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n old man sits alone in a dimly lit room. His tattered chair creaks. A fire crackles in the small furnace by his feet. The sun’s rays are just beginning to creep onto his desk through an open window. He has been awake all night. The man stares intently at the vial over the stove and mutters softly to himself. “The queen is called the daughter of the waterbearer.” He says, “She ariseth out of his loins...”1 As he stares at the flask something mysterious begins to happen. A seed at the bottom begins to spark and glow. The surrounding liquid begins to flash with color, first silver, now gold. The man can hardly bear to rip his eyes away, but he does so just long enough to page through an ancient and sooty tome by his desk. Dust flies as he races to find the correct entry. “Philalethes sayeth…” He gasps at what he finds. “There was a most radiant twinkling Spark, which sent forth its Beams even to the very surface of the Water, and appeared as if were a Lamp burning, and yet no way distinguishable from the Water, for the Bearer, the Pitcher, and the Water in it were one…”2 As he reads the seed begins to grow. Slowly, like the branches of a tree, the seed sprouts and expands outwards. Soon the entire flask is filled and glowing with the light of the dawn. What could this mean? The man is exhausted. He sits down and closes his eyes Figure 1: The Chemist, 19th century, Edward Allen Schmidt, German, 7 in x 9 in. for a moment. But when he opens them again, A robed alchemist is seated in his laboratory performing an experiment. The the light from the vial has begun to fade. Soon equipment on his lab bench includes an adjustable clamp stand and an alcohol it is as grey and lifeless as it was before. What burner, contemporary to the 19th century. FA 2000.001.246 did he just witness? Did it even happen, or was it just a dream?
This quote was inspired by Newton’s Praxis. The literal quote is: “This preparation Philaletha hints by calling the Queen the daughter of the Waterbearer arising out of his loins, and says that she is contained invisibly in the water of his silver colored pitcher and arose out of the water in which, saith he, was seen a lamp burning, or a twinkling spark which sent forth its beams from the center. And that, by a strange metamorphosis done by a magical virtue of nature, after this rise she was naked, that is, divested of impurities, beautiful, and though a body, yet she was all spirit and yet able to endure without hurt the greatest fires that can be made. And in this state it is properly of matter in which vulgar chymists do not work.” The full citation is: Newton,
Isaac. Praxis. 1696. MS MS 420. The Babson College Grace K. Babson Collection of the Works of Sir Isaac Newton, Huntington Library, San Marino, California, USA. p.3
This quote was inspired by an alchemical tract by Eirenaeus Philalathes, a.k.a George Starkey. The literal quote is: “Then I viewed his Pitcher well, and I found that his Pitcher was clear as pure Silver; and what was strange, the Bearer, and the Pitcher, and the Water in it were one; and in the midst of the Water, as it were in the very centre, there was a most radiant twinkling Spark, which sent forth its Beams even to the very surface of the Water, and appeared as it were a Lamp burning, and yet no way distinguishable from the Water.” Newton was quoting this work directly in the footnote above. The full citation is: Starkey, George.
An Exposition upon Sir George Ripley’s Epistle to King Edward IV. London: Printed for William Cooper. 1677.
2 hat meaning, if any, does the preceding image contain? Would that meaning be historical? Scientific? Religious? Alchemy holds a unique place in the narrative of the history and philosophy of science because, more than any other tradition, it has been mythologized. The archetype of the alchemist, the wise sorcerer pondering the mysteries of the universe, has influenced our society in a way that is independent of, and yet intimately connected with, the scientific advances upon which our modern society is based. Of course, the implicit assumption in that past statement is that alchemy and modern science have some sort of inherent difference that keeps them opposed. One of the main goals of this paper is to question that assumption. t goes without saying that the scene of the alchemist I contrived above is flawed, anachronistic, or even downright false. So why did I choose to open with it? The image of the alchemist holds a strange allure for me. It hints at ancient wisdom, along with the quest for the unknown. If anything differentiates alchemy from modern science, or even from contemporaneous natural philosophy, it is that alchemical lore is rife with imagery. One cannot page through an alchemical treatise without encountering images of dragons eating their own tails, ætherial spirits, or the death and rebirth of hermaphroditic royalty. As fantastical as the narrative above was, it contains too many elements of truth to be completely discounted. Such men, men so consumed by their pursuit that they would stay up nights tending a forge and staring into vials, did exist; Sir Isaac Newton was one of them. In a letter describing Newton shortly after his death, Humphrey Newton recalled, “He very rarely went to Bed, till 2 or 3 of the clock, sometimes not till 5 or 6, lying about 4 or 5 hours, especially at spring & ffall of the Leaf, at which Times he us’d to imploy about 6 weeks in his Elaboratory, the ffire scarcely going out either Night or Day, he siting up one Night, as I did another till he had finished his Chymical Experiments, in the Performances of which he was the most accurate, strict, exact: What his Aim might be, I was not able to penetrate into, but his Paine, his Diligence at those sett times, made me think, he aim’d at somthing beyond the Reach of humane Art & Industry.”
ven in Newton’s own time, his contemporaries were mythologizing his character and his craft. This wasn’t simply natural philosophy; it was Chymistry, a practice ‘aim’d at somthing beyond the Reach of humane Art and Industry.’ The elaborate imagery associated with the practice reflects its lofty goals. While alchemical images certainly relate directly to real chemical products, their vibrancy lends them multiple layers of meaning far beyond that original scope. The images I used Figure 2, Aurora Consurgens, Demon and Ouroboros in a Flask. The Aurora Consurgens is an illuminated manuscript of the 15th century now housed in the in the narrative above are only a Zürich Zentralbibliothek (MS. Rhenoviensis 172). It contains a medieval alchemical treatise, in most limited sampling of the rich the past sometimes attributed to Thomas Aquinas, now to a writer called the “Pseudo-Aqui- and vibrant alchemical environnas.” This illustration shows a classic depiction of the Ouroboros; the Dragon and the Raven in the flask consume each other’s tails. In this image the Ouroboros is linked to the alchemical ment. Their presence is striking. In step of putrefaction. When exposed to heat, the matter in the flask must consume itself, die, alchemy we find a scientific methand become black. When the matter putrefies, the soul leaves the flask, and the matter is odology that is capable of poetic ready to accept a new spark of life from the alchemist. The transmutation is completed when expression. Nowhere else in history the matter is reborn in a more perfect state. can this be found; although my hope for the future is that our science will again be open to the use of metaphor. Most scholars in the past three hundred years have not been able to penetrate these images, which has resulted in widely differing and
3 contradictory interpretations of what alchemy actually was. Some maintain the images were carefully calculated decknamen, or code words, intended to both reveal and conceal chemical practices and theories. Others beleive that the images were produced during hallucinatory or dreamlike states, and that they pertain more to the spiritual development of the alchemist than they do to material properties. Both interpretations will be explored more fully later in this paper, and I do not believe that they are mutually exclusive. Alchemy was an incredibly diverse practice spanning many centuries. Its symbolism changed and evolved over time and the images almost definitely had a personal meaning for each of its practitioners. he focus of this paper will be on the alchemy of Isaac Newton, and discerning what the imagery meant to him is central to its focus. But Newton died almost three hundred years ago, and reconstructing the intricacy of his thoughts from a few alchemical manuscripts is next to impossible. It would be unduly prideful for me to claim to know what was going on inside the head of a man who, as Humphrey Newton put it, “Comprehends as much as all mankind besides.” If anyone understood the importance of good evidence, it was Newton, and there Figure 3, Splendor Solis Plate 4 simply is not enough evidence to make Splendor Solis is one of the most well know alchemical manuscripts due to its extensive illustrations. The earliest version, written in Central German, is dated 1532–1535. This many statements about what Newton image contains the King and the Queen, which correspond to Gold and the Sun, and thought about the nature of alchemy or Silver and the Moon, respectively. The flames underneath the king are linked to the its imagery. The statements that I do masculine indicate the start of the alchemical process. The queen stands upon the earth, linking matter with the feminine. The royal robes are colored in inverse patterns, make about Newton’s alchemy, or vindicating that the king and queen might one day be unified. The inscription roughly what he thought about it, will be as translates to, “The part includes the whole.” objective as they can, and I will provide extensive evidence to support my claims. But, in order to do so, my claims must be very narrow. I have no desire to limit myself to a narrow, objective, evidential view. To do so would be to remove any higher meaning from my work. In order to make broad statements, I must move into the realm of opinion. I will be very clear when I make these shifts.
his essay will be about the evolution of human thought, and in that vast realm of human thoughts lay my thoughts. My work is personal; it is about my relationship with science, religion, and
I plan on using the first person extensively. So you see. To that end. In addition. Such ambiguity is the anathema of modern science because it makes communication difficult. each corresponding to one of the 22 major arcana in a classic Tarot deck. I think it is necessary that we openly incorporate our subjectivity into all the work that we do. and I believe that if our scientific language embraced the use of metaphoric imagery while maintaining its rigor. as counterintuitive as it sounds. all language. There is no objectivly correct way to interpret a metaphor. but really I’m using Newton’s alchemy as a jumping off point to explore the way in which we think about reality. Before I can make such broad statments about science and reality. even math. At some level. Splendor Solis Plate 13 The Splendor Solis contains 22 illustrations. and in line with the tarot card Death. Since it can never be completely eliminated. I will begin with a historiography… Figure 5. and so it was abandoned. I see alchemy as a practice that is concerned with both subjective and objective truths. The images are by their very nature subjective. Here we see three crows in another form of the ouroboros. But consider for a moment that there might be ideas and phenomena in the natural world that can only be comprehended through metaphor. we could create models of reality with vast richness and more meaning than anything we have accomplished thus far. and how that relates to the greater world. our science could benefit greatly from an increased awareness of our own subjectivity. exactly what alchemy is needs to be explicated. The 7 flasks correspond to the 7 celestial bodies. it will be presented. This is why I find alchemical imagery so compelling. .4 magic. Where objectivity is required. Death Rider Waite Tarot Deck The Rider Waite Tarot deck was formulated by famous occultist Arthur E Waite and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith in 1909. The card plate 13 corresponds to is Death. there are 7 plates (12-18) which feature large vials whose contents are in various stages of transmutation. is metaphor. and I want my paper to reflect that concern. I’m thinking about Newton’s alchemy. One of the major points I want to make is that. They impact each observer differently and contain multiple levels of meaning. As I have already done. The matter is breaking into its component parts (colors) so that it can be reborn in a more perfect form. Similar to figure 2. plate 13 corresponds to the stage of putrefaction. Figure 4. but I hold my own subjective opinions with equal esteem.
both of whom were gods of writing and magic in their respective traditions. Alchemy’s focus on death and rebirth. Newton translated The Emerald Tablet into English. 1617 This image of Hermes Trismegestus was origionally found in Symbola Aureae Mensae Duodecim Nationum written by alchemist Michael Maier. Hermes Trismegestus is a synthesis of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. I find alchemy so special because it gives me a venue to talk about both categories in the same breath. In the early 1680’s. The tablet sets out some of the basic principles of Alchemy: the doctrine of unification of opposites. Tearliest appearance of the name dates back to just before the time of Christ. It is akin to the Ten Commandments in terms of its symbolism and purpose in alchemical craft. There is something corporeal. but Hermes Trismegistus has a decidedly Herculean nature that makes him fit more easily into the category of religious figures than the category of famous scientists. guiding souls to the afterlife1. Wikipedia is often looked down upon in scholarly work but I think it is an incred- . around the same time as he was writing the Principia. He is a god. That duality is central to alchemical theory. He personifies duality. spiritual and divine. Hermes’s relationship between humanity and the divine is paralleled by the theoretical relationship between matter and spirit. after alchemy ceased to be an area of serious academic study. but he is also a man. T Figure 6. Wikimedia Foundation. material and manlike about him. “Hermes Trismegistus. It is worth emphasizing at this point that Trismegistus’s identity is decidedly mythological. The translation is reproduced in full on the next page. I see Wikipedia as the collected knowledge of all of humanity. Trismegestus is a proto Christ figure. makes Trismegestus a natural choice as a sort of patron saint. recognizing opposites and then unifying them was of primary importance. More likely. The rod Hermes holds is a version of Murcury’s Caducean Rod (the names Hermes and Mercury were used synonomously) . Hermes Trismegestus and Mercury’s Caducean Rod. Note the similarity of the Sun and Moon symbolism to Plate 4 Splendor Solis (Figure 3) 1 Mercury’s Caducean Rod Sketch by Newton in Praxis ibly useful and reliable source of introductory information.HIstorIograpHy 5 will start explaining some general alchemical theory by chronologically describing the work of some of the major alchemists whose works were found in Newton’s library. the promise of transmutation. a real alchemist who experimented on matter. Characters like Newton or Einstein are often elevated to a superhuman status (recall Humphreys quote). The book was present in Newton’s library. From there I will summarize the evolution of alchemical interpretations during the past 300 years.” Wikipedia. I will give my own thoughts on how alchemy should be interpreted. I think it is worth pondering for a moment what our science would look like if we had mythological figures more consciously incorporated into the cannon. as well as its long literary tradition. as well as something ætherial. It is extremely doubtful he first alchemist (supposedly) was named Hermes Trismegestus ‘Hermes Thrice Greatest. and the anthropomorphisation of the elements and celestial bodies. Both gods were psychopomps. Throughout. We see nothing comparable to him in modern science. he Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegestus is what brings Hermes his fame.’ The that an alchemist by the name of Hermes Trismegestus ever actually lived.
Its force is above all force.715. Just what exactly was the writer’s original intention? The origin of the text is quite obscure. sometimes meaning a planet. shows some of the common symbols found in `vNewton’s alchemical manuscripts. as well as their various meanings. ‘subtle & gross’. Separate thou the earth from the fire. Isaac. certain & most true. ‘above & below’. Perhaps the entire tablet could be summed up by the second line. Those groups of nouns were not nearly as differentiated for the alchemists as they are for us. the moon its mother. Fire and Water.’ Along with these pairs of opposites comes the constant suggestion that they can be unified. For it vanquishes every subtile thing & penetrates every solid thing. 2 . ‘father & mother’. Its philosophical import Newton. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist.Figure 7. Kings College. 6 A From this are & do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Theatrum Chemicum vol. ‘heaven & earth’. To find meaning in the tablet. ‘ascends & descends’ and ‘superior & inferior.e. It was not uncommon to see the name Aries used to indicate Mars. MS 28. Table of Alchemical Symbols (Above) This Table. (Below) These alchemical symbols indicate the four Aristotelian elements: Air. Note their similarity to each other and how they combine to create æther. copied directly from The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy by Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs. and sometimes meaning a God. And yet Newton translated not only the tablet. having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished & ended. The celestial analog for Antimony was Earth. Diana was frequently a pseudonym for Silver. By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world & thereby all obscurity shall fly from you. A fairly comprehensive list would be: ‘true without lying’. That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing. the most important thing to notice about the text is the motif of presenting pairs of opposites. Clearly the document was important to him. It ascends from the earth to the heaven & again it descends to the earth & receives the force of things superior & inferior. sometimes meaning the metal. & vol 1 p 362 et p 8 et p 166 & p 685 et vol 4 p 4972 t first glance the meaning of the tablet is far from clear. p. 6. Iron. the subtile from the gross sweetly with great indoustry. ‘sun & moon’. See the French Bibliotheque. emphasizes the relationship between alchemy and Christ. the wind hath carried it in its belly. but also an extensive commentary on it. Earth. The symbols were used in many contexts. The symbol for Antimony. “That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing. and it is difficult to imagine that the tablet is referring to a chymistry remotely similar to what Newton was doing. Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth. Tabula Smaragdina Hermetis Trismegistri Philosophorum patris Tis true without lying. The Sun is its father. So was the world created. a globe surmounted by a cross. Cambridge. 1680-1684. Hermes. And as all things have been & arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation. the earth is its nurse. ‘earth & fire’.” Alchemy is not alone in its emphasis on the unification of opposites. The father of all perfection in the whole world is here. i.
it is hard to uphold ideas of an absolute or objective morality from this perspective. specifically in The Seven Sermons of the Dead. And yet this reliance on differentiation ushers in a host of philosophical dilemmas.e. to think of a method of perception that does not rely on arbitrary differentiation as its method of defining reality. From this mindset. any attempt to strive for ‘the good’ will always be haunted by the shadow of evil lurking in the void that your good actions create. from which Hermeticism is largely based. Acknowledging that opposite concepts are inexorably linked produces a paradox. Jung. they must be the same thing. Table of Alchemical Symbols This Table is also copied directly from The Foundations of Newton's they were broken apart by thought. unification of opposites was central to first Neoplatonic and later Gnostic philosophies. But what exactly our neurons respond to is metaphysically arbitrary.W. while longer wavelengths are perceived as heat. p. Much of the imagery of The Red Book is alchemical in nature. underneath nothing. If one cannot exist without the other. 2009. Print.. and Sonu Shamdasani. The Pleroma Alchemy by Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs.3 leroma is a filler word for the wordless state or place than can be reached when all the opposites are unified. Norton &. New York: W. It is difficult. arguably impossible. either firing or not firing in response to some measured value of the external environment. but at its highest resolution that spectrum will always be based on a binary distinction between ‘hotter’ and ‘colder. I think the best way to explain the implications of the unification of opposites is through the Gnostic concept of the Pleroma. we bring them into reality. It is beyond everything. i. Good and evil become subjective ideological constructs that exist only to the extent that they are differentiated from each other. is a prime example. G. By differentiating as rigorously as they are today. like a lichen which is neither an algae nor a fungus. Opposites are reflected in or biology. his analysis of which form the basis of his psychological theories. While there are evolutionary reasons why our eyes should respond to light between 400 nm and 700 nm wavelengths. With enough experiences we can create a temperature spectrum. For my purposes. but the idea is not just rooted in religious philosophies. past God and greater than infinity. there is nothing in the ‘essence’ of electromagnetic radiation in that spectrum that should cause it to be perceived as light. In the west. the pairs of opposites in our minds. Essential to understanding the concept is the idea that we can only perceive reality by breaking it up into pairs of opposites which are arguably artificial. the idea of hot cannot exist without the idea of cold. All of the pairs of opposites you could ever imagine existed in a strange state of indescribable symbiosis before Figure 8. you can only know that something is hot by comparing it to something that is less hot than it. Note how compounds like Salt.’ In other words.7 has long been recognized in many eastern religious traditions. Likely the most famous philosopher to employ imagery the unification of above and below was Frederic Nietzsche. The Hindu god Siva. Our sensory neurons function as difference detectors. Zen Buddhism is famous for expressing similar concepts with bizarre koans. 348-351 . The Red Book: Liber Novus. something cold. but both. For example. unsatisfactory) before any pairs of opposites are Chymical compounds in the early modern period were not organized differentiated from each other. lord of creation and destruction. and identification often had to do with physical properties rather than atom ones. C. We create the concept of temperature by sorting our experiences into one of the two categories. 3 Much of my discussion of the Pleroma stems from Carl Jung's use of it in The Red Book. The Red Book is a series of dreams and hallucinations Jung recorded between 1914 and 1917. is what exists or does not exist (both words are Tartar or Vitriol do not have a unique modern chemical identity. For example. Hot comes with cold.
