Monday, October 24, 2016

Philosopher's stone as pictured in Atalanta Fugiens Emblem 21 Image: Wikipedia

Philosopher’s stone as pictured in Atalanta Fugiens Emblem 21 Image: Wikipedia

For thousands of years, some of the most intelligent men alive sought such things as the Philosopher’s Stone, which could turn dross into precious metal; the elixir of immortality; and the alkahest or universal solvent. The searches were in vain. The world needed more than a magic wand.

There is nothing inherently wrong in belief. Belief is only a hypothesis in search of a demonstration. The history of science is replete with the beliefs of great, wise men who struggled to understand Nature. Aristotle’s four elements, fire, earth, water and air, ruled chemistry and medicine for thousands of years. Eventually, careful measurements showed that fire had no mass, that earth was composed of elements, that life did not spring from water, and that air was a mixture, not a substance in its own right.

Alchemy was universal. Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jew all pursued it. A mere 350 years ago, there were still hopes that the philosopher’s stone, the origin of all matter, might be found. Today, there remain several societies of alchemists. Belief in belief dies hard.

In November 2015, a cabal of latter-day necromancists, sorcerers, soothsayers, wizards, witches, mavins and shamans gathered in Paris. They claimed to have discovered a wondrous formula, which would allow adjustment of the average temperature of the earth. It mattered not that every test of the formula to date had proved a failure. All that was required was a twitch here, a stirring there, and the bubbling cauldron that Earth had become would revert to the quiet simmering that characterised the perfection of life.

What was most important was that every nation on earth should commit to the belief. This they would do by making Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. If the total of these Contributions was large enough, then global warming would become global cooling, and we would all live happily ever after.

This latter-day cabal has even set up a system of selling indulgencies. If you sinned by failing to meet your Intended Contribution, you could wish away your excess with Carbon Credits. The present generation of omniscients seems to have missed the fact that indulgence-selling led directly to the Reformation. For the rest of us, reformation is long overdue.

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