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Alchemy's Pursuit of the Meaning of Matter

Man has always been intrigued by the stuff the world is made of, and probably no more so than during the age of alchemy. Forever experimenting and ceaselessly pondering the nature of matter, the alchemist sometimes visualized his concepts in drawings like the bizarre three-armed dragon below. Taken from the 16th-century book The Crowne of Nature, the creature supposedly represents the "essence of mercury," which alchemists believed to be the most basic ingredient of all matter. The beast's three arms brandish the alchemical symbols for silver, gold and mercury. Below them is the head of a bearded alchemist.

the 'essence of mercury'

But while the alchemist's speculations often carried him into the realm of the metaphysical, his laboratory goals were always clear and concrete: to turn base metals into gold and to find the "elixir of life" that would make man immortal. Not surprisingly, alchemy had its fine share of charlatans. But its finest practitioners were dedicated investigators of nature, and many of their experimental techniques are still in use today.

Ralph E. Lapp Life Science Library: Matter New York:Time Incorporated, 1965


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This page was last updated on 10/28/2017.