Matter and spirit were conceived of as distinct entities that could be separated from one another. Flamel blurs the line between man and myth. The Philosopher’s Stone is much more than a magical substance that can turn Lead into Gold. it tends to break things down into their simplest form to discover their properties. The idea of transmutation stems from the belief that seemingly opposite materials are. Alchemical theories of matter functioned by describing material properties in terms of opposed qualities. While Flamel was certainly a real person. Rowling in her Harry Potter series. “That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing. everything was unified. a more detailed one will be found later in the text. and held the view that ultimately. Babson MS 420 Note the various alchemical symbols arranged in a geometric pattern. It bears repeating. Over time. Flamel claims to have purchased a mysterious book full of Hebrew symbols and hieroglyphics from an unknown source. As we will see later. This is a brief theoretical explanation of the events that occurred in the introduction. the Philosophical Mercury could be easily transmuted into Gold by adding the proper spirit.K. Philosophical Mercury was created by removing the soul of a lesser metal (usually silver or vulgar mercury). The alchemists firmly recognized that perception was linked to pairs of opposites and their writings reflect that. Perfection could only be attained when those qualities were in balance. the same thing. at their root. Our modern science is reductionistic. the holistic nature of alchemy had a huge effect on what kinds of statements alchemists could make about reality. or philosophic mercury. . and Hermes Trismegestus would probably say that both qualities ‘arose from the mediation of the one. made famous by J. it is divinity materialized and matter perfected. There are fantastical names like Zozimos of Panopolis (~300 A.4 In the Exposition. most of the history attributed to him was published over 200 years after his death. Like Trismegestus before him. in a book called Exposition of the Hieroglyphical Figures. was a hypothetical universal menstrum from which all matter could grow. in 1624. See Figure 7 above for symbolic meanings. Flamel and his wife decoded the 4 Nicolas Flamel. Newton’s copy of a diagram of the Philosophers Stone. the one only thing that can perform miracles.D) and Mary the Jewess (there is a long history of the relationship between alchemy and Jewish mysticism called cabala). most of which I cannot cover here.L 8 et’s tie this back in with The Emerald Tablet. Figure 9. Wikimedia Foundation. and between modern science and alchemy. It can only be produced when all of the various properties of matter are in complete balance.” God is the manifestation of the unified opposites. Now yet again I’ve created an artificial dichotomy between reductionist and holistic practices. alchemy was holistic. In contrast. Prima Materia.Wikipedia. lchemy has a rich history between Hermes Trismegestus and Newton. The text around the central circle reads Prima Materia.’ But it is useful nonetheless to appreciate these subtle differences in world view. first matter. Such distinctions do not necessarily need to be made. Once formed. but the next name that I would like to focus on is Nicholas Flamel (1330-1418).
For this reason. or first wisdom. Phoenix. The book of Lambspring. At center bottom day and night combine in the alchemist and two opposed lions merge with one head. possessed Prisca Sapientia. In less anachronistic language. Aquila. Day. Note also that the symbol for Gold is at the center of the image inside the central tree. Note the alchemical symbols and vast array of opposites. The Philosophers Stone granted the Flamels immortality. risca Sapientia. Philosophical Mercury drips from their jaws. Prisca Sapientia is an extension of the biblical myth of the fall. but the 17th century Church and natural philosophers certainly did not. Erienaeus Philalethes. George Ripley. Water. Many times in my research I encountered long lists of authors (usually starting with Pythagoras or Euclid) and claims about what those authors thought. Moon. It contains Nicholas Flamel. Even after the fall. Copper and Venus on the right. It is the idea that the God imparted truth to Adam and Eve that was lost when they were expelled from Eden. It could be argued that figures such as Noah or Moses. and the symbol for Philosophical Mercury (the symbols for mercury and gold combined) is in the center of the mandala in the clouds. The emblem is divided in half. which conveniently explains why the Exposition was published in the seventeenth century instead of the fourteenth. . I see Prisca Sapientia sort of like the premise of Star Wars: ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Adam and Eve had true religion and true natural philosophy. Newton employed such a list in A Treatise of the System Figure 10. among others. Sun.” Emblem from Museum Hermeticum Reformatum et Amplificatum. the ancients knew much much more than we do now’.P 9 symbols and determined the proper procedure for producing the Philosophers Stone. “Grand Rosicrucian Alchemical Formula. Michael Sendivigious. or even Flamel. This obviously fictitious story offers me the opportunity to explain another important aspect of alchemical lore: the idea of Prisca Sapientia. academics were constantly referring to the wisdom of the ancients to give themselves credibility. Many more pairs of opposites are present. The Museum Hermeticum Refromatum et Amplificatum is a collection of alchemical writings from the most famous alchemical authors of the day. Iron and Mars on the left and Woman. was an idea held by most academics in the early modern period. 1678. Between them a crow transforms into a phoenix. but this ancient wisdom was lost and degraded through the generations. with Man. Fire. Michael Maier. Night.
‘The Chaldeans. could divulge the arcanum arcanorum. Note the alchemical symbols in the center. 8 “Paracelsus.’ Anaximander. Paracelsus is credited with estabHe cites the ancient philosophers: ‘The Ancients.’ Philolaus. are subsumed by new systems. All manuscripts. Consider for a moment that to study alchemy today. and used allegorical or deliberately obscure accounts of substances and processes. are considered valid parts of the cannon. Isaac. alchemy is more akin to religious scriptural traditions like the Hebrew cabala than it is to modern science. In this way. the barrier from fictional to real person. is its cumulative nature.6 This was the motivation for a seventeenth century author to fabricate the 200 year old identity of Flamel. ‘The Egyptians. Their practical operations had undoubtedly benefited from the technological developments made since the Arabic Middle Ages. which in a merger of cabalistic and alchemistic lore symParacelsus (1493-1541).” Wikipedia. p. An alchemist from 1400 had much more authority than one from 1600.7 From a modern perspective Prisca Sapientia may seem like absurdity. but like many alchemists he published under a pseudonym. Ouroboros thoughts of dead men if we did not believe This is a classic version of the ouroboros where the winged and wingless there would be some value in what we found? dragons consume each other.133. Eudoxus. since none was ever superseded. ‘The Pythagoreans.10 of the World to contend that all the ancients believed in the heliocentric Copernican system.8 Alchemy can be broken into many sub categories. Numa Pompilius.” Annals of Science 65. In academia today. Vickers writes. His real name was Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. With the doctrine of Prisca Sapientia we see a sharp contrast between early modern academic thought and current academic thought. Old systems. Aristarchus of Samos. like the hieroglyphics of Abraham the Mage. A Treatise of the System of theWorld.1-4. an art which depends in large part on the interpretation of texts. Wikimedia Foundation . and always was. any work produced in Hellenistic Egypt. or Renaissance Europe. we are constantly improving upon old ideas. is to believe in some form of Prisca Sapientia.132.’ as well as the contemporary philosophers Kepler. Descartes. “The ‘New Historiography’ and the Limits of Alchemy. finally crosses bolizes æther and quintessence. Aristotle. “One of the major difficulties in studying alchemy. as well as commentaries on those manuscripts. created bewildering variations in terminology. Potentially. The only problem was that the knowledge had been lost. This was not thought to be the case in the early modern period. The natural philosophy of Trismegistus was considered more complete than that of Descartes as a matter of course. “Alchemy could only metamorphose into chemistry when some practitioners ceased to rely on this textual morass and formulated new.” 5 well as the pairs of opposites around the outside of the dragons and inside Newton.” 7 Idem p. as 5 he next alchemist I want to focus on. For example Chrysopoeia is the study of gold making. p. or was encoded in inaccessible ways. like Newtonian mechanics. or history of science at all. Vickers writes.’ Anaxagoras. the Star of David. London: Printed for Fayram. all the opposite elements unified. Democritus. as I have observed elsewhere. Borelli and Hook. especially if your first introduction to the idea was through the story of Nicholas Flamel.1 (2008): 127-56. Calippus. It is important to recognize that alchemy. Brian. in this respect like astrology and magic. our history more nuanced. For why else would we devote so much time reconstructing the Figure 11. No text was ever thrown away. 1728. the fact that alchemists copied and recopied ancient texts. Plato. But it is an idea that needs to be taken seriously if alchemy is to be properly understood. but alchemy is. Medieval Islam. independent theories of substances and processes to be investigated by laboratory practice. 6 Vickers. like relativity. Print. With each generation our technology becomes more efficient. was a textually cumulative discipline.
Print. NJ: Princeton Univ. Similar ideas were held in the west since the time of Aristotle: The AristoteFigure 12.. 1528 Paracelsus wrote in Paragranum. sulfur and mercury. Sulphur. 1696-98. and held the view that all the diversity ria Prima theory had its origins in Islamic Principe. which was why it was so brittle. “The purpose of alchemy is not. and Newton tried more than one. which was why it was so volatile. while Mercury was said to have excess Mercury.. Isaac. is often cited as the first to merge the two theories need to be joined together. Paracelsus proposed the idea that there are certain material substances (what we would now call drugs) that can affect human health in specific ways. Boerhaave is typically considered more of a chemist than and alchemist.12 Philosophical Mercury was purported to have truly magical 9 Talchemy.” Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Lawrence M. 10 . That last phrase may be a bit confusing. Vulgar. In a parallel vein. “A double mercury is the sole first and proximate matter of all metals. the serpents around the caduceus. fixed and volatile. King’s College. Print. as it lian four elements of Earth. Portrait by Quentin Massys. p... but more like properties.11 lishing. the Dragons of Flammel. or at least strongly influencing. The most pristine essence of Mercury was a theoretical compound called Philosophical Mercury. 1983. Preparing Philosophical mercury was not as simple as purifying vulgar Mercury. but examples like his Philosophical Mercury experiments show the fuzziness of these definitions before the mid eighteenth century. Paracelsus. and body. MS Keynes MS 56. and Salt was linked in a web of correspondences that included the Triune Godhead and the threefold nature of man: spirit.”9 of matter arose from three fundamental properties: Mercury. Betty Jo Teeter. Air and Fire were is said.189 For example. “Paracelsus intensified such linkages and devised a world-system populated with a vast number of supernatural beings and elemental spirits and where natural and sympathetic magic played a central role in an organic cosmos. soul. There were myriads of methods of varying complexities for preparing Philosophical Mercury. For generation and for the first matter the two must be joined. Paracelsus direct them against diseases.10 Gold was a mixture of Sulphur and Mercury in perfect proportions. (Figure 12) Lawrence Principe writes of Paracelsus. and Robert Boyle.86. the study of Iatrochemistry. The Tria Prima were not elements or compounds per say. because it still had some Sulphur in it. Nothing is produced from the masculine of feminine semen alone. Water. `or medical alchemy. in heath and sickness.” together.” Newton. 12 Dobbs. Paracelsus frequently emphasized that alchemical theory linked transmutations of materials to transmutations of the human soul.11 One of the most iconic attempts was by Herman Boerhaave in 1718 where he heated Mercury continuously at a temperature above 100oF for 15 years and 6 months. Princeton. 1998. Sulphur and Salt. p. Hence nature and man.For all these things conform to the instruction and test of nature. and these two mercuries are the masculine and feminine semens. Translation found in Westfall.Sulphur and Mercury were often singled out in chrysopoeian contexts. Never at Rest p. and the alchemists were constantly trying to make it. Sententiæ Luciferæ Et Conclusiones Notabiles. elemental Mercury had very strong Mercurial properties. but in this instance to make arcana and said to be what all matter is made up of. The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest. and to be brought into mutual agreement.299 See figure 11 11 For a very thorough explication of Newton’s attempts at creating Philosophical Mercury see Dobbs. The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy: Or “The Hunting of the Greene Lyon. Iron was said to have excess Sulphur. but it was not the same as the essence of Mercury. Cambridge. The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy. The material tria prima of Mercury. to made gold and silver. Newton writes in one tract.
to summarize. would be added to the Philosophical Mercury. Mercury was decidedly female. the other living sprig. In this way the dead matter was reborn in a new. It went by many names: “the ☿ of ☿”. whereas the intense heat of the alchemical furnace would cause death and putrefaction. Splendor Solis Plate 6 The Philosophers Stone was for much more The creation of the Philosophers Stone was often likened to the growth of a tree. but usually associated with Gold. and they had to be separated in order for transmutation to occur. The connection between metals and trees sees to stem from the root-like ramification of metal veins in mines. Prima Materia. metals were thought to grow in the ground like trees15 (Figure 13). but any number of qualities were fit into the binary cosmology. first matter. “Are not metals of as much esteem with god as trees?” Gold was the most mature metal. For transmutation to occur the metals had to die and then were reborn. This interaction the crown. transformed. and what element they ended up becoming was a matter of time and balance of properties. a male seed or spark. it linked the corporeal In this image the stone is symbolized by a tree with golden roots growing through world with the divine. One holds a dead branch. Matter and spirit coexisted together. the universal menstrum. perfect form. Gold and Philosophical Mercury 13 14 15 12 Idem p. the Philosophers Stone. Philosophical Mercury was the womb out of which all life could grow. and that same stuff was Philosophical Mercury. Metals were alive. So. 84 Ibid Michael Sendivigious wrote in A New Light of Alchemy. Two men inainversly colored robes look upon the tree. sometimes associated with Sulphur or Fire. matter was made of opposed qualities. Next. Independent of human intervention. Alchemists were just capable of speeding up the process. These transmutations were thought to occur with or without the help of the alchemist.”14 In the vast array of symbolic alchemical associations (Figure 10). and all the other metals were in various stages of growth and maturation. A gentle heat would spark the spirit to grow.”13 The most evocative name I have found for Philosophical Mercury is the “true metaline menstrum. but there is laboratory evidence as well that will be discussed later in the paper. whereby the vulgar Mercury would become Philosophical Mercury.properties. where it would take life and grow. than making Gold. “The water that does not wet one’s hands. Heat was a key player in separating spirit from matter. “Our Mercury”. but they were also firmly linked. Figure 13. All matter was at its root the same stuff. The heat would cause the spirit to leave the matter. . And so matter and spirit were separate. between matter and spirit was the key to life. which are ultimately personified as body and spirit. All of the various forms of things in the world were caused by different spirits forming the Prima Materia into diverse arrangements.
has philosophical (spiritual) as well as material (stone-like) properties. or Christ. George Ripley. These modern historians of science are Starkey’s chief biographers and I will be relying on them for my own analysis of Starkey’s work. even when he wrote introductions to Philalethes’s manuscripts and was responsible for much of their distribution. But my goal here has not been to point out subtle differences between the various alchemists. as its name suggests. Newton and Starkey were contemporaries. but also under the pseudonym Eiranaeus Philalethes. both because it will provide much insight into Newton’s work. 1678 most modern alchemist that Newton read.17 Towards the end of the 1650’s Philalethes’s fame declined. and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry. I want to explore the work of the next alchemist I cover.’ The rhetorical styles of Starkey and Philalethes differ greatly. Prisca Sapientia is heavily employed in that work. and it seems most of the alchemists that Starkey was in contact with were unaware of his dual identity. The Philosophers Stone. That Were Ever Yet Published by Eirenaeus to Newton’s.12 16 17 . but they too formed a pair of opposites and when they were brought together they produced the Philosophers Stone. the alchemical Excellent Discoveries of the Most Hidden Secrets of the Ancient theories of Eiranaeus Philalethes were most closely tied Philosophers. ‘a peaceful lover of truth. Likely attributed to later alchemists such as Michael Maier. Boyle. eorge Starkey was born in Bermuda in 1628. It was perfection. but also because it will serve as an excellent introduction to the work of William Newman and Lawrence Principe. Chicago: University of Chicago. or Michael Sendivigious. Starkey was in frequent contact with Robert Boyle and taught him much of the laboratory practice Boyle became famous for. I am going to analyze portions of An Exposition. It was God. and in 1650 he emigrated to London. although at different times. First Edition Philalethes text. Newman. Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey. as it is now. both were in close communication with Robert Boyle. or provide eternal life. notably An Exposition upon Sir George Ripley’s Epistle to King Edward IV. an expensive hobby). 31 May 2012. but he does so through extensive use of imagery and metaphor. William R. Philalethes achieved great renown in London alchemical circles. procedures and observations. but spiritually it was a manifestation of the Pleroma. An Exposition upon Sir George Ripley’s Hermetico-poetical Works Containing the Plainest and Most the alchemists found in Newton’s library. although much of the theory and procedure described in it are Philalethes’s own. likely in order to increase his access to alchemical resources and knowledgeable adepti.” Wikipedia. I have been fairly ahistorical in my approach.13 were both considered to be exemplars of unified opposites. Jan Baptist van Helmont. Philalethes was the Figure 14. There are also other alchemical theories that do not fall in line with Paracelsus’s thinking. He attended Harvard College. Or. Principe and Newman have put forth a new historiography of alchemy that is radically different from most of the prior interpretations of alchemy “George Starkey. Wikimedia Foundation. An Exposition is a commentary upon an earlier tract by George Ripley. Principe. or to describe the evolution of alchemical theory over time. Its material purposes were to turn Lead into Gold. Starkey was incarcerated multiple times in a debtors prison for debts he accrued furnishing his laboratory (chemistry was then. Print. procedures and observations. Philalethes refers to those same materials. Starkey’s tracts are direct. and Lawrence M. in some depth. p. In 1665 he died of the plague.16 Starkey published chymical works under his given name. Isome of the aspects of Philosophical Mercury or the Philosophers Stone would be more correctly n describing Paracelsus’s Tria Prima theory. George Starkey. 2002. and of all Ripley Reviv’d.. but rather to give you a sense of the alchemical theory Newton was exposed to. Newton’s tract Praxis relies heavily on Philalethes many of Philalethes’s works. and refer mostly to chemical materials. and a general sense of alchemical theory is required in order to understand it.
