The Science of Existence (58) Chemistry


No inanimate object is ever fully determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. ~ Hungarian–English polymath Michael Polanyi

Chemistry is the science of matter and its interaction. Physics bounds what exists. Chemistry gives it form.


By 2,000 years ago, humans had developed diverse technologies that would eventually lead to an understanding of chemistry. The technologies included the making of pottery and glazes, extracting metal from ore and chemicals from plants, fermentation, dying cloth, tanning leather, rendering soap from fat, making glass, and attaining alloys such as bronze. These were all practical skills that drove those involved to greater mastery.

The progenitor of chemistry was alchemy: seekers of knowledge over the power of the elements, some of whom sought the philosopher’s stone, which was the legendary substance capable of transmuting base metals of scant worth into gold, the most precious metal. Written mention of the philosopher’s stone dates to at least 300 ce.

Alchemy failed in its craven direction, but its methodology – experiment and record-keeping – set the stage for modern chemistry.

I have always looked upon alchemy in natural philosophy to be like enthusiasm in divinity, and to have troubled the world much to the same purpose. ~ English Anglican clergyman William Temple