University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Chymistry and colours: alchemy, matter theory and optics in the early work of Isaac Newton

Chymistry and colours: alchemy, matter theory and optics in the early work of Isaac Newton

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In the mid-1660s, Isaac Newton came to the realization that white light is not a homogeneous substance, but is made up of colorfacient rays of unequal refrangibility. While this discovery has no obvious antecedents in optical theory, it is an undeniable fact that a similar move was made in the area of matter theory in the years immediately preceding Newton’s discovery. Robert Boyle, in part dependent on an earlier alchemical tradition, argued extensively against the Aristotelian homogeneity of mixed substances, an idea that had achieved great prominence in medieval and early modern universities. My paper will explore the possibility of links between Newton’s rejection of optical homogeneity and the chymical rejection of material homogeneity. The paper will assume no understanding of alchemical matter theory, but will instead provide the background necessary for understanding how such a linkage may have taken place.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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