1654 The Mountain of the Adepts documents the various stages of matter as it progresses to the philosophers stone. Although I question Newman’s dismissal of Jungian views. Imagine a would be adept in Newton’s time (or ours). She opens up a text book eager to learn. conjunction. It is freely available online. the text that Philalethes is commenting. The castle not only hides the wisdom. congelation cibation. These stages are reminiscent of the twelve gates of Ripley’s compound Philalethes describes. exaltation. Newman. it is the wisdom itself. o analyze An Exposition. set upon discovering the mysteries of the material world. discredit or refute. It reads more like Lord of the Rings than a lab book. Matter is transformed from one stage to the other via various active principles listed in the pyramid. Please view New- . Newman assures us this is a want to emphasize the scenario that Philalethes 18 man’s article directly for more complete bibliographical information. In doing so. In this paper. by which Ripley referred to twelve alchemical processes calcination. where he may behold a glorious castle having twelve entrances. The Mountain of the Adepts. “Decknamen or Pseudochemical Language ? : Eirenaeus Philalethes and Carl Jung. “Dust thou art. Newman has condensed sections of the Philalethes’s treatise so that they are much easier to quote and analyze. But the castle is guarded by a garrison. and Philalethes assures us that we must have a guide. And yet this introduction is unlike any laboratory procedure a modern chemistry student might find. complete with images of copulating hermaphroditic royalty. Quotes within the citation reference either Philalethes or Philalethes quoting George Ripley directly. “Philalethes begins his allegory by welcoming the reader to the “garden of the Philosophers”. but instead of receiving dry explanations of properties he is thrown into a fantastical world where castles that hide ancient wisdom are guarded by corpses. Michelspacher.”18 Figure 15. The first gate is recessed into the earth and surmounted by a dire inscription. dissolution. and then translates the images into a reproducible chemical procedure. for why the Sun hath shined upon her”.” Persee 3rd ser. Newman presents portions of An Exposition. and projection. Beginning his description of An Exposition. sublimation. Newman claims to have found an explanation of alchemical imagery without needing to resort to a Jungian interpretation. multiplication.2 (1996): 159-88.166. “very comely. 49. once I have more fully explicated alchemical theory and history through the present day. separation. I will be quoting from a paper written by Newman entitled Decknamen or pseudochemical language?: Eirenaeus Philalethes and Carl Jung. fermentation. Print. putrefaction. Newman writes. p. A lady stands there in mourning.T 14 that have been produced over the past 300 years. Her name is Juno. William R. Within the gate lies the corpse of a “Great Person”. so I will be quoting Newman directly rather than the primary source. yet black. Cabala. Its twelve gates Iplaces us in. These are the twelve gates of Ripley’s Compound of alchymie. While I am critical of some of their positions (my views tend to be more spiritual). the overall picture they paint is too compelling. his analysis of Philalethes is completely sound and deserves our attention here. and full of too much evidence to try to ignore. and unto Dust thou shalt return”. lest we be taken as spies. laboratory text that explains a real and reproducible chemical process. I will delve deeper into the various conflicting interpretations of alchemy later in the paper.
fermentation had the same meaning for Newton as it does for us today: the growth of yeast in a sugar medium. The bubbling of a fermenting flask was seen as an indication of the active spirit within. However. Philalethes continues to say that the The presence of two Mercuries is also a common trope.O 15 correspond to alchemical processes. An Exposition upon Sir George Ripley’s Hermetico-poeticalWorks Containing the Plainest and Most Excellent Discoveries of the Most Hidden Secrets of the Ancient Philosophers. Any smoke or gas rising up was the material manifestation of that spirit.166 20 Newton was particularly interested in fermentation and putrefaction. But alchemical fermentation had a much broader scope. (Figure 15) At the door the would be adept is reminded of the scope of his quest. The word derives from the Greek word chaos and its metaphorical links with spirit run deep. “The guide receives a circumstantial description. it becomes 19 Philalethes. but if he is in a good temper.ThatWere EverYet Published. It is not just about Chrysopoeia. he is silent and faithful.” The servant. a brutish servant who dutifully but n the surface. 1617 The inscription reads roughly. “Give fire to fire.” for thee” This image perhaps depicts something similar to Philalethes’s fire guide. William R. He should therefore be “shut up close where he may not get forth. London: Printed by Tho. Figure 16. all will be lost. Newton frequently referred to fermentation as vegetation. and keep chymical purposes in mind. It is doubtful that Starkey had Caliban in mind when he concocted the description.” and the alchemist should “go wisely before with heat.. Thompson. and unto dust thou shalt return”20 Think for a moment what it would be like if our modern science pedagogy were concerned not only with describing material properties but with teaching students how to find meaning in their lives. for William Cooper . At its simplest. 1678. and was the process by which all life was formed. He has a “humour of his own not to be equalled in the World”. . left to his own devices. and spirit. Ripley Reviv’d. and William Cooper. “a very stupid Fool. He is very simple. Newman writes. for due to his “perpetual working” he tires easily. Newman warns us that before we slip into Jungian language we should take a closer look at the description. wind.. and is quickly met by the guide Philalethes insisted upon. Atalanta Fugiens.” One can tell if he is happy or not by his countenance. De Secretis Natura.. Putrefaction was the step of death in the alchemical process. Mercury to Mercury and it is sufficient “he is indifferent active and merry. Eirenaeus.”21 19 Ojoined our adepts quest. What would it be like if our universities were built like Ripley’s compound? What if our academic buildings were cathedrals couched in symbolism whose very structure reflected the knowledge to be learned? ur adept enters the compound.” Nonetheless. will grow red in the face if he should become angry. but the resemblance emphasizes that there is clearly something archetypal about the image. who will follow. so that if he is angered or made sullen. One excellent example would be the Hebrew word ruach which means synonymously breath. “Double Mercury” was someguide will “presently take snuff” if times used as an analog to Philisophical Mercury. indeed. but about finding her place in the universe. 21 Newman. She is reminded that “Dust thou art. and leave you in a world of misfortune. Emblema X. On second glance. it appears Philalethes is providing a character study of the new companion that has unwillingly serves the old wizard Prospero. Or. Michael Maier. He resembles Shakespeare’s Caliban. though “if he can find an opportunity he will give you the slip. Jan Baptist van Helmont (1579-1644) is credited with introducing the word gas into chymical terminology. “Decknamen or Pseudochemical Language? p. Ratcliff and Nat. The next step was fermentation.
Newman quotes. ““I lift up mine eyes.” The queen is holding a book entitled Philosophy restored to its primitive purity.” The image of consuming the book of nature is an incredibly effective and evocative way of expressing this sentiment. from which all things may grow. science and religion ran parallel to each other. aesthetic. chemical) but rather than conjecture what was going on in Starkey’s head when he wrote the description. The Queen is Silver. each complimenting the other with insights into how the world worked. Emblema XXVI. that I did fully apprehend all things which I saw and heard” ”22 ere Prisca Sapientia is personified as literal book eating. What would a high school chemistry textbook look like today if it were modeled after the book Nature feeds Philalethes? What if chemistry were taught as a pathway to the divine secrets of the universe? H 22 Idem. Even in a simple description of fire. but if given the opportunity (a stray piece of paper perhaps) he will give her the slip and leave her in a world of misfortune. and behold I saw Nature as a Queen gloriously adorned. Philalethes says “was my Understanding so enlightened. companion to Gold.16 obvious that the servant is fire incarnate. . But I’ll get off my soap box for a moment to delve further into An Exposition.167 . Newton believed (and from this quote it seems likely Starkey did too) that discovering natural law from phenomena was a method of reaching God. p. What could be the purpose in anthropomorphizing fire in this way? Doubtless. To protect himself from the fires dangers our adept should shut the servant up close where he may not get forth. For them. 1617 The inscription reads “Man’s wisdom is the fruit of the tree of life. we see a richness of meaning that is unparalleled in modern laboratory procedure. I think it is possible with our modern perspective to reassimilate aesthetics and depth of meaning into our science without losing the objectivity and rigor we have worked for 300 years to produce. Atalanta Fugiens. De Secretis Natura. but she is also Philosophical Mercury. of discovering true religion and restoring philosophy “to its primitive purity. It is again worth pausing here to note the differences between modern science and the natural philosophy of Philalethes and Newton. Michael Maier. there are many reasons on multiple levels (personal. Nature Figure 17. I want to emphasize the simple fact that these multiple levels exist at all. We also see a web of interconnected symbols in “Nature as a Queen gloriously adorned. in a furnace. In a later scene we see further evidence of Prisca Sapientia. and life and health. “ she is also the predictable natural law of the universe with which Newton was deeply concerned. and it has been unquestioned among historians of science until very recently that that exchange had to occur for modern chemistry to develop. wealth and infinite glory.” (Figure 17) In this context both Nature and Queen have multiple meanings. the first thing any adept would need on his quest for the Philosophers Stone. It will treat our adept dutifully and loyally. Today we have exchanged this richness for objectivity. After being so honored by the lady. “Long too is Philosophical Mercury.” Natures scrolls read. which she gives the alchemist to eat. Fire tires easily because of its perpetual working.
. Opposites are unified to create the Philosophical Mercury. Gallantly. “Conceived in the bath. and she replies that she wants his “Conjugal Fealty”. “Decknamen or Pseudochemical Language? p. and the Water-bearer pours forth his water. Philalethes. which now grows black and thick. Philalethes expands upon his procedure with more detail and varied imagery. Not one to be diverted by euphemism. The new lady. the Prima Materia and the Philoso. describing the first step of the generation of the Philosophers Stone. and appeared as it were a Lamp burning. and the Pitcher. The heat gradually dries up this decaying mass. This horrible decay soon infects the water. in a highly condensed form.]” A raven eats the toad. he asks her what he can do to help. the generation of life.” ” 24 Idem. no doubt feeling a combination of guilt and disappointment. William R. and dissolves into a “most filthy squallid Liquor blacker than Ink. Atalanta Fugiens. unlike the old. Philalethes notices “a goodly Lady in the midst of it”. until his body is almost consumed. Although she is tiny at first.114 Newman. now mixed with fire. mixed with the sweat. while the Earth gives birth amidst burning phers Stone grows. “wasted by his Venery” begins to sweat marvellously. black.” Then the spark appears in as the red stone. and in the midst of the Water. The King. Figure 18.Tfrom H he next quote I want to look at An Exposition you were first exposed to in the introduction. is pained horribly by the heat of the stove. the King grants her request in such a way that she conceives “the King’s Seed”. and yet no way distinguishable from the Water”23 ere we see. not Nature herself. p. Newman writes. only to reveal “a horrible venomous tumefied Toad. “Then I viewed his Pitcher well.. and the Water in it The inscription roughly reads. meanwhile. De Secretis Natura. there was a most radiant twinkling Spark.171 17 23 24 .. then notices a carcass on the surface of the water. consuming all the water as she expands. and yellowish” with putrefaction. He is at once covered with her sweat and tears. ” The Philosophers Stone was often reffered to were one. Fire and and light are intimately tied up with Water to create the Philosophers Stone. and the Water in it were one .. Newman quotes. and her skin as bright as fine silver. sheds so many tears that. which sent forth its Beams even to the very surface of the Water. blewish. Michael Maier. cit. she soon grows bigger. and his Wife”. but one as beautiful as Helen. and she repeatedly faints. the red stone was made gradually over the waters. Emblema XXVI. She is naked.170 also. musing “at the strangeness of the sight”. The Waterbearer then makes his exit by diving into the stream of water and disappearing.. saying with some relief that she is now “better able to endure the Fire which did prevail upon her”.. like turbid slime. Many alchemical elements are dynamically integrated in this image. Exposition upon the first six gates. and what was strange. The Queen. as it were in the very centre. “the Bearer.. the Bearer. so that both take on the color of silver.] as it were dying [. they produce a river. p. Air. his Mother. and thick like Pitch melted. and born in the air. The images have mythological parallels in Greek Ambrosia and Hindu Amrita as well as obvious biological parallels which are their original inspiration. Imagery of water mountains thick with smoke. op. Philalethes. Death and Rebirth are synthesised with Earth.The Sun and the Moon copulate in thr water. feeling pity for her whom he knows to be “his Sister. die of its poison. in Ripley Reviv’d.. [. and I found that his Pitcher was clear as pure Silver. Inspecting the released liquid. “Philalethes then lights the furnace beneath the chamber. But this is not enough: The King. and so the two are drowned. which soon grows “livid. the theoretical process for producing Philosophical Mercury and the subsequent Philosophers stone. 1617 and the Pitcher. embraces her.
Putrefaction was frequently cited as evidence for spontaneous generation. Newman.572.25 This mistake occurred in part because the style of this letter is differs dramatically from the metaphorical prose of Philalethes. 1617 ground in a hot mortar as before. all of which is explicated beautifully in Newman’s paper. I have updated most . undifferentiated this reiterated till ye amalgamation become as bright as burnished state silver. then dried. then a raven. when Newman identified an earlier version of the letter written by Starkey. Emblema XXXIII. William. And so the lady is pained horribly by the life giving light of the stove and repeatedly faints. Atalanta Fugiens. De Secretis Natura.M P W 25 26 18 etaphors of death and rebirth are present in every image in this sequence. many scholars (most notably B. p. [It] is to be set to the fire and kept about 3 hours more in the former heat then Figure 19. Putrefaction puts the Philosophical Mercury is on its way to completion and it soon will give birth to the Philosophers Stone. Before 1987. “Lying in the dark like death. the hermaphrodite it yeildeth fresh blackness which needs fire. Michael Maier. (if in a hot mortar the better. then amalgamated. Print Idem. Much of the letter contains detailed lists of procedures. In Putrefaction previously living matter loses its spirit. dies. After the couple copulates they dissolve and drown in each other tears. The use of androgeny as a metaphor for Prima Materia highlights its flexible. There is much more nuance and technicality to these images than I care to cover. He transcribed a full copy of it in the late 1670’s. temperature and procedure. “Newton’s Clavis as Starkey’s Key. and then washed till the blackness do come in small quantity which will be discerned by the light fouling of the water (for at first it will make ye water very black) which must be poured off and fresh water poured on till ye blackness decrease. and putrefies. To conclude the process. Starkey is specific about tools. of the words to their modern spellings and changed some of the punctuation to make the meaning more clear. . about half a quarter of an hour. Their bodies decay in the water and cause it to metamorphose.J. and finally pure blackness.” Similar to images of kings being placed into vessels to die (See pages 63&69) must be washed as before. highlighting the first alchemical step of Putrefaction. This quote has been edited for clarity. Dobbs in The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy) believed Newton’s transcription to be an original composition entitled Clavis or Key. first into turbid slime. Starkey is direct and to the point. Death and dead material was required for all life to grow.T. For example. the Putrefaction process beautifully illustrated above is put forth in much more direct terms “If [antimony] be amalgamated with mercury vulgar and is digested with it a small time (2 or 3 hours) in a closed pot with a cover or a glass stopped in such a heat that the mercury may begin to arise like a dew… and then ground [for] a convenient time.4 (1987): 564. I will quote not from An Exposition but from a private letter Starkey wrote to Robert Boyle in 1651. But we do get a glimpse of awe as well later in the letter. Words inside [square brackets] are my own insertions. The inscription roughtly translates to. yet not over hot) till it spew out a blackness.”26 ith this quote it becomes evident that the various transformations of the putrefying matter from slime to toad to raven were actually the repeated burning and removal of impurities from an amalgamation of Mercury. hilalethes continues on for many pages. flies would arise only from putrefying meat.” Isis 78. then a toad. and here we see the hermaphrodite requiring death and fire in order to transform. This letter had a great influence on Newton’s alchemy.
They depict agriculture. by examining one of the last alchemists. because that analysis will profoundly affect the way that I interpret Newton. Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey. For even before Newton began searching for the Philosophers Stone. ability to flow. He was one of the first members of the Royal Society and was a champion of open distribution of information. The color changing sprigs and branches seem to confirm the theoretical description of a living Philosophers Stone. William R. But images of trees growing in enclosed spaces have meaning on multiple vulgar Mercury by its quickness. p. to grow with sprigs and branches to Change Colours daily which sights doe daily salute me. but really inwardly & outwardly into Mercury as quick as any Mercury in the world. and that at the time of Boyle’s activity the differences between the two disciplines ran only skin deep. Thus with Starkey/Philalethes we see a marvelous merging of vibrant alchemical theory and concrete laboratory practice. We can explore the reasons for alchemy’s decline. p. The Philosophers Stone was said to grant sophical Mercury is differentiated from eternal life. Print. Robert Boyle. the founders of the Royal Society had to work actively to define what 19 Idem. but Newman and Principe have pointed out that the differentiation of chymistry into alchemy and chemistry was a deliberate and conscious act by Boyle and his contemporaries. Chicago: University of Chicago. De Secretis Natura. thus aiding his subsequent deployment as a point of demarcation between an older alchemy (often characterized as “obscurantist”) and a modern experimental science. The tree also signifies the growth of the soul within the vessel of the human body. or its levels. This Philo. the seeds of alchemy’s undoing were being sewn. the subsequent 300 years of alchemical history need to be analyzed. Boyle. and the relationship between man and nature. Emblema IX. “Boyle often strove to distinguish himself from his predecessors.N “I have now in fire several glasses of Gold with that Mercury which grow in the form of trees. He points out the Gold has not simply been dissolved visibly Figure 20. 2002.573. Newman. In order to bring credibility to their discipline. This quote has also been edited for clarity. and the subsequent growth of our skewed modern interpretation of it. Michael Maier. but has The inscription roughly reads.15 27 28 . and one of the first chemists. Atalanta Fugiens. and Lawrence M.. But before we can delve into Newton’s alchemy.”27 ewton often made the distinction between mechanical transformations of vulgar chemistry and true transmutations of alchemy and Starkey is doing the same. “The old man will eat the fruit of the tree. 1617 by corrosion into small atoms. Boyle’s distaste for secrecy highlighted the differences between the new chemistry and the older alchemy. It also makes Gold to puff up to swell to putrefy.” The dewy house bears strong resemblence to into Philosophical Mercury. and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry. and by Continual Circulation resolve the trees with ye Body into one Mercury of which sort I have now one glass in which Gold is dissolved not to sight by Corrosion into atoms. obert Boyle (1627-1691) is often described as the father of modern chemistry. and exactly what its boundaries were not well established. and truly it is the only great thing which I think is in all Alchemy. . shut up in its inwardly and outwardly transformed dewy house. Principe.the mercury solution in the Starkey quote.”28 At the end of the seventeenth century science was in its earliest infancy. and will regain his youth. It was this alchemical landscape molded by Philalethes’s theories in which Newton learned and practiced his craft. a practice shunned by many alchemists who preferred to use pseudonyms and encode their practices in metaphor.
We see in the first actions of the Royal Society a definition of science that has lasted into the present day. I see a rejection of all things associated with the parent during Greek. Modern science. 1909.” But Boyle’s self portrayal can be taken too uncritically. he rejection of alchemy by the natural philosophers of the early eighteenth century has affected its history to the present day. Note the diverse mixture of symbolism. his writings present a distorted image of his relationship to contemporaneous chymistry and its practitioners.31 But few have extended the metaphor to note that our young scientific method has now matured enough to look back upon its ancestors and glean wisdom from practices that earlier it had to reject as a matter of self-preservation. while the practical elements of the discipline were assimilated into the newly forming chemistry. Rider Waite Tarot odern historians of science have recently started piercing Note the hands of the magician connecting the above with the below. Hermeticism became a sort of religion in its own right (the modern day Freemasons draw much of their doctrine from Hermetic texts) and practices associated with the word alchemy became increasingly segregated from any sort of material experimentation. But the foundations of that definition are a bit shaky.”29 Figure 21a. “Modern science in its nascence surely bore the marks of the ancient womb of human thought in which it had its long period of gestation. Alchemical. Astrological. like an adolescent. “Boyle’s presentation of himself and his scientific development thus projects both the image of a disinterested and modest natural philosopher and the sense of a thinker who owed little of substance to the foregoing traditions of “the chymists. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Boyle’s publications often display a pattern of accepting the technology and empirical results of contemporaneous chymists while conspicuously rejecting their theories. Egyptian. Not all of those antique thought patterns are acceptable today as valid approaches to the world of phenomena or as genuine and honest efforts at making the world comprehensible. through the veil of science’s apparent positivist origins and begun to look at what thought processes lay underneath. M 29 30 31 Ibid Dobbs. The Wheel of Fortune parentage”30 Rider Waite Tarot.I 20 they were as well as what they were not. The disdain of the academic community relegated the more esoteric and mystical portions of alchemy to a fantastical realm that contained witchcraft and astronomy’s forgotten twin. 1909 think the metaphor of a rebellious teenager is quite appropriate. academics like Arthur E Waite (most famous today for the Rider Waite tarot deck. adolescence as utterly necessary for establishing identity. The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy. p. Boyle’s public attitude toward chymistry actually involves…a posture of independence from previous chymical traditions.xi See the work of Helene Metzger and Brian Vickers . astrology. The Magician. This pattern has been largely recapitulated in much of the secondary literature. The authors remark. indeed. Many and Cabalistic historians of science have noted that rejecting old thought patterns was required modern science to mature. and in both locales it has had the effect of elevating Boyle’s own status and diminishing that of the foregoing traditions. denies its Figure 21b. Dobbs writes in her introduction to The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy that.
