Monday, February 21, 2011

A Return To The Invisible College of Science 1

Science without borders, without pride, without ego, without tenured theories which reject new ideas.  Is this possible?  Yes.

Every scientist adheres to these principles in theory.  They all went into the field because they wanted to understand the universe they live in.  They wanted to live in a pure world of discovery where the only thing that mattered was the data, the facts.

But they then discovered the truth in science and all other fields of endeavor - money, power, prestige, position.  They then had a choice, either leave the field that they had invested so much of their lives and energy to enter, or silently accept the truth of things and do the best they could in their own personal sphere of research.

Robert Boyle
What is needed to rectify the present commercialized and governmentalized science is to perhaps return to its roots. There has to be a free sharing of ideas between all who are interested in increasing the knowledge of mankind.  Now of course this should include academically trained scientists.  But in our opinion it should also include polymaths, savants and intellectuals who lie outside the normal areas of scientific research.
"Mathematics is the supreme judge; from its decisions there is no appeal."
Tobias Dantzig

One of the tenets of early science was that knowledge should be public, open to all for inspection and dispute.  This was contrasted to the secret knowledge of the magicians, who would not share their insights.  Science was to be public.  In medieval times and earlier, the magical arts were filled with secret codes and terms open only to the initiates.  The average person was incapable of understanding any the terms and rituals.  Often we hear scientists say that the public could not possibly understand the science that is currently going on.

hidden knowledge of the gnostics
This is especially true in the mathematics of it.  In fact, the common view among scientists is that unless you understand the math, you will not be able to truly understand the science of it.  We ask, what is the difference between the hiddenness of the medieval and ancient magicians and conjurers and modern day scientists when it comes to the open and clear understanding for the masses?  Of course the term "truly understand" has a specific explanation.  It is based on the assumption that true understanding comes through mathematics, which is considered the  purest language known to mankind.  This assumption of course, is not provable by science!  it is a philosophical non-scientific assumption.

The term invisible college was coined by Robert Boyle, (1561-1626), the famous chemist, considered by many to be the father of modern chemistry, in a letter written in October of 1646,
The best of it is that the cornerstones of the Invisible (or as they term themselves the Philosophical) College, do now and then honour me with their company, which makes me sorry for those pressing occasions that urge my departure.
Boyle himself was an alchemist.  His most famous book, The Sceptical Chymist, written in 1661,  was based on his extensive chemical research seeking the philosophers stone, a magical substance which could turn base metals into gold, and even perhaps be the elixir of life useful for rejuvenation and immortality.
Book Cover to the
History of the Royal Society

The informal meetings conducted by Boyle. which discussed farming techniques, as well as other "natural philosophies" were the precursor to the Royal Society of the United Kingdom in 1660.  This invisible college was the precursor to the Royal Society of London, but both of these groups had their foundations in men who were searching more than just the practical arts such as husbandry. One of the fields in which these men who would later form the backbone of the "new experimental knowledge" was alchemy.

