Alchemy, Biblical Interpretation, and Other Strange Studies by Isaac Newton

After studying the alchemical works of Isaac Newton, the economist John Maynard Keynes affirmed, in 1942, that “Newton was not the first investigator of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians.”

And it is that, in addition to the first-rate investigations they carried out, Newton also winked at biblical exegesis (particularly the Apocalypse), alchemy and other pseudosciences and superstitions.

Not surprisingly, Newton believed that metals vegetate, that the entire cosmos / matter is alive, and that gravity is caused by the emissions of an alchemical principle.

In a 1704 manuscript, Newton also describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible, estimating that the world would end no earlier than 2060. After making the prediction, he noted: “I mention it not to say when the time of the end will come, but rather to put an end to the hasty conjectures of fanciful men who often predict the time of the end, and in so doing discredit the sacred prophecies as often as their predictions fail.”

Alchemy is closely linked to natural philosophy. It was part of the ancient protoscientific tradition. Some of the basic principles of alchemy are found within the concept of immortality and transmutation. So the alchemists avidly researched to develop a recipe that could adhere to these concepts. Because transmutation would help convert a base metal into a noble metal. Apart from this, there were studies on an elixir of immortality.

Among the total of 10 million of his surviving words in the fire, more than 1 million words written by Newton focused on the subject of alchemy.

His work on alchemy came to light when his 17th-century manuscripts were made public. The physicist was looking for the stone that contains the answer to many alchemical mysteries. Above all, his manuscript details the procedure to make one of the critical elements of this stone.

For Newton, the Philosopher’s Stone also embodied the perfect morganatic marriage between theological and philosophical truths. As a man of science and religion, that is not surprising.

According to Newton, it was the Philosopher’s Stone that kept the universe together and running. He believed that it was omnipresent and without it, the universe would never have supported life. In addition, it was his obsession with this stone that helped him formulate one of the most popular theories in science: that of gravity. Newton related the matter that causes gravity with the philosopher’s stone.

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