Saturday, October 28, 2017

Keynes on Newton--and some ideas for fantasy.

I have just come across a fascinating piece, a lecture on Newton by Keynes, delivered posthumously by Keynes' brother and largely based on Newton's unpublished papers, apparently totaling about a million words. The central thesis is that Newton's "unscientific" work was just as careful and logical as his scientific work, that he approached alchemy and theology in the same way he approached physics and mathematics. In each case he was trying to make sense of the world by the power of his mind.

Which suggests an interesting idea for a fantasy–I don't know if it has been done. Suppose Newton was right in his exotic work as in his invention of modern physics. In one possible version he is still around, having discovered the alchemical secret of eternal life and faked his own death. In another, a modern scholar reads through the whole body of unpublished work, correctly works out the magical secrets that it contains and that he concealed, and makes use of them.

And in a third, alternate history, version, Newton's friends fail to pull him away from Cambridge into the conventional world of parliament, civil service, and society. He spends the second half of his life as he spent the first, produces breakthroughs in the Hermetic sciences as great as in the natural sciences, and history forks.


At 11:43 AM, October 28, 2017, Blogger Cathy Raymond said...

That sounds like a *great* idea for a science fiction novel, David! I'd love to see you run with it.

At 12:59 PM, October 28, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of Greg Keyes' Age of Unreason series.

(I think I read the first book, Newton's Cannon, some time ago. IIRC I didn't like it much.)

At 1:39 PM, October 28, 2017, Blogger Roger said...

There are other great geniuses who wasted their later years pursuing impossible goals.

At 2:25 PM, October 28, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should read Aaronovich's Rivers of London and its sequels. The first book also has the title Midnight Riot in the U.S. The hero is a London policeman who finds himself recruited into a very special branch of the Metropolitan Police, who use magic and investigate magical crimes (including vampire infestations, and stuff like that). They use what they call Newtonian magic; there are other magic practitioners in the world, but their tradition traces to Isaac Newton's supposed development of magical theory and practice.

Best Regards,
Nicholas D. Rosen

At 5:07 PM, October 28, 2017, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't think it's the sort of novel I want to write. I am most of the way through the sequel to my _Salamander_, which is finally moving again. I have plans for a third book in that series. I also have the beginning of a sequel to _Harald_ which I might go back to.

Why don't you write it?

At 5:12 PM, October 28, 2017, Blogger David Friedman said...


I took a look at the Kindle free sample of _Rivers of London_. I've never gotten into graphic novels.

At 6:34 PM, October 28, 2017, Blogger Cathy Raymond said...

I have either skill nor ambition to write fiction; my writing interests lie elsewhere. But if the Newtonian magic idea doesn't appeal to you as something to write, so be it.

At 5:48 AM, October 29, 2017, Blogger Quentin Langley said...

Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series mentions your second scenario as back story. It is just a throwaway line in a fantasy series, but it is there.

At 10:56 AM, October 29, 2017, Blogger Karl said...

And the laws he discovered would later be used by Lord Darcy and Master Sean to solve crimes.

At 8:31 PM, October 29, 2017, Blogger David Friedman said...


But the fork there comes much earlier.

At 9:01 AM, October 30, 2017, Blogger Modern Mugwump said...

Without giving away spoilers, something very like your first two scenarios happens toward the end of Neil Stephenson's Baroque Cycle.

At 12:16 AM, November 06, 2017, Blogger gurugeorge said...

Charles Stross' "Laundry" novels are sort of in a similar vein. Turns out that the Lovecraftian stuff is real, and magic is real, but it's really all about a kind of advanced mathematics and some kind of bizarro coding.

An iPhone cord knotted in a particular way wards off an evil spirit, that type of thing.

Highly recommended, fun books if you don't know of them already.


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