Alchemy was supposed to be the predecessor of modern day of chemistry. It has held an important place in medieval times. The subject majorly focused on the transmutation of matter, especially on the conversion of different base metals such as copper, tin, nickel and lead into silver and gold.
The Philosopher’s Stone, has now become limited to the fantasy and fictional work of art. In fact most people, especially generation Y, relate it to J.K Rowling’s book, Harry Potter. It was once the most sought-after substance in the field of alchemy for nearly 1000 years and was used to turn ordinary metals into gold.
Origination of the concept
The concept of the Philosopher’s Stone seemingly has its roots in the theories presented by Geber, a prominent alchemist in the 8th century. He proposed that each element can be categorized by four essential qualities of coldness, hotness, moistness and dryness. This hypothesis became the foundation of the concept of transmutation of metals where one metal can be transformed into another by rearranging these four basic qualities of an element.
The concept of stone turning inexpensive metals into pricey gold sounded so fascinating that it attracted the attention of influential people who then heavily invested in the search of the Philosopher’s Stone. There was a fine example from medieval times when a Bohemian king, who was facing several financial difficulties, decided to invest in search of the Philosopher’s Stone. A large number of alchemists flocked to Prague, who were provided with sufficient material and financial support, to find out the origin of the Philosopher’s Stone.
What does the Philosopher’s Stone look like?
Since there is no definite trail of the Philosopher’s Stone provided by history, therefore different historical anecdotes tell us different stories. It was called ‘the powder’, ‘the tincture’ or a ‘materia prima’. Materia prima was considered a prehistoric amorphous substance as the original source material of the universe.
The authenticity of the Philosopher’s Stone
The authenticity of this stone or substance is still draped in the cloak of secrecy and mystery. No one can definitely say that there exists a substance capable of transforming cheap metals into gold. However, there are a few intriguing facts that make the history of the Philosopher’s Stone more interesting.
In the 14th century, Nicolas Flamel, a French bookseller and public officer claimed to turn lead into gold with the help of a Spanish scholar and expert of mystic Hebrew text. He didn’t disclose his methods publically and we are not certain if there was any truth to the claim. However, no one can deny the fact that at the same point of time, Flamel accumulated considerable amount of wealth and donated most of it to several charities.
Isaac Newton, the man who has given the field of modern sciences many undisputed principles, was also lured by the fascination of alchemy, and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Similar to these examples, there are many other historical figures who quested for the Philosopher’s Stone. The obsession of intelligentsia of those times with the Philosopher’s Stone provides some basis to the fact that it may have existed.
Is it just a metaphor?
Since, the Philosopher’s Stone has been heavily studied under the subject of alchemy, and since alchemy itself was famous for using metaphors and symbolisms to associate physical and chemical phenomena to metaphysical and philosophical ones, the possibility of the Stone also being a metaphor exists.
In this mystic side of alchemy, the Philosopher’s Stone was considered to be a symbol of a person’s inner potential. It was believed that the Stone helped an individual develop a higher state of conscious, insight and perfection – something that gold also symbolizes. Against this backdrop, alchemy fused the concept of transmutation of metals, spiritual enlightenment and rejuvenation of the body with the idea of the Philosopher’s Stone.
The Philosopher’s Stone: Its place in modern history
The quest for the Philosopher’s Stone started to die during the 19th century. However, at the end of the 19th century, with the discovery of radioactivity, it became possible to observe that metals can be transformed into other metals by radioactive decay. Frederick Soddy, an English radiochemist, called this phenomenon the transmutation of metal, a concept that had formed the backbone of alchemy and the Philosopher’s Stone.
The truth about the Philosopher’s Stone remains inconclusive, but its legend continues to live.