The famous last words of 10 big thinkers

While shuffling off their mortal coils, these giants of thought had some parting words.

  • The last words by Richard Feynman, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Stephen Hawking and more.
  • Leonardo Da Vinci was not as proud of his accomplishments as you'd think.
  • Voltaire quipped even as he was dying.


Karl Marx's famous last words were, quite poetically, "Last words are for fools who haven't said enough." But some of science's greats have had some great parting words as they slipped off this mortal coil. Apropos of nothing, here's a collection of our favorites:

Thomas Fantet de Lagny: Mathematician. As he was fading, he was apparently asked "what is the square of 12?" (or, "what is 12 x 12?"). His last words were, fittingly, "One hundred forty-four."

Richard Feynman: Physicist. "I would hate to die twice. This dying business is boring."

Sir Isaac Newton: Physicist. “I don't know what I may seem to the world. But as to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

Joseph Henry Green: Surgeon. He was listening to his own pulse as he died. Eerily, his last word was: "Stopped."

Leonardo Da Vinci: Inventor, painter, and all-around renaissance man: "I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have."

Albert Einstein: Physicist. Albert's last spoken words were in German, but the nurse attending to him at that time only spoke English. He was, however, working on a speech he was to give a few days later celebrating the anniversary of the state of Israel. It ends with an incomplete sentence:

In essence, the conflict that exists today is no more than an old-style struggle for power, once again presented to mankind in semireligious trappings. The difference is that, this time, the development of atomic power has imbued the struggle with a ghostly character; for both parties know and admit that, should the quarrel deteriorate into actual war, mankind is doomed. Despite this knowledge, statesmen in responsible positions on both sides continue to employ the well-known technique of seeking to intimidate and demoralize the opponent by marshaling superior military strength. They do so even though such a policy entails the risk of war and doom. Not one statesman in a position of responsibility has dared to pursue the only course that holds out any promise of peace, the course of supranational security, since for a statesman to follow such a course would be tantamount to political suicide. Political passions, once they have been fanned into flame, exact their victims … Citater fra…

Archimedes: Mathematician. According to historians, Archimedes died in 212 B.C. during the Second Punic War. He was approached by a member of the Roman army and asked to move along. Archimedes apparently got so mad that he said either "Stand away, fellow, from my diagram!" or "Don't disturb my circles!". The soldier killed him on the spot.

Benjamin Franklin: Scientist and politician. "A dying man can do nothing easy."

Voltaire: French writer and philosopher. As he was dying, a priest asked him to renounce Satan. Voltaire, quippy even in death, said: "Now is not the time for making new enemies."

Stephen Hawking: Theoretical physicist. His final words were actually from a speech he made a few years prior to his death, although the song below, set to original music by the musician Vangelis, was played at his funeral and is currently on its way towards the nearest black hole.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
popular

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less