To do, without limits

The aspirations of a scientist, 300 years ago:

The Prolongation of Life.
The Recovery of Youth, or at least some of the Marks of it, as new Teeth, new Hair colour’d as in youth.
The Art of Flying.
The Art of Continuing long under water, and exercising functions freely there.
The Cure of Wounds at a Distance.
The Cure of Diseases at a distance or at least by Transplantation.
The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions.
The Emulating of Fish without Engines by Custome and Education only.
The Acceleration of the Production of things out of Seed.
The Transmutation of Metalls.
The makeing of Glass Malleable.
The Transmutation of Species in Mineralls, Animals, and Vegetables.
The Liquid Alkaest and Other dissolving Menstruums.
The making of Parabolicall and Hyperbolicall Glasses.
The making Armor light and extremely hard.
The practicable and certain way of finding Longitudes.
The use of Pendulums at Sea and in Journeys, and the Application of it to watches.
Potent Druggs to alter or Exalt Imagination, Waking, Memory, and other functions, and appease pain, procure innocent sleep, harmless dreams, etc.
A Ship to saile with All Winds, and A Ship not to be Sunk.
Freedom from Necessity of much Sleeping exemplify’d by the Operations of Tea and what happens in Mad-Men.
Pleasing Dreams and physicall Exercises exemplify’d by the Egyptian Electuary and by the Fungus mentioned by the French Author.
Great Strength and Agility of Body exemplify’d by that of Frantick Epileptick and Hystericall persons.
A perpetuall Light.
Varnishes perfumable by Rubbing.

Robert Boyle‘s to-do/wish list, most of which aspirations can now be ticked off. A pretty mind-blowing collection, and the inclusion of what amounts to “scratch-and-sniff” is just awesome.

An “alkaest” is apparently a universal solvent and was much sought after by alchemists. Quite how something which dissolved absolutely everything else would exist and be controlled is a problem which no doubt great minds spent great time mulling.

I wonder whether the Egyptian Electus (medicinal paste with sweeteners to hide the taste for the purposes of oral consumption) was nepenthe: 1580, nepenthes, from Gk., from ne- “no, not” (see un-) + penthos “grief” (related to pathos). A drug of Egypt mentioned in the “Odyssey” as capable of banishing grief or trouble from the mind. The -s is a proper part of the word, but was likely mistaken in Eng. as a plural affix and dropped.

There’s more, including a picture of the original handwritten list, here, at the Royal Society website. It’s their 350th anniversary this year I discover, very belatedly.

Most of the list is obviously the aspiration to improve on an existing technology like making Armor light and extremely hard, better drugs (medicinal and recreational) etc. But The Emulating of Fish without Engines by Custome and Education only? That’s pretty far out. It’s delightful that none of his desires involves more efficient weapons and this list is notable for what looks like, from here, its overall emphasis on the betterment of the human condition.

Of course Attaining Gigantick Dimensions is something many still unsuccessfully aspire to, judging by my spam folder.

One Reply to “To do, without limits”

  1. ‘A perpetuall Light’ – you know the saying ‘be careful what you wish for’?

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