Smithsonian: “Alchemy May Not Have Been the Pseudoscience We All Thought It Was”

From back in 2014, here’s this look at the process of alchemy, and some of the things it did for contemporary chemistry and materials 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)—a crystalline substance found on cave walls that tastes cool on the tongue.

This painstaking process of decoding allowed researchers, for the first time, to attempt ambitious alchemical experiments. Lawrence Principe, a chemist and science historian at Johns Hopkins University, cobbled together obscure texts and scraps of 17th-century laboratory notebooks to reconstruct a recipe to grow a “Philosophers’ Tree” from a seed of gold. Supposedly this tree was a precursor to the more celebrated and elusive Philosopher’s Stone, which would be able to transmute metals into gold. The use of gold to make more gold would have seemed entirely logical to alchemists, Principe explains, like using germs of wheat to grow an entire field of wheat.

Principe mixed specially prepared mercury and gold into a buttery lump at the bottom of a flask. Then he buried the sealed flask in a heated sand bath in his laboratory.

One morning, Principe came into the lab to discover to his “utter disbelief” that the flask was filled with “a glittering and fully formed tree” of gold. The mixture of metals had grown upward into a structure resembling coral or the branching canopy of a tree minus the leaves.

Though best not to discount the usefulness of dreams in the advancement of science, as the Principe does later.  Francis Crick, Friedrich August Kekulé (whose dream, oddly enough, was of snakes of fire devouring their own tails), and Carl Jung (a proponent of Alchemy’s psychological efficacy) would all take umbrage.

Read the full article here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/alchemy-may-not-been-pseudoscience-we-thought-it-was-180949430/

Save the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica

The Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH, or Ritman Library) in Amsterdam has been a very important institution for research into hermetic philosophy and related currents, particularly early modern Rosicrucianism and alchemy, for decades. In a dramatic and very unsettling turn of events, the library’s existence as we know it is now being threatened. It is all very unclear what will happen, but there is no doubt that spreading the word and creating attention around the developments is the least we can do to try and influence things in the best possible direction – to save the library, the staff, and its national heritage collection of manuscripts and printed books.

For more information or to sign the petition click here

There’s also a blog dedicated to saving the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica


We interrupt your regularly scheduled blogging activities for this brief Fight Club moment. Thank you.

Transcription of one of Newton’s alchemical documents


Historian of science Bill Newman says that Isaac Newton’s alchemical notebooks are like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. But as you’ll see as you peruse the 300-year-old manuscript at left, this puzzle is no child’s play—more like an enigma wrapped in a mystery riddled with a number of misleading clues. With Bill Newman’s help, we’ve "decoded" a page from one of these manuscripts. To orient yourself to the bewildering world of 17th-century alchemy, we recommend you first read our interview with Bill Newman before plunging into the manuscript.—Susan K. Lewis

‘The Origin of Emotions’

Mark Devon, the author:

I began thinking about emotions while studying evolutionary theory at Harvard University.

Learning that adaptations do not evolve unless they help survival, I reasoned that each emotion must have a purpose that helped survival. If I could identify an emotion’s trigger, I could also identify its purpose.

Applying that thought to each emotion, I wrote The Origin of Emotions. [Available as a free PDF download. Or you can purchase a hardcopy for ease of reading.]

The following are excerpts from the book:

‘Maternal love stops when a child is 33 months old. Mothers maximize their reproduction by focusing on the next child when the current child can feed itself. By 33 months, children can feed themselves if food is available. They can walk and their first set of teeth have completed eruption.’

‘Men only love a woman for 42 months, which covers 9 months of gestation and 33 months of post-natal care. Both sexes maximize reproduction by starting a new reproductive cycle with a new partner when a child can feed itself.’

‘Revenge encourages victims of rule breaking to always retaliate, whether it helps them or not. The more victims retaliate, the fewer rule breakers there are. The fewer rule breakers there are, the more efficient a group is.’

‘Pride is triggered by higher rank, not high rank. Rookies feel pride, but veteran all-stars do not. Recent nursing graduates feel pride, but doctors nearing retirement do not.’

‘Humiliation is triggered by lower rank, not low rank. The only criminals who feel humiliation are first-time offenders. Every CEO feels humiliation when they retire.’

