Register to reply

Alchemy? Did anyone ever figure out how to change base metals into gold?

by land_of_ice
Tags: alchemy, base, figure, gold, metals
Share this thread:
land_of_ice
#1
May16-10, 12:36 AM
P: 134
Why is alchemy not real? Did anyone ever figure out how to change base metals into gold?
What is the closest anyone has ever come to this?
Assuming they haven't , why can't they do it?
Phys.Org News Partner Chemistry news on Phys.org
Chinese scientists use laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy to identify toxic cooking 'gutter oil'
New insights into 'switchable water' have implications for water purification and desalination
A glucose meter of a different color provides continuous monitoring
russ_watters
#2
May16-10, 01:04 AM
Mentor
P: 22,294
Changing one element into another is, by definition, a nuclear process not a chemical process. It's done all the time. In fact, there is a large facility just a few miles from my house that is currently converting heavy elements into lighter elements.
pzona
#3
May19-10, 01:18 AM
P: 233
I actually did a project on alchemy last semester, and here's a little background that might give you some more information, or at least interest you. Alchemists thought that all metals were a mixture of gold (the purest of all metals), sulfur and mercury ("impurities"), in different proportions. The reason that they thought they could turn other metals into gold is because they thought these other elements contained gold in the first place, which they don't.

Like russ watters said, it's a nuclear process, not a chemical process. Early alchemists wouldn't have been able to perform the processes necessary to actually change one element into another.

gabriels-horn
#4
May19-10, 01:38 AM
P: 92
Alchemy? Did anyone ever figure out how to change base metals into gold?

Quote Quote by land_of_ice View Post
Why is alchemy not real? Did anyone ever figure out how to change base metals into gold?
What is the closest anyone has ever come to this?
Assuming they haven't , why can't they do it?
I believe that very small amounts of gold have been synthesized in a particle accelerator. The energy required to do far outweights the value of the gold produced. Maybe if it hits a few thousand more an ounce it might be worthwhile. I doubt it though.
alxm
#5
May19-10, 10:56 AM
Sci Advisor
P: 1,866
Seems wikipedia has a whole article on the topic.
Which includes one of my favorite Rutherford quotes, on discovering how nuclear decay lead to elements changing into other elements:

"For Christ's sake, Soddy, don't call it transmutation. They'll have our heads off as alchemists!"
Which wasn't entirely a joke. Alchemy was not science, but mostly ancient superstition and rumor. It took chemistry quite some time to liberate itself from that 'baggage'.
pzona
#6
May22-10, 05:49 PM
P: 233
True, alxm, alchemy wasn't a science, but alchemists did give us quite a few of the early tools needed to begin doing actual chemistry (i.e. chemistry not involving astrology). This is basically just me bragging, but I had to do quite a bit of research on it for the project I did, which I mentioned before, and it turns out the "father of chemistry" was originally an alchemist, Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan. He's credited with the discoveries of hydrochloric, sulfuric, and nitric acids, as well as over twenty pieces of lab equipment (the retort and alembic, to name two). This was all done in the midst of his alchemical pursuits, so alchemy isn't entirely useless after all.

Sorry for sort of going off on a tangent, but I spent months learning about this stuff and I'm finally getting a chance to share some of it :)
dgtech
#7
May22-10, 05:56 PM
P: 70
Quote Quote by pzona View Post
I actually did a project on alchemy last semester, and here's a little background that might give you some more information, or at least interest you. Alchemists thought that all metals were a mixture of gold (the purest of all metals), sulfur and mercury ("impurities"), in different proportions. The reason that they thought they could turn other metals into gold is because they thought these other elements contained gold in the first place, which they don't.
That is a common and intentionally seeded misconception. Actually alchemists LIED about turning metals into gold for monetary support of their studies. IMO they had prior knowledge of everything we are able to do today without understanding it, and tried to come up with it, in somewhat strange and irrational to us ways.

Keep in mind, the Baghdad battery is almost 2000 years older than Volta, the person who rediscovered it for our own civilization
land_of_ice
#8
May22-10, 10:56 PM
P: 134
Quote Quote by pzona View Post
True, alxm, alchemy wasn't a science, but alchemists did give us quite a few of the early tools needed to begin doing actual chemistry (i.e. chemistry not involving astrology). This is basically just me bragging, but I had to do quite a bit of research on it for the project I did, which I mentioned before, and it turns out the "father of chemistry" was originally an alchemist, Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan. He's credited with the discoveries of hydrochloric, sulfuric, and nitric acids, as well as over twenty pieces of lab equipment (the retort and alembic, to name two). This was all done in the midst of his alchemical pursuits, so alchemy isn't entirely useless after all.

