history of chemistryI wasn’t studying homeopathy for very long before I realised I had to learn a bit of chemistry! I was frustrated that I kept coming to the end of my knowledge. Unfortunately, they didn’t teach chemistry to Secondary Modern schoolchildren. They never taught us any of our history either, see the history blogs!

I have always been fascinated by the relationship of homeopathic remedies, but when Rajan Sankaran introduced the periodic table into the discussion, well that was that! I had to learn chemistry! Sankaran’s introduction of the periodic table seems to be leading us inexorably into the beginnings of real research into homeopathy. The battle with chemical pollution, the effects on the populations and flora and fauna of the Earth, and the increasing use of inorganic medications is leading inexorably to some sort of armagedon, forcing homeopathy to become increasingly complex. We hastily adopt modern compounds into our prescribing, such as atropine, DPT, agent orange, sulphonamides, sheep dip, petrochemicals and plutonium to name but a few, to keep up with the chemistry of our time.

Homeopaths have always observed relationships between homeopathic remedies, but this has not been based on chemistry, but on the doctrine of signatures, or based on observance with little or no scientific underpinning (see Relationships of Remedies project on these web pages). This is a historic understanding, which nonetheless is based on observing the real world and so will reflect the underlying chemistry. Homeopathy is a science originally based completely on observation, but we also allow for phenomena which no science is going to allow, for example the vital force, astral and etheric forces, the soul or super consciousness, the connectedness of all things and wholism – radically different from the newly emerging scientific doctrines. This has allowed us a continuum of practice in a world where science fragments existence, and as such this has been a real strength for us.

It has always fascinated me that simply by giving the indicated remedies, we nevertheless prescribe in related remedy sequences, but occasionally, complex relationships, or completely unrelated remedies present themselves into the middle of a case. With all the increasing pollution, we have had to become complex and adroit. Though the organic remedies from the early days of homeopathy remain our mainstays, our route back to health if you like, we can no longer practice with a handful of polycrests and the basic constitutional and miasmatic remedies, as of yore.

So we must all become more complex as we realise just how much we have to understand virus’, bacteria, parasites and chemical agents to enable us to remove blocks to health. More and more clients consult with complex problems and histories, never observed or even imagined by our homeopathic predecessors. More and more I want to ask Hahneman’s advice. More and more I want to ask him if he could have predicted this, and what would he do if he were in my shoes? More and more I wish he was still here, despite his unfortunate personality, he would know what to do, wouldn’t he?

The frustration I had is that I simply did not know what I was prescribing. I gave out nit ac, for example, but what is it? (I have a wonderful case at the moment that responded to nit ac, in essence the constitutional remedy in the case, only to find out that my client was doing her PHd in nitric acid). I may know the full remedy picture of nitric acid, but what is it? Does it matter that I’m not sure if arsenicum is a metal or a mineral as long as I know when to prescribe it? Does it matter that I don’t know what an alkaloid poison actually is if I can spot lachesis at one hundred paces across a crowded room? Does it matter if I understand that hellebore is a complex compound?

Well it has always bothered me quite a bit. Of course you can be a perfect homeopath if you don’t have a chemistry PHd, but what price curiousness? We use provings of poisonings all the time without twitching a hair. But what if the properties and relationships of the chemicals is essential knowledge? Toxicology and the chemistry that underpins it becomes increasingly relevant to me now.

I think of Alan Titchmarsh a lot lately. What would he say of the soil? We homeopaths are always talking about the soil, by which we mean the fabric and ancestry of the body. Of course Alan does not care if his beautiful plants are alkaloid or complex as long as they grow healthily and happily. However, as a gardener, he knows quite a bit about acid and alkali. I suspect he knows quite a bit about geology of different gardens too, and all that stuff about underlying substrata and mineral composition and what it all means for growing certain types of plants. Well, his ‘clients’ don’t pick up their roots and run around all over the place, do they? The plant hunters do though, don’t they? Gardeners have learnt to grow plants from all over the world and keep them healthy. They know how to alter their soil to keep their ‘clients’ health. We have much in common thee and I. What price curiosity? Huh? Can we find significant knowledge in chemistry to help us in homeopathy?

So what is chemistry?

Chemistry is the physical science that deals with the composition, structure and properties of substances and the transformations they undergo. Chemistry surmises that all matter is comprised of atoms, known as elements, which combine to form molecules and compounds, held together by chemical bonds, primarily electrostatic forces, which react by breaking or recombining to form different molecules and compounds under different conditions.

