Transmutation Quotes (23 quotes)
A short, broad man of tremendous vitality, the physical type of Hereward, the last of the English, and his brother-in-arms, Winter, Sylvester’s capacious head was ever lost in the highest cloud-lands of pure mathematics. Often in the dead of night he would get his favorite pupil, that he might communicate the very last product of his creative thought. Everything he saw suggested to him something new in the higher algebra. This transmutation of everything into new mathematics was a revelation to those who knew him intimately. They began to do it themselves. His ease and fertility of invention proved a constant encouragement, while his contempt for provincial stupidities, such as the American hieroglyphics for π and e, which have even found their way into Webster’s Dictionary, made each young worker apply to himself the strictest tests.
For many centuries chemists labored to change lead into precious gold, and eventually found that precious uranium turned to lead without any human effort at all.
Historically [chemistry] arose from a constellation of interests: the empirically based technologies of early metallurgists, brewers, dyers, tanners, calciners and pharmacists; the speculative Greek philosphers' concern whether brute matter was invariant or transformable; the alchemists' real or symbolic attempts to achieve the transmutation of base metals into gold; and the iatrochemists' interst in the chemistry and pathology of animal and human functions. Partly because of the sheer complexity of chemical phenomena, the absence of criteria and standards of purity, and uncertainty over the definition of elements ... but above all because of the lack of a concept of the gaseous state of matter, chemistry remained a rambling, puzzling and chaotic area of natural philosophy until the middle of the eighteenth century.
Hitherto, no rival hypothesis has been proposed as a substitute for the doctrine of transmutation; for 'independent creation,' as it is often termed, or the direct intervention of the Supreme Cause, must simply be considered as an avowal that we deem the question to lie beyond the domain of science.
I suppose that the first chemists seemed to be very hard-hearted and unpoetical persons when they scouted the glorious dream of the alchemists that there must be some process for turning base metals into gold. I suppose that the men who first said, in plain, cold assertion, there is no fountain of eternal youth, seemed to be the most cruel and cold-hearted adversaries of human happiness. I know that the economists who say that if we could transmute lead into gold, it would certainly do us no good and might do great harm, are still regarded as unworthy of belief. Do not the money articles of the newspapers yet ring with the doctrine that we are getting rich when we give cotton and wheat for gold rather than when we give cotton and wheat for iron?
If it be true, that some Chymists have now and then converted Lead into Gold, it was by just such a hazard, as if a man should let fall a handful of sand upon a table and the particles of it should be so ranged that we could read distinctly on it a whole page of Virgil’s Ænead.
If the Tincture of the Philosophers is to be used for transmutation, a pound of it must be projected on a thousand pounds of melted Sol [gold]. Then, at length, will a medicine have been prepared for transmuting the leprous moisture of the metals. This work is a wonderful one in the light of nature, namely, that by the Magistery, or the operation of the Spagyrist, a metal, which formerly existed, should perish, and another be produced. This fact has rendered that same Aristotle, with his ill-founded philosophy, fatuous.
In July  opened first note-book on Transmutation of Species. Had been greatly struck from about the month of previous March on character of South American fossils, and species on Galapagos Archipelago. These facts (especially latter), origin of all my views.
M. Waldman … concluded with a panegyric upon modern chemistry…:— “The ancient teachers of this science” said he, “Promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.”
Mathematics … belongs to every inquiry, moral as well as physical. Even the rules of logic, by which it is rigidly bound, could not be deduced without its aid. The laws of argument admit of simple statement, but they must be curiously transposed before they can be applied to the living speech and verified by observation. In its pure and simple form the syllogism cannot be directly compared with all experience, or it would not have required an Aristotle to discover it. It must be transmuted into all the possible shapes in which reasoning loves to clothe itself. The transmutation is the mathematical process in the establishment of the law.
Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter. ... Transmutation of the elements, unlimited power, ability to investigate the working of living cells by tracer atoms, the secret of photosynthesis about to be uncovered, these and a host of other results, all in about fifteen short years. It is not too much to expect that our children will know of great periodic famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under the and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a life span far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age.
