When Isaac Newton was stupid, and what it means for AI

A year after writing his famous note to Robert Hooke stating that “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” Isaac Newton sent a far more secretive, and far more surprising, letter. In 1676, Henry Oldenburg was the secretary of the Royal Society, the powerful scientific academy, and as such, had nontrivial power to encourage research. But in this case, Newton wanted to discourage a particular line of research and publication. Specifically, he wanted fellow scientist Robert Boyle to cease writing about the “sophic mercury” that became hot when mixed with gold. Newton’s concern was that this discovery could hasten the public awareness of the famous “philosopher’s stone,” which had the power to turn lead into gold. Discovering the philosopher’s stone was the chief goal of the pseudoscience known both
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