Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer

By Michael White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
God is subtle but he is not malicious. ALBERT EINSTEIN1

Continue east about four hundred yards from the end of Oxford Street, take a turn into Museum Street and then, at the end, right into Great Russell Street, and you quickly come to the gate of the British Museum. Dodging the tourists, walk up the front steps and through the bag-checkers into the main reception. To your left is the main staircase, a massive two-tier, stone ensemble as wide as a house. At the top stands the Roman gallery, and as you pass through the rooms you move across the centuries -- Early Medieval, Late Medieval, Middle Ages, Rooms 41, 42, 43 . . . In Room 46 you will find the Tudor collection, and there, in the far left exhibition cabinet, lies something quite extraordinary. Walk up to it and crouch down. On a glass shelf at waist height, settled on a plastic cradle, is the crystal ball of the alchemist and philosopher John Dee. No more than three inches in diameter and perfectly smooth, it looks black from some angles, translucent from others. Behind it, a few inches away, stands an electronic thermometer and humidity-sensor, its digital display flashing and a red LCD blinking discreetly.

After withdrawing your gaze from the ball's depths and retracing your steps, back from the museum to the tarmac beyond, the Nikons and the Sony camcorders, as you wander through the exhaust fumes of Oxford Street and the twilight of the late twentieth century you have straddled the divide between myth and science, metaphysics and physics, from magic to mechanic, from John Dee to Isaac Newton.

Newton did not distinguish between these things so readily as we do now. For twenty-seven years, from 1669 until he left for London in 1696, Newton pursued a vast collection of themes both scientific

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Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction - Truth Revealed 1
  • 1: Desertion 6
  • 2 - The Changing View Of Matter and Energy 29
  • 3 - Academia 43
  • 4 - Astronomy and Mathematics Before Newton 66
  • 5 - A Toe in the Water 82
  • 6 - The Search for The Philosophers' Stone 104
  • 7 - The Sorcerer's Apprentice 131
  • 9 - To the Principia 190
  • 10 - Breakdown 222
  • 11 - Metamorphosis 255
  • 12 - Old Men's Battles 294
  • 13 - A Question of Priority 325
  • 14 - Joining the Ancients 343
  • References 363
  • Index 387
  • Picture Credits 403
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