We take for granted our modern ability to test and diagnose illness, to fix technology, and to understand things using the scientific method. But where did science really originate?
Science is a tradition of many origins, but a keystone to our current scientific system is alchemy, a tradition based in not just Egyptian “Kemi” or conversion of black base metals to other substance, but also possibly the Greek “Khymeia” – fusion – which originally meant the fusion of silver and gold. Alchemy had three main goals as it developed: find the philosopher’s stone – a substance that could purify the soul, find the “elixir of life” and to discover the relationship of humans to the universe. So, alchemy is sort of a science of trying to find immortality, purity, & universal understanding.
So what did alchemists do exactly? Well, it really depended on the practitioner. Just like science today, some were interested in specific ideas, one of the most famous being how to create gold from other metals. They also studied differing subject areas, many of which have become scientific areas today such as chemistry. Alchemy also included many branches of what we may now consider material production, such as dying fabric, metalworking, ceramics, gunpowder production, cosmetics, extracts, and even liquors.
The study of seemingly random things has led to much of the development of modern processes for changing one thing into another, or transformation of many substances into one form for human use. We can only hope that science will take a cue from its sometimes crazy ancestor and think outside the box to develop ideas on how to fix problems in our current world like climate change, and overreliance on fossil fuels. Or we can take a cue from these French scientists who are seemingly implementing alchemy in the modern world: leaching gold out of water!
What are your thoughts on alchemy? Pseudo science, or an important contributor to our modern world?