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William R. Newman

William R. Newman is Ruth Halls Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is the coeditor of Secrets of Nature (MIT Press, 1999) and author or editor of several other books

Titles by This Editor

An Evolving Polarity

Genetically modified food, art in the form of a phosphorescent rabbit implanted with jellyfish DNA, and robots that simulate human emotion would seem to be evidence for the blurring boundary between the natural and the artificial. Yet because the deeply rooted concept of nature functions as a cultural value, a social norm, and a moral authority, we cannot simply dismiss the distinction between art and nature as a nostalgic relic. Disentangling the cultural roots of many current debates about new technologies, the essays in this volume examine notions of nature and art as they have been defined and redefined in Western culture, from the Hippocratic writers’ ideas of physis and techne [note: bar over e] and Aristotle’s designation of mimetic arts to nineteenth-century chemistry and twenty-first century biomimetics. These essays--by specialists of different periods and various disciplines--reveal that the division between nature and art has been continually challenged and reassessed in Western thought. In antiquity, for example, mechanical devices were seen as working “against nature”; centuries later, Descartes not only claimed the opposite but argued that nature itself was mechanical. Nature and art, the essays show, are mutually constructed, defining and redefining themselves, partners in a continuous dance over the centuries.ContributorsBernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Horst Bredekamp, John Hedley Brooke, Dennis Des Chene, Alan Gabbey, Anthony Grafton, Roald Hoffmann, Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, William R. Newman, Jessica Riskin, Heinrich Von Staden, Francis Wolff, Mark J. Schiefsky Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent is Professor of History at the University of Paris X. She is the author of A History of Chemistry and other books. William R. Newman is Ruth Halls Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is the coeditor of Secrets of Nature (MIT Press, 1999) and author or editor of several other books.

Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe

In recent years scholars have begun to acknowledge that the occult sciences were not marginal enterprises but an integral part of the worldview of many of our ancestors. Astrology was one of the many intellectual tools—along with what we consider to be the superior tools of social and political analysis—that Renaissance thinkers used to attack practical and intellectual problems. It was a coherent body of practices, strongly supported by social institutions. And alchemy was not viewed primarily as a spiritual pursuit, an idea popularized by nineteenth-century occultists, but as a part of natural philosophy. It was often compared to medicine.

Many Renaissance writers suggested links between astrology and alchemy that went beyond the use of astrological charts to determine the best time to attempt alchemical operations. Secrets of Nature shows the many ways in which astrology (a form of divination) and alchemy (an artisanal pursuit concerned with the technologies of minerals and metals) diverge as well as intersect. Overall, it shows how an appreciation of the role of the occult opens up new ways of understanding the past. Topics include the career of Renaissance astrologer Girolamo Cardano and his work on medical astrology, the astrological thinking of Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, the history of the Rosicrucians and the influence of John Dee, the work of medical alchemist Simon Forman, and an extended critique of the existing historiography of alchemy.