The Unseen: A History of the Invisible

BBC Radio 4

Science writer and broadcaster Philip Ball sets out on a quest to explore the peculiar world of the invisible, a mysterious realm where magic and science meet.

In this first episode, Philip finds himself face to face with the death mask of Sir Isaac Newton. At the Royal Society in London he meets librarian Keith Moore who reveals that Newton’s work on invisible forces such as gravity was influenced by his secret fascination with the occult.

The notion that the world was governed by invisible universal forces was a central feature of natural magic. Newton was scorned by critics such as Gottfried Leibniz, who labelled him an occultist, yet he was able to mathematise his invisible forces and prove them to be very real. So the idea of an invisible force acting across empty space didn’t get consigned to the realm of superstitious magic – instead, it became a central feature of physics.

Presenter: Philip Ball
Producer: Max O’Brien
A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4