Isaac Newton and pseudoscience

Discussion in 'Off Topic Area' started by Flying Crane, Oct 20, 2021.

  1. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Active Member

    @David Harrison in another thread you made reference a couple of times to Newton being considered “pseudoscience” today. I have never heard mention of this and am wondering if you would explain to what it is you are referring, and who has made this determination, and if you could direct me to a source in the scientific community? Thanks.
  2. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool Spes mea in nihil Deus MAP 2017 Moi Award

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  3. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Active Member

    Ok, this is true, Newton did research these topics and I think alchemy being a big one. Of course at the time, alchemy was believed to be possible, and Newton was far from the only one experimenting with it. Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe he ever claimed success, never claimed that he actually turned lead into gold.

    Of course he invented calculus and Newtonian mechanics which are still taught in high schools and universities around the world as foundational material for people interested in a scientific career. Newtonian physics is recognized today as not being the complete picture in physics, hence we have topics like quantum mechanics and relativity that take over where Newtonian physics no longer holds up. But in the proper context the Newtonian physics is rock solid. Since the physics and calculus are what Newton is really known for I don’t understand why anyone would make a broad statement that Newton is pseudoscience. He delved into some topics that we recognize today as pseudoscience, but his main contributions remain foundational.
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  4. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    Oh, no.

    I was being sarcastic, sorry. Tom Bayley took umbrage at me questioning the liklihood of digging your thumb into someone's eye socket from a palm strike. I mentioned Newton's 3rd law and he called it pseudoscience.

    Of course I don't think that Newtonian mechanics are pseudoscience.
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  5. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool Spes mea in nihil Deus MAP 2017 Moi Award

    Alchemy was the forerunner of chemistry, so despite it not being that socially acceptable at the time, it wasnt a pseudo science at the time as such, because they were really only begining to understand what science is.

    Looking back you could absolutely say it is considered a pseudo science now however, just as biblical chronography is.

    That doesn't mean Newton as a whole is wrong, virtually everyone is wrong about something, especially when it's outside of their sphere of expertise.

    Which also means even the worst people in all of history may also have had a point on some subjects.

    That could be a good topic for further discussion!
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  6. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Active Member

    Gotcha, thanks for the clarification. Honestly, I was wondering where this conversation might end up. Much appreciated.
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  7. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    I'd like to find the time to read about Celtic smiths, especially in Ireland. They were basically like shamans. Both revered and isolated, treated with veneration and suspicion. I don't know if those traditions fed into alchemy or not.
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  8. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool Spes mea in nihil Deus MAP 2017 Moi Award

    I was reading this:

    Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds - Wikipedia

    A few months ago, and it has a nice section of how alchemy was used to grift money from nobles with more money then sense, and also endanger honest alchemists who would be held responsible for their failures to produce the gold.

    It's also got a brief history of how alchemy was brought to Europe from the middle East.

    God knows how accurate it is, but its an entertaining read! (Free pdfs kindle downloads are available)
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  9. David Harrison

    David Harrison MAPper without portfolio

    Charlatanry and magic are indivisible!
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  10. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool Spes mea in nihil Deus MAP 2017 Moi Award

    I think there must be a riddle of steel associated with that!
  11. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool Spes mea in nihil Deus MAP 2017 Moi Award

  12. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Active Member

    Crucible steel was a steel produced with a specific methodology that resulted in a significantly higher quality than the norm of the era. I don’t remember exactly what culture it was in, might have been Nordic. I think the specific process has been lost but some people are researching it. It seems that even by today’s standards, it is considered high quality. So I know that exceptional work was done in an era that we would consider primitive by today’s standards. That understanding of processes and being able to think critically to recognize the likely outcome of each step along the way and how to control for quality, these are things that people have always been remarkably good at. The real difference between them and us is the body of knowledge done by our predecessors upon which we stand. We have a head-start in that regard, and those fellows were our predecessors.
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  13. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    Actually I don't believe modern scholars consider alchemy a pseudoscience for a few specific reasons, especially considering the empirical results of alchemy like gunpowder and other neat compounds.

    Whatever the goals of alchemy were, it was as was said already basic early experimental chemistry. Experiments were made, questions tested, and so on. Lots of notes. It's not pseudo or "like" science, it is the first empirical stab at it, with some pretty wonderous and terrifying results. And others of which were of course wacky wrong, but that's how science works, constant improvement, such as "drinking mercury is BAD".

    Of course the goal was turning things into gold because back then, that was cold fusion. Modern chemistry was only possible with the advent of alchemy. Alchemy was the roadmap to experimenting and coming up with the Periodic Table itself.

    The term Wikipedia uses is "protoscientific" which makes more sense. This is science, it's just very immature not to mention dangerous. Modern chemists can thank alchemists for knowing all the ways one can burn, poison, blind, or blow themselves up.
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  14. Dead_pool

    Dead_pool Spes mea in nihil Deus MAP 2017 Moi Award

    Hence why I said it wasn't a pseudo science at the time, if you claimed to turn lead into gold via a philosophers stone nowadays however that would be a modern day pseudo science......

    Of course later on it split, with both chemistry and chi Kung as its decedent's......

    A Brief History of Alchemy

    ^ this is a great link!
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  15. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    I finally got through the entire Wiki article and apparently there was a whole papal decree in 1317 banning alchemy specifically because of "pseudo-alchemical charlatanism", which was different than true alchemy in that the former were actual frauds claiming to be able to transmute lead into gold etc, whereas the latter were the more honest, science minded experimenters and tinkerers that could actually produce results (e.g. blowing something up).

    I was surprised to find out that gunpowder was in fact created from Taoist alchemy (to cauterize wounds?), and it totally makes sense. There were real creators and healers using evidence-based techniques that had been passed down for eons-, and then there were the fakers who went around claiming to be alchemists but didn't know anything but how to swindle. And in that sense what you said about classic martial arts is true, there are people who really know their stuff and people who hide behind that crowd to make money and teach worthless or ignorant things, like no touch death blows. That Ki master vs MMA video from way back always reminds me...the old "master" looked the part in every way, dress, dojo, students, but he was dumb enough to get into a fist fight. He was there to make money, knew nothing, and was called out in front of his students so it was fight or lose face. HE lost both! :D
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2021
  16. Grond

    Grond Valued Member

    This part was also enlightening. Apparently back then, alchemists were highly sought after for what we would consider scientific and engineering jobs. And they must have had some level of success, which is probably another reason why there eventually came "splits" between things like alchemy and chemistry. The association of the former with growing fraud made it impossible for this kind of "gig economy" to work, so the non-frauds had to form their own basic framework for chemistry that specifically avoided wild, unprovable claims. Gunpowder burns, that's something that can be proven. Hair growth from drinking urine and ink? No so much.

    "Entrepreneurial opportunities were common for the alchemists of Renaissance Europe. Alchemists were contracted by the elite for practical purposes related to mining, medical services, and the production of chemicals, medicines, metals, and gemstones"
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