. When the apple fell on Newton's head, it occurred to him that an apple is nothing but a vehicle for apple pips, and that every time an apple falls, the tree is hoping it will become its offspring. But then Newton reflected that to say that "a tree is hoping" is to lend a tree human characteristics it does not possess, which is unscientific. After many years of research into this, he became known as the Discoverer of Anthropomorphism.

3. Picking up the red apple and glancing into the tree where many more were waiting to fall, Newton reflected that in France the grape becomes wine and in Russia the potato becomes vodka, but the English apple lies neglected. Surely the apple had a better fate! Excited by the thought, Newton sprang into action and that is why he is now remembered as "The Father of English Cider-making".

4. If, thought Newton, the apple is the bearer of the seeds of next generation's apple trees, then it is an very inefficient way of spreading the seeds. All apples fall under the tree they came from. The new tree will then grow under the old tree. How much more efficient to make sure the apple pips travel further, as sycamore seeds do when they fly.

Perhaps the answer was to have orchards on hillsides, so that apples roll away from their parents... And so it is that Newton is remembered, if he is remembered at all, as the inventor of that short-lived fashion, the sloping orchard.

5. When the apple fell on Newton's head, it hurt. Yet it is so small, he thought, and so light. Though if it had fallen from a hundred feet, it might well have killed him ... Newton immediately did a few rough calculations to show that a falling object increases in velocity and weight. And so it was that Newton invented a humane way of executing criminals by dropping a weight on them from a great height, only it never caught on because it needed such extreme accuracy, and once it missed the criminal and hit the clergyman standing by. Newton became known as the priest-killer and was much mortified.

6. After the apple had fallen on Newton's head, and he had rubbed the spot where it had landed, he realised his head still hurt. "Curious," he thought, "that pain should last long after the thing that has caused the pain has gone. How can we explain the persistence of pain?" And thus started the train of thought which led to Newton's discovery of the central nervous system.

7. When the apple fell, Newton picked it up and ate it, but it was sour. And yet, thought Newton, if it were not ripe it would not have fallen from the tree. How can an apple be ripe and still be sour? After much thought, Newton decided there were two kinds of apple, the eating apple and the cooker, and it is for this classification that he is still known.

8. When Newton was sitting in the garden and the apple fell on him, he instinctively looked around for a serpent, but there was none to be seen. Still, there was no point in taking chances, so he left it untouched where it was.