Isaac Newton – a question

It’s generally accepted that Isaac Newton was at least as interested in alchemy as he was in mathematics – indeed, he may well have regarded one as an extension of the other.

However, in my reading about alchemy, I have discovered that the making of gold and the philosopher’s stone were regarded by many of the more hermetic and serious alchemists as being metaphors for spiritual enlightenment. Newton was hardly unaware of the theological and spiritual sides of life.

My question is why he continued expensive and arduous experimentation in his laboratory at Trinity College, Cambridge – apparently purely physical alchemy, refining mercury to produce the “spiritual quicksilver” (known by a variety of other names) necessary to achieve the ultimate physical alchemical goals, when he was presumably aware that the crucibles, slow heating, distillations, etc. of the alchemists were regarded by many merely as symbols of one’s spiritual growth.

Was this a compulsion to see, touch, test and record (the horrendous account of his poking a needle into his eye comes to mind)? Or was this an obsession with gold and money, which came to the fore in his offices at the Mint?

Can someone who knows more about Sir Isaac than I do please shed some light on this?

The future as seen from the past

Two years ago I was invited to talk in London about science and literature. Being someone who lives in the past (at least in a literary sense), I decided to talk about Jules Verne and H.G.Wells, and if possible to bring in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


It seemed a fairly straightforward sort of thing to be talking about, but in the end, it turned out to be a little more complex than I had imagined.

Continue reading “The future as seen from the past”