Alchemy set the paving stones in the evolution of modern science. It helped develop all the different sciences we have today. Alchemy refers to the investigation of nature and early philosophical and spiritual restrictions that combined chemistry with metal work. The goals of alchemy consisted of finding the potion of life and to find or make a substance called the “philosopher’s stone,” which when heated and combined with metal would turn into gold. Although it was used scientifically, it was also used spiritually. The alchemists believed if they could figure out a way to create gold from basic metals they believed they could also craft a way to cleanse human’s spirits. Turning lead into gold symbolized a spiritual transformation from an uncleanly soul into a new sinless human who could do no wrong.
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According to Historian Nevill Drury, “The word alchemy is thought to have derived from an Egyptian word, ‘chem’ or ‘qem,’ meaning black. We know that the Greek word ‘chyma,’ meaning to fuse or cast metals, established itself in Arabic as ‘al kimia’, alchemy was then obtained.” Alchemy began sometime around the Common Era with the goal of pure spirit and immorality in mind. Aristotle, who proposed that all matter was composed of the four elements — earth, air, fire, and water began to influence alchemical practices when his student Alexander the Great established Alexandria as a center of learning. Alexander the Great was said to have discovered the Greek god Hermes’s famous Emerald Tablet, which contained the secret of the philosopher’s stone. He also built the Library of Alexandria which specifically held alchemical texts. These books were, however, almost entirely destroyed in the third century. Soon after the Alexandrian Zosimus wrote what is now considered the oldest known books on alchemy, which emphasize its mysticism rather than its medical or practical applications. It has been said that many different scientists one being, Issac Newton continued to use alchemy. Issac Newton wrote more than a million words of alchemical notes throughout his lifetime.
Although alchemy was unsuccessful, it didn’t stop people from claiming to have solved the ancient riddle. For years, rumors spread that certain people had discovered the philosopher’s stone. Alchemists were hired by the wealthy to conduct research, but they never saw returns on their investment. Even though alchemy is long gone, the difference between lead and gold still remains. Lead is a poisonous metal that can harm while gold is highly valued and often worn as jewelry. In spite of the fact, that alchemy never achieved its goals of immortality or turning lead into gold, it did leave an important legacy: alchemists were early practitioners of what would become modern chemistry.
Overall, even though the philosopher’s stone was a myth and alchemy failed, the alchemists weren’t 100% incorrect. With modern physics equipment, for example a particle accelerator, it is possible to create gold from other elements, though the quantity is small and the process costs more to create than the gold is worth. Many sciences that exist today such as Chemistry owe much to alchemy. It is still practiced by people who focus on the symbolic features. Alchemy has played a major role in the development of modern chemistry, medicine, and psychology.
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