Organic chemistry deals with compounds derived from living organisms. Inorganic chemistry deals with compounds derived from everything else. Biochemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry etc are all subdivisions of these two basic divisions. Astrochemistry concentrates on interstellar matter, geochemistry concentrates on earth bound matter, and nuclear chemistry deals with transformations of the atomic nucleus. There are literally hundreds of different types of chemistry nowadays, but this basic rule always holds sway, except and including types of chemistry that deal with alchemical combinations and transforms of organic and inorganic chemistry, of which see more later!

Chemistry is a precise laboratory science concerning mass, volume and temperature changes, all measured by instruments that determine chemical properties precisely. Such structural analysis uses light, heat, magnetic field, radiation, radio and x-rays and lasers. Chromatography is used to separate complex compounds. Spectroscopy is used to analyse elements into their constituent parts..

Let’s get some history:

Fire and cooking are the most obvious early discoveries in chemistry, and metal working and pottery, dyes and perfumes are also basic chemical transforms. Many civilisations discovered galss making, and the Romans invented concrete, so the interest for discovery was intense throughout history. Technology = success!

Heraclitus in the 6th century BCE is recognised as understanding that there is a universal phenomena, a logos; and Aristotle in the 4th century BCE is credited with postulating the four basic humours of such universal, or primeval matter, as well as being the determiner of Western intellectual thinking. Anaxagoras and Empedocles postulated that this matter was comprised of ‘very small seeds’, and from this Leucippus deduced that all matter coalesced out of ‘indivisible atoms moving rapidly and at random in a void’. Unfortunately, we do not know what insights the Egyptians may have had because the library of Alexandra was burned, but I assume the Greeks knew something about the Egyptians. The Chinese were also very advanced and this knowledge may have been available on the Indian subcontinent. If we can learn to translate ancient mythic structure into knowledge instead of religion we would understand a lot more of the world view of our ancestors from around the world.

The Arabs knew about sodium hydroxide and ammonium chloride in the 8th century, their golden age lasted until the 11th century, when European alchemists took over. In Europe, centuries of alchemical studies follow, and these brave scholars identified most of the basic substances and some of their interactions. Centuries of medicines (most lost but being rediscovered) identify the uses of many complex compounds. reaching a pinnacle with Paracelcus in the 16th century. He introduced the use of substances into medicine with deliberation. We know something about medicine in the Middle Ages before Paracelsus, who is crdited with the innovation of medicine because he introduces a modern form of scientific method. Egyptian papyrus exist detailing medical treatments, and I am sure examples from India and China also exist. Indigenous tribes from the rainforest and other pasts of the world who knew how to treat pathology with sophisticated medicinal substances and our own stone age, bronze age and iron age ancestors must have known how to keep people alive, or else we would not have survived. Life may have been nasty, brutal and short, but maybe they knew more than we give them credit for, huh? I am always of the opinion that our ancestors must have been pretty smart, and that the modern drug and chemical industry still has a lot to learn. Humility is not a bad place to start, and so we shall give them credit here ’cause no one else will!

In the 17th century, Libavius published the first methodical chemical textbook, and Stahl proposed a unified theory of combustion and rusting (calcinations).

In the 18th century, gases were studied in more depth, using equipment that was not previously available for this purpose, making such study possible for the first time. Joseph Black discovered carbon dioxide in 1756, Carl Scheele and Joseph Priestly discovered oxygen in 1974 using the new equipment called the pneumatic trough.

The Rennaissance liberated research founded on the work of all those early alchemists. Frenchman Antione Laurent Lavoisier born on 8.5.1743 did not discover any new substances or devise any new preparations, but he did write a book on the subject which modernized chemical theory. His Elements of Chemistry was published in 1790 and earned him the name of the founder of modern chemistry, and this was because he placed chemistry on a quantitative basis, assigning each element a number such that this number or any integral multiple of it represented the weight in which the element combined (sorry about the math!). As such he married chemistry and mathematics. His big experiment was to prove that oxygen in the air is involved in combustion, rusting and respiration and his basic principles are still in use today. He also worked on the properties of gypsum and plaster of paris and on establishing a metric system of weights and measures. He also did work on street lighting, tax collection and banking, the administration of the Royal gunpowder and French agricultural resources, but he ended up on the guillotine during the French Revolution nonetheless. Such were the trials of early chemists. I suppose it was better than burning!

