Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic Theory

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Abstract

While many alchemists were intelligent and well-intentioned thinkers, their experiments are usually regarded as failed wizardry rather than scientific investigation. The alchemists' extreme goals faded with the rise of scientific pursuits. It has been rarely noted, however, that the birth of atomic science coincided with an efflorescence of occultism and alchemical tropes that attached deep significance to questions about the nature of matter and energy. This book explores this brief revival of scientific interest in alchemy and its surprising connections to the emerging subatomic sciences of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It shows that a resurfacing of occult circles and alchemical tropes had a traceable impact upon the science of the day. It reveals unexpected interactions between science and the occult, such as the Alchemical Society in London (1912-1915), the research program of "clairvoyant chemistry", and the attempts of academic chemists, inspired by the alchemy revival, to transmute the elements - even to make gold. The author's research uncovers the surprising story of how this alchemical revival influenced, and was in turn profoundly shaped by, conceptions of matter emerging from the new science of radioactivity. Examining scientists' publications, correspondence, talks, and laboratory notebooks as well as the writings of occultists, alchemical tomes, and science fiction stories, the book argues that as modern nuclear physics was born, the trajectories of science and occultism - usually seen as antithetical - briefly converged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages256
ISBN (Electronic)9780199785414
ISBN (Print)9780195306965
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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