Isaac Newton and the Transmutation of Alchemy: An Alternative View of the Scientific Revolution

Isaac Newton and the Transmutation of Alchemy: An Alternative View of the Scientific Revolution

by Philip Ashley Fanning


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Isaac Newton was a dedicated alchemist, a fact usually obscured as unsuited to his stature as a leader of the scientific revolution. Author Philip Ashley Fanning has diligently examined the evidence and concludes that the two major aspects of Newton’s research—conventional science and alchemy—were actually inseparable. In Isaac Newton and the Transmutation of Alchemy, Fanning reveals the surprisingly profound influence that Newton’s study of this hermetic art had in shaping his widely adopted scientific concepts.

Alchemy was an ancient tradition of speculative philosophy that promised miraculous powers, such as the ability to change base metals into gold and the possibility of a universal solvent or elixir of life. Fanning compellingly describes this carefully tended esoteric institution, which may have found its greatest advocate in the career of the father of modern science. Relegated to the fringes of discourse until its twentieth-century revival by innovative thinkers such as psychiatrist Carl Jung, alchemy offers a key to understanding both the foundations of modern knowledge and important avenues in which we may yet discover wisdom.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556437724
Publisher: North Atlantic Books
Publication date: 07/07/2009
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Educated at Swarthmore, Philip Fanning gained a scrupulous understanding of the culture of modern science during twenty years with W. H. Freeman and Company, the book-publishing arm of Scientific American. His discovery that Isaac Newton was an alchemist led him to a research project that consumed three years and resulted in this pioneering study. As he observes, "I can't help but feel that even though Newton deliberately concealed his greatest contribution to the history of thought, part of him hoped it would eventually see the light of day." Fanning is also the author of Mark Twain and Orion Clemens: Brothers, Partners, Strangers (2003). He lives in San Francisco.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

A Note to the Reader xi

Preface xiii

1 The Christianization of Alchemy 1

2 John Dee Puts Alchemy on a New Footing 17

3 Dee's Angelic Mission 35

4 Francis Bacon's Mask 57

5 The Rosicrucian Furor 77

6 Defeat and Revival 101

7 Alchemy Divided 133

8 Isaac Newton, Alchemist 153

9 The Advent of Modern Science 185

Afterword 219

Appendix: Pauli on Alchemy 225

Bibliography 229

Index 235

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