In the east the goal is called enlightenment. In the west the goal is usually personified in Christ’s ascension to heaven. Alchemy Tried in the Fire. unbridled imagination. a word coined by Jung to describe a stage of consciousness akin to Buddhist enlightenment in which the True Self is found. Yet the widespread stress on the “otherness” of alchemy tends to support the view that alchemists in their laboratories were not focused on material substances and their actual transformations and even that those alchemists acted more or less haphazardly or randomly in their operations. The Jungian soteriological goal is individuation.” 33 hroughout their work. In this vein. their main critique of the Jungian view is that is that it does not take into account any physical meaning of the alchemical imagery. it does not follow that this arises from hallucination. or Brahman.figures 5&21) legitimized the view that alchemy was predominantly a spiritual quest that had little to do with the exploration of material properties. Arthur E. “is the study of religious doctrines of salvation. Principe and Newman argue aggressively that the “otherness” of alchemy is an historical construct produced after alchemy ceased to be an actively practiced discipline. Raw alchemical symbolism was central to Jung’s goals. according to Wikipedia. alchemical imagery was produced in a trancelike state and projected into the flask.5 (1908). Principe and Newman’s many attempts Figure 22b.64. William R. Alchemy clearly has strong links to religious practices.” Nor does it follow that alchemy is nothing but the manipulation of such symbolism or texts without reference to laboratory activities. but writers like Waite distorted alchemy too far in the opposite direction by insisting its focus was predominantly on self-transformation. “While one cannot (and would not wish to) deny that alchemy is replete with a singular lushness of symbolism and overlapping levels of meaning or that it presents important resonances with religious speculations. playing out the activity of the psyche of the alchemist. and Lawrence M. London. and their effects on human beings. and the metaphor was widespread among other alchemists. Focusing on symbolism alone allowed Jung to further a soteriological34 interpretation of alchemy that differentiated it from chemistry. which of course obscured its practical applications. he was interested in the images in their own right. 34 .32 Waite lumped alchemy together with all things occult. Modern Alchemical Furnace and Distiller to demonstrate the physical meaning of alchemical texts Made by William Newman. see Waite. From a Jungian perspective.. psychologist Carl Jung assimilated the spiritualist interpretation of alchemy into his psychological theories. Principe. But Newman and Principe express some very serious criticism of the Jungian explanation that cannot be ignored. p. nirvana. Shortly after Waite’s death.” Soteriological goals are expressed in all of the major religions. Print Newman. The Jungian perspective does not lack evidence. Alchemy clearly makes statements about divine and human experiences pertaining to things other than material properties. and I think the popular modern stance to deemphasize those religious components is flawed. metaphor for the completed individuation process. Body and Soul of man. Jung is famous for claiming that alchemical imagery was a product of the unconscious mind of the alchemist. Modeled after Figure 22a 21 T 32 33 For an example of Waite’s work. or a predominant focus on the spiritual to the exclusion or diminution of the kind of laboratory operations we have come to view as a property of “chemistry. where the fermenting matter could be observed like a dream. “The Pictoral Symbols of Alchemy. Sketch of Alchemical Furnace and distilation aparatus The Art of Distillation. The Philosophers Stone was a Figure 22a.38 Soteriology. He cared little for chemical applications.” Occult Review 8. 1653. p. Paracelsus equated Tria Prima with the Mind.
the promise of providing an explanation of alchemical imagery has probably been the chief preservative of the Jungian interpretation over so many years. In one paper Principe writes. Cambridge. He then describes how he used a laboratory procedure derived from their A. that was supposed to act as a magnet and draw out Philisiphical Mercury from vulgar mercury. kings. As such. flowers. Maier. citing Philalethes. but for Newman and Principe it represents a hurdle to be overcome. they need to show that the images have scientific credence. was an alloy of antimony. Ed. it is crucial for any convincing dismissal of the Jungian interpretation to advance a more plausible origin for these alchemical images. MA: MIT. Imagery is central to Jungian philosophy. Holmes and Trevor Levere. After the above quote. mercury. “Apparatus and Reproducibility in Alchemy.” Instruments and Experimentation in the History of Chemistry. C. The very frequent references to hermaphrodites. has declared rather incautiously that “clearly these picturesque symbols have nothing to do with chemical realities or with rational theories of transmutation. p. 35 36 Dobbs. 55-74. “The Jungian interpretation has owed much of its acceptance and continuance to the fact that it advances an explanation of the origins of the notoriously extravagant imagery of alchemical texts.C) was a copper iron alloy whose preparation procedure was apparently derrived from greek myth. but they care little for any other meaning the images might hold. 2000. it does not fit their needs. Figure 23. it is just focused on different issues. named for the starlike patterns on its surface. provided chemical meaning is the only sort of meaning we’re looking for. Lawrence M.”35 These figures have thus played a key role in allowing alchemy to be disjoined from chemistry and seem to countenance the formulation of the rather far-fetched Jungian notion of “irruptions of the unconscious.D). But I still find great value in following Princpe’s arguments to their logical conclusion. I D. dragons. The only level of meaning that Principe and Newman are concerned with is the chemical one. Frederic L. The star regulus (A. queens. Print. even though tricked out in pseudoscientific language. or pseudoscientific. or at least superfluous.64-65 . Their goal is to show how alchemy fits in with the rest of contemporary natural philosophy. [Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs] following Jung’s lead.has led them to conclude that the Jungian interpretation is invalid. inexplicable. 22 B.” Indeed. Newton used iron to reduce antimony sulfide and combined it with copper to produce the “network” on the alloy. From the perspective the new historiographers take. and other metals. They cannot be faulted for this.32 Principe. A regulus was a compact alloy that theoretically mediates materials during the preparation of Philisophical Mercury. Principe goes on to describe in great detail the alchemical history of using trees as metaphors for the philosophers stone. someone had to focus on chemical aspects of alchemy in order to bring a more balanced conception of it into the modern awareness. as fulfilling the real meaning of the story. even though Jung’s system does little more than explain the apparently inexplicable by means of something yet more inexplicable. They are quite open about this. In actuality the Jungian view isn’t superfluous.”36 cannot agree that Jungian theory is far-fetched. When Vucan (fire) catches his wife Venus (copper) in bed with Mars (Iron) he prepares a net and hangs the lovers within it. The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy. The Net (B. Reporduced Reguluses Made by William Newman in modern chemical labratory folowing manuscript procedure. p. it makes sense that they would be critical of the Jungian interpretation. Thus. and a multifarious menagerie of real and mythical creatures involved in everything from birth to marriage to incest and death have been a chief locus for arguing the “otherness” of alchemy. Indeed. He provides some very convincing evidence for the dismissal of the Jungian interpretation. Personal experiences have shown me unequivocally that eruptions of the unconscious are a r e a l phenomenon. Ripley and others.
and also as Materia Prima. Of course. I agree that the choice of image is closely bound up with a variety of cultural factors. and so forth. in Ripley Reviv’d p. but I think most onlookers would refer to it first as a tree.”38 he resemblance of Principe’s description to the Philalethes tracts I quoted above is remarkable.65 Idem p.” p. rising like leavened dough. we come to the surprising turn that these very same repeated images – which lead Jung to his psychological interpretation of alchemy and lead the enlightenment writers and. but all I contend is that the admittedly culturally influenced metaphorical clothing. again perhaps accurately recalling the “moorish low bog” that “toads keep. theological. The mixture soon swelled and bubbled. A. “Miscellanea d’acheimia” MS Ashburnham 1166 (14th century) Florence. but only by synthesizing the two veiws can the symbols be fully comprehended 37 38 Principe.A. I used this material along with gold to prepare a mixture that was sealed in a “glass egg” and heated. A. recalling (perhaps not unwarrantably) the numerous references to fermentation and leavening in mercurialist literature. in some cases) not only artifacts of. but arguments in favor of the reality and reproducibility of experimental programs carried out by Stone-seeking alchemists.”37 After several days of heating. 23 work to produce some astonishing results.. Adam is the first matter. may (in more than a few cases) cover a solid body of repeated and repeatable observations of laboratory results”39 Figure 24. as illustrated in figure [24a]. Both authors explain certain qualities of the drawing. artistic. He labels the figure Adam.70 39 . Two Alchemical Trees. Principe uses B to argue that alchemical imagery has its root in objective physical processes by comparing it to the coumpund he produced. Some today might call this a dendritic fractal. Exposition upon the first six gates. Lawrence M. Principe certainly thinks so. [science historians] to their rejection of alchemy as serious experimentalism – may actually be (at least. The link between sexual generation is and the Philosophers Stone is exceedingly clear in this image. the metallic lump took on a completely new appearance. Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana. and as such he is dead and without a soul. It would seem that with these results Principe has found the evidence needed to dismiss the Jungian interpretation. Apparatus and Reproducablity in Alchemy p. The light enlivens his body and converts it to the Philosophers Stone. “Thus. Jung uses B in his work as evidence for the collective unconscious. more recently. B.69-70 Philalethes.. philosophical. Principe writes. T B. “After interpreting Starkey’s Marrow of alchemy for advice regarding the exact proportions and method of mixture and digestion. The spark of life from heaven can be seen in Adams left hand.. no matter how bizarre.69. «Apparatus and Reproducibility in Alchemy. Then it became more pasty and liquid and covered with warty excrescences. experiential.
“Reflections on Newton’s Alchemy in Light of the New Historiography of Alchemy. Newman and Principe do an excellent job showing that that spirituality had an influence on early modern thinkers that cannot be ignored if historical accuracy is to be maintained. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic. indeed. For me. it naturally appears more closely linked to theological and spiritual preoccupations.” as a field which “died” before the widespread secularization of the sciences.214 41 40 . and thus when laid alongside the secularized descendants of early modern physics. but it is beyond his scope to do anything but label them as cultural factors. “The coral grows under water and hardens in the air into score of theological preoccupations the stone. They write. p. What he sees as a dismissal of the Jungian interpretation I see as a revelation that alchemy was far more intricate than most academics to date have ever imagined. Atalanta Fugiens. Seventeenth-century “alchemy” or “chemistry” was not inherently and essentially any more necessarily linked to religious interests than other contemporaneous natural philosophical subjects.” Newton and Newtonianism: New Studies. Print. Note the life giving wind in the upper left corner. as well as the striking resemblance the Philosopher’s coral stone bears to Principe’s compound in Figure 24a. Emblema XXXII.41 the elements together.P T 24 rincipe is aware that the images possess depth and complexity beyond their chemical reproducibility. But the work of the current generation of historians of science has fully shown that theological considerations were fundamental to all branches of early modern natural philosophy.” In this image we again see the idea that the stone is made by unifying all than previously thought. Michael Maier. “Alchemy. preserves in its written remains all the marks and expressions of pre-Enlightenment piety. free from the obscuring shadows of untenable interpretations of alchemy. We are not justified in disconnecting “alchemy” from “chemistry” on the basis of a radically differing valuation or of involvement in laboratory experimentation. the occult revivals which so transformed perceptions of alchemy were themselves born partly from a reaction against Enlightenment rationalism and secularization. we must look even more closely at the whole of early alchemical/ chemical thought and practice and at the evolving role and method of laboratory practice over a long period of “chymical” history. Idem p. It is nineteenth and twentieth-century interpretations of alchemy which stress this linkage as a distinguishing characteristic of alchemy. if we cannot make such a disconnection. De Secretis Natura. astronomy. a comparison between early modern alchemy and other branches of contemporaneous natural philosophy (rather than contemporary science) indicates far less distinction on the Figure 25. Principe concludes his paper with a strong argument for continuity. I think Principe takes too narrow a view when he relegates the function of imagery to metaphorical clothing. This linkage would not have been considered essential before the middle of the eighteenth-century. because it allows alchemy to be viewed in the greater context of natural philosophy. . rather than being dismissed as the study of occult magic. Indeed. It forces us to expand our view of science beyond its original boundaries. 1617 The inscription roughly reads.71 Principe. 2004. 205-19. Thus. it hints at the possibility that the chymistry of the past might become the chymistry of the future. and other sciences.40 his continuity argument is in my opinion the most important idea to come out of the new historiography. Although they are reluctant to explore the actual meaning of religions symbolism in early modern natural philosophy. Lawrence M. but doing so has some historical merit.
break open that door. Alchemists were not solely concerned with the palpable physical world that lay before them. His posthumously published book Somnium documents a dream where a student other. To maintain it. If science could explore that realm in the past. On the contrary. Alchemy has a breadth of scope to which our modern science pales in comparison. This view was shaped by eighteenth-century rhetoric and enhanced by nineteenth and early twentieth-century positivism. By remarkable of science. Alchemy represented the “other. and the public sacrifice of transmutational alchemy was the way they chose to solve it—“cleansing” their field and defining themselves as reputable by marking out a disreputable other. 1597 The relationship between alchemy and chemistry is mimicked by the relationship between major figures. Rather than emphasize where I disagree with them. vilified by declamation rather than disproved by demonstration.” and the modern resistance to assertions of alchemy’s importance came from proponents of a narrow view of what counted as science. I want to continue their work. experiable to confirm the Copernican system. and to provide hints at how we might bridge the gap. They were invested astronomy and astrology. why can’t it today? Newman and Principe have cracked opened the door to a much broader definition of what science is. Chemists of the day had the problem of their social status and reputation to solve. Kepler’s religious relationship with the cosmos is evident in other ways. Principe’s conclusion to his article Alchemy Restored speaks to this issue and is worth quoting at length.” something in opposition of Tycho Brahe is transported to the moon by a sorcerer and from the lunar landscape is to which modern. progressivism. Somnium has been referred to as the first work of mental science could define itself science fiction and shows a remarkable synthesis on astrological and astronomical ideas. If chymistry is really the best word to describe the exploration of matter. was ostracized for the sake of professional expedience at a time in which there was no way to know that its goals were physically unobtainable. what happened to all the chymists? Why did they turn into chemists? What was lost during that transformation. and upon which they could in .R 25 ecognizing the ubiquity of religious concerns in early modern natural philosophy is incredibly important.” a convenient foil against which chemistry or science in general could be set off. my goal is to point at that such segregation exists. the error between the actual observed orbits and the geometric circumscripneeded alchemy to be “something tions was less than 10%. By blurring the lines between alchemy and chemistry. Alchemy’s estrangement exemplifies how science does not always develop by means of cold reason or demonstrable experiment. they were also exploring the world of spirit that lay beyond the realm of imagination. “Alchemy’s exile resulted from a conscious redrawing of the boundaries of “science. and what was gained? It has never been my intention to segregate alchemy from chemistry as the early scientists did three centuries ago. Transmutational alchemy. Kepler’s Platonic Solid model of the Solar System. they coincidence. An analogous dynamic explains the antagonism of some twentiethcentury historians and scientists toward claims for alchemy’s importance and its connection to Figure 26. the lines between modern science and natural philosophy come into stark relief. and radically redefine what science could be in the future. Johannes Kepler believed he could find perfection in the cosmos in a particular foundation myth and tried to map the orbits of the planets to circumscribed platonic solids. rational. and a priori or normative philosophical or political formulations about science.
turn define themselves. Hence the intensely personal nature of some of their attacks. There was no place for alchemy in accounts of the canonized heroes of modern science. A similar incredulity or dismissal (and often by the same individuals) sometimes greeted the fact that religion was a crucial motivating force behind the Scientific Revolution and that our heroes from the period were almost invariably committed Christians. Over the past fifty years, insistence on the importance of alchemy (and theology) has broadened our discipline’s vision and enhanced our understanding of the ever evolving thing we call science. Alchemy’s exclusion illustrates strategic redefinitions of science, Figure 27, Aurora Consurgens, while its rehabilitation points to A black angel stands upon a charred world as she rips herself in two. the contextual nature of those definitions. One gift offered by the history of science is the recognition that science is a far messier process than simple models, wishful thinking, or programmatic philosophies will allow. It collects elements from unexpected sources and synthesizes them in unexpected and unpredictable ways. It is never a mechanical or impersonal process—nor would we want it to be. While the laws of nature exist independently of us, the ways we choose to conceive of them, to explore or not to explore them, to describe or not to describe them—that is to say, science—is a very human affair, filled with all the complexities and simplicities, errors and insights, pettiness and nobility that customarily attend human activity. And, to be sure, alchemy forms an important part of that story.42
Tand humanity that I have come across, but what I want to emphasize in this quote is how Principe’s
rhetoric describing the differentiation of alchemy from science unconsciously parallels the Gnostic Pleroma that I used as an introduction to alchemical theory. I think we can use alchemical philosophy itself to define how alchemy should be viewed from and integrated into our modern perspective. The fundamental alchemical belief, stretching from Hermes to Philalethes, was that the unification of opposites leads to perfection. Alchemy was not about rational exploration of matter. It was not about attaining enlightenment. It was about the interplay between those two goals; about merging the material with the spiritual worlds. I find it almost laughable to have read so many scholarly articles arguing that alchemy was or wasn’t scientific; is or isn’t spiritual, when it seems so obvious to me that it was and is both. Like the twin Caducean Snakes entwined around Mercury’s rod, so alchemy can only be understood when both its spiritual and rational practices are taken into account. This concept seems so central to me, that I am often surprised when it isn’t shared. Even with their broad and dynamic redefinition of science, the new historiographers still display a profound distaste for mysticism. In one paper they write, “Finally, the casual equation … of alchemy with “mysticism,” even to the point of calling alchemy “mystic chemistry” – a conflation which is so odd and so thoroughly annoying to informed modern readers – undoubtedly springs from an acquaintance only with nineteenthcentury occultist constructions rather than with seventeenth century primary sources.”43
Principe, Lawrence M, Alchemy restored p.311-312 Principe, Lawrence M. “Reflections on Newton’s Alchemy in Light of the New Historiography of Alchemy.” p.212
he final paragraph is one of the most beautiful and unique descriptions of the interaction of science
27 his is the quote against which I must differentiate myself and single out ‘the other’ so that my identity may be more clear. I am an informed modern reader and I am very well acquainted with seventeenth century primary sources. I do not find calling alchemy mystic chemistry a thoroughly annoying conflation. Quite the contrary, I think it is one of the best descriptions of alchemy I have come across so far. In all my research I have come across zero evidence which indicates that alchemy should not be correlated with mysticism and much evidence that would make mysticism a defining characteristic of alchemy instead. Newman and Principe should not be ignored, and perhaps mysticism is better assigned as a defining characteristic of all early modern natural philosophy rather than of alchemy per say, but that simply expands the issue onto a larger playing field. Where did mysticism go? The new historiographers approach the question, but they never quite reach the point of producing what I believe to be the correct answer. They recognize at least that alchemy’s relegation had nothing to do with its content. Principe writes, “The banishment of chrysopoeia—increasingly called “alchemy” in the early eighteenth century—from respectable chemistry remains a topic of study. Yet it is clear that developments in the understanding of nature had little to do with it.”44 He expresses a similar idea in another paper, “The “otherness” of alchemical texts rests, then, more on their modes of expression than on their modes of laboratory work.”45 Thus it was not what alchemy was saying, but how alchemy was saying it that was the problem. From my perspective in this paper, the segregation of spirituality from science came from thinkers who were uncomfortable with the use of symbolism and mysticism as methods of explaining reality. A profound discomfort with religion and metaphor in general has been perpetuated and expanded by the entire scientific community over the course of its brief lifetime. Even Principe and Newman, who most view as defenders of a more holistic interpretation of alchemy, cannot bring themselves to assign meaning to alchemical imagery outside of a physical reality. In arguing for alchemy’s methodological rigor, the historiographers have taken the position of downplaying it’s symbolic and religions aspects, stressing their importance mainly as evidence for laboratory reproducibility that have no inherent value on their own. They seek to explain alchemical images as “metaphorical clothing,” and feel that once that clothing is removed, alchemy’s rightful place in the history of natural philosophy can be revealed, and the practice can be rescued from being ostracized as something occult. But throughout their argument, metaphor is something in the way of the truth that needs to be removed. It is an aesthetic coating under which meaning is hidden, not a means of expression that has meaning of its own. Newman writes of the history of alchemy in the late middle ages that, “The increasingly picturesque language of alchemy represented a real turning away from academic discourse,”46 as if picturesque language and academic discourse were mutually exclusive. Metaphor is simply not seen as a valuable mode of expression, at best it functions only as a tool. The authors write that, “In all these interactions of alchemy with spirituality, it is clear that alchemy functions as a source of tropes and imagery for rhetorical embellishment or didactic exemplifica28, Lyon Devouring tion rather than as an inherently spiritual Figureraw The Greeneore, the greene the Sun, Stadtbibliothek Vadiana, St. Gallen Here antimony lyon, draws in vivifying ætherial influences exercise which elevates the practitioner symbolized by the sun, and emits Philosophical Mercury, whose vitalistic, menstrual by some esoteric illumination.”47 Or, in nature is symbolized by blood.
