Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
United Kingdom Science

Sir Isaac Newton, Alchemist 330

Posted by samzenpus
from the philosopher's-stone dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Natalie Angier writes in The Hindu that it is now becoming clear that Newton spent thirty years of his life slaving over a furnace in search of the power to transmute one chemical element into another. Angier writes, 'How could the ultimate scientist have been seemingly hornswoggled by a totemic pseudoscience like alchemy, which in its commonest rendering is described as the desire to transform lead into gold?' Now new historical research describes how alchemy yielded a bounty of valuable spinoffs, including new drugs, brighter paints, stronger soaps and better booze. 'Alchemy was synonymous with chemistry,' says Dr. William Newman, 'and chemistry was much bigger than transmutation.' Newman adds that Newton's alchemical investigations helped yield one of his fundamental breakthroughs in physics: his discovery that white light is a mixture of colored rays that can be recombined with a lens. 'I would go so far as to say that alchemy was crucial to Newton's breakthroughs in optics,' says Newman. 'He's not just passing light through a prism — he's resynthesizing it.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Sir Isaac Newton, Alchemist

Comments Filter:
  • Science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:17PM (#33889178)

    Science is not a field of study it is the approach.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:32PM (#33889284)

      Also, it certainly isn't pseudoscience to turn elements into other elements. Nuclear reactions can do this, just not in large quantities. Their methods were incorrect, but the idea itself is not ridiculous.

      • by fractoid (1076465) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:07PM (#33889508) Homepage
        Exactly. And most importantly, science is about testing your assumptions in order to verify them. If Newton made a systematic, scientific study of alchemy, then he was practicing science, not "a totemic pseudoscience". He may not have managed to turn lead into gold but I'd bet he learned a lot.
        • by shawb (16347) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @10:41PM (#33889924)
          I have heard a tale from times long ago, about an alchemist and the philosopher's stone.

          This alchemist, he sought the truth, with an inkling that experiment would lead to proof. To get support from nobles and kings the alchemist spoke of untrue things. "I seek a way to form base lead into gold and an elixer that will keep you from every growing old." Popes and priests said truth comes from the bible, that silly games played in labs are just not reliable. The alchemist just smiled and gave them a nod, and told them that gold represents heaven and God. Upon hearing this the alchemist was found without guilt, for churches look so much better when covered with gilt.


          What of the claims that life could be extended? And that the infirm would swiftly be mended? What of the claims of untold power? And of wealth unknown to all at that early hour? The philosopher's stone became much like an orange, for difficult to rhyme is the scientific method.
    • Re:Science (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blahplusplus (757119) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @10:02PM (#33889738)

      "Science is not a field of study it is the approach."

      I think one forgets that human beings start at near ground zero as well, it's easy after the fact to know things are errors then it is to know them during the time one lives. How many errors in science today will look just as bad as alchemy in the future?

  • Science (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:19PM (#33889180) Journal

    Even in Newton's time, science hadn't really fully evolved. Certainly the methodological underpinnings were well on the way, but it was really another 50-100 years after Newton that we saw science blossom. Guys like Galileo and Newton stand on the threshold, and Newton took some big steps in the right direction, but there was still a lot of mumbo-jumbo out there, some of which persisted in some sciences into the late Victorian era (take Victorian racial "theory", for instance).

    • Re:Science (Score:5, Informative)

      by radicalskeptic (644346) <tritone.gmail@com> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:26PM (#33889244)
      For a fairly entertaining examination of this idea, someone might want to check out out Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle books. I've only gotten through the first (Quicksilver) but it takes place during Newton's lifetime and Newton himself is one of the more major characters, along with Leibnitz and other less famous "natural philosophers."
      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        it takes place during Newton's lifetime and Newton himself is one of the more major characters, along with Leibnitz and other less famous "natural philosophers."

        Does it feature the infamous Newton vs Leibnitz Calculus Slap Fight?

        • Does it feature the infamous Newton vs Leibnitz Calculus Slap Fight?

