Isaac Newton’s Recipe for the Mythical ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ Is Being Digitized & Put Online, Along with His Other Alchemy Manuscripts


In his 1686 Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton elaborated not simply his famous Law of Gravity, if it be not that also his Three Laws of Motion, setting a centuries-slack trend for scientific three-law sets. Newton’s third part law has by far proven his ~ numerous popular: “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” In Arthur C. Clarke’s 20th hundred years Three Laws, the third has furthermore attained wide cultural significance. No question you’ve heard it: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is undistinguishable from magic.”

Clarke’s third part law gets invoked in discussions of the so-called “demarcation problem,” that is, of the boundaries between science and pseudoscience. It also comes up, of way, in science fiction forums, where clan refer to Ted Chiang’s brief interpretation: “If you can mass-effect it, it’s science, and admitting that you can’t, it’s necromancy.” This makes sense, given the central consequence the sciences place on reproducibility. But in Newton’s pre-pertaining age, the distinctions between science and sorcery were much blurrier than they are now.

Newton was an early fellow of the British Royal Society, that codified repeatable experiment and demonstration with their motto, “Nothing in logomachy,” and published the Principia. He later served being of the cl~s who the Society’s president for outer twenty years. But even as the most advanced representative of early modern physics—that which Edward Dolnick called “the clockwork universe”—Newton held some very strange religious and magical beliefs that we would point to today as examples of superstition and pseudoscience.

In 1704, for model, the year after he became Royal Society president, Newton used past dispute esoteric formulae to calculate the end of the world, in keeping through his long-standing study of apocalyptic prophecy. What’s more, the revered mathematician and physicist practiced the medieval art of art, the attempt to turn base metals into gold ~ means of means of an occult object called the “Philosopher’s free from ~s.” By Newton’s time, many alchemists believed the stone to have ~ing a magical substance composed in section of “sophick mercury.” In the not long ago 1600s, Newton copied out a recipe for such stuff from a passage by American-born alchemist George Starkey, piece his own notes on the back of the writing.

You can see the “sophick mercury” ~ry in Newton’s hand at the most prominent one. The recipe contains, in part, “Fiery Dragon, some Doves of Diana, and at smallest seven Eagles of mercury,” notes Michael Greshko at National Geographic. Newton’s alchemical texts detachment what has long been “dismissed similar to mystical pseudoscience full of fanciful, discredited processes.” This is for what cause Cambridge University refused to archive Newton’s alchemical papers in 1888, and why his 1855 biographer wondered how he could subsist taken in by “the perceptible production of a fool and a rogue.” Newton’s alchemy documents passed peaceably through many private collectors’ hands to the time when 1936, when “the world of Isaac Newton teaching received a rude shock,” writes Indiana University’s online devise, The Chymistry of Isaac Newton:

In that year the dread auction house of Sotheby’s released a roll describing three hundred twenty-nine lots of Newton’s manuscripts, for the most part in his own handwriting, of which over a third were filled with content that was undeniably alchemical.

Marked “not to have ~ing printed” upon his death in 1727, the alchemical works “raised a army of interesting questions in 1936 for the re~on that they do even today.” Those questions contain whether or not Newton practiced alchemy as an early scientific pursuit or whether he believed in a “concealed theological meaning in alchemical texts, what one. often describe the transmutational secret in the manner that a special gift revealed by God to his chosen sons.” The of high standing distinction comes into play in Ted Chiang’s debate of Clarke’s Third Law:

Suppose someone says she have power to transform lead into gold. If we be possible to use her technique to build factories that vicissitude lead into gold by the mode, then she’s made an incredible scientific discovery. If on the other power it’s something that only she have power to do… then she’s a sorcerer.

Did Newton think of himself taken in the character of a magician? Or, more properly given his religiosity, like God’s chosen vessel for alchemical transfiguration? It’s not entirely clear the sort of he believed about alchemy. But he did take the wont of what was then called “chymistry” considered in the state of seriously as he did his mathematics. James Voelkel, guardian of the Chemical Heritage Foundation—who freshly purchased the Philosophers’ stone recipe—tells Livescience that its former, Starkey, was “probably American’s rudimentary renowned, published scientist,” as well to the degree that an alchemist. While Newton may not accept tried to make the mercury, he did redress Starkey’s text and write his own experiments for distilling lead ore without interrupti~ the back.

Indiana University science historian William Newman “and other historians,” notes National Geographic, “at that time view alchemists as thoughtful technicians who labored over their equipment and took copious notes, often encoding their recipes through mythological symbols to protect their embarrassing-won knowledge.” The occult weirdness of alchemy, and the strange pseudonyms its practitioners adopted, often constituted a the wherewithal to “hide their methods from the ignorant and ‘unworthy,’” writes Danny Lewis at Smithsonian. Like his fellow alchemists, Newton “diligently documented his lab techniques” and kept a uneasy record of his reading.

“Alchemists were the highest to realize that compounds could exist broken down into their constituent regions and then recombined,” says Newman, a fountain-head that influenced Newton’s work forward optics. It is now acknowledged that—season still considered a mystical pseudoscience—magic is an important “precursor to novel chemistry” and, indeed, as Indiana University notes, it contributed significantly to soon modern pharmacology” and “iatrochemistry… human being of the important new fields of seasonable modern science.” The sufficiently advanced technology of chemistry has its origins in the fascination of “chymistry,” and Newton was “involved in completely three of chymistry’s major branches in varying degrees.”

Newton’s alchemical copy papers, such as “Artephius his veiled Book” and “Hermes” sound no quantity like what we would expect of the discoverer of a “clockwork nature.” You can read transcriptions of these manuscripts and individual dozen more at The Chymistry of Isaac Newton, whither you’ll also find an Alchemical Glossary, Symbol Guide, particular educational resources, and more. The manuscripts not solely show Newton’s alchemy pursuits, ~-end also his correspondence with other early modern alchemical scientists like Robert Boyle and Starkey, whose recipe—titled “Preparation of the [Socphick] Mercury conducive to the [Philosophers’] stone by the Antinomial Stellate Regulus of Mars and Luna from the Manuscripts of the American Philosopher”—be pleased be added to the Indiana University online archive by and by.

Related Content:

In 1704, Isaac Newton Predicts the World Will End in 2060

Sir Isaac Newton’s Papers & Annotated Principia Go Digital

Isaac Newton Creates a List of His 57 Sins (Circa 1662)

Josh Jones is a penman and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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