Sir Isaac Newton, the acclaimed physicist, mathematician, and astronomer, may be one of the most renowned scientists of all time, but his extensive research took him to strange places far removed from what is now considered science.
In the midst of his outstanding legacy of scholarly production, numerous unpublished fragments and notes – many discovered after his death in 1727 – bear witness to his long and supposedly obsessive interest in matters of the occult, alchemy, and the biblical theory of the Apocalypse.
These mystical leanings, considered heretical thinking at the time, are evidenced in some handwritten notes that Sotheby’s is currently auctioning. In this case, the texts are literally fragments, burned fire with a candle accidentally overturned by Newton’s dog, Diamond.
It’s not clear if that supposed chain of events is completely true, but what it is is that fire-licked leaves are part of Newton’s lesser-known canon, full of obscure theories that would now be characterized by scientists as pseudoscience.
On the pages, which at the time of this writing have a top bid of £ 280,000 (roughly US $ 375,000), regarding the Ancient Egyptian Great Pyramid of Giza, which Newton believed was designed using an Egyptian unit of measurement called the royal elbow.
The English scientist thought that by quantifying the actual cubit, he might be able to refine his own theories about gravitation and, in doing so, provide an unprecedented accurate measure of the Earth’s circumference – while also revealing other obscure and geometric ideas. he wanted to ultimately predict when the world would end , as predicted in the Bible.
“He was trying to find evidence for his theory of gravitation, but the ancient Egyptians were also thought to have the secrets of alchemy that have since been lost,” Gabriel Heaton, a manuscript specialist at Sotheby’s, told The Observer. “Today these seem like disparate areas of study, but they did not seem that way to Newton in the 17th century.”
It should be noted that he was not the first to have such ideas, and he was not the last. While such pyramidology has now strayed from the boundaries of the scientific paradigm – depending on where you look at it on the Internet, at least – it once consumed the attention of one of the most brilliant minds on the planet.
“These notes are part of Newton’s astonishingly complex web of interrelated studies — natural philosophy, alchemy, theology — some parts that he believed were appropriate for publication,” the auction listing details.
“It is not surprising that he did not publish on alchemy, since secrecy was a general principle of alchemical research, and Newton’s theological beliefs, if made public, would have cost him (at least) his career.”