Sir Francis Bacon
No less than Sir Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount Saint Alban, the author of the Novum Organum, a book which fueled the now called scientific method of experimentation (commonly called the Baconian Method) was a practicing alchemist, although, he did not put much stock in astrology.  Some may seem surprised that we place Bacon in the real of alchemy.  For this idea, we are indebted to the thoughts of Professor John Henry from the University of Edinburgh in a work entitled, The Secret Life of an Alchemist: Francis Bacon's Real Philosophy of Nature, which was a lecture he delivered in 2006.  Henry states:
The remarkable thing about Bacon, however, is that, although he developed an alchemical philosophy, and must, like Newton, have spent considerable amounts of time performing alchemical experiments, there is no trace in the historical record that Bacon used to practice alchemy. It was never remarked upon by his contemporaries, for example, and not mentioned in early biographies nor for that matter in any of the more recent biographies of Bacon. So, here we have someone who was not only secretive about his alchemical procedures and results, but who was also secretive about the very fact that he was an alchemist.
Henry further explains that:
We know that Bacon must have spent many hours doing alchemical experiments because of the scattered references in his writings to experiments he had carried out. These are often given in sufficient detail that it is clear Bacon carried them out himself, and in many cases he simply recounts the experiments in the first person, telling us exactly what he did. Often it is easy to see how these experiments might have related to Bacon's attempts to establish the details of his secret alchemical philosophy.
According to Henry, Bacon like most alchemists, were not just concerned with trying to turn lead to gold.  This is a modern misconception of alchemy.  The most famous book about alchemy, the, Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, (translated by Isaac Newton in 1680) did not set about any discussion of how to make gold in some formulaic fashion, rather it dealt with philosophical issues about the nature of the universe.  Bacon would have shared the view of most serious alchemists which is described by Henry,
It was always assumed that alchemical texts spoke in riddles, or in symbols, to protect their secrets from the vulgar, and that only the adept alchemist could understand the hidden instructions. What the Paracelsians did was, quite literally, to make the book of Genesis the most important, and most heavily used alchemical instruction manual. For them, the whole world, and everything in it, was alchemical. This also meant, of course, that while God was the supreme alchemist, the Paracelsian alchemist could lay claim to being the best representative of God on earth. The alchemist, not the priest, was the best mediator between God and man. People often accuse modern scientists of playing God, but the Paracelsian alchemists were doing that long before.
Most of these men, were also theologians considering themselves, good Christians.  We would dare say that most of them would have been shocked to see many modern practitioners of the scientific method consider themselves atheists or agnostics.
"To record all human knowledge and to make it universally available for the education of all mankind."
Samuel Hartlib

Samuel Hartlib & The Hartilibians
Samuel Hartlib (1600-1662) was a German-British polymath.  His meetings were the precursors to the gatherings of the Royal Society of London chartered by King Charles II.  He wrote extensively and during his day was regarded as the "Great Intelligencer of Europe."  Yet Hartlib was very much involved in alchemy and astrology himself.  More books were published on alchemy between 1650-1680 than before or since.  According to the correspondence of Hartlib,
He believed in the efficacy of magical talismans. At the beginning of 1651 Hartlib was told by Ashmole's friend Dr Robert Child that, with the aid of these images, 'effective protection was afforded'. Hartlib not only believed this, but was anxious to obtain details of these 'remedies'. The technical terms used for such miraculous objects were 'sigil', 'telesme', and 'lamin'. Their efficacy depended not only on the celestial influences under which they were made, but also on the use of certain invocations and 'suffumigations' appropriate to their planetary correspondences. The sigils had to be cast during the hour before sunrise. Even the tyro in this apotelesmatic art will recognise here echoes of Solomonic pentacles and the practices advocated by Marsilio Ficino. Details are given in Manuscript Ashmole 421, folio 124 verso.
Sir Christopher Wren would also study alchemy at Oxford as a student under Elias Ashmole, author of the treatise, Theatrum Chemicum Britanicum (1652) which was a text infused with many quotes from hermetic alchemists.  Thus it is well known that the first society organized for the purpose of the modern scientific method, was based on people and groups who studied magical practices of alchemy and astrology.  It is true that some of the founding members chose to separate themselves from these practices, not all of them did.  Perhaps Anthony Wild in his book entitled, Coffee: a dark history says it best when he states:
Although the society's membership and its work were formally Cartesian, its existence was rooted in the Rosicrucian tradition of the "Invisible College."  While alchemy, an essential component of Hermeticism, is widely ridiculed in modern scientific circles, it then existed as a world view that encompassed the unfolding empiricism.  Newton himself, that colossus of cause-and-effect, was a practicing alchemist all of his working life, even at the time he was devising calculus and defining gravity.  He regarded his esoteric studies as the more important, and sought the key to integrating his scientific discoveries into the esoteric whole.  Ironically, the mechanistic Newtonian description of the universe, which effectively provided the rational structure for scientific developments up until the development of quantum mechanics, is increasingly undermined by new discoveries that lead back towards aspects of alchemical thinking.  The seemingly fanciful notion of "action at a distance," dear to the heart of seventeenth-century alchemists and metaphysical poets alike, has found its theoretical validation in the concept of "entanglement" in quantum physics and, more recently, practical exposition in experiments with sub-atomic "spin."
We include the only videos we could find concerning the history of the Royal Society of London.  If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link:

In our next article in this series, we will discuss the present philosophical underpinning for modern scientific thinking - reductionism. 

No comments: