Alchemy In The Middle Ages Essay, Research Paper
The Dark Ages was a period of stupidity and ignorance. People destroyed what they feared, and people feared the unknown. People spent their waking days just trying to stay alive– from wandering vagrants, disease, age, and the elements: fire, water, earth, air. These were the basic elements that everything was composed of. The modern belief is that alchemy was the precursor to today’s physical sciences. In reality, alchemy was, and still is a separate branch of science. In many instances, alchemy may have prevented the growth of science, as we know it. During this time period, the alchemist used all their efforts and talents for transmutation, the process of turning one substance into another. Their ultimate goal was to turn lead, or a similar metal, into gold or silver. During the same period of time, there were true scientists such as: Francis Bacon, Albertus Magnus, and Roger Bacon. These were often in competition with alchemists such as: Nicholas Flamel, Geber, and Sir George Ripley. The main difference between these people was their pursuit. While the “real” scientists were devoted to the advancement of knowledge, the alchemists were only interested in profit. Often times, it was the alchemist who was funded by the king to find a way to turn metals into gold. “Henry IV of England, in need of money, granted royal permission to three alchemists searching for the secret of turning base metal into gold and for the elixir or immortality” (Medieval Man). In Geber’s Discovery of Secrets, Geber describes tuning such metals as copper and iron into silver. “Take as much as you wish of the stone mixed with its mixture and grind it with some water, mixed with copperas and sal ammoniac until it becomes black. Then put it very near a very slight heat until it smells like semen. When it has that smell take it away and wash it slowly with some clear water, and then roast it gently until you notice a visible vapour.” The text continues to explain a long and complex set of instructions, repeated 50 to 60 times. It is obvious that this is not the greatest of scientific methods. The process is long and extremely imprecise and is thus prone to error. If the instructions were not followed precisely, you would not get the desired results. Fracis Bacon himself describes the process as “full of Errour and Imposture; And in the Theory, full of unsound Imaginations” (Experiment Solitary). Although alchemy may seem fool hearted, it is rooted in logical assumptions. Everyday, we see the changing of materials into other materials, ice into water, water into air.Every day mud was changed into frogs, and carcasses into worms. The greatest miracle of all was the transmutation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ in he Eachrist. The basis of alchemy was a system of philosophy which hoped or claimed to penetrate the mystery of life and to understand and control the formation of inanimate substances philosophy of alchemy taught that the process of nature tend toward perfection it was natural for man to strive to create perfection– among metals, gold. (What is Alchemy?)But this was not the general consensus of the scientific community. Scientists like Roger Bacon believed that observations are often times false. He says this of observations: it must not be supposed that proficiency in the physical and experimental sciences is the highest standard of perfection we have faculties that are brought into use by observation, experiment, and analysis; and we have also the higher faculty of intelligence and reason the observation, classification, and analysis of natural phenomena do not constitute the highest form of intellectual activity. (Experimental Sciences)In these ways, alchemy is different from science. While science observes nature, and tries to find out how it works, alchemy tries to manipulate nature. Even still, alchemy is sometimes considered the proto-chemistry. ” chemistry, which grew out of alchemy , but because of their intensely metaphysical purposes and beliefs, alchemists did not develop modern scientific methods” (Skeptic’s Dictionary). This was mainly because in chemistry, chemists try and manipulate materials into new substances, not much different then from the goals of the alchemist, but this is where the similarity ends. More often, alchemy was ” fumblings toward scientific explanation diverged quite frequently into sorcery” (Medieval Man).
Although alchemy was prevalent during the Middle Ages, scientists like Francis Bacon tried to advance what we knew of the world. In those times, he knew the inaccuracies of his work. He knew the limitations of science and observation.Moreover the works already known are due to chance and experiment rather than to science; for the sciences we now possess are merely systems for the nice ordering and setting forth of things already invented; not methods of invention or directions for new works The logic now in use serves rather to fix and give stability to the errors which have their foundation in commonly received notions than to help the search after truth. So it does more harm than good It is idle to expect any great advancement in science from the superinducing and engraving of new things upon old But with far more subtlety does this mischief insinuate itself into philosophy and the sciences; in which the first conclusion colours and brings into conformity with itself all that come after, though far sounder and better perpetual error of human intellect to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives. (First Book)This is an important observation, considering the time period he was in. While most alchemists and other scientists believed that what they had found, even by pure chance, was the truth. Many times, these findings could never be duplicated. Even if they had been, it would probably have been from the same follies made by the one who discovered them. Francis Bacon not only criticizes the techniques, he offers suggestions for improvements.[We] must analyse nature by proper rejections and exclusions; and then, after a sufficient number of negatives, come to a conclusion on the affirmative instances But natural and experimental history is so various and diffuse, that it confounds and distracts the understanding, unless it be ranged and Presented to view in a suitable order. We must therefore form Tables and Arrangements of Instances, in such a method and order that the understanding may be able to deal with them. (First Book) Most people believe that the church was against science. This is not true; if anything, they were opposed to alchemy. They believed that they “Poor[ed] themselves, the alchemists promise riches which are not forthcoming conscious of their own ignorance when the truth sought does not come to them they fix on a day [for their experiment] and exhaust all their arts.” (Crime) On the other hand, the Church firmly supported science. the Church gladly welcomes any light that science may afford to aid in the explanation and defense of revealed truth is well-known to all who read the theological or scriptual treatieses of Catholic writers faith is not built on the claims of science; we believe certain truths, not because science teaches them, but because they have been revealed by the Author of all truth and all of all science Faith has nothing to fear from the claims of science; hence the Church favors most complete scientific investigation, provided it be conducted in the proper spirit, with the desire or arriving at the truth. (Experimental Science) It is true that alchemists made many advances in their time, such as the discovery of sulfuric acid which lead to many other discoveries, none of which would have been possible without sulfuric acid. At the same time, “It should be noted that science as we know it was able to develop only when the search for essences and the quintessence of things was abandoned” (Skeptic’s Dictionary).