Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic Theory

Hardcover | June 28, 2007

byMark Morrisson

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Alchemists are generally held to be the quirky forefathers of science, blending occultism with metaphysical pursuits. Although many were intelligent and well-intentioned thinkers, the oft-cited goals of alchemy paint these antiquated experiments as wizardry, not scientific investigation.Whether seeking to produce a miraculous panacea or struggling to transmute lead into gold, the alchemists radical goals held little relevance to consequent scientific pursuits. Thus, the temptation is to view the transition from alchemy to modern science as one that discarded fantastic ideas aboutphilosophers stones and magic potions in exchange for modest yet steady results. It has been less noted, however, that the birth of atomic science actually coincided with an efflorescence of occultism and esoteric religion that attached deep significance to questions about the nature of matter andenergy. Mark Morrisson challenges the widespread dismissal of alchemy as a largely insignificant historical footnote to science by prying into the revival of alchemy and its influence on the emerging subatomic sciences of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.Morrisson demonstrates its surprisinginfluence on the emerging subatomic sciences of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Specifically, Morrisson examines the resurfacing of occult circles during this time period and how their interest in alchemical tropes had a substantial and traceable impact upon the science of the day. ModernAlchemy chronicles several encounters between occult conceptions of alchemy and the new science, describing how academic chemists, inspired by the alchemy revival, attempted to transmute the elements; to make gold. Examining scientists publications, correspondence, talks, and laboratory notebooks as well as the writings of occultists, alchemical tomes, and science-fiction stories, he argues that during the birth of modern nuclear physics, the trajectories of science and occultism---so often consideredantithetical---briefly merged.

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Alchemists are generally held to be the quirky forefathers of science, blending occultism with metaphysical pursuits. Although many were intelligent and well-intentioned thinkers, the oft-cited goals of alchemy paint these antiquated experiments as wizardry, not scientific investigation.Whether seeking to produce a miraculous panacea ...

Mark Morrison is Associate Professor of English, Pennsylvania State University

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 6.18 × 9.41 × 0.91 inPublished:June 28, 2007Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195306961

ISBN - 13:9780195306965

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. From the Golden Dawn to the Alchemical Society2. Occult Chemistry, Instrumentation, and the Theosophical Science of Direct Perception3. Chemistry in the Borderland4. Atomic Alchemy and the Gold StandardEpilogueAppendix A: Boundary-Work, Border Crossings, and Trading ZonesAppendix B: Occult Interest Books by Alchemical Society MembersAppendix C: A Partial List of Alchemical Society MembersNotesWorks CitedIndex

Editorial Reviews

"Modern Alchemy is a wonderful achievement. This genuinely exciting book draws connections and parallels that would have escaped less imaginative scholars. Mark Morrisson succeeds magnificently in integrating the seemingly irreconcilable worlds of sober science and the occult." -- PhilipJenkins, author of Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History