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Islamic Alchemy and the Birth of Chemistry

Islamic Alchemy and the Birth of Chemistry

By Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Journal for the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 3 (1979)

Introduction: Alchemy is at once a science of the cosmos, or cosmology, a sacred science of the soul, or psychology, a science of materials and a complement to certain branches of traditional medicine. It is not a proto-chemistry although it deals with physical materials from a particular point of view; nor is it he origin of modern scientific method – although alchemy has been concerned in the profoundest sense with experiment and experience, that inner experiment which alone leads to certitude and of which all external experience is but a pale shadow. The traditional alchemist serves a the window through which the light of the spiritual world shines upon the natural domain and the revivifying air – or more precisely ether – of the empyrean penetrate from a purely physical point of view, this being the work of charcoal burners. Rather, he aims to transform nature in order to return nature to that primordial perfection, that paradisal beatitude which nature is in reality, although this face of nature remains veiled and hidden from the view of modern man. Through the transmutation, based upon a sacred science of things, of the soul of the beholder to pure gold, alchemy permits the solar element or the supernal Apollo to shine upon the world of the gross elements and their compounds.

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