Newton, the wizard of reason

A biography reveals a passion of the scientist for the occult

Keats did not forgive Newton for it “to have destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow”, therefore making, perhaps, the first criticism of the excessive scientific rationalism for which Sir Isaac, from that moment on, was enthroned as the most orthodox icon. However, in truth, far from being the first representative of the Age of Reason, he was in truth “The last of the wizards, the last of the Babylonians and of the Sumarians, the last great mind which saw, as well as the visible and rational world, with the same eyes as those who began the construction of our intellectual inheritance” as defined another Englishman, Keynes. The world preferred not to listen to the definition of Newton given by the celebrated economist in 1942, after he had purchased at an action, manuscripts of Newton and had discovered, amazingly, the intense interest of the scientist for the world of the occult.

Michael White, the science editor of various English publications, took up the clue of 50 years previously and resolved to investigate. The result is a surprising biography of the father of modern physics, Isaac Newton: the Last Wizard (Record, 378 pages, R$ 40.00), which reveals the intense interest of Newton for occultism and in which form this was responsible for his most important scientific discoveries. “He was always considered a rigid scientist, a fierce adept of empiricism and nobody would have believed that he could have ideas at odds with the traditional scientific current. However, he did have, in secret, another field of study, alchemy, through which he wanted to unravel the secrets of the Universe, instead of by way of mathematics and science. The Principia, in particular, are proof of this.” assured the author.

According to Mr. White, of the more than 4 million words which Newton left written, 3 million refer to the world of the occult. “Nevertheless, he feared making this involvement public, as alchemy was a crime punishable by death, since its practitioners wanted to produce gold and this was a threat to the monetary system.” explained the journalist. “It was alchemy, with its concept of a spirit of chemical affinity diffused through material and permitting the occurrence of chemical reactions, allied to the secret Aryanism of Newton and his notion of the spiritual body of Christ diffused through the universe, as a means through which material can move, which permitted him accepting that the force of gravity could operate at a pretended distance.” he explained.

The apple? Certainly, we already know that the story of the inspiration which Newton received by the falling of the fruit in front of his eyes, was not to be taken seriously. What we didn’t know was who was the author of the fiction: nobody less than Sir Isaac himself. “He invented this story to cover up the true line of occult rationality which he used to arrive at the force of gravity. Newton, when he was old, wanted to disguise his alchemy studies and also to leave a posthumous image fascinating and deserving of his status as being the grand genius of his era. He adored making self promotion.” related Mr. White. “However, we must always bring ourselves back to his epoch and not judge him through our eyes. For him, there was nothing wrong in, alongside the tools of science, throwing out the hand of knowledge extracted from the bible and from alchemy.” he said.

It is enough, effectively, to remember that Newton, born in 1642 and who died in 1727, lived at a time in which wars were made and men were assassinated for their religious beliefs and the meticulous analysis of the Nature of light took place simultaneously with serious attempts to find the philosopher’s stone. A long way from a diminutive Newton, we find a human and creative scientist. “Until today, the majority of scientists don’t think in pure mathematical or empirical terms and are very imaginative persons. Even the science which buried Newtonian physics, quantum mechanics, of which we are convinced, is not the most logic of theories and if we attempt to understand it only through reason, we shall not succeed.” he stated.

However, alchemy is not so distant from physics as our philosophy believes. “The alchemists searched to unravel all the secrets of the universe of holistic form, as we call it today. They were excellent observers of the physical world, whose workings they attempted to understand and explain as an alternative view to the universe. Newton understood that, if he wanted to take physics a step further, he needed to as well reinvent the universe and create a new story.” he affirmed. “Soon, for him, alchemy was not a diversion, but his inspirational muse and he should be eulogized for inventing a creative science which went beyond the immediate condition.” he advised.

“He was a very religious man and believed that it was his duty to disclose the secrets of the universe and there was only two ways of doing this: by studying the word of God, the bible, and the divine work, Nature. He looked to reunite these universes in equilibrium.” However, before this biography and that of Keynes, a contemporary had relieved the strange passion of the rational wiseman: his arch enemy Leibniz.

“Leibniz denounced that the concept of gravity was firmly linked to the world of occultism. In actual fact, Newton allowed himself to fall into an intellectual trap when he attempted to hide his secret side. As he saw himself penned in, without being able to reveal the source of his ideas, he proposed the idea of a hypothetical ether in an attempt to explain gravity. This not only went to meet his disclosure compromising him with experimental reasoning, but as well left him exposed to the attack – for him something terrible, given his religious beliefs – that he was a mechanist.” narrate Mr. White.

The scientist spent 40 years of his life persecuting his colleague Leibniz, in a campaign never before seen in the academic world, in order to destroy him, convinced that he has been robbed by his science companion in his formulation of calculus. Newton was a detestable person, a bitter man, strange and recluse. The legend says that he only laughed once in his life when they asked him what use he saw in Euclides. This is undoubtedly an exaggeration but is not far off the mark of his real personality.” said White.

