|Figure 3: The Apparatus
of Antoine Lavoisier.|
Astrology and Health
vitalism and humours [part 4]
Over a century later, in
1787, the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier made his important discovery
of the principles of combustion. In his most famous experiment, he
heated quicksilver and air inside a retort (see Figure 3). He concluded
from the experiment that the heated quicksilver reacted with a portion
of the air to form a red powder (mercuric oxide) on its surface.
He also noted that only a certain portion of the air inside the retort
was able to react with the quicksilver in this way.
In further experimentation
he found that the portion of air that reacted with the quicksilver also
reacted with other heated metals, generated combustion and supported life.
The remaining portion of air that was left after combustion did not support life. He called the portion of the air that supported life oxygen
and the portion that did not support life, azote. Azote was later
understood by chemists to be predominantly composed of nitrogen.
Against Boyle's chemical definition of an element, this demonstration that
air is composed of two portions meant that it could no longer be considered
to be an element. A similar story can be told for water.
In 1766 the English philosopher
Henry Cavendish discovered a gas which he called "inflammable air".
He found the gas was given off when dilute sulphuric acid was dripped onto
zinc, as in Figure 4. On burning the gas in the air, he observed that
it formed water droplets. In 1788 Lavoisier repeated Cavendish's
experiment and realised that the "inflammable air" reacted with the oxygen
in the air to form water. Lavoisier then renamed the "inflammable
air" hydrogen after the Greek meaning "water producer". Once again
with the chemical definition of an element, this demonstration of water
being composed of hydrogen and oxygen meant that water could no longer
be considered as an element.
|Figure 4: The Apparatus
for extracting Hydrogen.|
Furthermore, against this new definition, Earth obviously was no longer seen as a pure element, since it embraces a bewildering range of naturally occurring substances. Similarly Ether, an Element that lacks form and substance, was instantly dismissed as having any validity whatsoever. This is why scientific historians are able to describe Ether as "a hypothetical substance, that has no reality".
The combined effect of this definition of a chemical element, along with the applied zeal of the early scientists in making their explorations of the material world, apparently shattered the ancient Elemental cosmology. Within a few decades, several dozen new chemical elements were identified. In retrospect, explaining
material composition only in terms of four, possibly five, elements seems
incredibly naive! Here is the so called "triumph of reason over the
superstitions of the past". Furthermore, students of chemistry today
will learn of the existence of 100+ atomic units, known as elements. Thus to the contemporary scientific mind Elemental cosmology seems even
Whilst it is true that in the last three centuries chemistry has made enormous developments in understanding the material world around us, using its insights based upon the chemical definition of an element, it is not true to say that chemistry has triumphed over the naive superstitions of the ancients. This only appears to be true when the chemical definition is projected into the minds and work of the ancient philosophers. This projection in fact constitutes a huge cultural anachronism.
Triumph of Reason...?
In stark contrast to the chemist's "triumph of reason over the past", paradoxically it is science
that also most compellingly reveals the validity of Elemental knowledge
today. It is found in the relatively youthful discipline of ecology
– the study of the relationship of living things to their environment and
to other species. Ecology breathes new life into Elemental knowledge;
however, the Elements are notably disguised as "ecological factors" and
include light, heat, moisture, soil and wind.
Generally in the botanical world, soil is the Earth that a plant sinks its roots into, providing anchorage and minerals. Water is the moisture derived from the soil and drawn up
from the roots, through the stem and leaves. It provides the turgor
pressure that maintains its structure and the medium of its physiology.
Fire is the heat and light of the sun, the powerhouse of photosynthesis. Finally wind is Air from which the carbon dioxide for making sugar during
photosynthesis is obtained. Where these Elements are in balance,
then the quintessential nature of Ether is revealed by the plant flourishing
and growing abundantly. By contrast, too much or too little of any one
of these Elements severely compromises growth and may even destroy the
plant. Ether is unable to become manifest.
It is well recognized that the form and structure of a plant is inseparable from the microclimate of the plant's environment. The most successful plants are the ones whose form has adapted to the specific balance of Elements in their habitat.
Ecology well recognizes that the effectiveness of a plant's life cycle
is dependant on the scale and strength of these ecological factors.
The ancient philosopher's
conception of an Element as one of the universal forces upon which life
depends is much greater and more profound than Boyle's intellectual definition.
What science has subsequently gained has gained in materialistic knowledge through its chemical definition is in fact inversely proportional to what
it has lost in terms of the metaphysical insights of how consciousness
is interconnected with the material world.
Nowhere is the inability
to understand the relationship of consciousness with matter more acutely
shown than the application of materialistic thinking to understanding the
functioning of the body. In conventional medicine, the physiology
of the body is described with tremendous biochemical detail, but,
despite all the technological advances and developments, the more metaphysical
aspects of human nature are woefully unanswered, even denied as ever existing in the first place. In spite of all the insights into our DNA and
chromosomes that genetics provides, the true nature of life is as illusive
as ever. Furthermore, despite psychosomatic medicine recognizing
that mental and emotional states have a profound effects on the health
of the physical body, the exact mechanism whereby each individual's mental
and emotional state contributes to their illness is still inadequately
This is precisely where the
metaphysical knowledge of the Elements that enabled physicians to gain
their important insights into the functioning of the vital force are once
again enormously valuable. This knowledge will enable herbalists,
naturopaths, healers, doctors and others involved in the caring professions
to gain the mental and emotional perspectives of each individual accompanying their physiological patterns. An awareness of the vital force gradually trains students to intuitively grasp the metaphysical insights that accompany disease and subsequently realize what needs to be done to heal the patterns.