Theory and Experiment in the Early Writings of Johan Baptist Van Helmont

  • Robert Halleux
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 195)


Historians of science use to consider Johan Baptist Van Helmont (1579–1644) as a forerunner of modern experimental method, and indeed experiments are plentiful in his main work, the Ortus medicinae “Dawn of the medicine” of 1648.1 However modern scholarship on him has raised serious doubts as to the originality and even the validity of his most famous procedures. Let me take a few examples.

Experiment of Ihe candle: in order to demonstrate that fire is not an element but a burning fume (fuligo accensa), Van Helmont set fire to a candle, extinguished it, and in the ascending smoke put the flame of another candle, which lighted the first.2 This experiment has been borrowed from the Xlth century alchemist Artephius3, who had copied it from the Meteora of Aristotle.4


Early Writing Magnetic Needle Burning Fume Passive Contact Glass Bell 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Halleux
    • 1
  1. 1.Universitè de L’Etat ä LiègeBelgium

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