The belief that mathematics, because it is abstract, because it is static and cold and gray, is detached from life, is a mistaken belief. Mathematics, even in its purest and most abstract estate, is not detached from life. It is just the ideal handling of the problems of life, as sculpture may idealize a human figure or as poetry or painting may idealize a figure or a scene. Mathematics is precisely the ideal handling of the problems of life, and the central ideas of the science, the great concepts about which its stately doctrines have been built up, are precisely the chief ideas with which life must always deal and which, as it tumbles and rolls about them through time and space, give it its interests and problems, and its order and rationality. That such is the case a few indications will suffice to show. The mathematical concepts of constant and variable are represented familiarly in life by the notions of fixedness and change. The concept of equation or that of an equational system, imposing restriction upon variability, is matched in life by the concept of natural and spiritual law, giving order to what were else chaotic change and providing partial freedom in lieu of none at all. What is known in mathematics under the name of limit is everywhere present in life in the guise of some ideal, some excellence high-dwelling among the rocks, an “ever flying perfect” as Emerson calls it, unto which we may approximate nearer and nearer, but which we can never quite attain, save in aspiration. The supreme concept of functionality finds its correlate in life in the all-pervasive sense of interdependence and mutual determination among the elements of the world. What is known in mathematics as transformation—that is, lawful transfer of attention, serving to match in orderly fashion the things of one system with those of another—is conceived in life as a process of transmutation by which, in the flux of the world, the content of the present has come out of the past and in its turn, in ceasing to be, gives birth to its successor, as the boy is father to the man and as things, in general, become what they are not. The mathematical concept of invariance and that of infinitude, especially the imposing doctrines that explain their meanings and bear their names—What are they but mathematicizations of that which has ever been the chief of life’s hopes and dreams, of that which has ever been the object of its deepest passion and of its dominant enterprise, I mean the finding of the worth that abides, the finding of permanence in the midst of change, and the discovery of a presence, in what has seemed to be a finite world, of being that is infinite? It is needless further to multiply examples of a correlation that is so abounding and complete as indeed to suggest a doubt whether it be juster to view mathematics as the abstract idealization of life than to regard life as the concrete realization of mathematics.
The changing of Bodies into Light, and Light into Bodies, is very conformable to the Course of Nature, which seems delighted with Transmutations.
The dropping of the Atomic Bomb is a very deep problem... Instead of commemorating Hiroshima we should celebrate... man's triumph over the problem [of transmutation], and not its first misuse by politicians and military authorities.
The earliest signs of living things, announcing as they do a high complexity of organization, entirely exclude the hypothesis of a transmutation from lower to higher grades of being. The first fiat of Creation which went forth, doubtlessly ensured the perfect adaptation of animals to the surrounding media; and thus, whilst the geologist recognizes a beginning, he can see in the innumerable facts of the eye of the earliest crustacean, the same evidences of Omniscience as in the completion of the vertebrate form.
The landed classes neglected technical education, taking refuge in classical studies; as late as 1930, for example, long after Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge had discovered the atomic nucleus and begun transmuting elements, the physics laboratory at Oxford had not been wired for electricity. Intellectual neglect technical education to this day.
[Describing C.P. Snow's observations on the neglect of technical education.]
[Describing C.P. Snow's observations on the neglect of technical education.]
The ordinary naturalist is not sufficiently aware that when dogmatizing on what species are, he is grappling with the whole question of the organic world & its connection with the time past & with Man; that it involves the question of Man & his relation to the brutes, of instinct, intelligence & reason, of Creation, transmutation & progressive improvement or development. Each set of geological questions & of ethnological & zool. & botan. are parts of the great problem which is always assuming a new aspect.
The seeds of things have mysterious workings. In the water they become Break Vine, on the edges of the water they become Frog’s Robe. If they sprout on the slopes they become Hill Slippers. If Hill Slippers get rich soil, they turn into Crow’s Feet. The roots of Crow’s Feet turn into maggots and their leaves turn into butterflies. Before long the butterflies are transformed and turn into insects that live under the stove; they look like snakes and their name is Ch’u-t’o. After a thousand days, the Ch’u-t’o insects become birds called Dried Leftover Bones. The saliva of the Dried Leftover Bones becomes Ssu-mi bugs and the Ssu-mi bugs become Vinegar Eaters. I-lo bugs are born from the Vinegar Eaters, and Huang-shuang bugs from Chiu-yu bugs. Chiu-yu bugs are born from Mou-jui bugs and Mou-jui bugs are born from Rot Grubs and Rot Grubs are born from Sheep’s Groom. Sheep’s Groom couples with bamboo that has not sprouted for a long while and produces Green Peace plants. Green Peace plants produce leopards and leopards produce horses and horses produce men. Men in time return again to the mysterious workings. So all creatures come out of the mysterious workings and go back into them again.
