Isaac Newton: the alchemist

History and Facts 05 Sep 2017

Most people remember Isaac Newton for his remarkable and valuable contributions to the world of classical Physics and Mathematics. The apple falling from the tree gave Newton the idea of gravity. Through the study of light, he gave us an understanding of colors, and his penchant for Mathematics gave us calculus. But as decorated as his history may be, most of Newton’s success came to him in his early years. Newton discovered gravity by the age of 25 and went on to publish Principia Mathematica – that gave the world calculus – in his early thirties.

After his initial success as a brilliant Physicist, Mathematician and Astronomer, Newton found himself enamored of the mysterious and secret world of alchemy. According to the principles of alchemy, everything around us contains a sort of universal spirit, and metals were believed not only to be alive, but also to grow within the earth. To alchemists, metals were not unique substances, but instead varied simply due to differences in the metal’s spiritual and physical maturity. Base metals such as lead were considered immature, while gold was considered a mature metal. They believed that using a specific technique, dubbed by alchemists the ‘philosopher's stone,’ one could convert any metal into gold.

If you think this sounds absurd, you are not alone. Around the time of Newton’s death, alchemy became maligned. Chemists, who increasingly sought professional recognition, began distancing themselves from alchemy’s gold-making focus. In spite of its great aspirations, alchemy was to be reduced to a pseudoscience. This societal and professional pressure is believed to be the reason why Newton kept his research secret. Unfortunately, even the greatest minds in human history have not been able to debunk the myth of alchemy. It forces you to wonder about the relationship Newton had with gold, its mysticism and if we ever will find a way to produce pure gold.

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