          It's been a while since I read it, but I think I remember that being mentioned. Also, it includes a rough recipe for distilling white and/or red phosphorous from vats-worth of fermented pee -- whoohoo!

          Cheers,

        • Re:Science (Score:5, Informative)

          by Mateorabi (108522) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:30PM (#33889610) Homepage
          Yes, and it's actually a major motivator that drives the plot, even if the argument itself only gets a bit of ink. It's the whole reason Waterhouse is called back from the colonies to England.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by drawlight (1494543)
        A while back (June 5 2009) Tom Levenson was talking about his book, "Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist," on Science Friday http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105012144 [npr.org]. A caller asked the Levenson about Stephenson's work. Levenson said that the Newton's voice was so plausible that he had stopped reading them until he had finished his own book.

        Also, don't give up reading the trilogy! It gets better and a lot of the pieces don'
        • by rycamor (194164)

          A while back (June 5 2009) Tom Levenson was talking about his book, "Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist," on Science Friday http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105012144 [npr.org]. A caller asked the Levenson about Stephenson's work. Levenson said that the Newton's voice was so plausible that he had stopped reading them until he had finished his own book.

          Very interesting to note. I had been wondering about that part of the story.

          Also, don't give up reading the trilogy! It gets better and a lot of the pieces don't come together until the final book.

          Absolutely!. I am at the last 100 pages right now and it surely does not lose steam. Nor punk. (OK, I'll stop now)

        • by glwtta (532858)
          Also, don't give up reading the trilogy! It gets better and a lot of the pieces don't come together until the final book.

          Hmm, I actually thought the third book was a huge let-down. I still love the trilogy (I mean "cycle") as a whole, though.
    • Re:Science (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:56PM (#33889446) Journal
      There likely is still a lot of mumbo-jumbo out there (string theory, perhaps?). Science doesn't mean being right. Science, in a single word, might be described as 'evidence-based.' Before science, people trusted people like Aristotle for no other reason than that he was Aristotle. Now when we trust scientists, we're not doing it because we think they have some god-given right, but because we trust that they've looked at the evidence, and we can look at that evidence too if we have the time/desire.

      This is why Galileo and Newton are still scientists, even though there was a lot they didn't know. They ran experiments, and looked at what really happened, instead of debating based on what someone said a thousand years before. In Newton's alchemy, he was still experimenting to see what could be done, not writing long dissertations without ever turning on a burner. Seriously, that's what people did before science: before the idea of basing things on evidence.

      Nullius in Verba, "On the words of no man," this is what science is; if a man is not backed up by evidence, his words are useless.
      • Re:Science (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:14PM (#33889534) Journal

        Except that even proponents of string theories admit that there's no evidence for it currently, and that it will be some time before we can even create the technology to indirectly test for these theories. As much as anything else, science is defined by how cautiously it approaches theories like super strings, brane theory, and so forth. They're intriguing ideas that physicists will be the first to state may explain the universe, or may just be delightful mathematical models that have nothing to do with reality.

        The scientific method came into existence because of guys like Galileo and Newton, but the full genesis of methodological naturalism really wasn't until the end of the 18th century. I won't say that Newton weren't scientists within the framework of natural philosophy, but as far as being modern scientists like Darwin and Maxwell, they still weren't quite there.

        • Re:Science (Score:5, Insightful)

          by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:17PM (#33890098) Journal

          I won't say that Newton weren't scientists within the framework of natural philosophy, but as far as being modern scientists like Darwin and Maxwell, they still weren't quite there.

          It would be interesting if you explained why you consider Darwin to be more of a scientist than Galileo.

