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Alchemy, Science and Transmutation

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,talk.religion.misc,talk.religion.newage,alt.occult,alt.consciousness.mysticism,sci.philosophy.meta,alt.paranet.skeptic,sci.skeptic
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: Alchemy, Science and Transmutation
Date: 12 Jan 1998 12:51:18 -0800

[Orig-To: alchemy-email@DIAL.PIPEX.COM]
[correspondent text paraphrased per elist standards]

49980112 aa2

re the possible transmutation success in alchemical history:
how can we possibly distinguish between those who succeeded in 
the carrying out of fraud (regardless of motivation) and those 
who succeeded in the supposed transmutation of common to precious 
materials?  it seems to me that all we can do is look at the
byproducts of their claims and try to observe carefully the
results (first-hand, with scrutiny) of modern alchemistry.

re the suggestion that the believer benefitted from this belief:
typically those who merely believed that the Work had been
accomplished did not benefit, as I understand it, from this
achievement.  only those who actually undertook to create the
desired change, obtain the special elixir or stone, or to
produce the fabulous object had the benefits (that is, unless
they were to give a portion to a friend or allow them to
otherwise imbibe in the fabulous results).

re the claim that deception alone is not beneficial to the observer:
of course not, but if it leads the believer into becoming an
alchemist, a mystic, then this will, depending on their diligence
and genius, make possible their own spiritual maturation.  it is
at this point at which we can scoff, with Jeffrey, at attempts to 
'prove the validity of the alchemical transmutation within strict
scientific standards of reproduceability'.  for the mystical, the
fact of transmutation really becomes a non-issue, since the
emphasis on the result is seen as mistaken as compared to the
the process which achieves it.

it is interesting how many alchemists were imprisoned and 
executed as frauds.  of course there were those who were 
exonerated as the genuine, but it seems valuable to me to 
consider what methods were used to ascertain this exoneration
(inclusive of the political and/or deceptive).

re the fact that a history with fraudulence proves nothing:
it is relevant that scientific experiment proves nothing other
than, when devoid of fraud, the fact of a phenomenon.  the 
problem that honest and careful scientists have with psychic 
phenomenon and occult mysteries which produce fabulous 
substances, changes or objects is that they do not appear to 
be reproducable in a physical sense outside the skillset of 
a stage magician and attempted demonstrations under controlled
conditions are repeatedly detected by said individuals to be 

if an individual makes a claim of having achieved the alchemical
Work (or any apparent bifurcation in what we can presume otherwise
to be regular, natural principles of physical, chemical, molecular
and subatomic behavior), then should she not be subjected to strong 
scrutiny (not condemnation or criticism, but sincere observation)?  
will we continue to live in the Dark Ages of science when all 
manner of claim went unexamined by those who would be most likely 
to reveal deception?  

perhaps it would be beneficial to quote from a scientific skeptic:

	The big difference [between a conjuror's mystification
	and that inspired by the universe] is that the universe
	plays fair.  Its tricks may operate by principles of
	incredible subtlety, and we may never discover all of
	them, but it keeps performing its illusions over and
	over again, always by the same methods.  Or so it seems.
	If a scientist tries to discover one of the methods,
	the universe, so far as anyone can tell, doesn't go out
	of its way to flimflam him.  "God may be subtle but He
	is not malicious," Einstein is often quoted as having
	said.  Or, as he put it in a letter, "Nature hides her
	secrets through her intrinsic grandeur but not through

	The magician [and, I claim, the mystics and conmen who
	are asserting their accomplishment of unverifiable
	results -- tn], by contrast, is a consummate liar.  His
	principles, borrowed in part from physics and psychology
	(but mostly they are *sui generis*), are soaked through
	and through with deliberate falsification of the most
	reprehensible sort.  It is not so much what a magician
	says as what he implies.  He will show the queen of
	hearts, turn it face down on top of the deck, and
	apparently deal it to the table.  He may even say,
	"And we'll place the queen over here," knowing full
	well that the card he is putting there is no longer
	the queen.  But most of the time it is what the
	magician does, not what he says, that is deceptive.
	He may tap an object to prove it solid when only
	the spot he taps is solid.  He may casually show the
	palm of his hand to prove he has nothing concealed
	when something is on the back of his hand.

	Any magician will tell you that the scientists are
	the easiest persons in the world to fool.  It is not
	hard to understand why.  In their laboratories the
	equipment is just what it seems.  There are no hidden
	mirrors or secret compartments or concealed magnets.
	If an assistant puts chemical A in a beaker he doesn't
	(usually) surreptitiously switch it for chemical B.
	The thinking of a scientist is rational, based on
	a lifetime of experience with a rational world.  But
	the methods of magic are irrational and totally out-
	side a scientist's experience.

	The general public has never understood this.  Most
	people assume that if a man has a brilliant mind he
	is qualified to detect fraud.  This is untrue.
	Unless he has been thoroughly trained in the under-
	ground art of magic, and knows its peculiar princi-
	ples, he is easier to deceive than a child.

