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Doctor Curmudgeon® The Beginning of Chemistry

By Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D. FAAP Doctor Eisman is in Family Practice in Aventura, Florida with her partner, Dr. Eugene Eisman, an internist/cardiologist

Alchemy! The very word sounds mysterious, secretive and utterly fascinating.

And the mystique behind it is even more intriguing.

The alchemists actually based their thoughts on the spiritual philosophy that everything was alive and metals are living things that are growing inside of our earth.

We have often heard of those greedy alchemists who wanted to turn base metals into gold.

Since metals were actually alive, lead was considered the least perfect and it personified those who were sinful and overcome by the forces of evil.

And, gold was thought to represent the highest good that could be found in humans and in nature.

The early alchemists were not atomists, but adherents of the Aristotelian belief that everything in the world was composed of four elements: fire, water, air, and earth.

So, all they had to do was to fool around with the percentages of these four elements and they could create gold.

But, we know a little better today. (*note from Hero Doctor, husband of Doctor Curmudgeon: We do have particle accelerators that can create, infinitesimally small, sub microscopic particles of gold….but it costs a fortune to do that)

And then there was the Philosopher’s Stone. I had thought about it as some mythical stone sought by the alchemists. Not exactly correct. It was actually a substance, could have been a liquid or a powder.

From Wikipedia:

“The philosopher’s stone, or more properly philosophers’ stone …was the most sought-after goal in alchemy. The philosopher’s stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection at its finest, enlightenment, and heavenly bliss.”

The chemical Heritage Foundation found a seventeenth century alchemy manuscript which was written by Isaac Newton, who had previously composed many papers on alchemy. These notes hypothesized how to make “Philosopher’s” mercury which was believed to be the first step in turning metal into gold.

Even though alchemists could not accomplish their goal of turning a base metal into gold, and were never able to create the Philosopher’s Stone, they were among the first actual theorists and experimenters to be the start of chemistry.

Hero Doctor concludes with a comment:

“The alchemists were interested in the subject of matter and experimentation. They understood the importance of taking careful measurements. The roots of modern chemistry began with Alchemy. Alchemists did provide the ground work for techniques like crystallization and distillation.

“And, as a disclaimer: I am NOT and have never been an alchemist but I do have a degree in organic Chemistry.”

Dr. Curmudgeon suggests “Bitter Medicine”, Dr. Eugene Eisman’s story of his experiences–from the humorous to the intense—as a young army doctor serving in the Vietnam War.
Bitter Medicine by Eugene H. Eisman, M.D. –on Amazon

Doctor Curmudgeon® is Diane Batshaw Eisman, M.D., a physician-satirist. This column originally appeared on SERMO, the leading global social network for doctors.
SERMO www.sermo.com

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