Principe, Lawrence M, Alchemy restored p.306 Principe, Lawrence M. “Apparatus and Reproducibility in Alchemy.” p.71 46 Newman, William R. “Decknamen or Pseudochemical Language?” p.162 47 Principe, Lawrence M., and William R. Newman. “Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy.” Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2001. 385-431. Print. p.398
28 another example, “What may have appeared at first to be a naïve case of hylozoism turns out to be a deliberate choice of metaphor.”49 But what is hylozoism but a deliberate choice of metaphor? The meaning of alchemy cannot rest only in its raw content. As Principe wrote, alchemy’s “otherness” stems from its modes of expression, rather than what it was expressing. A vitalistic mode of expression imparts just as much meaning to an alchemical text as any chemical procedure encoded within it. The fact that the alchemists used vitalistic metaphors is the only evidence needed to prove that alchemy contained implicit vitalistic philosophies. n alchemy we see a system in which parallel truths on multiple levels of meaning can exist simultaneously. Symbols provide the medium in which disparate aspects of reality, internal, external, objective, subjective, spiritual and material, can all find expression and comprehension. I see symbolism as a topic deserving study in its own right, and I am fascinated by the potential symbolism has to affect scientific thought. The history of religion shows how humanity has universally used symbols to make statements about the unknown50 and I think that symbolism could enable scientists too to make statements about the immaterial, the unknowable, and the infinite. Our modern positivist perspective tells us that the scientific method can say nothing about the question of spirit, in the same way that Newton could say nothing about the cause of gravity. From a scientific standpoint, something that cannot be observed does not exist. But if our scientific methodology prevents us from making statements about spirit, perhaps that methodology needs to be expanded. As Principe said, the laws of nature exist independently of us, but our expression of them is an entirely human affair. When constructing our models of reality we need to be concerned not only with their accuracy and predictive power but also their ability to be comprehended and accepted by a vital human mind. Models must have two components in order for them to be considered Truth. To be True, the model must be correct, but it must also be meaningful. It is correct to say that the force of gravity = , but it is much more meaningful to say that gravity is a universal force that connects every particle in the universe with every other. A scientific law describing a geometric relationship is useless without comprehension, and a religious metaphor saying we are all connected is useless without a medium for its action. Alchemy is notable because it considers both halves of Truth when expressing its theories. he new historiographers have done an admirable job dispelling some major myths about the nature of alchemy. They have shown conclusively that alchemy Figure 29, Aroura Consugens In the stage of putrefaction, the black crow rips the two was deeply linked to laboratory practice and chemistry; halves of the hermaphrodite appart. so deeply linked in fact, that both disciplines should rightfully be called chymistry. But by accepting chymistry as part of natural philosophy, they reveal a deeper question: How does natural philosophy differ from modern science? While the difference between alchemy and chemistry may be a modern one with little historical validity, the fact remains
Hylozoism, according to Wikipedia, “is the philosophical point of view that all matter (including the universe as a whole) is in some sense alive. This may include the view that “inanimate” matter has latent powers of abiogenesis, a widely held position in the scientific community.” Throughout the paper, I will usually refer to hylozoic alchemical philosophies as vitalism.
48 49 50
Idem p.413 For the use of symbolism in cosmology see Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York, NY: Meridian, 1956. Print.
to use Newton’s terminology) to show how a vitalistic interpretation affected Newtonian science. as a medium of much greater fidelity (a medium of increasing subtlety. Much of the sense of what alchemy was can be gleaned from the aesthetics of illuminated manuscripts. far from the apparent gibberish many academics see.D. I see wisdom. be it metals vegetating in the ground or planetary Gods orbiting the cosmos. All matter was alive because all matter contained spirit. drawing the spirits from bodies and bonding the spirits within bodies. and his physics combined. Throughout my argument. growth.”51 Very few things can be said about all alchemists universally. was widespread. I am often struck by how beautiful they are. And in some of those philosophies. In the rest of the paper. Many of the illuminated letters at the beginning of sections were pulled directly from Royal Society reports.29 that from my modern perspective I look back upon the history and see a chymical practice with philosophies very different from the modern ones I grew up learning. This has been one of my main goals all along. embodying and disembodying. which could be observed and measured. they also believed that it had properties. passed down from the ancients. there was a notion of vitalism that pervaded virtually every alchemical work. But the idea that there was true. . Wikimedia Foundation. but I can say this with confidence: As a whole. Likewise. an exposed woman is surrounded by the zodiac. genuine wisdom to be found in alchemy. Figure 30. the Sun and the Moon Battle each other on lyon and griffin. They would learn chemistry. 51 “Zosimos of Panopolis. not only did the alchemists believe that spirit existed. not wisdom. his religion. I have hinted at what effects a vitalistic interpretation could have on modern science. Aroura Consugens On the right. On the left. movement. No one would read a modern chemistry book and say they became wise from exploring its contents.) wrote that alchemy is “the composition of waters. This belief in spirit had a remarkable effect on Newton’s work.” Wikipedia. Determining the nature between matter and it’s spirit was the fundamental quest of alchemy. which will make its potential effects on modern science much more clear. I have tried to mimic the feeling of a manuscript somewhat with the formatting and illuminations in this paper. I have been using alchemy as a medium to make that argument more clear. It is important to note how remarkable an idea it is that it is possible to draw wisdom out of alchemy at all. I will use Newton’s natural philosophy: his alchemy. which I finally feel ready to approach. All matter was alive. potentially material properties. Zozimos of Panopolis (~300A.
The last ideas contain some jargon that may not hold much meaning at the moment. and that these alchemical active principles eventually evolved into our modern notion of fundamental forces. These six ideas are the trunks of the tree I suppose. Atalanta Fugiens. L Behold the pattern of the heavens. While its devoid of any scientific content. Ill provide quotes of Newton’s writing. is that science needs spirituality in order to make meaning out of the unknown. After that things will quickly get a lot more messy. The first few lines of the ode are quoted below. It’s relatively strait forward to prove. Halley’s ode was written as a sort of introduction to the Principia. This is one of the few aspects of Newton’s thought that I believe actually is objectively provable. symbol. or metaphor.newton’s alcHemy 1 30 here are a bundle of six interrelated ideas of varying scopes surrounding Newton’s alchemy which I wish to explain. 1617 The inscription roughly translates to. its metaphorical meaning could not be clearer. Behold the foundations he gave to his works. the next idea is that Newton saw natural philosophy as a way of restoring true religion. There are hundreds of ideas that I want to explain that split off from each other like fractal tree limbs. that keeps our thinking stuck in the realm of the knowable. Emblema I. De Secretis Natura. . action without mechanism. Behold Jove’s calculation and the laws That the creator of all things. although they pale in predictive power when compared to our matter theories today. as well as modern and early modern scholars expressing similar views. which I have already argued in some detail. Another. Something is missing in our current methodology. To further that idea I will attempt to describe is how a subtle change in interpretation could help us regain spirit in modern science. or prove. not as two conjoined bodies. a spark. Newton specifically was looking for deep theological meaning in his theories. The largest. et’s begin the way the Principia began in 1687. 1 Six is really just an arbitrary number. smaller idea. They are that the alchemical notion of an active principle allowed Newton to theorize action at a distance. describe. Michael Maier. had far more theological meaning than any p orbital. spirit. “He carried the wind in his womb. Heaven has been conquered and its innermost secrets are revealed. Figure 31. The world the alchemists lived in was suffused in spirit. is that alchemy had that living spark. and quite beautiful. and the balances of the divine structure. A parallel idea is that alchemy theorized a vitalistic interpretation of the cosmos. and the recognition of that spirit allowed them to produce theories of matter which.” This image shows a unique version of the hermaphrodite. . Proving that idea will lead nicely to all the others. while he was setting the beginning of the world. Isaw natural philosophy as a way ’ll start with the idea that Newton of restoring true religion. with an ode by Sir Edmond Halley. So. would not violate. But 6 is a good place to start. but as a deity with both male and female qualities.
a divine structure with laws.The force that turns the outermost orbs around is no longer hidden. of California. These two opposites.2 31 T hink about how powerful a statement it is to claim that heaven has been conquered and its innermost secrets are revealed. p. he knew perfectly well the sun was a star made of matter. Jewish National and University Library. F. he viewed his discovery of gravity as discovering the word of God.: Univ. Newton. Newton thought that true religion was ratiothe printer in 1728 would have reacted. The Sun sitting on his throne commands all things To tend downward toward himself. Only so much of the original wisdom was passed down in the scriptures. Also note the kind of cosmos Halley is prophesizing. Isaac. Newton MS 41. if he could have seen nal. scientific even. but I do not believe he was mistaken. Heaven has a pattern. technological innovations that the scientific method laid out in the Principia would produce. in an air conditioned room under florescent ence and religion played complementary roles for lighting. Calif. scientists don’t reveal the secrets of heaven. His view of the role science is to play in our lives differs fundamentally from the modern one. and does not allow the chariots of the heavenly bodies to move Through the immense void in a straight path. which was quickly corrupted. Berkeley. For there is no way (without revalation) to come to the knowledge of a Deity but by the frame of nature”3 In this quote we see Newton adhering strictly to the doctrine of Prisca Sapientia. What knowledge of the deity the scriptures could not produce had to be Figure 32. Isaac. 1728 edition learned by examining the frame of nature. and I. and both were utialmost 300 years later. with my smart phone. prophets do. I wonder if Newton ever dreamed of the lized in his quest.a. [u. p. The wisdom of the ancients was imparted to them via revelation. The Janus Faces of Genius. 1999. I found this quote in Dobbs. Think about that for a moment.Yahuda MS Var 1.379 3 Newton. but hastens them all along In unmoving circles around himself as center. which were calculated…by Jove! Halley saw the Principia as revelation. I like to imagine how truth. Jerusalem. were unified in Newton. Just who exactly does Halley think Newton is? Today. while a librarian watched me and asked me to turn the Newton. The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.7. Halley’s ode shows a remarkable interplay between reason and faith. “So then the first religion was the most rational of all others till the nations corrupted it. reason and me photographing it with a silicon chip in a library across the ocean faith. either could be used as an avenue towards pages slower so that I did not damage the text. But that knowledge did not prevent him from anthropomorphizing him as a king. But in 1687 a natural philosopher was a kind of prophet. The theological implications of the law of gravity are not insignificant. Newton unveiled the force that moves the outermost orbs. Newton was well aware of them. 151 2 . after lining up the metal typeface and pulling a lever to print each page. The heavenly bodies are chariots. Title page of the Principia . Bernard Cohen. In one of his private theological manuscripts he wrote. Halley was one on the most famous astronomers who ever lived. MS. Print. Thus sciI took this photo at the Wilson rare book library at UNC Chapel Hill. The sun has a throne on which he sits.
“a fire for offering sacrifices [that] burned perpetually in the middle of a sacred place. now. A point of religion then which nothing can be more rational. ““The structure by which the ancients represented the world in the most ancient form of religion. It is evident that theological concerns were of primary importance to Newton as he practiced natural philosophy. the orbital structure Halley is describing itself implicitly contains the dichotomy. Newton wrote in his general scholium to the Principia that. with the fire representing the sun at the center and the sanctified space around the central fire representing the entire world which was “the true and real temple of god.3 Ff.”5 This arrangement. symbolized the cosmos.” There again is the interplay between scientific and religious language that I noted above. in addition. Newton said. Yahuda MSVar 1. they were one and the same. Perhaps this image. Israel.7. Dobbs provides an excellent description of in her book The Janus Faces of Genius. The Janus Faces of Genius:The Role of Alchemy in Newton’s Thought.J. F. Jewish National and University Library. and does not allow the chariots of the heavenly bodies to move through the immense void in a straight path. Halley is describing the prytaneum. or something similar is what Newton had in mind and evidence of God was to be looked for rational. 1991. Newton MS 17. it was also the most grand and majestic temple honoring God to ever be conceived by human kind.when speaking of the Prytanæum. Newton MS 41. There he writes.T 32 he last sentence I quoted of the Ode is also worth noting. 1663 was an indicator of God’s presence and grandeur. MS.”8 For Newton. N. Dobbs.”6 “The whole heavens they recconed to be the true & real Temple of God & therefore that a Prytanæum might deserve the name of his Temple they framed it so as in the fittest manner to represent the whole systeme of the heavens. which Newton called a Prytanæum. p. But what exactly were his religious views? What did he think “true religion” was? Newton’s most famous statements on God likely occur in the general scholium to the Principia. John de Monte Snyders. The universe itself Figure 33.6r 8 Newton.””7 or Newton. p. but he goes one step further to imbue that geometry with meaning. MS Yahuda MS Var. f. was.8-10. which B. ly in all natural phenomena.943 . Jerusalem. o. or what Halley had in mind when writing about Jove’s calculation and laws. “To treat of God from phenomena is certainly a part of natural philosophy. Compare the sun on his throne commanding heavenly chariots to bodies moving through the void on a strait path.4 but. Betty Jo Teeter. Print. The Principia. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. science and spirituality were not segregated. F S 4 5 6 Newton. the idea that Newton saw natural philosophy as a means of restoring true religion has been covered.d. but hastens them all along in unmoving circles around himself as center.151 7 Newton.T. “The Sun sitting on his throne commands all things to tend downward toward himself. Metamorphosis Planetarium. 1. National Library of Israel. Of course Halley is describing the correct orbital geometry. Isaac.d. Isaac. Jerusalem. N. the Copernican system wasn’t simply the way things were.
The Pleroma transcends creation because it embodies the properties of uncreation as well. Arianism is the belief that the holy trinity is hierarchical. and it had one. without dominion is not the Lord God”9 33 S uch intense focus on lordship and dominion might seem a bit archaic to our modern sensibilities. but like his views on mechanics. Newton’s insistence on God’s dominion came from a desire to differentiate him from Gods source of action in the world: Christ. or that Newton was even aware of the Gnostic concept.D. I make the comparison because Newton was clearly influenced by neoplatonic writers. Newton was an Arian. . but they were mistaken.”12 Metamorphosis Planetarium. God experiences nothing from the motion of bodies. Newton writes. should not impede the motion of bodies.940. but in a sense he was also nowhere. Egypt who was pronounced a heretic for his views. and was everywhere. a follower of Arius (250-336 A. not as the world soul but as the lord of all. but we should not pass it off as a worthless expression of pre-enlightenment piety. Rather.) an influential Christian priest from Alexandria. There was a time before time when God created Christ. the word of God. i. but creation has this property of created-ness which differentiates it from nothingness.11 The Pleroma is the source of all. I t was important for Newton to provide a metaphysical reason why God. The son is subordinate to the father. For Newton. The supreme God is an eternal. [Παντοκράτωρ. or Universal Ruler] For “god” is a relative word and has reference to servants. And so God was omniscient. The world needed a soul. Resistance of bodies in the void of space was one of Newton’s chief concerns. but a being. but he does not act on them nor they on him. Newton was clearly a deeply religious man. p. “In him all things are contained and move*. 11 I do not mean to say here that Newton’s conception of God was identical to that of the Pleroma.“He rules all things. Moreover. moon. in his omniscience. Christ. This idea perhaps places Newton’s words about God’s resistance in the general scholium into their proper context. by Pythagoras…Virgil…Jeremiah 23.24. Yale Medical Library Newton’s drawing with his copy of John de Monte-Snyder’s worshiped. Deeper meaning can be found in this description if we take into account Newton’s anti-trinitarianism10. and absolutely perfect being. the bodies feel no resistance from God’s omnipresence. however perfect.23. Note how Jove plays a unifying role similar to Hermes Trismegestus.e. idolaters imagined that the sun. 12 Newton. Christ is Logos. Arianism is not to be confused with Aryanism which formed the core of Nazi racial ideology. but he is not the omniscient lord himself. the souls of men. These are all connected through his body to an antimony symbol at the crown of his head. The Sun and the Moon are linked through his arms. and stars. and God needed to be distinctly separate from the material world he created. and godhood is the lordship of God. And because of his dominion he is called Lord God Pantokrator. Under his feet are two large antimony symbols (Earth) that contain the other six elements and celestial bodies. *This opinion was held by the ancients: for example.941-942 The footnote is from the first edition. and other parts of the world were parts of the supreme god and so were to be Figure 34. God could not the world soul because in alchemy spirit and matter were linked. The Principia. and his conception of God bears important similarities to the Pleroma that may not be immediately evident to the general reader. his religious views were not at all mainstream. Jupiter Enthroned. God instead was an entity more akin to the Pleroma than Christ was. but over servants. not over his own body as is suppose by those for whom God is the world soul. infinite. 9 10 Idem p. Rather.
