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6 - Manipulating Nature

Experiment and Alchemy in the Scientific Revolution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2021

Mark A. Waddell
Affiliation:
Michigan State University
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Summary

Historians consider the “Scientific Revolution” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the period in which the foundations of modern scientific practice and methodology first took shape. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), sometimes known today as the creator of the scientific method, inspired the formation of the first scientific societies, including the Royal Society of London and the French Académie Royale des Sciences, and their members made experiment and empiricism central to the study of nature. More recently, however, historians have had to wrestle with an interesting conundrum: some of those long hailed as pioneers of scientific experimentalism, such as Robert Boyle (1627-1691) and Isaac Newton (1643-1727), were also committed alchemists. Their dedication to this mysterious and misunderstood art led some modern biographers to deny or even suppress evidence of their alchemical pursuits. Yet, alchemical ideas were central to how Boyle, Newton, and others understood nature. In fact, Newton’s groundbreaking scientific achievements owe a particular debt to alchemical theories, without which his revolutionary vision of the cosmos would not have existed.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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  • Manipulating Nature
  • Mark A. Waddell, Michigan State University
  • Book: Magic, Science, and Religion in Early Modern Europe
  • Online publication: 22 January 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108348232.007
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  • Manipulating Nature
  • Mark A. Waddell, Michigan State University
  • Book: Magic, Science, and Religion in Early Modern Europe
  • Online publication: 22 January 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108348232.007
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Manipulating Nature
  • Mark A. Waddell, Michigan State University
  • Book: Magic, Science, and Religion in Early Modern Europe
  • Online publication: 22 January 2021
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108348232.007
Available formats
×