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How The Desire for Gold Influenced Sir Isaac Newton’s Work on Physics


Sir Isaac Newton’s contributions to the world of Physics and Mathematics unveiled a lot of mysteries surrounding the world. He was the first one to explain the concept of Gravity. However, his life apart from Physics was still a mystery. It wasn’t until the late 20th century when the scepticism over his personal life was beginning to assert.

Newton’s occult studies

Isaac Newton was determined to rediscover the occult wisdom of the ancients. The British Physicist’s occult studies explored chronology, alchemy and Biblical interpretations. Among these, he devoted much of his time on Alchemy. His stint with alchemy began at a tender age of 12. It is believed that Newton was in search of something in Alchemy that would revolutionize the way we see the world. In fact, historic interpretations show that occult influenced his work on Physics. It encouraged him to work on gravity and many other scientific breakthroughs that he was involved in.


Alchemy is closely tied to natural philosophy. It was a part of the ancient proto-scientific tradition. Some of the core principles of Alchemy lies within the concept of immortality and transmutation. So alchemists avidly researched on developing a recipe that could adhere to these concepts. Because, transmutation would help in converting a base metal to noble metal. As a result of this they obtain Gold. Apart from this, there were studies on an elixir of immortality. In addition to that, Alchemy also helps in finding a vaccine for all diseases. Finding a particular stone would reveal all of these secrets.

Newton prioritised alchemy over physics

Although his contributions to classical physics broadened the horizons of mankind, it was Alchemy that interested him the most. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell his exact alchemical research. The reason for which is that the majority of his work was lost in a fire in his laboratory.

Among the total of 10 million of his surviving words, more than 1 million words were on the subject of Alchemy. However, there’s no clarity over the number of alchemical research papers that he lost in the fire. Moreover, he endangered his life over his alchemical research. For instance, Newton was once poisoned amidst his work. As a result of which, he suffered from a nervous breakdown. Perhaps it was his work on the transmutation that poisoned him.

Newton’s old manuscripts

His work on Alchemy was brought to light when his 17th-century manuscripts were made public. The legendary physicist was after the very stone that holds the answer to many alchemical mysteries. Above all, his manuscript details the procedure for making one of the critical elements for this stone. However, his words are cryptic. Thereby giving people a hard time to figure out his recipe. Moreover, this cryptic interpretation is closely related to the search for “sophick mercury”. This element is considered to be the holy grail of alchemy.

Philosopher’s stone

“Sophick mercury” is an integral substance for the Philosopher’s Stone. In fact, it was the Philosopher’s Stone that Newton was obsessed with. According to Alchemists, Philosopher’s stone is the one that aids the transmutation of base metals to Gold. Moreover, this stone also helps in rejuvenation to subsequently attain immortality. Hence, the attempts made by Alchemists to procure this legendary substance is aptly termed as “Magnum Opus”. It roughly translates to “Great Work”.

Newton and George Starkey

Newton’s search for “Sophick mercury” led him to George Starkey. Starkey is a key alchemist figure. He influenced many scientists to pursue Alchemy. Not just Newton, he also inspired Robert Boyle. In the Alchemical world, he is known by his pen name “Eireanus Philalethes”. In other words, ” the peaceful lover of the truth”.

Instead of just copying his original work, Newton made a few corrections. This can be seen in his manuscript. He used brackets for the proportion quoted by Starkey. However, there is no solid evidence as to whether Newton discovered the stone or not. But his work is very comprehensive and often involved experiments.

Why was Newton drawn to philosopher’s stone?

For Newton, the Philosopher’s stone embodied the perfect marriage of theological and philosophical truths. As a man of science and religion, he was more drawn to see how the transmutation works. On the other hand, he was not the only fanatical pursuer of this coveted stone. Many eminent scientists of Newton’s time worked on nurturing alchemy and finding ways to solve this mystery. According to Newton, it was the philosopher’s stone that kept the universe together and in operation. He believed it was omnipresent and without it, the universe would have never sustained life. Moreover, it was his obsession with this stone that helped him write one of the most popular theories in Science: Gravity.

Striking resemblances between gravity and the philosopher’s stone

Newton related the matter causing gravity to the Philosopher’s stone. Many believed that he referred to the Emerald Tablet, the very foundation for alchemy, for many of his works. According to Newton, “the matter causing gravity must pass through all the pores of a body”. This is similar to how the Philosophical stone is described in the Emerald Tablet. According to the Emerald Tablet, The philosophical stone has the ability to “penetrate every solid thing”
This similarity between the force causing gravity and the stone can not be disregarded. Concretely, if the matter that causes gravity could be harnessed then in theory, it could do everything that a philosopher stone is capable of.

Significance of alchemy in Newton’s scientific world

Newton’s alchemical stint influenced his law on universal gravitation. He believed that the gravity is caused by emissions of an alchemical principle called “salniter”. In addition to that, his work on understanding the spectral properties of white light was synonymous to the alchemical principles.

Alchemists believed that compounds could be broken down to different parts. These constituents can, however, be recombined. This is very much similar to what Newton had to say on the spectral properties of light. He deconstructed white light into constituent colours to ultimately recombine it. Thus, claiming that the white light is composed of 7 colours. Needless to say, his work on alchemy had a huge impact on his scientific breakthroughs.

Why did his work on alchemy remain a secret?

Newton’s biographers were not very fond of portraying him as an alchemist. Neither were the universities wherein he did most of his academia. On the other hand, Newton was practising alchemy despite people considered it to be disreputable and malignant. Moreover, King Henry IV of England had already banned alchemy while Newton was still practicing. Around that time, making gold and silver “out of thin air” was considered to be a crime. Following the development of chemistry, alchemy was relegated to pseudoscience status. Being an eminent scientist, people find it hard to relate him with something that is considered to be pseudoscience.

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