Promethean Ambitions

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Dezember 2005



In an age when the nature of reality is complicated daily by advances in bioengineering, cloning, and artificial intelligence, it is easy to forget that the ever-evolving boundary between nature and technology has long been a source of ethical and scientific concern: modern anxieties about the possibility of artificial life and the dangers of tinkering with nature more generally were shared by opponents of alchemy long before genetic science delivered us a cloned sheep named Dolly.In "Promethean Ambitions," William R. Newman ambitiously uses alchemy to investigate the thinning boundary between the natural and the artificial. Focusing primarily on the period between 1200 and 1700, Newman examines the labors of pioneering alchemists and the impassioned--and often negative--responses to their efforts. By the thirteenth century, Newman argues, alchemy had become a benchmark for determining the abilities of both men and demons, representing the epitome of creative power in the natural world. Newman frames the art-nature debate by contrasting the supposed transmutational power of alchemy with the merely representational abilities of the pictorial and plastic arts--a dispute which found artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Bernard Palissy attacking alchemy as an irreligious fraud. The later assertion by the Paracelsian school that one could make an artificial human being--the homunculus--led to further disparagement of alchemy, but as Newman shows, the immense power over nature promised by the field contributed directly to the technological apologetics of Francis Bacon and his followers. By the mid-seventeenth century, the famous "father of modern chemistry," Robert Boyle, was employing thearguments of medieval alchemists to support the identity of naturally occurring substances with those manufactured by "chymical" means.In using history to highlight the art-nature debate, Newman here shows that alchemy was not an unformed and capricious precursor to chemistr


William R. Newman is the Ruth N. Halls Professor in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University. He is the author of Gehennical Fire and, with Lawrence M. Principe, Alchemy Tried in the Fire, both published by the University of Chicago Press.


"With close attention to historical and textual detail that is never less than engaging, Newman unpacks the historical accidents and political machinations that led to alchemy's marginalization, bringing sympathy, wit, and imagination to his account." - Simon Ings, New Scientist "Newman chooses the fascinating topic of alchemy as his case study in the long history of human efforts to breach the barriers between nature and human artifice....A thought-provoking book." - Iwan Rhys Morus, Science "Newman argues [that] the methods and ideas of modern science, including concepts of experimentation, far from breaking with alchemical researches, evolved out of them....Newman, a clear and graceful writer, keeps his goal in view. He is an initiate - tapping, testing, and transmuting - until something different, still called alchemy, gradually takes shape." - Edward Rothstein, New York Times"
EAN: 9780226575247
ISBN: 0226575241
Untertitel: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature. New ed. 8 colour plates, 20 halftones. Sprache: Englisch.
Verlag: The University of Chicago Press
Erscheinungsdatum: Dezember 2005
Seitenanzahl: 352 Seiten
Format: kartoniert
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