Lawrence M. Principe’s The Secrets of Alchemy is a deeply gratifying book that brilliantly unveils the hidden wonders of that most shadowy and misunderstood art. Alchemy has not always been associated with esoteric mystics muttering necromantic incantations in the quest for spiritual purification. For much of its history, Principe reveals, alchemy was recognized as a sophisticated pursuit entailing the vigorous exertion of mind and hand, a convergence of laboratory experimentation and theoretical speculation that yielded spectacular control of chemical processes. To protect their hard-earned knowledge, alchemists wrote under pseudonyms and encrypted discoveries in mystical-sounding codenames (Decknamen). While this contributed to alchemy’s association with mysticism, Principe argues persuasively that its traditional essence lay in the expert combining of substances, and that no account of it can rightfully ignore its experimental and material foundations.
Principe’s most robust evidence derives from his own laboratory expertise and philological sleuthing. By deciphering the substances concealed under Decknamen and re-creating the reactions elaborated in seemingly obscure texts, he reveals alchemists to be proficient manipulators of chemical phenomena, capable of creating remarkable effects through distillation, fermentation, cupellation and more. Alchemy’s experimentalism, marriage of theory and practice, as well as attention to material causality explain the enthusiasm with which luminaries of early modern science such as Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle practised it.
Excerpt from an article written by NICHOLAS POPPER at TLS. Continue THERE
Historically, Magnum Opus, or The Great Work, was an alchemical process that incorporated a personal, spiritual and chemical method for creating the Philosopher’s Stone, a mysterious red colored substance that was capable of transmuting base matter into the noble metal of gold. Discovering the principals of the Philosopher’s Stone was one of the defining and at the same time seemingly unobtainable objectives of Western alchemy.
The Great Work of the Metal Lover is an artwork that sits at the intersection of art, science and alchemy, re-examining the problem of transmutation through the use of modern microbiological practice and thus solving the ancient riddle.
Gold production is accomplished by the pairing of a highly specialized metallotolerant extremophilic bacterium and an engineered atmosphere contained within a customized alchemical bioreactor. The extreme minimal ecosystem within the bioreactor forces the bacteria to metabolize high concentrations of toxic AuCl3 (gold chloride), turning soluble gold into usable 24K gold.
All text and Images via Adam Brown. Continue THERE
“It is widely recognized that Leibniz’s philosophical thought is deeply influenced by the mathematics, physics and philosophical theology of his era. Justin E. H. Smith’s Divine Machines argues that many of Leibniz’s most central philosophical doctrines are similarly bound up with the life sciences of his time, where the “life sciences” are understood very broadly to include fields as diverse as alchemy, medicine, taxonomy, and paleontology. Smith’s groundbreaking exploration represents an important contribution to our understanding of both Leibniz’s philosophy and the study of life in the early modern era. It is to be recommended to historians, philosophers, and historians of philosophy alike. Below I highlight four central topics in Smith’s book, raising some reservations along the way.”
A review of Justin E. H. Smith’s Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life by Jeffrey K. McDonough. Read it HERE