Category Archives: Alchemists

Mad Scientist #18: Steven H. Pollock

Steven Pollock - Photo by Linda Dear

Photo by Linda Dear

What do you do when you find a bluish lump of fungus previously unknown to science, growing in your petri dish? If you’re Steven Pollock, you eat it, call your friend, and tell him you’ve discovered the one thing that’s eluded men of obscurity for millennia. I am talking of course about the philosopher’s stone—key to the universe—elixir of life—the ultimate essence of all things. In suburban San Antonio of all places. But there’s one quality the Ancients forgot—it gets you really, really high.1 Continue reading

Mad Scientist #9: Sir Isaac Newton

Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians…
—John Maynard Keynes, economist, historian, baron.1

Fateful apple falls from a tree and bonks young Isaac Newton on the head. Newton has an epiphany (and presumably a heart-healthy snack).

Why, he wonders, should objects always fall down. Why not up? Or sideways? Or in some crazy, unrealistic corkscrew fashion? Then it hits him: Maybe the apple didn’t just fall. Maybe it was drawn down, by an invisible force emanating from our Earth. Bouyed by the fruit’s anticarcinogens and glucose-regulating phytonutrients, he then proceeds to sketch the foundations of the theory of universal gravity, differential calculus, and classical mechanics, unwittingly kick-starting the Enlightenment.

We all know the legend, but is there any truth to it? Is Newton’s apple a handy metaphor for serendipitous innovation? Or is it rather, a trick, designed to draw attention away from Sir Isaac’s true inspiration? A source so cultish, so cripplingly obscure, no grade school science teacher would dare speak its name. Continue reading

Mad Scientist #5: Paracelsus (pt. 2) – Paracelsus’ Homunculus

It is the project of the mad scientist, whether he knows it or not, to extract all that is crass, hidden, and horrifying, and flay it mercilessly before the light of science. Doing so does not strip the world of her wonder. On the contrary—it breathes new life into the magic of old. To witness an account of this process in action, we need look no further than the homunculus of Paracelsian lore.

If you have access to some vials, semen, and significant quantities of human blood and putrefied horse manure, you may want to try Paracelsus’ recipe on your own time: Continue reading

Mad Scientist #5: Paracelsus (pt. 1) – Science and Magic

All the universities have less experience than my beard. The down on my neck is more learned than my antagonists. You must follow my footsteps. I shall not go in yours. Not one of your professors will find a cover so well hidden that the dogs will come and lift them by the legs and defile them. I shall become a monarch, mine will be the monarchy which I shall rule to make you gird up your loins!

Every historian who wants to prove science emerged neatly as a reaction against medieval magic and mysticism, will at some point be faced with the paradox that is Paracelsus. One part proto-renaissance physician, one part medieval magus, this so-called “Luther of Medicine” harrowingly straddled the light and dark worlds of 16th century Europe. If single-handedly, he crossed the Rubicon into modern medicine, chemistry, toxicology, and psychiatry, he also bore the full force of their birth pangs. Scorned by the establishment in his own time, and obscured by history since, Paracelsus is never quite where you look for him. But root him out, and his rich hoard of alchemical treasures is yours for the taking. For science, as anyone who looks deep into Paracelsus’ eye will see, is at heart a form of magick! Continue reading