Robert Boyle's 17th century wishlist for future scientific breakthroughs

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Well we definitely got a few of those.


But not the emulation of fish by custom and education! Actually, I’m not quite sure what he was trying to get at. I’d think something like scuba diving, but that’s probably covered by the “continuing long under water” bit.


Kind of surprised scratch and sniff was in there. That’s what ‘varnishes perfumable by rubbing’ means, I presume. Keen imagination.


I was looking for a clip of the bit from Futurama where the mermaid from Atlanta says “Oh, you speak fish”, but all i found was this monstrosity:


After Sea World they ain’t teaching us jack.

Noticing better optical lenses and time-keeping at sea were important to him, as to his contemporaries which produced them soon after.



There was definitely an interest in the sea at the time as Britain was late to the whole empire thing – not that they didn’t catch up to (and surpass) Spain and Portugal in the end…

In terms of the drug thing, it reminds me of Boyle’s contemporary William Harvey, who demonstrated the circulation of the blood and the heart’s role in that. Harvey was fascinated by coffee (which was rare in Britain at the time), and described the strange sensations after drinking it – it was as if caffeine was like LSD to him.


“…and what happens in Mad-Men”

So… even Boyle liked that show from well before it was made.


Pleasing Dreams and physicall Exercises exemplify’d by the Egyptian Electuary and by the Fungus mentioned by the French Author.

I’m intrigued by this. A reference to some sort of hallucinogen (real or imaginary?) mentioned in some texts. I wonder what it was.


Attaining Gigantic Dimensions sounds like something out of Jack Vance’s awesome “The Dying Earth”


Most of the desiderata aren’t that surprising, I guess – they’re mainstream enough that other people eventually did the work to achieve most of them – but it’s really interesting to see how he conceived of these things long before there were any clues to how they might be achieved.

It seems like he was looking at what happens in nature (things growing big, living a long time, breathing underwater, flying, not needing much sleep), and taking that as a sign that humans might do the same. In other words, he was using the then-brand-new technique of scientific thought, where you think forward from what you see, rather than thinking backward from what you fantasize about (e.g. turning lead into gold). His excitement about the idea really comes across, which is dorkily endearing and makes me wish more people felt the same today.


Makes me wonder if Boyle had a thing for amazons.

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Make snoo snoo, not war! War later, then more snoo snoo!

Perhaps it is obvious that he’s a BDO kinda guy. I think he is dreaming about converting all the available mass of the solar system into flying clouds of computronium and achieving the rapture of the nerds. Or, as they called it back then, the Rapture. (note, not the one in the ocean that Peter Thiel is building)


Maybe he was a closet macrophiliac.


For its 360th birthday in 2022, I’d love to see a sharp collection of scientists, engineers, futurists, visionaries and, oh yeah, sci fi writers, do a sitrep and update.

Come on, Cory / Royal Society, make it so.


Ergot or Shrooms, at a guess.


I think most of the non-obvious ones are exemplary proxies for questions of the period, and some up until now aren’t solved. Some are, even if he couldn’t forsee the way how and time when they would be solved, but he did assume them solvable. This is a good example:

  • The practicable and certain way of finding Longitudes.
  • The use of Pendulums at Sea and in Journeys, and the Application of it to watches.

It is no coincidence he brings up the second one after the first one. We can actually see him thinking here. The Longitude Problem was a well-known challenge at the time, and it did cost lives. By being able to keep the time on a ship, this would be solved. And it was.

Many of the other things on his list are similar problems some of the greatest minds of this time occupied themselves with.

Take transmutation of “species” (i.e., types of materials/entities - interesting in its own right how he thinks about those, because it predates the invention of the subject in the Hegelian school, as someone yesterday told me): alchemy was slowly on the way out, thanks to people like Boyle himself, but the problems remained. How do you get from one to the other? What’s the deeper nature of those “species”? Boyle couldn’t help himself, surely, but think in the language and structures of alchemy. But he was trying harder, obviously, than the most. This list is evidence of that, I think.


Thanks to the Internet, Gigantic Dimensions are within reach for all of us.

  • Varnishes perfumable by Rubbing.

Got you covered, Bob

  • The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions.

Little blue pills. Check.