Did Sir Isaac Newton really once see an apple fall from the tree in his Lincolnshire garden and suddenly conceptualise the physics of gravity?
The documentary record – posted online today by the Royal Society – isn't actually much help in answering that question for it shows that accounts of the famous falling fruit story were related by Newton to third parties in his later years. In other words, the apple story bears all the features of a well-worn anecdote.
And, as we know, anecdotes tend to get polished as the years go by, with rough edges smoothed off and key features exaggerated. Eventually, even the teller can end up remembering it the way they describe it, rather than the way it actually was. So we shall likely never know the definitive truth about the inspiration for this great scientific breakthrough. But what we do know is that the pears in the nearby orchards to Newton's home will, whatever the season, forever be green with envy.