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Thread: Anyone read Dobb's works on Newton?

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    Anyone read Dobb's works on Newton?

    I am currently reading her Foundations of Newton's Alchemy (which is a fascinating book btw), and I have some questions concerning conclusions she has drawn about the alchemist's understanding of the alchemical process in the 17th century. Now, granted she was a history scholar and as such approaches the topic from that angle, but it seems clear that she spent a good deal of time reading alchemical works, or at least other scholar's interpretations of these works. In this book it looks as though she is drawing most of her personal understanding of alchemy from Jung's version of the Art. I am familiar with Jung and have read through some of his works, but I have not studied him in depth, so this may be why I am having a hard time nailing down the sources of some of her conclusions.

    Specifically I am curious about the following excerpts starting on page 28, speaking of the matter upon which the alchemist projects:

    ... the use of the matter as the external medium for projection, as well as the acts actually performed in the laboratory, were absolutely essential for the functioning of alchemy. It was only that the knowledge of the matter had to be kept vague. Thus the alchemist necessarily used obscure, symbolic, and irrational terminology for his materials... Equally important was the lack of self-awareness. Too much insight into his own psyche would impair impair the alchemist's psychological processes onto matter. Thus the older alchemy comprised a delicate balance of ignorance, and an overemphasis on either it's material or its psychological side would seriously impair its vitality."

    If anyone is familiar with Jung, are these his observations? Or has anyone run across this type of interpretation in works pre-1975?

    ~Jen

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rheomode View Post
    If anyone is familiar with Jung, are these his observations? Or has anyone run across this type of interpretation in works pre-1975?

    ~Jen
    Interesting coincidence! I just cracked this book open three days ago and started reading it. I have most of Jung's books on Alchemy and will see if he made those types of observations.

    In the meantime, here is a relevant quote from Wikipedia, which supports what B.J.T. Dobbs is saying:

    "The fundamental thesis Jung is advancing about the relationship between Alchemy and Psychology is that for pre-scientific humans there is not a sharp distinction between subject and object and thus this leads them to unconsciously project their own inner states onto external objects (especially objects that are mostly unknown to them), so a reflective analysis of alchemical symbols becomes revelatory about the unconscious psychic life of this time period. Prior to this rational segregation of experience the world was a totally different one, phenomenologically, as people did not distinguish between the qualities of the object they were perceiving and their own values, emotions, and beliefs. It is partly for this reason that the alchemists cannot say aloud exactly what the philosopher's stone really 'is' and why there are so many different symbols for the work."

    From:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology_and_Alchemy

    Illen
    Last edited by Illen A. Cluf; 03-04-2013 at 05:30 PM.

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    Fantastic coincidence I would be happy to have any kind of discussion about this book that interests you, I am 1/3 of the way through it, and am finding it really enjoyable, it's an amazing window into that time period, as well as a dangerously comprehensive bibliography of this era (dangerous to the bank account that is...).

    And thanks much for the quote, this does seem to support her view directly. If you find more about this from Jung in the future, feel free to share, I'll be here for a while. I am curious about the "lack of self-awareness" or "too much insight into his own psyche" ideas. I suppose a better understanding of Jung's exploration would shed light on this :-)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rheomode View Post
    Fantastic coincidence I would be happy to have any kind of discussion about this book that interests you, I am 1/3 of the way through it, and am finding it really enjoyable, it's an amazing window into that time period, as well as a dangerously comprehensive bibliography of this era (dangerous to the bank account that is...).

    And thanks much for the quote, this does seem to support her view directly. If you find more about this from Jung in the future, feel free to share, I'll be here for a while. I am curious about the "lack of self-awareness" or "too much insight into his own psyche" ideas. I suppose a better understanding of Jung's exploration would shed light on this :-)
    I'd be more than happy to discuss the book with you. I have barely started it, and currently, I'm only about 20 pages into it. I have long been fascinated with Newton's work, and his incredible contributions to human advancement.