          • Re:Science (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Artifakt (700173) on Thursday October 14, 2010 @12:36AM (#33890398)

            That's easy, Galileo first submitted his papers to a non-peer reviewed journal (The only 'peer' review available at the time being within the Roman Catholic church, which was going through a stuffy phase at the time). Galileo self published in the popular press ahead of such review (A definite no-no for a working scientist). Darwin went through a (admittedly a bit rudimentary by modern standards) peer-review process (that correspondence with Wallace and others).
                    I'm only half being tongue in cheek with this. Darwin used parts of the scientific method that were simply unknown in Galileo's time. For example, Darwin described a number of ways to falsify his theory, one of them being: "It being admitted that, if it were ever shown that the mechanisms of heredity allow unlimited blending, the entire proposal would become of no account". Darwin was more fully a scientist simply in the sense that he thought more about identifying what alternate explanations he considered and their implications, and how to test them. His work sustained more modern science (Crick and Watson's Noble for the discovery of the DNA coding mechanism was awarded in part because they had demonstrated that the genetic code the way it was implemented in real organisms didn't allow unlimited blending and so their research led inexorably to testing a never fully verified consequence of the theory of natural selection. Showing that a specific code that didn't support blending was the one nature actually used finished the process of putting Natural Selection on a solid footing that Mendel only started.). I'm not sure if there are any predictions made by Galileo that were unverifiable at the time but eventually proved to be more and more testable, so that generations of other scientists kept coming back to them, but I can't think of any.

    • by Jaime2 (824950)
      It persists even beyond the development of the modern scientific method. Sure Newton participated in what we now refer to as mumbo-jumbo, but Einstein called the statistical aspects of quantum mechanics mumbo-jumbo. Even people who are mental leaps beyond their peers still have their feet planted in their own time.
  • The Alchemists (Score:2, Interesting)

    by b4upoo (166390)

    Most people are unaware that the alchemists created a fairly accurate periodic chart of the elements before the science of chemistry took over. Obviously they did not know about the more exotic nuclear elements which are still being discovered from time to time.

    • Re: The Alchemists (Score:5, Informative)

      by pmc (40532) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:37PM (#33889318) Homepage

      No they didn't - they started off with the four elements of air, earth, fire and water. Then they realised that there were maybe a score of "elements" (even the concept was vague), and there was no systematic organisation or predictive value from it. This took a few hundred years. Most importantly they did not realise the that properties of the elements repeat themselves (which is where the concept of the periodic part of the name comes from).

      The comment that they created a "fairly accurate periodic chart" is risible.

      • Re: The Alchemists (Score:5, Interesting)

        by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:05PM (#33889496)
        I think this is still off. My impression is that they considered that different elements and different substances like air, earth, fire, water, gold, lead, etc. were all composed of differing amounts of a single substance. This is what's known as the "ether [alchemylab.com]", i.e. some sort of form of matter that everything existed in and moved through. The odd thing about it is that Lorentz and Abraham in the 1890s were trying to come up with a theory of the electron in part to discover why efforts to detect the Earth's movement through this ether failed (reference [nature.com]). It wasn't until Einstein & Co. came up with the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics was discovered that the nature of atomic elements really begun to be understood.

        The point is that while the alchemists' conception of the element was not very good, a truly better concept didn't really arise until the 20th century. Nobody seriously challenges quantum mechanics now, but it's easy to forget just how recent this understanding was really arrived at.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by whitesea (1811570)
      Mendeleev, who came up with a periodic table (the story goes that he saw it in his sleep) was not an alchemist. He is a bona fide chemist. Besides periodic table, he has two more claims to fame. He invented vodka and he was able to pour liquids from a pail into a test-tube without losing a single drop.
      • by Rewind (138843)
        I don't think he invented Vodka, just was in change of regulating it in Russia for a while. Or am I mistaken?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:24PM (#33889228)

    This has literally been known .. well, since Newton. Hardly a secret he spent more time on alchemy than on what's subsequently been regarded as real science.
    Many 'scientists' before science-as-we-know it dabbled in pseudoscience and nonsense, e.g. Kepler did astrology as well as astronomy.

    Newton heralded the modern age of science, but he _wasn't_ the first scientist in the modern sense, he was 'the last magician', as James Gleick put it.

    • Exactly. I remember reading about this when I was in high school, which is over 20 years ago.