“Lehigh University Libraries.R. 1495 By John Trevisa. There Iluvatar in the time before time created the Valar. there needed to be a medium. H. Print. Newton wanted to make very clear that the properties of the Pantokrator were not to be confused with the properties of the world. In the Hindu creation myth there is a long succession of Gods. If they should happen constantly according to certaine laws imprest upon the nature of things.97r This sort of cosmology is not unique. I took the quote is (and the notes on it below) directly from Dobbs. 1. all indication of Newton’s deletions omitted . and gravity working through the æther. PA. Isaac Newton. ffor the supreme God doth nothing by himself which he can do by others. 1950. “God doth nothing by himself which he can do by others. p. Westminster: Wynken de Worde Here Christ is depicted as the mediator of the four elements Newton Ms. Bartholomaeus Anglicus.. Bethlehem.17 . Dobbs writes. moon. Liverpool: University. and they in turn created the world. MS Yahuda MS Var. Tolkien produced a similar cosmology in his epic The Silmarilion. National Library of Israel. De proprietatibus rerum. “MS on Miracles.r Figure 35. For the interaction of God with the world. stars and souls. In order to make this isomorphism sufficiently clear. In one of his theological manuscripts he wrote. on f. There is a significant isomorphism between God working through Christ. Jerusalem f.” This quote is also cited in McLachlan. We This phrase appears twice in Yahuda MS 15. or alternatively from Vishnu’s navel.R. they would be no longer wonders ↑or miracles↓ but might be considered in Philosophy as a part of the Phenomena of Nature notwithstanding that the cause of their causes might be unknown to us. Sir Isaac Newton Theological Manuscripts.”16 E 13 14 15 ssentially.34 and we will see how his thoughts on divine resistance affected his theory of gravity later in the paper.”13 [Christ] is said to have been in the beginning with God & that all things were made by him to signify that as he is now gone to prepare a place for the blessed so in the beginning he prepared & formed this place in which we live. The most important idea here is that God works through mediums. J. And Occult qualities have been exploded not because their causes are unknown to us but because by giving this name to the specific qualities of things.5. & thenceforward governed it.5. For Miracles are so called not because they are the works of God but because they happen seldom & for that reason create wonder.” verso (of its single page). 15. what Newton is saying is that the ultimate unknown cause of everything is God. Israel. and that medium was Christ. 230. The will of God was enacted 15 od was present before Christ. The recto and part of the verso of this sheet arc concerned with Catherine Barton’s inheritance from Lord Halifax. There is one phrase that Newton repeats in his theological manuscripts that makes Christ’s role as a medium exceedingly clear. p. Christ. all stemming from the eternal Brahman. and at the beginning of time Christ was God’s first and only cre- through Christ. Newton’s thoughts on miracles need to be elucidated.. Arrows up and down indicate Newton’s interlineations. Janus Faces of Genius. a stop has been put to all enquiry into the causes ↑of their qualities↓ as if they could not be known because ↑ the great Philosopher ↓ Aristotle↑ was not able to find them. or to be more sensitive to his Arianism. It was then Christ that acted in the world and created it.14 Gation .96v and 97. 16 This quote seems to be related to the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence but was written by Newton. Less anciently. such things as the sun.
p. By incorporating miracles into the fabric of the universe. 2009. then existence is a constant. Christ was not the deist’s watchmaker. We can describe how something works. Although ordained natural law is predictable. an active participant in Creation. self-renewing miracle. “Magic happens to be precisely everything that eludes comprehension. Why does the force of gravity impel it to? Because the strength of the force is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the centers…Why does gravity obey that formula?. And so magic underlies every aspect of reality because root causes will always be unknowable. The only answer we can ever give to all our why questions is. and as Newton points out. and Sonu Shamdasani. There is no special occult quality that keeps the earth rotating around the sun. Spiritus Mercurialis Here the Spirit of Mercury is his absolute providence when performing miracles. who wound up the world and let it tick away undisturbed. Why does the earth rotate around the sun? Because the force of gravity impels it to. It is far 17 Jung.W. If this were the case. New York: W. it’s a miracle. we could sufficiently explain the whole world by saying “It has a quality which makes it so. the causes of the causes will always need to be found out. “God did it. while another different quality that keeps the moon around the earth. occult qualities do not fit into predictable and defined patterns.35 can ask as many why questions as we want. Recognizing this fact produces a subtle shift in our definition of miracles. No. Miracles need not be defined by their rarity. or at least. Print. Miracles are extraordinary exceptions to everyday life. Newton is emphasizing that he believes Christ’s ordained natural law to be just as active and dynamic as a miracle.. If root cause of everything is miraculous. Newton is speaking to the balance between Gods absolute and ordained providence. puts a stop to all enquiry of the causes of qualities. Newton made God. Norton &.313 . no effort is made to deduce them. The Red Book: Liber Novus. natural laws are equally unexplainable phenomena that scientists have observed to fit into certain defined patterns. every moment was mediated by Christ and existed because God willed it to be so.etc...”17 There will always be another why question. Newton takes great care here to point out that unlike natural law. Christ would be exercising Figure 36. There will always be concepts like infinity which are by definition incomprehensible. and the unknown that eludes comprehension will always lurk underneath. He sets up Aristotle as a straw man who would interpret his message to mean that everything was magic and incomprehensible. but ultimately not why. and does not necessarily require contact. The only thing that differentiates miracle from natural law is regularity. his medium Christ. Miracles make action at a distance possible. or more correctly. C. it is not mechanical. but we will only find answers to how. To translate this idea into some theological jargon. and a third which causes apples to fall to the ground. and personified as a grotesque dragon his ordained providence when upholding natural law.” But such an answer is clearly unsatisfactory. G.” Carl Jung stated in The Red Book that.
p. for clarity. is to tell us nothing: But to derive two or three general Principles of Motion from Phaenomena.”19 Newton. but as general Laws of Nature. that these Particles have not only a Vis intertiae. An important portion of that query is quoted at length below. Isaac. and Figure 37. of magnetick and electrick Attractions. arose from Qualities unknown to us. To tell us that every Species of Things is endow’d with an occult specific Quality by which it acts and produces manifest Effects. For these are manifest Qualities. Refractions. figures and of Fermentations. Dibner MSS 1031 B “Of Natures Obvious Laws and Processes inVegitation” N. if we should above and underground. 1730. though their Causes be not yet discover’d. four elements in suppose that these Forces or Actions the corners. accompanied with such passive Laws of Motion as naturally result from that Force. Inflections & Colours of Light.d. Frontpeice of Museum Hermeticum Reformatum et Amplificatum. and their Causes only are occult. f. Print.36 more true to say that all of the special qualities working on the earth. but also that they are moved by certain active Principles. The central figure in red represents the Philosophers Stone. Sun and Moon. though the Causes of those Principles were not yet discover’d: And therefore I scruple not to propose the Principles of Motion above-mentioned. Fire and Water combine to make æther. Based on the 4th Ed. note the pairs of opposites. London. Such occult Qualities put a stop to the Improvement of natural Philosophy. NewYork: Dover Publications. and that which causes Fermentation. At the risk of sounding repetitive. they being of very general Extent. Isaac. n. their Truth appearing to us by Phaenomena. not to manifest Qualities. MS. A Treatise of the Reflections. and afterwards to tell us how the properties and Actions of all corporeal Things follow from those manifest Principles. natural law. p. such as that of Gravity. supposed to result from the specifick Forms of Things. Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. Or. [Gravity. and leave their causes to be found out. “It seems to me farther. And the Aristotelians gave the Name of occult Qualities. but to such Qualities only as they supposed to lie hid in bodies. and uncapable of being discovered and made manifest. 1678.. N ewton’s definitions of miracle. 1952.. and the moon.401-402 [square brackets] are my own. and the apple. and therefore of late Years have been rejected. and to be unknown Causes of manifest Effects: Such as would be the Causes of Gravity. are in fact the same quality working in a different context. 18 . Fermentation. by which the Things themselves are form’d. Electrick and Magnetick attractions].4r 19 Newton. These [active] Principles I consider. Cohesion. not as occult Qualities.”18 Just because the ultimate cause is assuredly unknowable does not mean that there are no patterns and reasons to be found. would be a very great step in Philosophy. and the Cohesion of Bodies. Opticks. and occult quality given here make his famous discussion active principles and occult qualities in query 31 of The Opticks much more clear. because “Tis suitable with infinite wisdom not to multiply causes without necessity.
be it animal. The query illuminates another major quality of active principles in the line. But the modern connotation of these words does not encompass the scope of Newton’s use. Newton remained a mechanical philosopher in some N Figure 38. He expressed a similar idea in an earlier alchemical treatise. ewton’s active principles were. But simply proving that Newton correlated a modern term to an archaic one is not my intention. as it is central to my ideas about vitalism.”20 It is similar to the difference between a physicist today saying. although Query 31 is important because it makes the relationship of active principles and natural laws exceedingly clear.5r . but as general Laws of Nature. As it appears to me. The difference I see relates fundamentally to notions of vitalism (or lack thereof). I will be expanding on this idea throughout the rest of the paper. Newton is held by Nature incarnate. they had life to them. Dibner MSS 1031 B “Of Natures Obvious Laws and Processes inVegitation” f. Fermentation was the source of all life and growth.” I’m sure that if Newton had been able to observe the Weak force and the Strong force in his time. Another term that Newton often used synonymously with Fermentation was Vegetation. is one of my major goals. but for now I want to keep focusing on Query 31. Insofar as he continued to speak of particles of matter in motion. For Newton. Fermentation was the alchemical stage after Putrefaction where the dead matter in the flask began to bubble with life.852 This portrait was sketched by William Stuckley when Newton was about 77. Never at Rest. Newton cites the active principles of ‘Gravity and magnetick and electrick attractions’ as ‘general Laws of Nature. supposed to result from the specifick Forms of Things. “electrons exert electromagnetic force” and “electromagnetic force is manifested in electrons. He wrote.N 37 ewton used the term active principle in an alchemical context to refer to a property of matter that produces an effect. not as occult Qualities. and that we should adopt that vitalism once more. Portrait of Isaac Newton. They were vital. to show where we might improve our science. On a very simplistic level. is most telling of this difference. Properties produce matter. Much more about the vegetable spirit needs to be said. proving that alchemy was vitalistic. fermentation. by which the Things themselves are form’d.” Richard Westfall expresses the idea nicely in his book. The term is found throughout his written work. The active principle Newton listed that is not one of our fundamental forces. matter does not produce properties. vegetable or mineral. seated upon the earth drifting among the stars. The parallels are obvious. he would have labeled them as active principles too. Note its cosmic and alchemical nature.’ He even calls them “Forces or Actions. There he writes. Isaac. “These [active] Principles I consider. two unlikely partners which made common cause on the issue of action at a distance. for lack of a better word. Newton’s philosophy of nature underwent a profound conversion in 1679-80 under the combined influence of alchemy and the cosmic problem of orbital mechanics. Never at Rest p. or the vegetable spirit. “Tis the office therefore of those grosser substances to bee medium or vehicle in which rather then upon which those vegetable substances perform their actions. Query 31 is the only text I need to prove my idea that the alchemical concept active principles evolved into our modern idea of fundamental forces.” Newton is making a subtle causality shift. I want to emphasize the difference between Newton’s idea of active principles and our modern conception of force. 20 Newton. active.
De Secretis Natura. with careful observation. but leaves me with a dull grey taste in the back of my mouth. 1617 these forces. Where that philosophy insisted on the inertness of matter. Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton.” So then it is essential to The inscription roughly translates to. a computer or clock that slowly ticks away my fate. But shunning occult qualities does not mean we need to shun everything inexplicable. Alchemy. Occult qualities are to be shunned because the use of them puts a stop to all inquiry. eliminated spirit from the operations of nature. Determinism makes me uncomfortable.” Note the dynamic interplay of opposites between the King burning the Wolf Newton conceives of as a force.: Cambridge UP. All natural laws might as well be considered miracles. “In the mechanical philosophy. can. or magical. He even uses Aristotle as a foil in both cases. Print. It looked upon nature as life instead of machine. Never at rest. and in the quote on miracles I provided earlier Newton differentiates miracles from occult qualities on exactly the same grounds. burned.21 38 some form. Henceforth. . The Cartesian analogy of the universe as a giant machine. Atalanta Fugiens.sense. but also more famously in his introduction to the Principia. still largely held today in ewton was the first to propose the T o expand this idea further. active principles from occult qualities. and claimed that all things are generated by the copulation of male and female principles…. Cambridge [etc. Emblema XXIV. p. alchemy asserted the existence of active principles in matter as the primary agents of natural phenomena. what at its root may be inexplicable.390. p. and explained those operations solely by the mechanical necessity of particles of matter in motion. In Queand the Wolf consuming the King. In Query 31. the ultimate agent of nature would be for him a force acting between particles rather than a moving particle itself--what has been called a dynamic mechanical philosophy in contrast to a kinetic. 1980. a deterministic universe governed by causality can suck all meaning out of life. Fire and Water ry 31 Newton diligently differentiates in this image. and returned pay careful attention to what exactly to life. Westfall expands on these ideas throughout his book. Nidea. “The wolf was consumed. Richard Samuel. The similarity of the arguments shows how much fluidity there was between Newton’s theological and scientific concerns.[In alchemy Newton found an idea] that refused be reconciled with the mechanical philosophy. offered the quintessential embodiment of all that mechanical philosophy rejected. What is the point of living if every smallest detail of existence 21 Westfall. From the wrong perspective. Newton had found an approach to nature which radically separated body and spirit.382 . it is useful at this point to examine the implications that Newton’s active definition of force has on the philosophical problem of free will.” Westfall. The Principia. such that mechanical necessity alone determines its motion. that the ultimate agent of nature is force. “For the basic problem of philosophy seems to be to discover forces of nature from the phenomena of motions and then to demonstrate the other phenomena from 22 Figure 39. is useful for building technology like computers or clocks. p. Also note the presence of Earth. Elsewhere he writes. Michael Maier. Quite the contrary. be found to follow certain regular laws that manifest themselves at higher levels of complexity than the original root why question. in contrast. Natural philosophy contained miracles. but that does not make them occult.299 22 Newton. Newton essentially defines natural philosophy as a quest to find out the fundamental forces of nature. Air. explained phenomena by the activating agency of spirit. incomprehensible.
they were pursuing the same goal. It is the soul of the phenomena. actively manifesting the will of God. not just a description of it. By quoting Query 31 I proved that force and active principles are rhetorically linked. Rather. I’d like to use this juncture to take stock of exactly where we are in my argument. and final causes is nothing other than fate and nature”23 Clearly Newton had something more dynamic than mechanical causality in mind when he conceived force in this way.” This image shows clearly the idea that all four elements at their root are composed of æther. Although humankind has certainly had ætherial notions since before antiquity. Michael Maier. But an active principle is dynamic and vital. but that linkage still requires much more exploration. Forces are static. . what exactly is æther? Æther has religious. 1617 The inscription roughly translates to. All four words were connected by Newton’s Arian views of Christ. He is present everywhere. He is not an absentee landlord. that vitalism allowed Newton to conceive of action at a distance. This is the fundamental difference I see between forces and active principles. o. making sure each and every moment occurs exactly how it does. providence. and that our science would improve if we readopted a vitalistic philosophy – all hinge upon a close analysis of Newton’s æther theories. Christ was perpetually in the world. although their context varied. the world is still deterministic and follows certain patterns and laws. and spirit all served similar functions for Newton. active principle. We’re about half way. and metaphysical contexts. The rules are not separate from the ruled. De Secretis Natura. I’ve proven that Newton believed that natural philosophy was a method for restoring true religion. and one of the most dramatic shifts occurred in the process of sciences conversion from a Cartesian to Newtonian mechanical philosophy. Its meaning has changed dramatically over time. “A God without dominion. lright. Christ did not set up an infinite row of dominoes at the beginning of time just to sit back and watch them fall. the origin of our word æther comes from the 23 Figure 40. With this interpretation. Things have gotten a bit abstract and heady. Let’s pause for a second. Ibid 942 . They are fixed and rigid and as such they are conceptually removed from the phenomena which they describe. by focusing on those words I was arguing that Newton saw semantic linkages between ideas that today hold fairly disparate meanings. and you’re probably wondering how philosophizing about free will has anything to do with alchemy. Emblema XVII. miracle. Newton wrote in the general scholium to the Principia that. My final ideas – that alchemy was inherently vitalistic. Christ is the gravity actively pushing each domino down. But there was another medium of great importance which linked all those words together with Christ: Æther. Christ was the medium through which the divine and material worlds interacted. Atalanta Fugiens. The words force. Essentially. but those laws are perpetually actively manifesting themselves. Sa very long history in scientific. “Four orbs of fire rule this great work.39 is determined by an infinite series of causes and effects? Newton’s conception of active principles allows us to sidestep this problem a bit. I then went on to show how the union of natural law with miracle produces a highly dynamic conception of force that differs from the modern one in its vitality and religious associations. While science and religion were not identical pursuits per say.
must have a particle size of zero. It is easy to imagine why the alchemists would theorize that the universal matter was in fact æther. For what else could be indivisible but the infinitely small? Newton expressed the idea that all mater came from æther in 1675 in a letter to Oldenburg. That is. on and until the universal indivisible particle was reached. 1617 The inscription roughly translates to. Aiθήρ. properties such as density. which were in turn made up of even smaller corpuscles. and other early atomists.” Wikipedia. and compounds with smaller particles tend to be liquid or gas. For Newton. Isaac. which is the subtlest matter of all. and Fire correspond to the states of matter solid.40 Greek αiθήρ. . De Secretis Natura. the Aristotelian elements corresponded roughly to particle size. Newton theorized that all the varieties of matter were made of gross corpuscles that adhered together in patterns based on active vegetative principles. Infinitesimal particle size also fits in quite nicely with the alchemical postulate of the universality of matter. I love that I can talk about infinity. corpuscularian associations with density. there was the fifth element. along with Earth. The first person to use æther in a metaphysical context was Aristotle. Figure 41. and velocity are taken to be well-defined at “infinitely” small points. Wikimedia Foundation. pressure. æther. variety was caused by the varying actions of the vegetable spirit. Viewing æther as a fluid with infinitely small particle size allows us to fit some of its supposed alchemical properties into a modern context. Infinitesimal particle size makes æther the ideal fluid for the continuum hypotheses25. .” Here. Atalanta Fugiens. Wikimedia Foundation Fluids are composed of molecules that collide with one another and solid objects.” Wikipedia. was one of the primordial elemental Greek gods. The best translation of the Aristotelian elements into modern lexicon would be that Earth. like Christ. and spirit in the same sentence. Æther. “Fluid Mechanics. Water. All matter was made up of this same universal substance. 26 It also makes æther the ideal medium for my discussion of science and spirituality because meaningful statements about æther can be made in so many different contexts. considers fluids to be continuous. fluid mechanics. Following this idea to its logical conclusion. however. Praxis. 24 25 “Aether (mythology).24 His name means light in ancient Greek.”27 spiritual body and corporeal spirit. or infinitesimally small. Michael Maier. temperature. thick and thin. Newton defined it as. Thinking of the alchemist fighting the four elements is reminded that they are all linked together at elements as states of matter explains the their root through the æther. Water. if particle size decreases with increasing subtlety. Emblema XIX. also known as Acmon. Those gross corpuscles were themselves concatenations of smaller corpuscles. Æther is the perfect symbiosis of known and unknown. The continuum assumption. 27 Newton. gas and plasma. then æther. or big and small. solids tend to be solid at room temperature because of their large particle size. Air and Fire.26 An æther of ultimate subtlety exists exactly on the boundary between material and immaterial opposites. which was quintessence. an liquid. The elements made up the spectrum of the alchemical pair of opposites gross and subtle. Along with the four classical elements. “If one of the four is killed. all will die. Air. mediates the interaction between physical and divine. which are roughly isomorphic to density. “spiritus corporalis et corpus spirituale. and it also makes æther the ideal medium for alchemical interactions between matter and spirit.
1675. Isaac. but it also flows like a fluid. And it is the mercurial spirit. namely. and permeate all things that exist in the world. London: n. in one alchemical tract Newton writes. In the quote above. the vegetative spirit and æther are fused. 29 Newton. Figure 42b. etc. It was the root not just of metallic growth but human growth. and once an aggregate has been formed. which. Kings College. I This and only this is the vital agent diffused through all things that exist in the world. From .inued In the game. And from this one root came all species of metals. and just subtle enough to connect matter to Christ. 29 n this quote. 2004 Today. iron. copper.. Comp. Cambridge. Philosophical Mercury was the root universal matter. As such it was supposed to be exceedingly subtle and volatile. This connection gives us a better picture of what Philosophical Mercury ought to be. out of which all matter can grow. “Hypothesis Explaining the Properties of Light.. Then it proceeds to generation. cont. or exhalations into grosser substances. the agents first action is to putrefy the aggregate and confound it into chaos. Æther vial. æther is depicted in the cards. that vapours are condensed into water. Note how And yet it still plays the metaphyssemen men. as in alchemy. Not only that.. ff 1v-2r . It was the vital agent diffused through the world. excited to action by a moderate heat.” The History of the Royal Society. its particles too subtle to actually be material. and after condensation wrought into various forms. fermentation. Keynes MS 12. everywhere and nowhere. game. the vegetative spirit is equated with æther itself. But in some cases. according to the nature of the subject which it operates. silver. metallic semen it generates gold. it is put to flight by a great one. condensed as it were by precipitation. putrefaction. Æther mediates the various alchemical stages of transmutation. realm of science fiction and fantasy. from human to capture æther in a vial is to harness great power. tin. by virtue of the command.. But I should be careful to point out that linking the æther 28 Newton. 2010 Figure 42a.28 41 I t is important to note that Newton used æther in two distinct ways. Thomas Birch. and ever since by the power of nature. Æther vial. Isaac. Print. What sparks and guides that growth is Christ. and so on. so essentially it was æther than had been corporialized enough to be contained in a vial (Figure 42). dispersed through all places.. æther is Prima Materia. 247-305. gold. or vapours. 1757. at first by the immediate hand of the Creator. For example. and run quicker than water or quicksilver. And that in this order: Mercury. æther was linked to Philosophical Mercury. Magic the Gathering. lead. enacting God’s will through the function of the vegetative spirit. This quote makes clear that Philosophical Mercury had deep meaning beyond chrysopoeian contexts. though not so easliy condensible.“Perhaps the whole frame of nature may be nothing but various contextures of some certain æthereal spirits. It is plasma. 3.p. increase and multiply. This agent has the same general method of operating in all things. most subtle and wholly volatile. Thus perhaps may all things be originated from æther. And the particularities of its method are many. become a complete imitator of the copies set her by the protoplast. MS. liquid light. æther is relegated to the For it accommodates itself to every nature. in Magnesia. much after the manner. It ical role it always has. These images are from a popular collecting card In the metallic form it is found most plentifully emits light. Vol.
