Tag: History

Chemistry vs Alchemy – Essential Difference

Yet it was taking place alongside the altogether more ancient practice of alchemy, the quest to find a way to turn base metals into gold and to produce an elixir of eternal life. These goals are, as far as we know, as near to impossible as makes no difference* – but if alchemy had been conducted using scientific methods, one might still have expected all the alchemical research to produce a rich seam of informative failures, and a gradual evolution into modern chemistry.

That’s not what happened. Alchemy did not evolve into chemistry. It stagnated, and in due course science elbowed it to one side. For a while the two disciplines existed in parallel. So what distinguished them?

Of course, modern science uses the experimental method, so clearly demonstrated by Pascal’s hardworking brother-in-law, by Torricelli, Boyle, and others. But so did alchemy. The alchemists were unrelenting experimenters. It’s just that their experiments yielded no information that advanced the field as a whole. The use of experiments does not explain why chemistry flourished and alchemy died.

Perhaps, then, it was down to the characters involved? Perhaps the great early scientists such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton were sharper, wiser, more creative men than the alchemists they replaced? This is a spectacularly unpersuasive explanation. Two of the leading alchemists of the 1600s were Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. They were energetic, even fervent, practitioners of alchemy, which thankfully did not prevent their enormous contributions to modern science.

No, the alchemists were often the very same people using the same experimental methods to try to understand the world around them. What accounts for the difference, says David Wootton, a historian of science, is that alchemy was pursued in secret, while science depended on open debate. In the late 1640s, a small network of experimenters across France, including Pascal, worked simultaneously on vacuum experiments. At least a hundred people are known to have performed these experiments between Torricelli’s in 1643 and the formulation of Boyle’s Law in 1662. “These hundred people are the first dispersed community of experimental scientists,” says Wootton.

The Data Detective
Tim Harford

KISS and the Arbiters of Cool

I asked Gene if he remembered that line and he said, “Yes. The rock press was always attracted to the Talking Heads, Television, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols—bands who couldn’t sell out a stadium or even an arena. There is a side to that media completely devoid of connection to the people who make up most of the rock audience, a holier-than-thou Jon Landau disease, as if they are telling kids that they and they alone know what’s important. We are still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but there are three thousand licensed Kiss products, a Kiss toothbrush that plays ‘(I Want to) Rock and Roll All Nite’ when you put it in your mouth, and everything from Kiss caskets to Kiss condoms. There are no Radiohead condoms.”

Bumping Into Geniuses
Danny Goldberg

Portable Record Players and Rock and Roll

Individual portable record players soon followed. Up until then, the record player was in the living room, in the same piece of furniture that held the TV and radio. If it wasn’t for that portable machine, Rock and Roll might never have happened. A record player in the living room meant kids needed their parents’ permission, or at least tolerance, to listen to what they wanted. Without the portable player, the first generation of Rock kids would have never gotten Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Jerry Lee Lewis past their parents.

The older generation viewed those 1950s pioneers as an odd combination of novelty and threat. Humorous because of their onstage antics, flamboyant looks, and complete lack of talent (as parents defined it), but scary because there was an uncomfortable element of black culture connecting it all. What effect would that have on kids who already had too much time on their hands for their own good?

Unrequited Infatuations: A Memoir
Stevie Van Zandt

Jefferson – Tubman – Reagan

Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross, c. March 1822[1] – March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends,[2] using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the movement for women’s suffrage.


October, 2011 – 10 Years Ago


1. Maroon 5 Feat. Christina Aguilera – ‘Moves Like Jagger’
2. Foster the People – ‘Pumped Up Kicks’
3. Adele – ‘Someone Like You’
4. Bad Meets Evil Feat. Bruno Mars – ‘Lighters’
5. Rihanna – ‘Cheers (Drink to That)’
6. Britney Spears – ‘I Wanna Go’
7. David Guetta Feat. Usher – ‘Without You’
8. Cobra Starship Feat. Sabi – ‘You Make Me Feel…’
9. Lady Gaga – ‘You and I’
10. Lil Wayne – ‘How to Love’