‘You feel affection when you see or hear features that separate humans from other primates, such as the sight of white eyes or the sound of talking.’

‘When you maximize your happiness, you do what is best for the species.’

Alejandro Jodorowsky interview

Alejandro Jodorowsky

You’ve described your films as ‘initiation cinema’ and ‘healing cinema’, can you talk about what this means.

In order to talk about initiation and healing cinema, we need to talk about the ?industry’ of movies. The movie industry is a business for entertainment. And who controls this business?… The tastes and demands of normal people, no? But normal people represent mediocrity, not art; their entertainment is vulgar and gives you nothing with which to change your life. It’s like a cigarette; you smoke tobacco, and it gives you nothing, unlike marijuana, which always gives you something. That is the industrial picture.

In order to think about the ?initiatic’ picture, we need to break with industry. The goal of industry is to make a lot of money – this is the measure of a film’s art. Three hundred million dollars – it’s a masterwork! If it doesn’t make money, it’s an awful picture, a failure. But the initiatic picture doesn’t work with money, it works with soul, with spirituality. A lot of spirituality is a good picture, lack of spirituality is a bad picture. It’s different.

And then, what is it to heal somebody? In reality, the biggest illness is not to be what you are but to be what the other wants you to be – the family, the society, the culture. They tell you ‘You need to be like this, with these morals, with these feelings, with this economy, with this political thing, with this religion’. And then, you go and sign a form that puts you into a spiritual jail for your entire life. The initiation, initiatic cinema, frees you from all these forms, from the artificial world where you started out in the belly of your mother.

Initiating – the art initiation – reveals to you the hell, this prison, and shows you how to escape from it. And to heal you is to give you the opportunity to be yourself and to have your own opinion. Hitchcock, in movies, is an ill person. Why? Because he has disguised himself as a genius of movies, but in reality, he’s making his movies in jail, because he’s saying, ‘That is a system that will make terror. This, the public will love. There, they will be anguished.’ He’s directing your emotions; everything is done to hypnotize you in order to react in a certain way.

In a healing picture, they don’t say you need to react like that. You will react as you react!

Full Story: Fortean Times.

New York Plans to Make Gender Personal Choice

Separating anatomy from what it means to be a man or a woman, New York City is moving forward with a plan to let people alter the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had sex-change surgery.

Under the rule being considered by the city’s Board of Health, which is likely to be adopted soon, people born in the city would be able to change the documented sex on their birth certificates by providing affidavits from a doctor and a mental health professional laying out why their patients should be considered members of the opposite sex, and asserting that their proposed change would be permanent.

Applicants would have to have changed their name and shown that they had lived in their adopted gender for at least two years, but there would be no explicit medical requirements.

continued via the New York Times

Just fyi, Canada Alberta is willing to trade Toronto for New York. In fact, we’ll give you most of Ontario in exchange…

International Alchemy Conference

“Largest Gathering of Alchemists in 500 Years!”

(via: Mutato Nomine).


Having bought a copy of The Age of Spiritual Machines, by the genius Ray Kurzweil, after hearing about how Our Lady Peace essentially crafted their entire album, Spiritual Machines, around the concepts presented by Kurzweil? I feel I should probably read it sometime. But having it in my possession, along with years of Star Trek and watching The Animatrix, has inspired me to think muchly on the grand notion of intelligence and consciousness.

I am fairly certain that if androids were possible as of today, they would be very good at patrolling red and blue bases, and occasionally storming my home base just slightly before I can get my army up to tier-two weapons and tech? not to mention thieving magical power-ups from my garden. Judging by the videos I’ve seen of ASIMO, Honda’s robot, I would have more of a chance and I would feel safe with a baseball bat and perhaps a vat of cola to drop them into so I could watch them slowly be eaten away.

For the sake of sentiment, I did, in fact, cry in the movie A.I. when the poor robots were being destroyed at the Flesh Fare.