1617 The inscription translates to. the work. The Figure 43. and to develop an æther theory of his own that permitted action at a distance. A vacuum was impossible. or when comets were passing through. Magnetic attraction was caused by tiny screw shaped particles being emitted from the magnet and screwing into holes in the attracted body. Æther theory was well established before Newton.”31 30 31 The experiment is recorded in Book 2. Key to Newton’s proof was the extensive work on fluid resistance in book II. No resistance had ever been recorded in the motions of the planets. Newton records his results as follows. among others. then at some point.723 . Michael Newton developed in response. section 6 of the Principia . A more nuanced description of æther in the early modern period would be that. that same corporeality would cause resistance. when the orbits of the planets were interacting. The Cartesian æther was decidedly corporeal. at least in retrospective comparison to the æther . then the box filled with metal should experience an observable resistance.”Maier. “The resistance encountered by the empty box on its internal parts is therefore more than 5000 times smaller than the similar resistance on the external surface. correctly. This argument depends on the hypothesis that the greater resistance encountered by the full box does not arise from some other hidden cause but only from the action of some subtle fluid upon the enclosed material. while pedagogically and philosophically useful. collisions of attained by unifying light and dark. p. De Secretis Natura. (and his ability to utilize infinitesimals) is what caused him to break with Cartesian æther theory. Emblema XLV.722-723 Newton. Newton pointed out. and all apparently empty space was filled with exceedingly subtle ætherial particles that transferred impact effects from one place to another. Celestial motion was caused by vortices in the cosmic æther dragging planets around with it in like a sailor drowning in a whirlpool. T he Cartesian æther was conceived to solve a number of problems plaguing celestial dynamics. that if æther had enough corporeality to drag the planets along with it. provided the impetus to keep the planet in motion. If the Cartesian æther theory was correct. and æther permeated all space. its particle size and the manner in which it interacted with matter was not at all well-defined. so Newton performed an experiment to see if the æther resisted at all. is far too anachronistic to be taken at face value. p. Much of the Principia was devoted to disproving Cartesian æther vortex theory.42 to infinitesimals. He then filled the box with heavy metal and repeated the experiment. “The Sun and its shadow perfect The image æther had to be corporeal in order for it and the inscription make clear that the Philosophers Stone is the world and is to be to interact with the planets. and use of infinitesimals only became common practice after his death. while æther definitely had both spiritual and material properties. The Principia.30 He created a pendulum out of a hollow box of wood. and observed it swinging for several trials. It seems to me that Newton’s awareness of these issues. Atalanta Fugiens. The doctrine of mechanical theory was that all phenomena were produced by particle to particle interactions. Note also how the rays of light suggest an ætherial æther particles with the earth were what fluid through which the earth and moon move. and also interacted with matter via impact.
Cambridge. so that one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else. Isaac Newton’s Papers & Letters on Natural Philosophy and Related Documents.I 43 t is important to note here that Newton does not conclude that the æther does not exist. I have left to the consideration of my readers. I. I don’t think it is even resolved today. the same sort of thing Newton was looking for in his æther experiments. True action at a distance was impossible. It is likely that Newton never completely resolved the issue for himself. “It is inconceivable that inanimate brute matter should. 1617 The inscription roughly translates to. Emblema XXXVI. Robert E. but Newton’s experiments put many of æther’s purported physical properties in serious doubt. with its long history of unifying seemingly opposite qualities. De Secretis Natura. and Marie Boas Hall.” The boxes floating in the air are suspended by mercurial spirits. with the caveat that the medium for force transference could be immaterial. but whether this agent be material or immaterial. and essential to matter. I think that if we want to find a more meaningful answer to the matter-spirit problem. only that its resistance must be exceedingly small. lifted into the mountains. Isaac. Print. Atalanta Fugiens. For example. 1958. and our inability to prove that such a thing exists. MA: Harvard UP. . This result brings to focus the problem of the corporeality or incorporeality of æther. there were significant arguments against both material and immaterial agents. In perhaps the most famous quote from the letters Newton writes. by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another. Bernard Cohen. From a modern perspective. This tension between metaphysical necessity and physical reality is evident in Four Letters from Sir Isaac Newton to Doctor Bentley containing some Arguments in Proof of a Deity.302-303 . there’s the interaction of gold semen (spirit) and Philosophical Mercury (matter) to make the Phi32 Figure 44. enlivened by the air and fed by the river. one solution to the issue would be to consider the gravitational force fields we now postulate to be none other than Newton’s material immaterial medium. written in 1692-3. operate upon and affect other matter without mutual contact…That gravity should be innate. determining what that medium was became a primary concern. mainly because it would not be a thing. which is not material. Newton. There are still tensions between what seems to me to be an innate human belief that something exists beyond physical reality. a good place to start looking would be alchemy. Too many metaphysical arguments hinged on the existence of an æther for it to be completely abandoned. For Newton a medium was a metaphysical necessity. Gravity must be caused by an agent acting constantly according to certain laws. in his Arian separation from the world.”32 Ju st as God. works through the medium of Christ. but that explanation lacks the divinity Newton was trying to get at. Thus. gravity cannot be innate to matter but must too work through a medium. p. “The mercurial stone was cast out into the countryside. e see the matter spirit duality popping up in all sorts of alchemical contexts. Schofield. Michael Maier. is to me so great an absurdity. and after the æther pendulum experiments its identity became increasingly difficult to pin down. that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking can ever fall into it. without the mediation of something else. inherent.
as well as the word play at the end which clearly connects the vegetable spirit with Christ. CA. “When alchemical authors deploy sacred texts or spiritual terminology. These similitudes are very important33. was more convinced of the epistemological value of similitudes than modern thinkers are. f. because they link disparate ideas in surprising ways. and have been hoping you would sort of guess at its properties based upon all the other words I associated with it. Newman. “A corporeal spirit diffused through all nature. Newton’s ability to equate such disparate ideas as miracles. not just its Victorian interpreters. Out of La Lumiere Sortant Des Tenebres. but it’s high time I give vegetative spirit an explanation all of its own. I think that dance was best personified by his conception of the vegetable spirit. we also saw that Philosophical Mercury. and motion. Huntington Library. 34 A good example of a direct link between the vegetable spirit and Christ can be seen in an alchemical tract Newton translated entitled Out of La Lumiere sortant des tenebres. 33 The 1604 date indicates that their is likely an earlier source for this image. a composite of salt. The Mountain of the Philosophers It was the semen which. sulfur. It was Mother Nature incarnate. and evolutionary biology. the innate heat of the elements. and terms drawn from the religious culture of the time. force. I think that if we are to re-imbue our science with theological significance. even if the meaning of our metaphors does not equate directly or completely to our physical models. as a society we will need to re-convince ourselves that similitudes and metaphor have value.” Principe. In it Newton postulates the vegetable spirit as an explanation for what we identify today as a whole host of phenomena spanning electromagnetism.1r . life. rather than evidence that alchemical practices were concerned primarily or essentially with the spiritual enlightenment or development of the practitioner. The whole practice of alchemy is this dance between the material and immaterial. 1785. The vegetable spirit was the spark of life that caused all things to grow.losophers stone. 1687-92. the form informing all things. was actually made up of pure æther. MS Babson MS 414 B. 44 Mexpressed in an alchemical tract posthumously en- uch of Newton’s views on the vegetable spirit were titled Of Natures obvious laws & processes in vegetation. the principle of all vegetation. since Query 31. Of Natures obvious laws was an attempt at a sort of theory of everything. The tract is dated to the early 1670’s and I will be quoting from it extensively.” p. However. concepts. Newton. Isaac. the subtlest substance imaginable. and forces shows that a focus on similitudes can produce some surprising meanings. active principle and miracle. In a somewhat contradictory example. like æther. the fire of mercury and most digested part thereof.399 The historiographers make an important correction to the historiography of alchemy by pointing out these false similitudes. Christ incarnate34. I have been making passing references to the vegetable spirit for the past 5 pages. For Newton. San Marino. the most material of all matter. spirits. and I believe that alchemy itself. sympathy. molecular bonding. “Some Problems with the Historiography of Alchemy. These linkages were made by minds more attuned to the drawing of similitudes and the reading of “meanings” (and more convinced of the epistemological value of similitudes in general) than are those of our highly literal modern world. Babson Collection of the Works of Sir Isaac Newton. There Newton writes that the vegetable spirit is. which was its first sentence. the spiritual interpretation of alchemy did not pop out of nowhere. The Babson College Grace K. this is a relatively unproblematic use of images. when placed into PhilosophicalFound In Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians. and mercury. Figure 45. On the topic of similitudes in alchemy.” In this quote it is useful to note the references to the Paracelsian Tria Prima. attraction. the lawful son of the sun and the true sun of nature. I find this quote by Newman and Principe very eye opening.
“And thus perhaps a great part if not all the moles of sensible matter is nothing but Aether congealed & interwoven into various textures whose life depends on that part of it which is in a middle state. vulgar Chymistry) The principles of her vegetable actions are noe other then the seeds or seminall vessels of things those are her onely agents. principles at work in the universe. 1617 The inscription roughly translates to. it was vital and alive. Its geometric structure makes it appear more like the work of M. both contained new life. Yet even with this juvenile perspective on gravity. it acts as a sort of energy source.45 Mercury. but rather an exceeding subtile & inimaginably small portion of matter diffused through the masse which if it seperated there would remain but a dead & inactive earth. It is omnipresent. He writes. and if it were removed (as happens in the alchemical stage of putrefaction) what is left is but a dead and inactive earth. Isaac.”36 Figure 46. Almost of implicit with that world view is the anthropomorphisation of nature as a goddess. then it follows that she should have a soul. not wholy distinct & lose from it like the Aether in which it swims as in life.”37 35 Hin full force. unlike Cartesian mechanism. The material / spiritual properties of the spirit become even more convoluted when we take into account Newton’s idea in his letter to Oldenburg that “all things may be originated from æther. meteors.5v-6r 37 Idem f. “Beat the egg with a fiery sword. “Natures actions are either vegetable or purely mechanicall (grav. If nature is a goddess. its activity is decidedly spiritual. Among the images in Atalanta Fugiens.5r Idem f.” We see that Idea repeated with more nuance in Of Natures obvious laws. Emblema VIII.” Eggs were often used to symbolise glass vials.3v 36 . Michael Maier. flux. Rather. Later in the tract Newton writes. Most importantly. We see that the vegetative spirit has many of the properties that I ascribed to æther above. more active. Dibner MSS 1031 B “Of Natures Obvious Laws and Processes inVegitation” f. this one is particularly surreal. . her soule. Atalanta Fugiens.” 35 Nceived the force of gravity to be a gross mechanical æther that could physically interact with mat- ewton wrote this passage well before he had written the Principia. The spirit is defined as material. that pervades the structure of all living things and makes them alive. would grow gold.C. That soul is the vegetative spirit. but it doesn’t really have any material properties. Newton still has a strong conviction that there were other. Escher than Michael Maier. De Secretis Natura. Newton is very clear on this. “There is therefore besides the sensible changes wrough in the textures of the grosser matter a more subtile secret & noble way of working in all vegetation which makes its products distinct from all others & the immeadiate seate of thes operations is not the whole bulk of matter. The vegetative spirit ere we see the matter spirit duality Newton. sort of a female Christ. is an exceedingly subtle and unimaginably small portion of matter (strikingly similar to my earlier discussion of æther). her life. Newton writes. and does not seem to interact with the physical world in any corporeal way. her fire. in a time where he still con- ter.
” In dynamism of the ætherial medium that this. Atalanta Fugiens. if we begin to view the fundamental forces of the universe once again as active spirits. although active principles were accepted in the guise of forces. the onely ferment & principle of all vegetation. De Secretis Natura. He saw a clear and defined difference between vitalistic and mechanistic actions. is vomited out and placed upon Helicon as a monument for mortal men. perhaps we can regain the sense of vitalism we have lost. spirit. “Thus this Earth resembles a great animall or rather inanimate vegetable.Tbody of matter but also its spirit.Figure 47. hus æther makes up not only the 46 Truly. perhaps redundant. example would be the following quote. “So far therefore as the same changes may bee wrought by the slight mutation of the textures of bodys in common chymistry & such like experiments may judg that such changes made by nature are done the same way that is by the sleighty transpositions of the grosser corpuscles. And according to the condition of all other things living ought to have its times of beginning youth old age & perishing. Newton writes. But so far as by vegetation such changes are wrought as cannot bee done without it wee must have recourse to som further cause And this difference is vast & fundamental because nothing could ever yet bee made without vegetation which nature useth to produce by it. But. Here the matter spirit duality reaches some sort of stability. Expanding upon the ætherial linkage between matter and spirit allowed Newton to contrive some remarkable images of the cosmos. “The stone which Saturn consumed for the son ing the inertness of matter. where “life depends on that part of it which is in a middle state. force.]” “Of Natures Obvious Laws and 38 Processes inVegitation” f.” Only when the corporeal and incorporeal aspects of the æther spirit are in balance can life emerge. My favorite is quoted below. 1617 The inscription roughly translates to. [note the instance of turning Iron into copper. we see a version of the mountain of the makes up matter and imbues it with philosophers. “Yet those grosser substances are very apt to put on various external appeanes according to the present state of the invisible inhabitant as to appear like bones flesh wood fruit etc Namely they consisting of differing particles watry earthy saline airy oyly spirituous etc those parts may bee variously moved one among another according to the acting of the latent vegetable substances & be variously associated & concatenated together by their influence” “Of Natures Obvious Laws and Processes inVegitation” f. Here is another telling quote. Emblema XII. etc. The idea is that the spirit of matter is only the smallest portion of the body. Michael Maier.5v 40 Idem f. for upon their disposition only sensible qualitys depend.3v . . (not after the way of common menstruums by rending them violently assunder etc) this is Natures universall agent. and other images from Atalanta Fugiens. But.5v 39 Another. draws in æthereall breath for its dayly refreshment & vitall ferment & transpires again with gross exhalations. it is the universal menstrum from which all things are generated. her secret fire. The material soule of all matter which being constantly inspired from above pervades & concretes with it into one form & then if incited by a gentle heat actuates & enlivens it”40 In this idea we see hints of sulfur mercury theory. and life were deeply intertwined.39 These vitalistic active principles were what Newton had in mind when he sent science on the quest for forces in the Principia. later scientists still insisted on maintain. where the form of the Philosophers Stone emerges from a tiny spirit of life acting on the Philosophical Mercury. spirit was lost.38 Thus for Newton matter. [This is the subtil spirit which searches the most hiden recesses of all grosser matter which enters their smallest pores & divides them more subtly then any other materiall power what ever. and yet it gives the matter its purpose and structure. The of Jove.
The scientific investigation of the Gaia hypothesis focuses on observing how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms contribute to the stability of global temperature.”42 II. They may imbibe aether as well as air in generation and in that aether the spirit is entangled. oxygen in the atmosphere and other factors of habitability in a preferred homeostasis. Isaac. ocean salinity. impossible to miss the fecundity of this image. We see the concepts of death and rebirth in the earths life cycle. so perhaps may the sun imbibe this spirit copiously. Emblema“The Earth is our Nurse. its founders.” p.7]) No substance so indifferently. (Figure 48) This view has remarkably strong parallels with modern Gaia Theory. Atalanta Fugiens.T 47 o me this passage represents a culmination of all of the theory I have described so far. Romulus and Remus were suckled by wolves. In this but the sustenance of the earth is beautifully depicted as a fertile woman. that this spirit affords or carries with it thither the solary fewel and material principle of light: and that the vast æthereal spaces between us and the stars are for a sufficient repository for this food of the sun and planets. 3) the same cause (heat) banishes the vital principle 4) Tis suitable in infinite wisdom not to multiply causes without necessity. And they. Maier. Heat is a necessary condition of light and vegetation. Consider the following quote. (heat excites light and light excites heat. He writes.251 43 Newton.”Michael image a living The inscription roughly translates to. Not just the earth.” 43 Gaia theory proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system. Dibner MSS 1031 B “Of Natures Obvious Laws and Processes inVegitation” f. heat excites the vegetable principle that increaseth heat) 6 [6. “Note that tis more probable the aether is but a vehicle to some more active spirit and the bodies may be concreted of both [aether and active spirit] together. .” Wikipedia. Its pervasive actions Rome’s creation myth. 5) No heat is so pleasant and bright as the suns. De Secretis Natura. as the earth. This quote also hints at one of the most astounding insights I have found in my research of Newtons alchemy. to conserve his shining. may also suppose. “Hypothesis Explaining the Properties of Light. and that spirit has transformed it into a pyrtaneum with a secret fire at the heart of the world. 6) Light and heat have a mutual dependence on each other and [there is] no generation [of light] without heat. The earth has become alive. 1617 ther is not only the substance Figure 48. that æther may be none other than light itself. that will. “And. The infinite subtlety of æther has imbued the earth with spirit. Isaac. . Wikimedia Foundation 42 Newton. It is keep the universe alive. maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. and keep the planets from receding further from him.4r Italics and [square brackets] are my own. This spirit perhaps is the body of light. 41 “Gaia Hypothesis. subtly and swiftly pervades all things as light and no spirit searches bodies so subtly piercingly and quickly as the vegetable spirit. but the entire cosmos is vivified by the ætherial spirit. 1) because both have a prodigious active principle (both are perpetual workers) 2) because all things may be made to emit light by heat. The babies on the lower right depict cosmos. That is. The Gaia hypothesis was formulated by the chemist James Lovelock and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s.41 Newton expands this idea further.