Sorry for sort of going off on a tangent, but I spent months learning about this stuff and I'm finally getting a chance to share some of it :)

It wasn't apparent that you had gone off on a tangent at all.
Vanadium 50
#9
May22-10, 11:49 PM
Mentor
Vanadium 50's Avatar
P: 16,348
Quote Quote by dgtech View Post
IMO they had prior knowledge of everything we are able to do today
Ah yes. The Sumerian Spectrometer. The Minoan Mass Spec. The well-known Gas Chromatograph description written on the other side of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And of course, the famous nuclear chemistry lab hidden under the Coliseum, which some scholars think gave Fermi his inspiration to locate his own lab under Stagg field.
Phrak
#10
May23-10, 01:15 AM
P: 4,512
Let us not forget the Ancient Apraphulian Computer, first reported in Scientific American, that has as much change as a plating tank of being confused with a battery.
dgtech
#11
May23-10, 03:59 AM
P: 70
Maybe also this was wrongly taken for a gear wheel mechanism pre-dating similar devices by 1800 years, and in reality it is something simple, ordinary and plausible?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism
Vanadium 50
#12
May23-10, 09:25 AM
Mentor
Vanadium 50's Avatar
P: 16,348
Dgtech, this was a joke. As was the "Apraphulian Computer". The Antikythera_mechanism is a gearbox with nothing to do with chemistry.

What we were trying to get you to realize that your claim that "Alchemists...had prior knowledge of everything we are able to do today" is just plain silly. There are many things we can do today that they simply had no idea about - look at any chemistry journal: they discuss things we know today that we didn't know a year ago, much less hundreds.
dgtech
#13
May23-10, 09:32 AM
P: 70
Maybe I didn't put it out well enough. They didn't know everything we know, but they knew eventual possibilities and tried to reach them it what was appropriate during their time.

For example today general relativity suggests FTL travel is not possible. But if we see an alien vessel that has that technology, we would know it is possible and will being doing all sort of crazy things trying to accomplish it.

The Antikythera device is simply an example science is not going strictly one direction, there are times of advancement and recession, and the Baghdad battery is another example of this. No one has even explained how primitive people were able to transport 800 ton blocks thousands of years ago, but they did it, that's a fact, and it is an accomplishment that will be even challenging for our own civilization.

Alchemists knew there were possibilities and were trying to explore them, and in order to have support they have often lied to rich people they are trying to turn ordinary metals into gold.
alxm
#14
May23-10, 02:09 PM
Sci Advisor
P: 1,866
Quote Quote by pzona View Post
True, alxm, alchemy wasn't a science, but alchemists did give us quite a few of the early tools needed to begin doing actual chemistry (i.e. chemistry not involving astrology).
Well of course, I wouldn't say otherwise. As Dara O'Briain said about herbal medicine "[People say] 'Oh, herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years'.. Yes, and then we tested it all, and the stuff that worked became 'medicine'.".

The relationship between alchemy and chemistry is much the same. It's not that alchemy didn't find anything out, it's just that we also have to remember the immense burden of traditional nonsense that it created, which it literally took centuries to liberate ourselves from. (And as the medicine reference shows, we've yet to completely liberate ourselves from these burdens)
alxm
#15
May23-10, 02:58 PM
Sci Advisor
P: 1,866
Quote Quote by dgtech View Post
Maybe I didn't put it out well enough. They didn't know everything we know, but they knew eventual possibilities and tried to reach them it what was appropriate during their time.
No, they didn't know of the possibilities, because they had no valid theories. They didn't even have empirical theories. What they had, was the kind of 'theories' you get today from a crackpot, or person uneducated in scientific method attempting science: High-flying, speculative, vague loads of nonsense, "explaining" unknown things in terms of ill-defined, mysterious, unobserved (and often unobservable) underlying assumptions. Basically an incoherent mess which could make no useful predictions (and in case a prediction failed, they would rather modify their theory than discard it, or simply deny reality). They never challenged their underlying assumptions (e.g. why four elements? Why those particular four? How would you demonstrate that this is the case?)

In short, they lacked the scientific method, and with it, the ability to make any kind of predictions about reality.

They did discover things, but that was essentially through random trial-and-error. Not because of their underlying theories, which were nonsense. Nothing remains of alchemical theory.

For example today general relativity suggests FTL travel is not possible. But if we see an alien vessel that has that technology, we would know it is possible and will being doing all sort of crazy things trying to accomplish it.
Well first it's Special Relativity that predicts that's impossible. Second, that's wrong. if we made a reliable observation showing FTL travel was possible, then all that would tell us is that there is an apparent way around it. That might not invalidate SR at all (depending on how the FTL occured), or it would imply that SR is not exact and the 'final' theory of that matter. Thing is, I don't think anyone believes our current theories of physics are the final theories. However that does not change the fact that SR correctly explains and predicts an enormous set of things. In other words, whatever replaces SR must still reproduce SR in a large set of known circumstances. So SR is not going to be thrown out, because it's still valid for them.

Much the same way Newtonian physics has not been thrown out simply because it does not accurately predict the behavior of subatomic particles and things moving at relativistic speeds.

