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Thread: Was Isaac Newton more of a Scientist or Alchemist?

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    Registered User Misuto3's Avatar
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    Question Was Isaac Newton more of a Scientist or Alchemist?

    I recently have become very interested in the life and work of Sir Isaac Newton. However I still know very little about him.
    But this morning I got a book from the library about he being an alchemist and sorcerer more than he was a scientist and this threw me. It claimed that the apple falling to the ground when he discovered gravity was a myth to cover up Isaac being interested in occult. I was wondering if anyone (with more knowledge of Isaac Newton) could tell me which was true; was he a scientist or an alchemist (a.k.a. sorcerer.) ?
    The book I rented is called Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer by Michael White. However maybe I just misread what he was trying to say. So if you've read the book please tell me if I've interpreted the introduction correctly.
    Also, I'm not judging the book or anything, I haven't even finished it. I was just curious what people had to say with this one statement.
    Thank you

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    Yes, Tycho Brahe, Kepler. Halley, Newton, all alchemists, sorcerers. So were the ones that defeated the Spanish Armada with magic. And the Duke at Waterloo? All of them like all Englismen of high rank are sorcerers. Look into Margaret Thatcher. You will see it there also. And why do you think the English Pound is the most expensive coin in the world? Sorcery.
    ROFLMAO

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Newton did have interests in alchemy, but it is a gross misunderstanding of alchemy as practiced by people historically to equate it with the fantastical image of occult worshipers. Newton was a devout Christian by all accounts (though of heterodox theology), people in the early 18th century just had a crude understanding of chemistry and biology which resulted in many erroneous beliefs about how people and things could be changed. Newton is often placed either at the end of an age of pre-Modern science, or at the beginning of the age of Enlightenment. His rough contemporary, Francis Bacon provides an example of someone highly suspicious of religion, superstition, and anything that can't be verified experimentally. Newton was a brilliant mathematician who still believed that scientific truths about the operations of the world could be learned from the Bible.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
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    Of course Newton learned from the Bible, that is, Galileo.
    ROFLMAO!!

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    Newton did have interests in alchemy... people in the early 18th century just had a crude understanding of chemistry and biology which resulted in many erroneous beliefs...Newton was a brilliant mathematician who still believed that scientific truths about the operations of the world could be learned from the Bible.
    Good points. These three statements explain how Newton could be both an alchemist and scientist. In his day alchemy was chemistry, or rather a specialized type whose practitioners were focused on things like turning lead into gold instead of more mundane things like making better fabric dyes or steel. Folks didn't know about atoms, molecules, etc. until much later and the had to explain chemical phenomena with the understanding they had about matter back then. Had Newton known about atoms he would have been a fine chemist, probably much better than my college O-Chem professor... He certainly was both a mathematical and scientific genius. These two are not identical. He as a scientist in that he made observations about things in the world and how they behaved, like falling bodies on earth, celestial bodies seen in the sky, the movement of tides, the way light behaved when reflected and refracted, and much more, and he they tried to explain them by physical laws that were expressed in mathematics. And when the mathematics did not exist to explain what he needed to explain, he devised new mathematics (the calculus). He didn't stop with finding laws to explain isolated observations. He went on to see if these could be combined and extended to explain other observations, that is to say that these laws were universal.
    A great example is the way he used the laws of motion and the gravitational force equation to deduce the elliptical orbits of planets and Kepler's Laws. Kepler had earlier learned from astronomical observation that the planets followed elliptical orbits. No one knew why they did. The story (true it seems) goes that one day an astronomer colleague was chatting with Newton in the 17th C equivalent of Starbucks and he asked him what form a certain planetary orbit would take, and Newton replied it would be an ellipse. The colleague asked how he knew that and he said he had calculated it.

    Freshmen in college calculus and physics classes learn how to deduce elliptical orbits from a few simple equations of motion and the gravitational force equation. Following the proof is not so hard if you know first year calculus. It even looks simple and obvious (as all brilliant discoveries have a way of appearing after someone else has already done the hard work of finding them). Come to think of it, that's kind of like poetry, isn't it? Maybe that is what people mean when they say poetry is like mathematics...

    Oh, I almost forgot to add that Newton not only invented mathematics to help him explain nature; he also invented scientific instruments to improve his observational ability, e.g. the reflecting telescope, whose modern descendants include the Mount Palomar and Hubble telescopes...

    So Newton was definitely a scientist, and in no way any less of one than Bacon. He was also an alchemist.

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    It's certainly true to say that he published more work on alchemy than he did on physics.