    I quickly browsed Volume 12 of Jung's Collected Works, "Psychology and Alchemy", and indeed there are many statements which support Dobb's assertion. Here, for example is a quote from pages 227-228:

    "This was a time when the mind of the alchemist was still grappling with the problems of matter, when the exploring consciousness was confronted by the dark void of the unknown, in which figures and laws were dimly perceived and attributed to matter although they really belonged to the psyche. Everything unknown and empty is filled with psychological projection; it is as if the investigator's own psychic background were mirrored in the darkness. What he sees in matter, or thinks he can see, is chiefly the data of his own unconscious which he is projecting into it. In other words, he encounters in matter, as apparently belonging to it, certain qualities and potential meanings of whose psychic nature he is entirely unconscious. This is particularly true of classical alchemy, when empirical science and mystical philosophy were more or less undifferentiated."

    On pages 244-245 he says:

    "The real nature of matter was unknown to the alchemist: he knew it only in hints. In seeking to explore it he projected the unconscious into the darkness of matter in order to illuminate it. In order to explain the mystery of matter he projected yet another mystery - his own unknown psychic background - into what was to be explained: Obscurum per obscurius, ignotum per ignotius!. This procedure was not, of course, intentional; it was an involuntary occurrence."

    "Strictly speaking, projection is never made; it happens, it is simply there. In the darkness of anything external to me I find, without recognizing it as such, an interior or psychic life that is my own. It would therefore be a mistake in my opinion to explain the formula "tam ethice quam physice" by the theory of correspondences, and to say that this is its "cause". On the contrary, this theory is more likely to be a rationalization of the experience of projection. The alchemist did not practice his art because he believed on theoretical grounds in correspondence; the point is that he had a theory of correspondence because he experienced the presence of pre-existing ideas in physical matter. I am therefore inclined to assume that the real root of alchemy is to be sought less in philosophical doctrines than in the projections of individual investigators. I mean by this that while working on his chemical experiments the operator had certain psychic experiences which appeared to him as the particular behaviour of the chemical process. Since it was a question of projection, he was naturally unconscious of the fact that the experience had nothing to do with matter itself (that is, with matter as we know it today). He experienced his projection as a property of matter; but what he was in reality experiencing was his own unconscious. In this way he recapitulated the whole history of man's knowledge of nature."

    Illen

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    hmm. i thought Dobbs books were more on the lab side... haven't read them, but they're often referenced for Newton's notes on labwork.
    fascinating though... projection. it's difficult to believe most alchemical authors were that unsophisticated. or is Jung suggesting they are guardians/preservers of that mindset? granted, people project all the time without realising it... something i've put conscious attention towards. i don't see how that relates to Newton's alchemy.
    http://serpentrioarquila.blogspot.com/

    "To conjure is nothing else than to observe anything rightly, to know and understand what it is." - Paracelsus

    "Why, then, don't you act when you see the danger of your conditioning? The answer is you don't see... seeing is acting." J. Krishnamurti

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    Quote Originally Posted by solomon levi View Post
    hmm. i thought Dobbs books were more on the lab side... haven't read them, but they're often referenced for Newton's notes on labwork.
    fascinating though... projection. it's difficult to believe most alchemical authors were that unsophisticated. or is Jung suggesting they are guardians/preservers of that mindset? granted, people project all the time without realising it... something i've put conscious attention towards. i don't see how that relates to Newton's alchemy.
    The Jungian material is in the beginning part of her book, which is the "Conceptual Background". She makes the point that "projection" occurred before the more modern era, before the alchemists were able to analyze themselves (their "psyches") and the true nature of matter, with the tools of modern science.

    I don't necessarily agree with her at this point, but I'm keeping an open mind as I read her perspective.

    I have yet to see how all this relates to Newton. I have the feeling that she will make the case that Newton stood at the doorway of the ways of the past, and the ways of modern times.

    Illen

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    No need to rely on Dobbs for Newton's lab notes, you can read them for yourself! He was fabulously meticulous:

    There are quite a few of his notebooks digitized now so anyone can access them.

