This is the latest in a series of articles about alchemy. In the first I discussed the career of Sir Isaac Newton, and how his passion for alchemy and its related philosophy influenced and led to his scientific ideas. In the second I addressed the question of how alchemy might be achieved. In the next article I’ll tell the stories of some of those who may have succeeded in the alchemical quest. Before I do that, however, since belief in alchemy in modern times can be considered a sign of madness, it’s worth stating why all this is important.
Firstly, it is part of an ongoing battle with the arrogance and hubris of modern so-called science, which claims that it alone understands how the universe works, and that we should all deeply revere it and its practitioners. Belief in alchemy is now a scientific heresy for ‘obvious’ reasons, since chemical elements take their identity from the number and arrangement of electrons inside the atom, and no known chemical process can get inside the atom to effect the transmutations. Quod erat demonstrandum! Or so we are led to believe.
There was a very interesting article recently at Medium.com by Geoff Ward on the subject of heresies. Here are two relevant quotes:
- “Heresy… today can be defined as a belief or opinion profoundly in conflict with what is generally accepted, whether that general acceptance is valid or not…”
- “Today’s heretics are not burned at the stake but marginalised, suppressed or ridiculed — even ostracised by their scientific, medical or academic communities: a metaphorical burning, if not of books then of reputations, no matter how impressive and relevant their credentials and status might be in their own fields of endeavour”.
He blames for this situation “those with vested interests in the social, political or financial status quo” and those with “blinkered world-views, all too common today, within certain scientific, technological, academic and political communities”. They are the ones who decide what heresy is, and who make and apply the rules.
It would seem therefore that we are being ruled by a scientific dictatorship akin to the religious Inquisition of the past. If their worldview is mistaken, then they are holding back the progress of true science.
Along with alchemy, other similar ‘heresies’ according to this modern worldview, to a greater or lesser degree, are: astrology, homeopathy, Intelligent Design, ESP, James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis (the idea that the Earth, and perhaps even the universe, are living organisms), the afterlife, and belief in God and the supernatural. But if all these were true, which they may well be, just imagine how different the world would be if everyone believed in them as enthusiastically as we are now encouraged to have faith in science. The world would in fact be much like it was for thousands of years before the arrival of the ‘Enlightenment’, but with the addition of all the wonderful benefits that science has brought us.
On this theme, some time ago the scientific journalist Richard Milton wrote an important book called Forbidden Science¹, which analysed the phenomenon of supposed heresies in some detail. Some of his topics were as controversial as those just mentioned, but others less so. Here are some of his interesting examples:
Only weeks before the Wright brothers flew, an article was published “which showed scientifically that powered human flight was ‘utterly impossible’ ”. When they did manage to achieve flight, their local newspapers ignored them. Scientific American then ridiculed them because the press hadn’t written anything! Thus flying was believed impossible and ridiculed, despite actual evidence to the contrary. Milton sees this as a “refusal even to open our eyes to examine the evidence that is plainly on view. And it is a phenomenon that occurs so regularly in the history of science and technology as to be almost an integral part of the process”.
Thomas Edison, despite being already famous, received similar treatment upon his (supposed) invention of the light bulb (I’m aware that he was not necessarily the first). At the same time that he was demonstrating it, Sir William Preece read a paper at the Royal Society explaining that what he was claiming was impossible.
When John Logie Baird invented television, the Royal Society “described Baird as a swindler (and) asked what was the use of his invention”.
A common theme emerges in line with my quotes from Geoff Ward above; the supposed experts have become this authoritarian scientific dictatorship, deciding what can and cannot be believed, and are frequently wrong. It takes someone from outside this Establishment to make the necessary breakthroughs. This was especially true of the amateur Wright brothers who demonstrated that ‘science’ was misguided.
It would seem therefore that science or, more accurately, what is perceived to be the correct scientific viewpoint at any given time, frequently and somewhat ironically, is at the vanguard of preventing advances in scientific knowledge. We now know for certain that flying, light bulbs and television all work successfully, are therefore ‘scientific’, and incredibly beneficial to humanity. Suppose for just one moment that the same might be true of alchemy.
The second and briefer point is that, if alchemy is indeed possible, then this clearly demonstrates, contrary to what scientists would have us believe, that the ancients were far more knowledgeable and sophisticated than we are in modern times, and that this is because they were comfortable with what we would now call a magical, and spiritual approach to life. The modern ‘Enlightenment’ claims that science is enabling humanity to advance onward and upwards towards greater truths, and that in this process we have left behind the deluded earlier worldview which incorporated magic, superstition, and false religious beliefs. If alchemy is indeed possible, this clearly shows that it is the Enlightenment itself which is deluded.
As I said above, in the next article, I’ll describe some examples of possibly successful alchemy.
1. Fourth Estate Ltd., 1994