The Forgotten Discoveries Of Alchemy

alchemyIs alchemy not the sham science we have been led to believe it is? The Smithsonian on how alchemists’ breakthroughs were pillaged by the forefathers of modern science:

In the 1980s, some revisionist scholars began arguing that alchemists actually made significant contributions to the development of science.

Historians of science began deciphering alchemical texts—which wasn’t easy. The alchemists, obsessed with secrecy, deliberately described their experiments in metaphorical terms laden with obscure references to mythology and history. For instance, text that describes a “cold dragon” who “creeps in and out of the caves” was code for saltpeter (potassium nitrate).

Growing evidence that the alchemists seem to have performed legitimate experiments, manipulated and analyzed the material world in interesting ways and reported genuine results. And many of the great names in the canon of modern science took note.

Robert Boyle, one of the 17th-century founders of modern chemistry, “basically pillaged” the work of the German physician and alchemist Daniel Sennert, says Newman. When Boyle’s French counterpart, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, substituted a modern list of elements (oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and others) for the ancient four elements (earth, air, fire and water), he built on an idea that was “actually widespread in earlier alchemical sources,” Newman writes.

Does this new view of alchemy make the great names in the early history of science seem more derivative and thus less great?

9 Comments on "The Forgotten Discoveries Of Alchemy"

  1. American Cannibal | Jan 26, 2014 at 11:06 am |

    Today’s alchemists work at the FED.

  2. BuzzCoastin | Jan 26, 2014 at 12:14 pm |

    had long been a spiritual discipline
    the “literalization”of alchemy was due to the printing press
    where metaphore became literal
    and alchemy transformed into chemistry
    and the spiritual meaning of the art was lost

  3. Kevin Leonard | Jan 26, 2014 at 12:19 pm |

    “How dare you blaspheme my gods!”

    My ‘favorite’ part is how the article is more concerned with destroying the reputations of Boyle, Lavosier and friends… and seemingly less interested in elevating the reps of the alchemists. Instead of a curiosity of what else they were doing which may be “legitimate” and “genuine”, we get “maybe they weren’t total morons.”

    • Simon Valentine | Jul 24, 2014 at 10:12 am |

      one does not simply ask another to steal a fish for their Jesus parade

      here’s a rod
      hook, line, and sinker

  4. 5 minutes… Oh wait, this is the wrong kind of Alchemy… never mind.

  5. Jonas Planck | Jan 26, 2014 at 4:15 pm |

    5 minutes… oh wait, this is the wrong kind of Alchemy, isn’t it? Never mind.

  6. All know about alchemy is that it is damn near impossible to understand. That stuff is encrypted old school style. It is way beyond me.
    I gotta look for more contemporary versions of the same thing so I can understand.

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