  • His Alchemist Title (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Monkey_Genius (669908) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:28PM (#33889258)
    Falling Apple Alchemist.
    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Wet (or burned) alchemist instead... is not wise to play with dangerous liquids when apples are falling around.
  • by Bertie (87778) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:35PM (#33889304)

    I mean, Bill Bryson talks about it at some length in his eminently readable Short History Of Nearly Everything. As well as being into alchemy, he "spent endless hours studying the floor plan of the lost temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem (teaching himself Hebrew in the process, the better to scan original texts) in the belief that it held mathematical clues to the second coming of Christ and the end of the world."

    Bryson also reports that John Maynard Keynes bought a load of his papers at auction, only to find that the great majority of them were about alchemy, rather than optics or astronomy.

    • by MaskedSlacker (911878) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:48PM (#33889400)

      It is widely known, but everyone except the /. editors.

    • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @10:15PM (#33889794) Homepage Journal

      More than mathematics or alchemy or anything else, he greatest love was theology. He spend more time writing about religion than any other subject. He was a non-Trinitarian Christian, probably Arian [wikipedia.org] in his theology, a position I'm somewhat sympathetic to. He had to keep this quiet during his life... there were serious consequences in Britain at the time for dissenting from Anglican doctrine... but he wrote effusively on religion and professed his deep love and awe for God and his works. Newton wouldn't be very sympathetic to Stephen Hawking's "no need for a God" reasoning:

      "

      Although the laws of motion and universal gravitation became Newton's best-known discoveries, he warned against using them to view the Universe as a mere machine, as if akin to a great clock. He said, "Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done."

      Modern scientists would largely consider his beliefs an embarrassment, but I admire the man a great deal. He was the very picture of a full life, mentally, physically, and spiritually. He accomplished more and blazed more trails than most of us will ever dream of doing. He was a polymath that did everything from improving the state of telescopes to serving in Parliament.

      • I don't see why his beliefs would be an embarrassment at all. A little cognitive dissonance doesn't discount his science unless it distorts his method and findings.

  • Not news... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:35PM (#33889308)
    PBS did an episode of NOVA on this several years ago [pbs.org].
  • by spads (1095039) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:41PM (#33889352)
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/newton/about.html [pbs.org] He seemed by no means to be the sort of founding fathers-esque square-head, as he is often depicted (eg. portrait in linked article). Not only did it describe his alchemical endeavors, but also that he was seeking physical proofs for things written in the bible. Interesting how true geniuses are frequently true eccentrics.
    • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:06PM (#33889504) Journal
      There is nothing wrong with seeking physical proofs for things written in the bible. In fact, there are physical proofs for some things written in the bible, such as the ruins of the city of Jericho. But that's besides the point. The problem isn't looking for scientific proof of things, the problem is when you don't accept the evidence that contradicts what you expected. Newton was living at the dawn of scientific investigation, he could have investigated almost anything and found something worth writing a paper about.

      There is nothing wrong with seeking physical proof for even astrology. The only problem is when you ignore the evidence that shows it's useless.
  • by JoeRobe (207552) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:43PM (#33889366) Homepage

    If I recall, according to his assistant's writings, the night that Newton gave his final edition of The Principia to the messenger to go out for printing, he immediately went back into his lab and fired up his alchemy furnace. Alchemy was one of his passions, and he was sincerely attempting to discover the philosopher's stone, and even an "elixir of life". Sounds silly now, but chemistry was so young at that time, nobody knew its potential. He was also passionate about biblical passages. He thought that one could extract important scientific information from the bible, ancient texts and architecture, allowing him to predict the apocalypse and other "insights". Supposedly he wrote more about this than science (in fact I remember hearing 90% was on the occult, 10% "scientific. No reference for that, though).

    The wikipedia page [wikipedia.org] is actually pretty insightful.

    If you ever have a chance to read even a chapter or two of The Principia, you should. It's an amazingly different perspective on what we now know as "Newtonian Mechanics". Geometry was clearly the tool of scientists as the time...

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by excelsior_gr (969383)

      Geometry was clearly the tool of scientists as the time...

