Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature
In an age when the nature of reality is complicated daily by advances in bioengineering, cloning, and artificial intelligence, it is easy to forget ... Show synopsis 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 were shared by opponents of alchemy long before genetic science delivered us a cloned sheep named Dolly. In Promethean Ambitions, William R. Newman uses alchemy as a means to discuss 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. The twelfth-century philosopher Averroes, for example, noted that regardless of the resemblance of the artificial to the natural, the two would forever be separated by an impassable gulf. Leonardo da Vinci attacked alchemy as an irreligious fraud. precursor to chemistry; it was an art founded on coherent philosophical and empirical principles, with vocal supporters and even louder critics, that attracted individuals of first-rate intellect. The historical relationship that Newman charts between human creation and nature has innumerable implications today, and he ably links contemporary issues to alchemical debates on the natural versus the artificial. Imbuing a millennium-old ethical debate with modern relevance, Promethean Ambitions will be of interest to historians of science, theology, philosophy, art, gender, and culture.