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Saturday, July 5, 2014

John Mitchell, natural philosopher, ahead of his time!

Possible portrait of a Genius
John Mitchell
25th December, 1724 - 29th April, 1793

Mr. Mitchell was a one of a kind person, not only for the time in which he lived, but even by our standards of today  he would stand out as being exceptional. In spite of the pioneering thinking that he brought to the fields of astronomy, geology, optics, and gravitation, there is not one photo in existance anywhere of this incredible scholar. The best that anyone can do is to describe him as having been a black man, small in stature, and portly.

That did not describe his massive intellect, to the extent that it is generally acknowledged that he remains the giant unsung heroe of all time.

He lived at a time when the world failed to give black people any credit for our potential, or our ability to simply function as a normal person. In many parts of the world we are still having to prove our abilities against the yardstick set by the white man. That doesn't say anything about us, but it does say a lot about the white man.

However, he was fortunate in that he was born to parents who fully understood the value of a good education. He was born in Eakring, Nottingshire, England. His father was Gilbert Mitchell, himself a priest. His mother was Obedience Gerrard, the daughter of Ralph and Hannah Gerrard, of London.

John would not have had a lot of encouragement from outside his home, but nevertheless he simply fixed his mind to overcome any and all obstacles standing in his way, and to be a free thinker. His parents supported his education in Queen's College, Cambridge, where he was to become a Fellow. He excelled in so many subjects I could write a whole blog on just that aspect alone, but we can take it for granted that he must have done well in Academia because of  how far ahead of the scientific community he turned out to be. In fact, some of his work was so profound that it lay on the shelf until a new generation brought it to life again in the face of modern discoveries that his work formed the basis for.

For instance, in the world of science, he was the very first person to propose the existence of what are now called, Black Holes; he was also the first person to suggest that earthquakes travel in waves. According to Wikipedia, he had several other firsts:  he figured out how to manufacture artifical magnets; he applied statistics to the study of the cosmos, concluding that double stars were a product of mutual gravitation.

It was his invention that allowed for the measurement of the earth. So distinguished is Mr. Mitchell that he is called the father of seismology and the father of magnetometry.

When I was a child, like all black people we were being constantly told that we were nothing and could never amount to anything. The worst thing was that I believed it, until the wife of U.S. President Roosevelt advised us that we had to give our complete cooperation to such errant nonsense.

So, the moral of this story to all young people is to follow your dreams and think for yourselves. There is no shortage of people to tell you what you should think. I would like to think that John Mitchell, scientist, philosopher, and forward thinker, was also a first in that field.

Copyright (c) 2014  Eugene Carmichael