      You nailed it just there... Even relatively modern works, such as those of Gibbs on thermodynamics, much derivation and calculation is based on geometry.

    • Geometry was clearly the tool of scientists as the time...

      Yes. Descartes had only introduced analytic geometry about a generation prior and Euclid had been around for 2000 years. Hardly surprising, given that. (Annoying as sin, though, I will say that.)

      He was also passionate about biblical passages. He thought that one could extract important scientific information from the bible, ancient texts and architecture, allowing him to predict the apocalypse and other "insights".

      I have biography of Newton on my desk at work that suggests that he was just the opposite: firmly non-Christian, but he couldn't say anything because he was a professor at Cambridge (which usually required being clergy) and society was not friendly to non-Christians.

  • by greg_barton (5551) <(greg_barton) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @08:46PM (#33889380) Homepage Journal

    You can transmute one element to another. It's called nuclear chemistry.

  • A bit harsh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by turing_m (1030530) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:03PM (#33889488)

    "He was brutal," said Mark Ratner, a materials chemist at Northwestern University. "He sentenced people to death for trying to scrape the gold off of coins." Newton may have been a Merlin, a Zeus, the finest scientist of all time. But make no mistake about it, said Mr. Ratner. "He was not a nice guy."

    There is no civilization as we know it without currency. If people start debasing the currency, they are robbing from the rest of the populace - everyone has to work that bit harder to support them. Make enough to never have to work again, and you have effectively caused the rest of the society to chip in a lifetime worth of slavery just so you can sit on your ass. The crime is not really any different to counterfeiting, and every country takes that very seriously for that reason. So meh.

    Newton may or may not have been personable, but it is difficult to argue that he contributed far more to the world than he took from it, and from that perspective he was one of the nicest guys to have ever lived.

  • Unacceptable. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlitzTech (1386589) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:11PM (#33889524)
    By the modern standards of today, "alchemy" is considered a pseudoscience. Why do new "researchers" (and I use the term VERY liberally) continue to apply modern context to historical figures? Newton was a pioneer of his day. Alchemy was considered a real science, one he spent quite a bit of time furthering, and to condemn 30 years of his life for searching for a way to turn lead into gold is insulting to his memory and legacy as well as insulting to researchers and historians who actually understand that modern opinions, ideas, and knowledge don't always apply in the past.

    I am getting very tired of "researchers" making claims with unpublished data that cannot be verified for accuracy (Gliese 581 g possibly a hoax [slashdot.org]), making 'groundbreaking' claims about history without even considering historical context (this and about 50% of similar posts on /.), and a total failure to understand basic statistics (most 'shocking' studies posted on /.). These idiots give the rest of us researchers a bad name.
    • by kale77in (703316)
      +1 Acceptable

      "Lo, for had we but lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have gone with them into astrology/nomy and alchemy and phlogiston chemistry..."

      History is one of science's best safeguards; it ensures at least a measure of humility and humanity.
  • Hindu in, NYT out (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ljhiller (40044)
    Congrats on finally getting your submission [slashdot.org] posted after going halfway around the world to find a copy not at the New York Times. Seriously.
    • by TomHandy (578620)
      I was wondering about that - read this story in the NYT, and seemed odd to me that the summary talks about the writer writing in "The Hindu" rather than where this was actually originally published.
  • by yet-another-lobbyist (1276848) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:16PM (#33889548)
    Of course, when you know science as we do today, it's easy to say that this was an obvious dead end. However, imagine how much was known about anything such a long time ago. How could he have known that these experiments would not lead to success? Many other experiments were done at the same time (and much later) that seem much more esoteric, and which ultimately lead to scientific breakthroughs. What comes to my mind right now are Faraday's electrical experiments with frog legs...
    So from that point of view, there's absolutely nothing wrong with Newton trying to "cook" some chemical elements seeking for new insights.
  • 42? I think that's right. Let me double check my math.... yup!