In the 19th century, John Dalton assumed that each element was composed of atoms which have a characteristic weight and that chemical reactions resulted from the reshuffling of the atoms. However, he could not prove it. Chemistry speeds up here, as the use of electric currents to break up compounds catapaults research, such that the alkali metals, alkali earth minerals, silicon and the halogens were isolated and studied. Michael Faraday proved that the amount of current necessary to liberate an equivalent weight of an element was the same for all the elements, which quickly led to formulations of negatively and positively charged molecules and concepts of atomic weight. More maths revealed that weights were precisely determined, the integer came to be known as the Valence, and a table of atomic weights was drawn up by Jakob Berzelius.

The First International Chemical Congress was held in 1860 where Avogadro mathematics (the same ones we refer to at the 30c potency!) proved that equal volumes of gasses at the same temperature and pressure contain the same number of molecules, allowing Dmitry Mendeleyez and Lothar Meyer to create the Periodic Table in 1871. This table allowed people to predict other, undiscovered elements, which were quickly identified and then the inert gases were added, helium, argon and neon.

The explosion of knowledge continued, chains and rings based on valency hooks and the number of chemical bonds each element possessed became known as the valency of the element. Valency theory led onto the structural theory of organic chemistry, and by 1874 this was extended into three dimensions and then applied to complex compounds and new methods of synthesis for new industries. Developments in physics combined with the developments in chemistry resulting in spectroscopy. Gasses could now be analysed by passing electricity through them, molten solids and liquids soon became open books. New technologies were developed to study radiation and isotopes, elements consisting of different atomic weights, seen as patterns of wave lenths lines under the spectroscope, revealing more complexities. Maths again explained the simple mathematical relationships in the visible spectrum, extreme ultra violet and infrared. One formula linked everything together!

In 1913 Neils Bohr proposed Atomic Theory, and quantum numbers explained the orbits in the atom. Wave motion and wave mechanics took us all into the 20th century and Marie and Pierre Curie discovered the radioactive elements. Radioactivity and Ernest Rutherford produced the first artificial tansmutation of elements, bring us full circle with the alchemists. Fission and antimatter extended the Periodic Table and the modern age born. (Apologies to the many scientists not mentioned here!)

WWII accelerated science to new heights with the atomic bomb, rare earths and modern electronics and new industries, and today, developments are a whirlwind of new discoveries and the second valence bond and other theories link inorganic and organic chemistry together, allowing theory to postulate even stranger substances and their uses. I will stop here, as we don’t need to do a PHd in the subject, do we? My son Laurie www.wildfalcon.com has just dropped ‘Atomic Spectra‘ by T P Softley on my desk. Softly, softly and thank you very much!

Then the explosion in medicine:

1939 sulphonomides first used against pneumonia.

1944 Penicillin first used against meningitis. It was soon discovered this had no effect against TB meningitis, and TB began to get stronger.

1947 Streptomycin was introduced for those cases where penicillin didn’t work.

1949 Polio vaccination introduced.

The bread and butter of general medical practice was gone! Magic! The explosion of these early antibiotics changed the course of history, and it all happened so quickly! Post WWII, a universal programme of antibiotics and vaccination began, and it is still going strong today. However, scientists are learning the hard way that they are not the panacea they promised to be. Animals are no longer force fed antibiotics due to health problems in humans. No doubt they will continue to learn what Hahneman knew all those years ago, that you have to individuate to each case.

Alan Titchmarch could tell them, couldn’t he? You just can’t plant cyclamens in full sunshine because they will die. In similar fashion you cannot apply the same treatment across the globe on everybody. Maybe one day they will learn?

Today the chemical industry has emerged from its renaissance and discovered DNA and genetics. We d not know what wonders await us, but my hunch is that they will become greener and less crazy as law suits shut down some of the weirdest abuses of chemicals and of vaccinations. Any way, they have better toys to play with now, don’t they?

In defence of the chemistry industry, you cannot stop the invention of the baked bean can, now can you? All those alchemists throughout history beavering away. You have to admire their tenacity and their curiosity, especially as many of them lived in fear of the Inquisition and quite a few of them got burnt at the stake for their troubles. I happen to admire Isaac Newton and our long tradition of alchemy. It is not the chemists or the desire for knowledge that annoys me, it is the usual greed and corruption and love of money that does it every time!!

The chemical industry provides us with pretty much everything we have, use or require to live in our civilisation. This industry will continue to expand and explore the universe and continue to provide us with anything and everything we will need to survive for the future, whether that will be by developing new science or rediscovering old knowledge. Green fuels are just one example of this. New drugs are another! This is still a very new industry and will have to go through all of the stages of knowledge until it learns some wisdom! Love it or hate it, we cannot live without it.