Anyhow, this whole MIT-tackles-semiotics thing is frighteningly out of my league. They are like ninja-smart, whereas I am only S-M-R-T smart. Delving into the intuitive understandings of language, Hugo Liu has been exploring stuff that I will post here in his own words? out of fear that I will reduce it to the dribbling ramblings of a retarded guinea pig:

The Aesthetiscope is an interactive art installation whose wall of color reacts to portray the relationship between some idea (a word, a poem, a song) and a person (a realist, a dreamer, a neurotic) standing before it. Each idea, for example the word sunset, is rich in association for a person. Perhaps he remembers in his mind what a sunset looks like. Or a sunset mades him think of other ideas like warmth, fuzzy, beautiful, serenity, relaxation. Perhaps it reminds him of some past event in his life. The contextual sphere of these personal associations form the Aesthetic about the idea. And the experience of that aesthetic is called its pathos. I wanted to choose a medium through which pathos could be convincingly portrayed, and so I chose colors because they are a complete microconsciousness of pathos, like taste and smell.

The Aesthetic is hard to articulate because it is usually experienced it as an undeconstructed gestalt. Any analysis of Aesthetic needs to be sensitive to its complexity — the multi-dimensional nature of connotation. The aesthetiscope analyzes each idea through a multi-perspectival linguistic analysis of connotation. The realms of analysis are “Think,” “Culturalize,” “See,” “Intuit,” and “Feel.” Each of these realms brings to bear a different perspectival vocabulary to the pathos description of an idea. “Think” generates rational connotations and entailments of the idea. “Culturalize” looks at the cultural entailments of the idea through the lens of a particular culture. “See” takes the idea as a source of imagery, bringing to bear our collective visual memory of objects, places, and events. “Intuit” is an exercise in automatic free assocations with the idea as a cue. “Feel” takes a sentimental stance toward the idea, connecting it to a word of feelings. The results of these analyses are mapped to a world of colors through psycho-physiocological color surveys based on the work of Berlin & Kay, and Goethe, and naturalistic sampling of colors from photos.

With these different vocabularies of aesthetic, we can try to make sense of a “sunset.” A sunset may be “Seen,” revealing the dark purple swatches with splashes of warm hues that characterize the visual rememberance of a sunset. But there is also an inner sunset. A sunset “Felt” and “Intuited” recalls warmth, beauty, and serenity, and these will bring about brighter, warmer, and more intense colors than the outer sunset.

The aesthetiscope encourages us to experience and reflect on Aesthetic in a new way.

The shizzle is here-izzle, via mit.edu

This is interesting in that it really begins to explore the interpretation of the manifest realm on an abstract level (read MIT’s PDF here). We all believed in Data, but we all somehow secretly doubted that the “emotion chip” that he obtained from his evil twin, Lore, was genuine. But Hugo Liu’s work today may be the precursor to developments that Dr Noonien Soong draw from, in the future, to develop such reactions that would be illogical but founded in the intuitive and sensationalistic interaction with the manifest world. It is a little cold to note, however, that he still managed to bang Tasha Yar in 2364. Sex without this pathos is simply just getting sticky and sweaty? or whatever in Data and Yar’s case.

EDIT ? I was thinking about creating sigils without the normal chaos magic way. For those of you not familiar with sigils, read something like this. For those of you I don’t have to explain it to, any thoughts on crafting such mechanisms (if they can be called such?) out of more abstract elements such as colours, shapes, notions, elements? This is beginning to ring true with the whole stereotype of witches and “voodoo” where they throw weird crap in a cauldron and make spells and shit. I hit on it more here where I try to blab about technical/design approaches to the occult. Any comments or ideas? Drop ’em here.

I remember hearing about some peculiar astral mechanics that Michael Bertiaux and his Cult of the Black Snake (whatever they’re called), where they’d engineer elements out of geometrics and colours and varying astral vibrations. Like Lego, they’d build smaller units and store them in the astral, then proceed to assemble them into larger machinations/patterns. I believe they were four-dimensional geometrices, which will only make sense to those of us that work with sidereal movement and crap.

Lost Isaac Newton notes on alchemy found

Australian Broadcast Company report:

A collection of notes by the 17th century English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton – which scientists thought had been lost forever – have been found.


The notes will be on display at the Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition in London from the 4th of July.

Full Story: ABC: Isaac Newton’s alchemy notes found

(via LVX 23)

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