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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Alchemy

The first reference to alchemy, the search for an elixir of immortal life, was made by a Chinese Taoist in approx 140BC. These early alchemists were seeking to convert other metals into gold, not to create wealth, but as a step towards discovering the recipe for eternity. Among their experiments were an attempt to develop an immortality pill through refining mercury sulphide: The use of this poisonous substance lead to many deaths, including Tang emperors.

The phrase "talk gibberish" alludes to the Persian scientist and alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan (c. 721 – c. 815), whose name was latinised as geber. Gibberish referred to the incomprehensible jargon he used when describing how to turn base metals into gold.

The medieval alchemists failed to form gold out of cheaper metals. However, in the process of searching, they discovered the strong acids: sulfuric acid, nitric acid and hydrochloric acid - substances much more useful to modern industry than gold could possibly be.

The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone, by Joseph Wright, 1771

Had the medieval alchemists learned how to make gold out of lead, it would have been an economic failure. The large increase in the gold supply would have decreased its value.

On January 13, 1404, King Henry IV of England signed into law the Act Against Multiplication, forbidding alchemists from turning base metals into gold. 


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