Category Archive 'Alchemy'

01 Dec 2014

Sir Isaac Newton

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Nautilus profiles the great man, thusly:

Describing his life, shortly before his death, Newton put his contributions this way: “I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but, as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me.”

One thing Newton never did do, actually, was play at the seashore. In fact, though he profited greatly from occasional interaction with scientists elsewhere in Britain and on the Continent—often by mail—he never left the vicinity of the small triangle connecting his birthplace, Woolsthorpe, his university, Cambridge, and his capital city, London. Nor did he seem to “play” in any sense of the word that most of us use. Newton’s life did not include many friends, or family he felt close to, or even a single lover, for, at least until his later years, getting Newton to socialize was something like convincing cats to gather for a game of Scrabble. Perhaps most telling was a remark by a distant relative, Humphrey Newton, who served as his assistant for five years: he saw Newton laugh only once—when someone asked him why anyone would want to study Euclid.

Newton had a purely disinterested passion for understanding the world, not a drive to improve it to benefit humankind. He achieved much fame in his lifetime, but had no one to share it with. He achieved intellectual triumph, but never love. He received the highest of accolades and honors, but spent much of his time in intellectual quarrel. It would be nice to be able to say that this giant of intellect was an empathetic, agreeable man, but if he had any such tendencies he did a good job suppressing them and coming off as an arrogant misanthrope. He was the kind of man who, if you said it was a gray day, would say, “no, actually the sky is blue.” Even more annoying, he was the kind who could prove it. Physicist Richard Feynman voiced the feelings of many a self-absorbed scientist when he wrote a book titled, What Do You Care What Other People Think? Newton never wrote a memoir, but if he had, he probably would have called it I Hope I Really Pissed You Off, or maybe, Don’t Bother Me, You Ass.


Lock, Stock, & History is similiarly irreverent.

Today we consider the great scientist Isaac Newton to be one of the greatest geniuses of history. After all he developed many laws and theories in the fields of physics, optics, mathematics, and astronomy which are still very relevant today. However if you actually met Sir Isaac Newton today, I guarantee you would think him to be a nutjob.

While Newton is celebrated today for his many scientific breakthroughs, his works in other, less scientific fields are largely forgotten. A dedicated alchemist and occultist, Newton spent much of his time working on experiments that are today mostly considered outright bizarre. A devoted follower of many interesting occult sects, Newton spent years trying to determine the “sacred geometry” of Solomon’s Temple, with hopes of mathematically divining the secrets of God. He also spent much time and energy trying to find and de-crypt the “Bible Code”. In a detailed study of the Bible, Newton made a prediction for the end of world using the chronology of the Holy Book. According to Newton, the world should come to an end in 2060 AD. Newton calculated the end of the world specifically “to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.” Eat your hearts out Mayans!

Of all of Newton’s discoveries, from gravity to refraction of light, from divining the location of Atlantis to discovering how to communicate with angels, Newton believed his most important work was in creating the Philosopher’s Stone. Newton believed that with the Philosophers Stone he could have everlasting life and be able to turn lead into gold. He spent years, if not decades studying the work of the noted alchemist Nicholas Flammel and other alchemists, with the believe that he was about to make a breakthrough at any moment. In fact, to Newton the discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone was so important that all his other discoveries were trivial when compared to his work in alchemy. His obsession with the stone caused him to have a weird set of priorities. After developing calculus, he kept his results to himself for over 30 years because he didn’t think it was important and “disliked intellectual matters”.

Finally some of Newton’s experiments were just downright kooky and creepy. According to writings in his notebook, one experiment involved him sticking a needle into his eyeball and twirling it around to analyze how light traveled through his optic nerve,

    I tooke a bodkine (needle) & put it betwixt my eye & [the] bone as neare to [the] backside of my eye as I could: & pressing my eye [with the] end of it (soe as to make [the] curvature a, bcdef in my eye) there appeared severall white darke & coloured circles r, s, t, &c. Which circles were plainest when I continued to rub my eye [with the] point of [the] bodkine, but if I held my eye & [the] bodkin still, though I continued to presse my eye [with] it yet [the] circles would grow faint & often disappeare untill I removed [them] by moving my eye or [the] bodkin.

In another strange experiment, Newton stared directly at the sun for as long as he could bare with the same objective of his “needle experiment”.

While dedicated to the discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone, his work would all be in vain as he died in 1727. He never did figure out how to turn lead into gold.

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