We have theories of fields and entropy that define and refine the concept of energy so that we can use it to produce technology. vital. The grandeur of an interconnected universe was replaced by an infinite series of small. There was no need for the intermediary ætherial spirit to explain phenomenon. æther’s infinitesimal particle size begins to make perfect sense.44 Today. Michael Maier. but the big picture concept is there. Atalanta Fugiens. But those theories. and life. we would be tapping The inscription roughly translates to. pellucid and uniform Capillamenta of the Nerves into the Muscles. Everything could be explained by force and energy. amounts of E 44 For another intriguing use of æther as energy. methodology and environment rife with technology lends us to conceive of energy as something controllable. “Blatant prosecution. excited in the Brain by the power of the Will. Light can be converted into living matter.353-354 . Energy is the spirit of life. and not see Einstein’s mass energy equivalence formula. methodology and milieu of the natural philosophy Newton surrounded himself with were conducive to formulating ideas of energy as a spiritual. Isaac. Reason 4 for Newton’s argument that light and spirit are the same is particularly interesting. spirit. Newton had no way of guessing at the correct mechanisms. E=mc2. But I would like you to consider for a moment that perhaps those very religious connotations are what is needed to truly understand the concept as we move into the future.F 48 rom a modern perspective it is difficult for me to not look at Newton’s connections between æther. causally related changes. our vocabulary. ætherial. for contracting and dilating them? I suppose that the Capillamenta of the Nerves are each of them solid and uniform. What particle could be smaller than a photon. What is there to do? If we reverted back to calling it æther. do not give us any real indication of what energy actually IS. substanceless substance. not the relationship itself. and propagated from thence through the solid. Light is energy. which isn’t really even a particle at all? And yet Einstein’s formula says that these immaterial photons can be converted into all the gross forms of matter. in the process some of its essence was lost. Emblema XL. For what is energy but an immaterial body? Large. “Is not animal motion perform’d by the vibrations of this medium. almost incomprehensible. De Secretis Natura. but that strain arises only in the details of implementation. quantifiable. nergy existed in Newton’s time in exactly the same form that it does today.” into a whole host of religious connotations that science has declared unclean. But while our science may have become more precise and correct by removing the ætherial spirit. at their root. and without interruption.” Here Newton sees the æther as literally the driving force of all animal motion. that the vibrating Motion of the Ætherial Medium may be propagated along them from one end to the other uniformly. mechanical even. that very rule is what prompted later scientists to conclude that the idea of an ætherial spirit was superfluous. The vocabulary. Perhaps I’m straining the meaning of the formula a bit. With that interpretation. or Figure 49. heat. Interestingly. Newton. It shows that Newton felt it would be fruitful to apply rigorous logical arguments to even decidedly spiritual phenomena. see Query 24 in The Opticks. 1617 even worse. and our ideas about it have no power to change what energy objectively is (if such objectivity exists). . light. Opticks p. destroy your books.
predictive power of alchemical theory was lacking by modern standards. “Apparatus and Reproducibility in Alchemy. literally. Is it a fluid? A field? An infinitesimally small particle? A string? All of these descriptions have a degree of truth to them. 45 46 Smith. Principe. electromagnetism.49 energy are stored in each and every atom. That power has been lost with the shift to modern terminology. Let it suffice to say that while the functional.397 .” p. living force. Lawrence M. spiritual body. But their natures remain constant. its metaphorical power. 1867 73 × 130 cm Oil on Panel Alchemist Michael Sendivogius presents gold to the king.”Physics Today 59. said something similar in an attempt to disprove the Cartesian gross æther.”47 Perhaps our modes of expression today are more sophisticated. Figure 50 Alchemist Sendivogius. George E. but think about what wisdom was lost in that rhetorical transition! Imagine if a Catholic priest. and yet we don’t really know what it is. but to my mind the best description I’ve found is Newton’s. I believe that the alchemical notion of spirit and the modern notion of energy are isomorphic. the whole argument comes down to the names of things and not their natures. Roger Cotes. “The “otherness” of alchemical texts rests… more on their modes of expression than on their modes of laboratory work. It bears noting here that the early modern concept closest to modern energy (mathematically speaking) was developed by Gottfried Leibneiz and was called vis viva. The Principia. My goal with this paper was to hint at how it might be regained. were able to work in ideas of entropy. Print. or infinity? What ramifications does the Hindu idea of reincarnation have if we consider that the ‘reincarnated soul’ is in fact the body’s energy.45 How would our science look if we started calling energy life force? T o my mind. Much knowledge has been gained. Our names of things are more precise. was far greater. force fields. «The Vis Viva Dispute: A Controversy at the Dawn of Dynamics.71 47 Newton. spiritus corporalis. its power to imbue meaning in our lives. atomic orbital theory and a whole host of additional jargon – the complexity of which dwarfs any alchemical notions of transmutation.”46 Newton’s editor. in giving a sermon on the eternal soul. p. Recall Principe’s statement that. Fundamentally.10 (2006): 31. which means. Many of the phenomena seventeenth century natural philosophers were explaining (incompletely) with æther theory we now explain (more completely) with thermodynamics. which by the first law of thermodynamics cannot be created or destroyed? Linking energy with the soul has profound philosophical consequences that I cannot hope to delve into completely here. “For since there is no way to distinguish a fluid matter of this sort from empty space. much of what separates alchemy from modern science has to do more with our semantic use of terminology than fundamental differences in perspective.
a focus on aesthetics is usually associated with a notion of shallowness. Artists. . vide exists between mathematicians and Oil on canvas. On top of his table is an exotic carpet covered with papers. 24 x 16 in. I think it is false to believe that we can separate ourselves from our history enough to do such a thing. it must be both correct. hroughout this paper I have been speaking of a divide between science and religion. Dutch. FA 2000.conclusIon 50 T t’s been six months and 56 pages since I started this quest for my own personal sort of Philosophers Stone. Scientists are reductionists. 19th century. I never expected myself to become so gripped by such an esoteric corner of academia. I’ve spent the majority of this paper looking into the past. in a similar way that it is false to believe that we can ever separate ourselves from our science enough to achieve true objectivity. stem from the bizarre idea that the meaning of some form of expression can only be housed in one solitary place. In our society. but unlike the historians I was reading. I will be using this conclusion to showcase some of those future ideas. or between poets and logicians. in its totality. explaining old ideas and trying to reinterpret them to fit my opinionated needs. I found myself pouring over 300 year old laboratory notes thinking that somewhere within them I might find the secrets of the universe. it has never been my intention to faithfully recreate the past with my words.268 A bearded alchemist wearing a fur-trimmed top coat is carefully weighing ingrediartists. I think that it is important to realize that how a truth is expressed is just as important as what the expression is. in artificial contrast. Johannes Weiland. and I think they book and jug with blue glaze marks and glass. Resting on a bench in front of the table is a large are actually illusory1. They look to find a meaning that is shrouded by a whole host of unwanted variables. are holists. and meaningful. The entire piece. a The boundaries between the disciplines copper pitcher. mounted on board. Fisher Collection. ents with a balance. Alchemist with Scale. and ceramic jar. By some weird twist of Prisca Sapientia. is the expression of its meaning. as if aesthetic interests run only skin deep. Truth has two aspects. My goal has always been to use a unique interpretation of the past to further my own ideas on what science should be in the future. but the divide runs much deeper than that. Remember. 1 Examples like Lewis Carroll and Carl Sagan show how much potential there is when the two modes of thinking merge. The meaning of a piece of art is not usually to be found by removing an aesthetic covering to reveal a gem of fact underneath.001. I recognize that at some points I may have twisted Newton’s words a bit.Figure 51. and I’m feeling quite relieved that this chapter is drawing to the end. A similar di. Meaning can only be found when the variables are removed and the underlying principles are revealed.
Metaphor varies from person to person. Transmutations in the flask can indeed produce transformations of the soul. inserting metaphor into modern science is not nearly as simple as saying we should. When we experiment on matter. and so in some ways metaphor is opposed by its definition to scientific thought. Alchemy was a science that had an established art form and aesthetic associated with it. Actively assimilating metaphor into our science is to accept that reality is interpretable. Think about how remarkable that is! Our physics textbooks come with charts and diagrams. but multitudes. German Paper: 8 x 10. the world has been this way all along. I included a picture on every page of this essay because what alchemy looks like is an overwhelmingly essential aspect of what it is. Our science is built upon the illusion of objectivity. Figure 52 Der Alchimist After Carl Spitzweg (1808–1885).079 An alchemist bends over to observe his experiment in a laboratory. But this wouldn’t really be anything new.001. it is by definition subjective. we experiment upon the stuff which we are made of. I am just trying to make us more aware of the human element of the science that we do. on the idea that we can somehow measure and experiment upon the world without being affected by it. if interpreted in the right context. There is very clearly an alchemical style associated with the iconography.I O 51 am fascinated by all the art that I found surrounding alchemical theory.25 in. but when was the last time they contained illuminations? What would our textbooks be like if we could associate each one with a different artistic style. Science would vary with its practitioners. a universal language of symbol arrangement that all alchemists employed. like surrealism or expressionism? f course. Lithograph Fisher Collection FA 2000. that there are no universal truths. Metaphor isn’t precise. reminiscent of the MillerUrey experiment . you should have been able to get a sense of my ideas from the images I chose alone. so a metaphorical science would not be one science. Ideally.
The Principia. The impenetrability. mobility and impetus of bodies. And it is enough that gravity really exists and acts according to the laws that we have set forth and is sufficient to explain all the motions of the heavenly bodies and of our sea. Mattheus van Helmont.003. ring with the hollow sound of hypothesis? Was he a hypocrite? How could the æther be anything other than hypothetical? Æther has long been derided as a scientific catchall. All conclusions would be based purely on logic. Only conclusions based on extraordinarily sound reasoning are acceptable.002 the Principia are those Newton wrote on An alchemist hard at work amist a chaos of books. without human conjectures and aesthetics getting in the way. have no place in experimental philosophy.52 P erhaps the most famous words from 22. For whatever is not deduced from phenomena must be called a hypothesis. 17th century. In this experimental philosophy propositions are deduced from the phenomena and are made general by induction.5 in. or mechanical. p.5 x 16.943 . and hypothesis. we imagined some hypothetical æther to solve the problem. when we did not understand the cause of something or the mechanism under which it functioned. What then. hypothesis in the general scholium. and the laws of motion and the law of gravity have been found by this method. FA 2000. is to be said of Newton’s ætherial spirits. Ideally. All the way through the twentieth century scientists like Maxwell. and I do not feign hypotheses. if his methodology were followed effectively. which from our modern perspective. weather metaphysical or physical. Newton. it would be impossible to be wrong. Eddleman Collection. or based on occult qualities. 2 Figure 53. I have not as yet been able to deduce from phenomena the reason for these properties of gravity. The Alchemist. Flemish W 2 hat can be made of this? Newton clearly delineates what methods are acceptable for deriving models of reality.
“It is ironic that Einstein’s most creative work. We come from the Pleroma and the world is what we make it. 2005. . N.] It turns out that such matter exists. even if it can never be proved.120-121.001 Alchemical apparatus are scattered throughout the laboratory. only that any such matter must have relativistic symmetry.. A science that does not take into account observed phenomena is incomplete. This is not a delusion. Nobel Laureate in Physics. . the general theory of relativity. 1937. and simply because we have not found external proof for it does not make it any less real. Print. but we do need to ensure that they can answer life’s existential questions in a meaningful way. should boil down to conceptualizing space as a medium when his original premise [in special relativity] was that no such medium existed [. Relativity actually says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of matter pervading the universe. is a relativistic ether. We should not invent occult qualities to make our models work better.Figure 54 .” 3 Laughlin.3 Æther theory has died and been reborn dozens of times over the past 300 years. We created God in our image. 53 Michelson. Laughlin.] The word ‘ether’ has extremely negative connotations in theoretical physics because of its past association with opposition to relativity.C. But we do not call it this because it is taboo. and as such it must be conformable to how we are best suited to perceive reality. It is filled with ‘stuff’ that is normally transparent but can be made visible by hitting it sufficiently hard to knock out a part. Æther exists in our collective consciousness in myriad forms. American. Through the window is a castle atop a mountain. but it undoubtedly exists in our minds. The modern concept of the vacuum of space. Ideas have the power not to describe the world but to define it. About the time relativity was becoming accepted. Spiritual phenomena cannot be observed the way the force of gravity can. What this tells me is that the æther may not exist in external reality. Oil on canvas laid down on board. it rather nicely captures the way most physicists actually think about the vacuum. Subsequent studies with large particle accelerators have now led us to understand that space is more like a piece of window glass than ideal Newtonian emptiness. 75.75 x 50. Perhaps statements about spirit in the modern era are best left to psychologists and neuroscientists rather than chemists.” Wikipedia.The Alchemist. studies of radioactivity began showing that the empty vacuum of space had spectroscopic structure similar to that of ordinary quantum solids and fluids. because it is an existence feel and experience. A puffer fish hangs from the ceiling. It is the recognition that science is a process that stems from a human mind. why not science too? Robert B. A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom down. I would prefer to live in a world where æther exists than a world in which it does not. all of our science needs to in some way reflect the existence of spirit.. and endowed chair in physic at Stanford University had this to say about æther in contemporary theoretical physics. . but the religious history of the world shows definitively that spiritual experiences are real phenomena that need to be accounted for in order for our science to be whole. stripped of these connotations. Wikimedia Foundation.001. and doves are flying near the windowsill in the background. p. 2002.625 in. . “Aether Theories. confirmed every day by experiment.. Robert B. [. This is unfortunate because. and Einstein postulated one or another forms of æther in order to solve problems apparently unsolvable without it. Reality needs spirit. However. New York: Basic. Quoted directly from. Wyeth.
She would talk about energy as spirit. As I said. Heavy bodies convert non heavy bodies into heavier bodies. Might life work in a similar fashion? Living bodies convert nonliving matter into more living matter. I went rather because I liked the feeling of being in a congregation. or the geology. without the firm backbone of the scientific method. the expands outward. But to do so will require us to abandon the Cartesian notion that all phenomena must be explainable by mechanism. but scientifically there would be a rigorous discussion of fluid dynamics. and that everyone around me was searching for the unknown. Chymical Astrologers” Joseph Wright of Derby. Every night. Stars draw matter into themselves towards their centers. but now I would like to propose one way in which they might be unified again. We have identified two of these three as fundamental forces of the universe. Likewise. air. life The Alchymist. He would cover maybe a bit of the mathematics of crystal formation.for the successfulin Search ofof hisPhilosopher’s Stone. Imagine a Swami who spends five nights giving lectures not on the five paths of yoga. I have to insist that it is possible to unify scientific and religious sensibilities. but rarely said anything of much interest to me. and fermentation. that was rather stale. but the five states of matter. all the while staying attuned to the metaphorical ramifications of stability and order in human life. Why not entertain for a moment that life is a fundamental force too? What would life force look like? We know that the gravitational attraction of bodies tends to increase over time. the focus would be on the importance of flexibility and flow. He would talk about electrons dropping down orbitals to emit light. Discovers Phosphorus. and I want to make sure that we don’t lose mysticism and communion in the process. we would gather together and the Swami would give us a lecture about Hindu theology. 50x40in . we must abandon the Catholic insistence on blind faith and divine providence. as was the custom of the Ancient everything around it into living flesh. and prays Conclusion operation. most of his tropes were old and outdated and had become stale with constant repetition. and of our need to find grounding. n Query 31 Newton listed as active principles gravity. She would talk of order and stability. would be a study of evanescence. The biggest difference is. Theologically.A I 54 few years ago I lived in a Hindu monastery. æther. and transmutes Figure 55. For most of this paper I have been pointing out areas where science and spirituality have diverged. for four nights in a row we would learn about the four stages of consciousness. but also of the ideal gas law. the quest for the unknown was done in a religious setting. order with a crystalline structure. and of electromagnetic radiation. but also of energy in a much more religious guise. The next five nights would cover the five paths of yoga. For a long portion of humanities history. and plasma. The next night. It is clear to me that any future exploration we do as a species will be done from within the framework of a scientific methodology. and its relation to the infinite. Often the lectures would be structured like a school class would be. how science might be taught and done in a religious context. which increases the mass of the star and makes its attractive force even greater. electrick and magnetick attractions. What kept me going to the Swami’s sermons wasn’t their content explicitly. He would touch on morality or metaphysics. 1795. The next two nights would cover fire. until it collapses into a speck of infinite gravity and density. The next night she would cover water. While I could tell there was wisdom to his words. She would start with earth. instead of expanding inward. But he would talk about order in another way.
and see itself from within and without. and it becomes obvious that this whole planet is interconnected. and then the heavens. and then the celestial bodies. some ætherial spark of life was illuminated. The agents first action was to putrefy and confound the matter around it into chaos. the earth was a barren and lifeless ball of molten rock. 1618. cosmic explorers will set out from earth and begin to make nations and cultures on other worlds. . Utriusque Cosmi Historia.55 Soon. Then it proceeded to generation. changing. and where it might go… Figure 56. on another species. with human colonization. one of those forms discovered this strange ability to look backwards and forwards. Man is depicted at the center as an ape. Is it growing according to particular laws. It is impossible for any life form to go through its existence without relying in some way. 4 billion years ago. perhaps very soon. surrounded by all of Nature. according to the nature of the subject upon which it was operating. a formerly lifeless planet is slightly more alive than it was before? At one point. or is life just another occult quality? Imagine for a moment that Newton was right. dying. that at the core of the solar system. The ape is chained to Nature who in turn is chained to God. This vital agent grew until it was diffused through all things that existed in the world. and everything about it has transformed in that transition. either symbiotically or parasitically. Its forms were constantly emerging. and began to wonder where it came from. one day. Much of Fludds work attempts to integrate occult wisdom accross the entire spectrum of early modern study. growing and transforming. alive. There are 100 bacteria cells inside you for every one of your cells. Life is a web of extraordinary complexity. growing. until. first minerals. animals. Now it teems with life. Where does the human end and the bacteria begin? Zoom out your perspective enough. nor could they without you. Integrae Naturae. And the particularities of its method were many. vegitables. Would it be wrong to say that. You could not live without them.
We need to be able to understand reality on all of its scales. The pieces become so small that they cease to exist as anything besides an ætherial idea. The Sun finishes its journey. We do not know how to process the infinitely big or the infinitely small. We can look at a cell. but the deeper we go. astronomical and quantum. p. and we can talk about the physical rules which govern how the little machines act. by the way in which we define it. Figure 57. with Hermes Trismegistus and the unification of opposites. mathematical integration. or that which we cannot understand. Integration is the key to bringing the spirit back into rational thought. and you get a finite number. even in symbols. so instead I’ll call it by its modern name. Take an undefined area under a graph. integration. The mandala depicts the total integration of man. the many into the one. on the largest and smallest scales. Integration is that magic trick by which we turn the fractured into the whole. Because infinity falls more into the realm of religion than science. so does our science. Pauli and Jung:The Meeting of Two Great Minds. We can delve as deep as we want into the inner workings of this stuff we call matter. David P.I 56 ’d like to end the paper where I began. where the comprehensibility of size breaks down. for understanding. 4 Lindorff. Print. IL: Quest. everywhere and nowhere at the same time – an infinity of nothingness. But sometimes. each meaningless on their own. unify the opposites. Plate 22 for me. They are infinitely subtle. 2004. Max Born (a founder of quantum theory) said that theoretical physics is “the quasi-magical process in which [mathematically formulated] laws of nature are abstracted from experience. and see all the little machines that make it up. And that. All we end up with is an infinite sum of infinitely small pieces. by breaking nature down into infinitesimal pieces and then applying a magic sigma symbol which unifies it again into a whole. or expressible. that is different every time. the further away we get from understanding what makes life. It’s funny how even with all of our attempts to flee from the incomprehensible. the unknown finds its way into the very foundations of our rational thought. Only by integrating all the pieces together can we make it alive. Figure 55 is an alchemical cosmology by Robert Fludd from the Utriusque Cosmi Historia dated 1618. Intriguingly in our physics. The caption uses “Integrae Naturae” and I interpret this literally. Break it into so many pieces that each piece isn’t a piece anymore.xi . is not understandable. that which. is the meaning of alchemy. And then what do you do? You combine them. alive. Wheaton. Splendor Solis. Break it into pieces. I believe that infinity is just another word for God.”4 Science works by simplifying and reducing phenomena until a state of simplicity is reached that can be described by a mathematical relationship. By breaking things up we can understand their tiniest inner workings. mathematically. Nature and God in terms of the cosmos. The term might still seem a little archaic. a reductionist approach does not work.
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