Home > history of philosophy, history of science, hps, mcgill, miwhp, newton, simhp > William R. Newman – Chymistry in Newton’s Early Theory of Light and Colour

William R. Newman – Chymistry in Newton’s Early Theory of Light and Colour

The McGill History and Philosophy of Science Series and
Montreal Interuniversity Workshop in the History of Philosophy

are pleased to host a special joint session:

William R. Newman (HPS, Indiana University)
"Chymistry in Newton’s Early Theory of Light and Colour"

The meeting will take place on Tuesday, 6 April, 5:30-7:30 PM, in the Don Bates Room of the Social Studies of Medicine Building at McGill University.

Newman is the world’s leading scholar of the history of chemistry in the early modern period, and has been at the forefront of the scholarly effort to gain recognition for the important scientific contributions of figures once marginalized as ‘alchemists’. He is the author of numerous books and articles in this area, including Atoms & Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution (Chicago, 2006), Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature (Chicago, 2004), Gehennical Fire: The Lives of George Starkey, an American Alchemist in the Scientific Revolution, and The Summa Perfectionis of Pseudo-Geber (Brill, 1991).

Abstract: In the years immediately before Isaac Newton made his controversial claim that white light is not homogeneous but rather a mixture of unaltered  spectral colors, Robert Boyle had proven that saltpeter and other seemingly homogeneous “bodies”  could be analyzed into their constituents and “redintegrated” (resynthesized) from them.  Building on his earlier work, William Newman’s paper argues that Newton’s early optical experiments were conditioned by his exposure to “chymistry.” In particular, the paper claims that Newton’s early optical discoveries owed a direct debt to Boyle’s work on the “redintegration” of niter and other materials.  The paper also provides an introduction to the scholastic background against which Boyle, and by extension Newton, were arguing.   

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