	Some physicists also have not understood this.  In
	the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
	a number of prominent scientists (Oliver Lodge,
	William Crookes, John Rayleigh, Charles Richet, 
	Alfred R. Wallace, and others) were firmly persuaded
	that mediums, aided by discarnate "controls," could
	levitate tables, materialize objects, and call up
	audible and even photographable spirits from the 
	vasty deep.  An Austrian astrophysicist, Johann 
	Zollner, wrote a book called _Transcendental Physics_
	about an American medium, Henry Slade, who specialized
	in producing insipid chalked messages from the dead
	on slates, and knots in closed loops of cord.  

	[Author's Note: Zollner's book... was first published
	 in Germany in 1879.  An English translation by C.C.
	 Massey (1880) had many British and American editions.
	 Zollner's investigations of Slade were assisted and
	 endorsed by physicists William Weber and Gustave
	 Fechner, and mathematician W. Scheibner.  Alfred
	 Wallace and Lord Raleigh were firmly convinced of
	 Slade's powers.  For a defense of Slade, see Conan
	 Doyle, _History of Spiritualism_ (1926).  For Slade's
	 methods, consult the 1887 report of the Seybert
	 Commission, which caught Slade in outright fraud;
	 J.W. Truesdell, _Bottom Facts of Spiritualism_ (1883);
	 Walter Prince, "A Survey of American Slate-Writing
	 Mediumship," (1921); Harry Houdini, _A Magician Among
	 the Spirits_ (1924); and John Mulholland, _Beware
	 Familiar Spirits_ (1938).]

	Zollner believed that Slade could move the cord in and 
	out of four-space.  It was as impossible for anyone to 
	convince Zollner that so charming a man as Slade could 
	be a magician as it was impressible for Houdini to 
	persuade Conan Doyle that he (Houdini) did not perform 
	his escapes by dematerializing his body.
	_Science, Good, Bad and Bogus_, by Martin Gardner,
	  Prometheus Books, 1989; pp. 91-2.

Gardner's example is relevant in that if even *modern* (at least
turn of the century) scientists can be bamboozled by frauds, then
why should we consider the claims of medieval and later mystics
or their witnesses in alchemical endeavors to be accurate when
they cannot be reproduced?

I'm not saying that we ought therefore to consider all of alchemy
to be fraudulent.  quite the contrary.  I'm suggesting that the
best place for alchemical claims of fabulous results is, either,
among mystics who want to believe and typically downplay the
material events as of less relevance than the spiritual or
personal, or under the careful scrutiny of magicians and skeptics
with extensive backgrounds in both science *and* mysticism.

until then, all the wonderful claims might as well be considered
'of unknown validity' or, if one wishes to rely on the hundreds
of years of physical science that apparently disputes the claims
made, 'of disputed and unreliable testimony, probably fraudulent'.

the REST of the alchemical enterprise, from all the various
nonfabulous chemical and spiritual transformations and alterations
to the symbolism of mystical and artistic beauty, is certainly to
be lauded for its excellence and the subjective science which it
has become and obviously attains in comparison to the mystical
disciplines the world over.

re not thinking alchemy deserves attention if it was all fraud:
I hope no one is claiming that alchemy is all a fraudulence.
it inspired the physical science of chemistry (its child)
and several 'alchemical' sciences of internal development
which had little or nothing to do with the physical laboratory.
its graphic and textual legacy is of supreme mystical and
psychological value, providing a glimpse into the lives of those
who lived during a time of religious restriction and oppression.

re the validity of intellectual ideals based on fraudulence:
my understanding is that we are not really talking about 
'intellectual ideals' here so much as SPIRITUAL ideals.  as I 
understand these terms there is a very important difference 
between them.  it is the failure of modern Western science
that it so often dismisses the mystical disciplines of the
world as nonscientific enterprises (in the medium of the
spirit, or personal consciousness).

re the 'monstrous' assertion that every alchemist who claimed 
 transmutation to have occured was telling lies or deceived:
it does appear to be justified given the evidence, however,
and if I wish to be honest with myself in the matter I
must, unless I have duplicated the results myself,
posit the evaluations I have provided above.

if one alchemist was successful then I would say that I know 
not how it was accomplished until she makes this plain to me.  
if I cannot, for some reason, duplicate the event, then I must 
consider it a peculiar anomoly with possible hints toward the 
limits of my knowledge.  only the alchemist can know for sure 
if she has achieved the Work in the physical sense (and, I
would argue, also in the spiritual sense).

re the need to render everything previous alchemists have
 done as symbolic or purely subjective:
this is certainly not my claim.  I think that the difficulty in
assessing the results of alchemy is that a great deal of the
Art is strictly explainable and reproduceable by modern
chemistry standards.  this does not mean that *all* of the Art
is so reproduceable or authentic, however, especially when it
begins to include fantastic results.

re writing off all mystics and occultists as ignorant fools in
 the name of Holy Mother Science:
it seems important, then, that I make myself more clear in response
to this reaction.  I am an occultist, of a scientific bent, with
NO experience in the alchemical laboratory.  I am best classed as
a student of magick, whose studies have ranged across several
disciplines in an attempt to understand the mystical and magical
world through any means possible while maintaining a level of
observation I deemed prerequisite to the discovery of new and
important scientific principles and laws (of, as I came to
understand, a set of spiritual, mystical maturation disciplines).