    I confess a special love for Newton I am happy to be in good company. These excerpts that you've posted are great, its really useful to have this perspective in mind now as I progress though the book. This in particular interests me with regard to Newton:

    This was a time when the mind of the alchemist was still grappling with the problems of matter, when the exploring consciousness was confronted by the dark void of the unknown, in which figures and laws were dimly perceived and attributed to matter although they really belonged to the psyche.
    I like to think (and it is a good possibility) that Newton's interest and exploration into the greater world started early for him, and if this was the case, there may be more to his scientific works than the face value. It occurred to me a few weeks ago that you can take his laws of motion of the physical world and kind of apply them to metaphysics as well (its likely this has been discussed somewhere already, but I haven't yet read all of his bios)... the third law of action and reaction being equal and opposite is kind of neat within this framework. I'm curious about the possibility that his laws might communicate layers of meaning, and when we approach this from our perspectives of esotericism, it's not so much of a stretch. It makes me wonder if maybe he not only stood at the doorway between times, but perhaps started building a bridge between worlds. The man was really damn smart in some unfathomable ways

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    Thanks Illen. I look forward to both of your summations.
    http://serpentrioarquila.blogspot.com/

    "To conjure is nothing else than to observe anything rightly, to know and understand what it is." - Paracelsus

    "Why, then, don't you act when you see the danger of your conditioning? The answer is you don't see... seeing is acting." J. Krishnamurti

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    cgj can not be understand without freud
    read freud about dreams and jokes, at least ; its quite funny & revealing; & of course his psychopathology!!
    read cgj tavistock

    imho newton did only 1 but genial thing = first writting down of physical law into equation; cars & pc rose from it

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    Quote Originally Posted by horticult View Post
    cgj can not be understand without freud
    read freud about dreams and jokes, at least ; its quite funny & revealing; & of course his psychopathology!!
    read cgj tavistock

    imho newton did only 1 but genial thing = first writting down of physical law into equation; cars & pc rose from it
    If you're interested in the relationship between Freud, Jung and Alchemy then you might be interested in this:
    http://www.alchemylife.org/Pages/blt...ltav1_wpf.html
    Click to Psychological Elements
    Freud was an ass responsible for the suicide of Dr. Herbert Silberer, who was one of his students along with Jung. Silberer was the first to make the connection between alchemy and psyche.

    "Dr. Jung gathered the largest private collection of alchemical texts in the world. As he pursued his investigations Jung was astonished to discover those functions and themes he mapped in his medical practice were mirrored in alchemical texts hundreds of years old. Jung’s creative and inspirational approach developed from his professional medical practice coupled to his intense study of ancient alchemical texts generated voluminous commentaries. His published commentaries popularized the nascent modern pursuit of spiritual alchemy.

    Though he may have dismissed alchemy as “rather silly” on first exposure to it through Silberer’s landmark work, Jung was nonetheless greatly influenced by Silberer’s revelation that alchemy was really the pursuit of spiritual evolution and fulfillment. Silberer gave credit to A.E. Hitchcock for first suggesting this in, Remarks upon Alchemy and the Alchemists, published in 1857. Hitchock, was a Major General in the U.S. Army, a philosopher soldier. He amassed a large collection of original alchemical manuscripts. Perhaps because he was a professional soldier and not an academic nor scientist Remarks upon Alchemy and the Alchemists was overlooked by the scientific and academic communities at the time, but it had a following among occultists.

    Silberer was a Viennese psychiatrist psychoanalyst involved with the circle of pioneers in the field of psychology surrounding Sigmund Freud, including Carl Jung and Alfred Adler. So through the publication of Problems of Mysticism and Its Symbols, alchemy though long dismissed as foolish, again came to the attention of professionals and academics. Sadly when Silberer presented a copy to Freud he was severely criticized. He became despondent and hung himself. Had he not received such a harsh response from his mentor Freud no doubt he would have pursued the subject in greater detail many years before Jung became engrossed with it. Jung learned from the tragic fate of Silberer and braced himself for rejection from Freud when Jung published his own theories on psychoanalysis and psychology. Freud, upon reading Jung’s published theories severely criticized him also."

    lwowl
    Magic is the function of the Mysterious
    Mysterious is the Way of the Unknown
    Unknown is the Seed of Infinity
    Infinity is the Embryo of unfolding Chaos
    Chaos to function is Magic

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