This leads us to ask for the reasons which call for this new theory of transmutation. The beginning of things must needs lie in obscurity, beyond the bounds of proof, though within those of conjecture or of analogical inference. Why not hold fast to the customary view, that all species were directly, instead of indirectly, created after their respective kinds, as we now behold them,--and that in a manner which, passing our comprehension, we intuitively refer to the supernatural? Why this continual striving after “the unattained and dim,”—these anxious endeavors, especially of late years, by naturalists and philosophers of various schools and different tendencies, to penetrate what one of them calls “the mystery of mysteries,” the origin of species? To this, in general, sufficient answer may be found in the activity of the human intellect, “the delirious yet divine desire to know,” stimulated as it has been by its own success in unveiling the laws and processes of inorganic Nature,—in the fact that the principal triumphs of our age in physical science have consisted in tracing connections where none were known before, in reducing heterogeneous phenomena to a common cause or origin, in a manner quite analogous to that of the reduction of supposed independently originated species to a common ultimate origin,—thus, and in various other ways, largely and legitimately extending the domain of secondary causes. Surely the scientific mind of an age which contemplates the solar system as evolved from a common, revolving, fluid mass,— which, through experimental research, has come to regard light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and mechanical power as varieties or derivative and convertible forms of one force, instead of independent species,—which has brought the so-called elementary kinds of matter, such as the metals, into kindred groups, and raised the question, whether the members of each group may not be mere varieties of one species,—and which speculates steadily in the direction of the ultimate unity of matter, of a sort of prototype or simple element which may be to the ordinary species of matter what the protozoa or component cells of an organism are to the higher sorts of animals and plants,—the mind of such an age cannot be expected to let the old belief about species pass unquestioned.
— Asa Gray
We have seen that a proton of energy corresponding to 30,000 volts can effect the transformation of lithium into two fast α-particles, which together have an energy equivalent of more than 16 million volts. Considering the individual process, the output of energy in the transmutation is more than 500 times greater than the energy carried by the proton. There is thus a great gain of energy in the single transmutation, but we must not forget that on an average more than 1000 million protons of equal energy must be fired into the lithium before one happens to hit and enter the lithium nucleus. It is clear in this case that on the whole the energy derived from transmutation of the atom is small compared with the energy of the bombarding particles. There thus seems to be little prospect that we can hope to obtain a new source of power by these processes. It has sometimes been suggested, from analogy with ordinary explosives, that the transmutation of one atom might cause the transmutation of a neighbouring nucleus, so that the explosion would spread throughout all the material. If this were true, we should long ago have had a gigantic explosion in our laboratories with no one remaining to tell the tale. The absence of these accidents indicates, as we should expect, that the explosion is confined to the individual nucleus and does not spread to the neighbouring nuclei, which may be regarded as relatively far removed from the centre of the explosion.
When the old and bewhiskered alchemist mentally planned his transmutations from lead to gold, he no doubt considered his reagent “spiritus vitroli” second only to his trusty Philosopher’s Stone in power and usefulness; for we read of sulphuric acid back through Alchemical times.
[Vestiges begins] from principles which are at variance with all sober inductive truth. The sober facts of geology shuffled, so as to play a rogue’s game; phrenology (that sinkhole of human folly and prating coxcombry); spontaneous generation; transmutation of species; and I know not what; all to be swallowed, without tasting and trying, like so much horse-physic!! Gross credulity and rank infidelity joined in unlawful marriage, and breeding a deformed progeny of unnatural conclusions!
[About the great synthesis of atomic physics in the 1920s:] It was a heroic time. It was not the doing of any one man; it involved the collaboration of scores of scientists from many different lands. But from the first to last the deeply creative, subtle and critical spirit of Niels Bohr guided, restrained, deepened and finally transmuted the enterprise.