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Reactive Chemistry Is Not Alchemy

But who cares?

By Aesh M. Daeva

It's very easy to confuse chemistry for alchemy. The difference is as subtle as a memory compared to a dream.

Most accept that chemistry, in effect, replaced alchemy much like physics and science broadly replaced philosophy. Yet, I would argue alchemy is a different animal altogether, and maybe philosophers aren't quite ready for retirement, either.

Chemistry is a branch of physical science that studies the composition, structure, properties and change of matter. A process of discovering reactions where Alchemy focuses on creating them.

Where chemistry is about reactions, alchemy is about transmutation. What do I mean by that? I mean alchemy is about creating value. To turn lead into gold, that is to turn something without much value into something with a great deal of value. In other words...capitalism.

It seems to be difficult for physicists to accept that modern philosophers contribute anything important to scientific advancement. Often the line is something like "they write interesting books, which is nice, but..." I find this shockingly short sighted for such smart people. I think given the organizational potential of software ecosystems it may be easier to show how the principles of alchemy can be applied to something more anthropic. Such as creative problem solving or increasing collaborative productivity.

There is a clear role to be played by isolating isotopes or refining a new pesticide or bonding plastic through a narrow scientific extrapolation. However, I am suggesting it is not the only modern aspect of ancient alchemy that leads to benefit.

The pursuit of the philosophers' stone is to pursue the inherent potential within oneself. The alchemist is highly adept at seeing and seizing opportunities to create value seemingly from nothing because the secret ingredients are specific skill, means, and contextually useful knowledge. Much like a painter discovers an unexpectedly vivid range in colour and then has the skills to employ it with a practiced hand.

If you can take a group of people and get from them more than they can get from themselves, that's alchemy. If you get along well with your co-worker, that's chemistry.

Though less specialized, an alchemist is free to study and apply multiple disciplines to conceive new approaches. In time becoming as proficient as most specialists at any given discipline. Those who see further, see more. There is a romantic almost fatalistic desire to embrace complexity with this approach. A secret that dares the bravest to uncover its mystery and risk annihilation even though the road is far longer than most.

The implied inevitability of chemical reactions, the very thing that makes them valuable, impresses a coldness that I think many are not always comfortable with. Clean and methodical, by necessity, isn't very poetic.

Knowledge changes us. It fuels the fire that burns in the crucible of transmutation.

With modern alchemy, for all its reliance on technical achievement, there is enough flexibility to humanize it. Just as philosophy humanizes science while reforming thought based on its discoveries. In another very real way aesthetics have complimented the power of smart phones by encouraging product adoption.

As a thought experiment, think about what "wearable technology" may emerge in the next few years. Do you expect that technology to be less or more "fashionable"? What markets would you expect purely functional "wearables" to thrive in and would you expect these to be the first "internalized" devices?

The bridge between science and philosophy is build by people of good intention trying to reach their highest potential through collaborative enterprise.

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Aesh M. Daeva
Looking for the frayed edge of the Universe.

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