as I hope I have made plain above I do not in any way write off 
all the classic mystics and occultists as ignorant fools.  on the
contrary, I consider many if not most of them to have been geniuses
of one sort or another, sometimes playing on the ignorance of
others for their own benefits.  from what little I am able to 
discern about them at a distance, most stories about mystics and
mages appear to me obvious presentations of myth.  as one proceeds
nearer and nearer to our own time period it is obvious that not
only the results ascertainable as having actually taken place but
the claims themselves have become less and less fantastic and 
more and more of an internal quality.

a great many occultists had strong religious backgrounds, and
some of these (e.g. Crowley) also attempted to put a scientific
scrutiny into his method, despite deceptions which are well-known
within his essays and diaries.  almost without exception there
is a potent mystical component to the grimoires and magical
handbooks of European history, and even today the greater bulk
of the magical community focusses most heavily on mystical ends
rather than on, what many even within this community itself
will claim are NOT, physically reproduceable manifestations.

re the response of 'if you cannot prove it to us then we will
 not believe you':
does this not make quite a bit of sense in a world where physical
demonstrations of unique and potent quality are rendered a great
deal of compensation and authority?  isn't this the moral of the
story of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf': that after numerous claims of
alarming or unusual conditions, we should thence set up more
difficult standards of proof for their class?  it saves us all
a great deal of wasted effort and provides social hurdles for
those who might seek advantage through deception.

re the protection of the secret mysteries/knowledge and proof:
I would agree ...that those who have the secret and sacred 
knowledge may have no desire or need to expose it or put it to 
the test of consensual review (and the admitted and unfortunate 
ridicule it might receive by the unenlightened in the modern 
Western world while undergoing it).

I would hope that those of the alchemical laboratories would
equally find impotant the process of review for quality -- a
system or standard by which just anyone who claims to have
obtained the Elixir of Life, transmuted lead into gold, or
ingested the Pill of Immortality can be evaluated for their
reliability.  that there ARE frauds makes possible and indeed
likely the emergence of individuals who will wish to take
advantage of those who seek to understand or practice the
Art, and its seems wise to promote skepticism not only on 
the part of the seekers but as a prerequisite to laboratory
practice should this be the arena of one's Great Work.

demonstration does not constitute proof.  as Popper and others
have effectively argued, the scientific enterprise cannot render 
proof, only disproof and tentative support an hypothesis.

having some familiarity with occult training, I would agree
strongly that it sometimes contains its own proof, while also 
observing that I have never in all of my years of exposure to 
the occult world (in person and via correspondence channels) 
had occasion to witness what I would describe as a 'paranormal 
event' unexplainable otherwise by physical theories accepted 
by modern Western science.

having said this, I have experienced what Jung has described
as 'synchronicity' and I have engaged what many of a more
scientific mindframe would describe as outside their realm of
observation (conversations with spirits, gods; divination of
a high degree of insight and reflection; and strong influence
of a transformative nature upon individuals who encountered
the disciplines and energies in magical and religious rites).

it has always been my contention, through the investigations
and experiments I enacted, that while 'proof' is unobtainable,
something real and important lay behind anything that sustained
itself through a great deal of time.  for this reason I was
unpersuaded by those who claimed that 'no amount of demonstra-
tion will convince me of X' and instead sought to provide,
myself, explanations for the phenomena which I DID witness
(second-hand stories I considered suspect).  

from this method I have been able to draw a number of 
tentative conclusions about the nature of mysticism, occultism 
and, indeed, alchemy, that I think are capable of being 
absorbed by the skeptical and alert student of the mysteries 
and applied to hir own ends (these I make available via
electronic connection to the public at large).

re the motive for proving transmutation to the modern scientific world:
because of the power afforded those who are ostensibly able to 
demonstrate new principles and modes of existence heretofore 
known only by mystics and the specialists of the Art.  

for this reason doctors (after Paracelsus) are granted high 
status.  for this reason engineers and physicists specializing 
in the reproduction of human capacity in physical and mental
realms (after the Golem) are provided a great deal of monetary 
support and media prestige.  for this reason (generally
fraudulent) 'scientists' who provide a new fad for lengthening
life (after the Pill or Elixir of Immortality) are provided 
compensation in measure equal to their ability to effectively 

for this same reason (Pill/Elixir) thousands of religious 
through hundreds and thousands of years have provided their
spiritual explanation for how to arrive at everlasting life
(usually Western) or escape from rebirth (usually Eastern)
with an attendant New Improved Method.

the real question, given all the attention and the possibility
of fame and fortune awaiting any who might successfully pass
through the rigorous and/or dubious scrutiny such a claim and
demonstration might receive is why there haven't been more to 
make it (regardless of their validity) and why none of those 
who HAVE made it have provided such an excellent demonstration 
as to silence the growing number of critics and skeptics.

blessed beast!
nagasiva --;
(emailed replies may be posted);; 408/2-666-SLUG
  join the esoteric syncretism in alt.magick.tyagi; 

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