    Lets see - a person surrounded by intolerant people who's main focus in life is money... So "saying" you were doing all these "weird" experiments (to produce gold from a worthless substance) would be the perfect cover for carrying out studies that might be looked at as heresy. Just as someone who knows nothing about programming sees you code and, maybe, lets say a vision of a malicious hacker comes into their mind - you are demonized. Th
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @09:38PM (#33889642)

    A couple of things:

    1. Alchemy has little to do with chemistry. It's about the purification of the soul through repeated heatings and coolings, and as Newton was learning Hebrew, I'd guess he'd probably figured out some of the fundamentals in play re Gnostic Christianity and similar. "Lead into Gold" is a metaphor, as was much else about alchemy. But I don't know much about Newton, so whatever. Maybe he really was trying to generate a money mill.

    2. Not knowing something isn't a crime. Exploration of ideas and the world should never be punished if the person searching is doing so out of an honest desire to learn and isn't hurting anybody in the process. People are far too hard on each other for being ignorant, and too defensive when their ignorance is pointed out. Learning shouldn't be a punishable offense.

    -FL

    • by Angst Badger (8636) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @10:20PM (#33889824)

      Alchemy has little to do with chemistry. It's about the purification of the soul through repeated heatings and coolings, and as Newton was learning Hebrew, I'd guess he'd probably figured out some of the fundamentals in play re Gnostic Christianity and similar. "Lead into Gold" is a metaphor, as was much else about alchemy.

      That is indeed one branch of traditional alchemy, but a lot of alchemists were very serious about transmuting literal lead into literal gold. Once you get used to the jargon, it's fairly easy to separate the texts of one branch from those of the other. (There's a third strand in alchemical writings: lofty-sounding gobbledygook cranked out and sold to turn an easy profit, much like the get-rich-quick TV infomercials and spam of the present day. Theophrastus Paracelsus was one of those, complete with miracle cures for all that ails you and an extra helping of the-Lord-works-in-mysterious-ways if it didn't work.) It's worth noting that the less-than-noble physical alchemists, denounced as "puffers" by the spiritual alchemists, were the ones that stumbled their way into the beginnings of modern chemistry.

      As for the Gnostics, they were largely unknown in Newton's time, having been completely suppressed more than a thousand years before his time. The rediscovery of the Gnostics by the lay public came later. In any case, Hebrew would not have helped Newton understand the Gnostics: all their writings were in Greek, just like the rest of early Christian writings before the rise of the church in Rome. Newton may have been influenced by Christianized versions of the Kabbalah that were much admired by alchemists and other occultists in the early modern period, but that's just speculation, as documentary evidence is lacking.

  • Yellow journalism (Score:4, Informative)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @10:31PM (#33889872)

    How could the ultimate scientist have been seemingly hornswoggled by a totemic pseudoscience like alchemy [...]

    There's an amazing amount of sensationalism and cluelessness tightly packed in that one clause.

    First of all, Newton was hardly "the ultimate scientist". He was a very good scientist and a brilliant mathematician, but his achievements and fame have a lot to do with being one of the first modern scientists. He wasn't the only early scientist working on the problems of optics or, for that matter, gravity, and Leibniz developed calculus independently around the same time. Had Newton decided to go into alchemy full-time, someone else would have discovered the same things before long. Calling him the ultimate scientist is just pseudo-journalistic puffery.

    And secondly, alchemy wasn't obvious bullshit when Newton was working on it. It's only obviously bullshit now that we have an understanding of real chemistry and -- even more recently -- nuclear physics. More to the point, one of the most important bullshit detectors in the arsenal of science is modern statistics, which rests upon a foundation of calculus, which Newton (along with Leibniz) invented! To stand today on the shoulders of Newton and complain about his lack of perspective pushes the outer limits of irony.

  • this is stupid (Score:3, Insightful)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [erauqssemitelcric]> on Thursday October 14, 2010 @02:27AM (#33890788) Homepage Journal

    alchemy is laughable, in 2010

    alchemy is respectable, in 1710

    what exactly is the point of applying 2010 standards to 1710?

Parts that positively cannot be assembled in improper order will be.

Working...