So any theory which is to replace SR but allow for FTL travel, must be able reproduce all the predictions that SR has correctly made. And to be testable, it must make some additional ones. This is a very difficult thing to do, but there's nothing stopping anyone from trying at the moment. All an observation of FTL travel would do, is imply that such a theory is possible. But it's not the fact that people don't believe in the possibility which is hindering such a theory - in fact, theoretical physicists study all kinds of impossible theories all the time (for 2-dimensional universes or whatever). It's simply the fact that it's difficult.

The Antikythera device is simply an example science is not going strictly one direction, there are times of advancement and recession, and the Baghdad battery is another example of this.
Those are not examples of science - they did not have Science. They had trial-and-error. The current age of mankind is profoundly different, because unlike the past, not only do we know things not known before, we know why we know things we did not know before. We know how to systematically arrive at these results.

No one has even explained how primitive people were able to transport 800 ton blocks thousands of years ago, but they did it, that's a fact, and it is an accomplishment that will be even challenging for our own civilization.
This is not a great mystery. We've shown many plausible methods of transporting heavy blocks with contemporary technology. We will never know for certain how they did it, but not because there's no conceivable method of doing so, but simply because we don't have sufficient information to ever determine which one was used.

Alchemists knew there were possibilities and were trying to explore them, and in order to have support they have often lied to rich people they are trying to turn ordinary metals into gold.
What's your evidence that alchemists did not believe themselves that transmutation was possible? They had no reason to believe it was impossible. On the other hand, nor did they have a (credible) reason to believe it was possible. Which is why alchemy is not a science.

Science does not start with an ad-hoc desired end and try to find a way to achieve it. (which you seem to imply with the FTL example) Science starts with either a theory making a testable prediction, or an empirical observation in need of a theory. It is disciplined adherence to this which is at the center of a scientific mindset. The farther one deviates from this, the more one ends up with bad science, pseudoscience and ultimately, alchemy.
xxChrisxx
#16
May23-10, 04:39 PM
P: 2,048
Quote Quote by alxm View Post
Science does not start with an ad-hoc desired end and try to find a way to achieve it.
No, that would be engineering :P kekekeke

By the way, excellent post.
LtStorm
#17
May24-10, 04:02 AM
P: 76
I actually read a couple of books on the history of alchemy, as I was interested in how it provided the basis for chemistry (as a chemist).

One thing I've learned is, the only people attempting to transmute lead to gold were bad alchemists.

There are two things associated with alchemy most dearly; transmutation of lead to gold, and creating a way to make a person immortal. There's also a third thing people often forget; alchemists were very secretive. All of their manuscripts and texts were written in what was called the Language of the Birds, using innuendo and double meanings to communicate to fellow alchemists that knew how to read it. To outsiders the texts took on entirely different meanings.

Hence; many people, especially those who were particularly greedy, were interested in the alchemical ability to transmute lead to gold.

More likely, both the transmutation of lead to gold and attaining immortality were flowery ways of suggesting alchemy lead to transcendence; transmuting the soul from an imperfect human soul to a perfected enlightened one.

If you look at Eastern Alchemy, it becomes even more apparent as the Chinese didn't even try to hide the fact they were ultimately looking for enlightenment, and alchemy was a method of striving towards it.

Looking at the parts of the Great Work alchemists supposedly underwent to create the Philosopher's Stone, it becomes even more obvious what the goal was. You have;

Nigredo: Blackening, corruption, individuation.
Albedo: Whitening, purification.
Citrinitas: Yellowing, spiritualisation, enlightenment.
Rubedo: REddening, unification of man and god, unification of the limited with the unlimited.

The Philosopher's Stone was a metaphor for attaining enlightenment; the point wasn't the destination, it was the journey, maaaaaaaan. (Apparently alchemists were proto-hippies in that regard.)

So yeah.
dgtech
#18
May24-10, 04:43 AM
P: 70
The philosopher stone was a symbol of enlightenment, but it may have been more than a metaphor, if you have bothered to investigate Mutus Liber - the recipe for the philosopher stone, which seems to include, IIRC dew collected after a full moon and sea or ocean salt that has been exposed to sun rays, those two mixed and transmuted a few times by boiling over periods of time at different temperatures.

Actually Mutus Liber is not the only recipe - the Emerald Tablet seems to also concern this issue, but more vaguely, which can be attributed to bad translation

It was exactly the Emerald Tablet that alchemists were using as a guide line, or what I was trying to suggest in my previous posts. It may have been misunderstood as it can also be simply the ultimate recipe for the art of BEING ;)


Register to reply

Related Discussions
Big-O With Change of Base for Log Calculus & Beyond Homework 3
I cant figure out this acid base problem Biology, Chemistry & Other Homework 2
Change of base formula, is this what hes talking about? logs! Calculus & Beyond Homework 9
A single base change makes a difference Medical Sciences 0
Log law -Change base General Math 1