    ...that said, one has to be careful about making a category ditinction between alchemy and science, a distinction that is largely a modern one. I suspect Newton himself would have seen no distinction, even if he was closer to modern science than Dee or Bacon.

    And, of course, don't forget Newton's greatest invention: the cat-flap! A door within a door? Only a genius could think that one up!
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    Registered User WyattGwyon's Avatar
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    In Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, a series of three (or eight in some editions) historical novels, Newton is a major character. The books are works of fiction but the relationship of alchemy and science is explored in surprising, enlightening and entertaining ways.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    According to Douglas Adams, Newton was also the inventor of the cat-flap. I read somewhere else he was a secret Unitarian, which I think means he did not believe in the Holy Trinity. Also, according to Baigent, Leigh and Richard (Holy Blood and Holy Grail), Newton was appointed head of a secret organisation once affiliated to the Knights Templar. I forget what they were called but they believed Christ had a child with Mary Magdalene, whose descendants were still living, and who were dedicated to restoring them to power.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    It's certainly true to say that he published more work on alchemy than he did on physics.

    ...that said, one has to be careful about making a category ditinction between alchemy and science, a distinction that is largely a modern one. I suspect Newton himself would have seen no distinction, even if he was closer to modern science than Dee or Bacon.

    And, of course, don't forget Newton's greatest invention: the cat-flap! A door within a door? Only a genius could think that one up!
    Newton didn't write about alchemy at all. The Roman Catholics put those records in the files to compromise him. Newton was the founder of The House of Coins, the first Federal Reserve. He and the scientific Englishmen that supported it, finished for keeps with the influence of the Roman Catholics in England with any lasting sense. See the Glorious Revolution. Galileo was placed under house arrest in Italy. Newton and his people imported his teachings. Italy lost forever the possibility of any genuine development.
    Liebniz tricks didn't do them any good.
    Last edited by cafolini; 06-07-2013 at 10:24 AM.

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    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    And, of course, don't forget Newton's greatest invention: the cat-flap! A door within a door? Only a genius could think that one up!
    The story may be apochryphal but it's alleged that when the cat had kittens Newton made another smaller flap for them.
    "L'art de la statistique est de tirer des conclusions erronèes a partir de chiffres exacts." Napoléon Bonaparte.

    "Je crois que beaucoup de gens sont dans cet état d’esprit: au fond, ils ne sentent pas concernés par l’Histoire. Mais pourtant, de temps à autre, l’Histoire pose sa main sur eux." Michel Houellebecq.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Although Newton was never able to transform lead into gold through alchemy, his experiments taught him to transform fruit and wheat into edible squares which are now called Fig Newtons. As with the cat-flap story, this story may be apochryphal.

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    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Although Newton was never able to transform lead into gold through alchemy, his experiments taught him to transform fruit and wheat into edible squares which are now called Fig Newtons. As with the cat-flap story, this story may be apochryphal.
    So it would seem, according to this researcher.


    'I decided to see if I could scare up somebody at Nabisco who had a clue.

    By and by I reached John Barrows, senior manager for marketing communications. John was my kind of guy. "There is no truth at all to the Isaac Newton theory," he wrote. Fig Newtons had been introduced in 1891 by the Kennedy Biscuit Company, one of a number of regional bakeries that merged in 1898 to form the National Biscuit Company, later known as Nabisco. "The Kennedy Biscuit Company named all their products after surrounding communities, including cookies and crackers called 'Shrewsbury,' 'Harvard,' 'Beacon Hill,' and so on. There is no doubt (in our minds) whatsoever that the Fig Newton is named for Newton, Massachusetts." Studying my map of the commonwealth, all I can say is, thank God Kennedy Biscuit wasn't near Belchertown.'
    "L'art de la statistique est de tirer des conclusions erronèes a partir de chiffres exacts." Napoléon Bonaparte.

    "Je crois que beaucoup de gens sont dans cet état d’esprit: au fond, ils ne sentent pas concernés par l’Histoire. Mais pourtant, de temps à autre, l’Histoire pose sa main sur eux." Michel Houellebecq.

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    Registered User TheLhix's Avatar
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    I believe, alchemy as nothing more then a fictional shade that covered up science for the longest time. Newton was a scientist, in my opinion.

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    The problem is that some people now do not consider alchemy to be a science, but it was, and it led directly into modern chemistry. To suggest that Newton was not a scientist because he practiced alchemy is analogous to suggesting that Obama is not a politician because he is the president (I hope that readers will realize that I gave an example of a "false analogy").

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    If we are following into this theory then we might as-well consider science and, alchemy one and, rid it of the fictional blur.

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