“When he was nineteen, he wrote out a list of the sins he had committed during his lifetime and that of number 13 is haunting: ‘I wanted to burn my step-father and mother with the house on top of them.’ The following is not much better: ‘I wished the deaths of a lot of people and would like it to really happen for some of them. ‘ He was a problematic man, solitary and suffering,” he said “and always looked to compensate for his humble origin with success.” In this way, if in his youth he carried out his research in the name of God, with the passing of time, he investigated science for his own self interest.” revealed the biographer.

The last of the wizards, though modestly feigned, saying, in truth, to have gotten to where he got by climbing on the shadow of giants who went before him, adored being adulated by his colleagues and, it is believed, persecuted all those who failed to treat him as a unique genius. He was only extremely patient with a young student, the Swiss mathematician Nicholas Fatio de Duilier, with whom he maintained a torrid correspondence. In reality, the apple may not have inspired his gravitational theory, but it gave other biblical ideas to Sir Isaac. Newton, everything leads us to believe, was a repressed homosexual who fell in love with Fatio in an intense form.

A large part of the letters between the two of them were destroyed by Newton himself to cover up the more revealing parts. Even then, what remains is sufficient to lead to this hypothesis. No matter how it was, after having suddenly stopped corresponding, the physicist suffered a dramatic nervous breakdown. I believe that the reason for this was the refusal of the Swiss gentleman to come to live with him in England.” stated White.

This would not interest posterity if it had not been the catalyst for the end of Newtonian creativity. “After this tragic event, he abandoned his interest in research and withdrew from public life, especially after his nomination as the Master of the Royal Mint.” said the author “There Newton demonstrated the worst of his personality, transforming himself into a cruel, unpitying obsessive authoritarian, always in search of whatever attempt at falsification which was punished with excessive rigor.

He didn’t accept any type of request for clemency of those condemned to death and made a point of being present at the executions.” said White. “The same is true for his period as the President of the Royal Society which he governed with a steel fist, taking revenge on all of those who believed in his adversaries or those who were not respectful enough towards his scientific contributions.” His first decree was to pull down from the wall and burn the portrait of his predecessor and critic, Robert Hooke.

“Even then, this coldness mingles with his ability to perceive the universe as if man – before the privileged observer, the measurer of everything – was a footnote of an irrelevant page.” analyzed the biographer.

The relativity of Einstein

He submerged the universe zealously engendered by Newton, but, in the same way as his English colleague from the past, Albert Einstein also rose in the arms of gigantic obscurity. This is one of the conclusions described in the book recently published in the USA, Einstein in Love: a Scientific Romance (416 pages, Viking, US$ 27.95), by Dennis Overbye, the senior science editor of the The New York Times. According to him, following the footsteps of the arch enemy of Newton and Leibniz, Einstein postulated that space and time didn’t have objective reality. “Einstein is not a mathematician, but worked under the influence of dark physical and philosophical impulses.” wrote Felix Klein, a mathematical colleague of Albert.

“The book, in the same way as the biography of Newton by Michael White, also brings other “powers” to the celebrated scientist, especially his sentimental inconsistency, a sin which, it was just as well, he didn’t repeat in his professional life, remaining faithful all of his life to a unique conceptual philosophy of the world. The same cannot be said, however, of his relationships with women who populated his existence. Especially true in his youth, when the genius was very different from that saintly grandfather figure, tongue stuck out, which we are accustomed to seeing.

Mr. Overbye remembers that the physicist had an illegitimate child (whose life is described in another recent book, Einstein Daughter: The Search for Lieserl , by Michele Zackheim), Lieserl, whom he never took any interest in seeing and could even have obliged the woman, Mileva, to put her up for adoption. He also liked to beat up his poor wife, as soon as he could, betrayed her with her cousin, Elsa, who, a short time later he exchanged for another. When his youngest son began to suffer from schizophrenia, Einstein rejected him. According to the journalist, he was a misogynous man, an egotist and an incorrigible womanizer.

However, Mr. Overbye contradicts the long standing legend that the scientist had stolen ideas for his theory of relativity from his wife, Mileva, an experienced mathematician. By the fact that he had published a proof, at 26 years of age, shortly after his marriage with a Serbian woman, the rumor went around which pursued for some time Einstein’s reputation. However, says the book, apart from correcting some mathematical equations, Mileva, at that time, was more worried about raising her children and leaving her husband free to think. Even then, in order to obtain a separation, he was obliged to promise to her the money that he would receive if he was to win the Nobel prize. In 1921 he won the prize and complied with his deal.

Another fascinating piece of work about him which has just come out is Driving Mr. Albert (224 pages, US$ 18.95), by Michael Paterniti. A road book which describes the author’s journey, a reporter for Harper’s Bazaar, with doctor Thomas Harvey, responsible in 1955 for the autopsy of Einstein, who stole the brain of the genius and safeguarded it at home, sliced and in a Tupperware, exhibiting it occasionally for some coins. Repentant, the doctor resolved to return it to the grandson of the scientist and asked the journalist to accompany him. Delicious reading.