Standing on the Shoulders of Giants


If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants 

Sir Isaac Newton

Despite being one of the most influential scientists of all time, Sir Isaac Newton was humble enough to realize that he was “standing on the shoulders of giants,” without whom he might have never realized there was something worth studying about the universe. He was not unique in appreciating this idea.

We find the earliest recorded use of a similar phrase by John of Salisbury.  In somewhat more poetic verse, he wrote that “we are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”

Historian David McCullough shares a similar idea. While we all love to extoll the virtues of the self-made man, McCullough suggests that “nor is there any such creature as a self-made man or woman.” We all accept that standing alongside any triumph we claim as our own are our parents, teachers, friends, and mentors. But there are also those we have never met – those who generated your customs, setup your laws, spoke your language, wrote your history, fought your wars – who are as much a part of you as anyone else.

While there is a long list of men and women too lengthy to ever fully appreciate, below is a shorter, growing set of individuals whose shoulders we might hope to stand on.

Shoulders to Stand On