Phlogiston wasn’t stupid at all

I hope Google doesn’t start censoring its Books department. All VALID ideas and CORRECT facts were written before the 20th century. Pretty much everything written since 1906 is either trivial or intentionally murderously false. Censoring new ideas is usually a net gain of real knowledge, whether the new ideas are ‘establishment’ or ‘independent’.

Before Googlebooks, finding old truths required access to a decent college library, and lots of walking and lifting. Now the old truths are physically easy to find.

As with any sort of looking, you still need to know what you’re seeking, you need to know some relevant names, and you need to read a few languages. You need to recognize the footprints or smell of your target in non-obvious places. Those tracking skills come from experience whether you’re walking up and down ten flights of narrow steps in the Old Stacks or navigating Google’s sometimes stubborn algorithms.

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Today’s example:

UncommonDescent cites an attempt to redo the stupid Miller-Urey Experiment, mixing various chemicals, adding sparks or heat, and waiting a long time.

This suddenly reminded me of the standard alchemist recipes for gold, which were often meant as metaphors for creating life. Most of them were sold to suckers, who then spent the recommended number of years waiting for the result while the seller moved off and found other suckers.

I posted my usual snarky comment, then went looking for more detailed recipes.

I found them, but I also found illumination in a 1902 book on alchemy.

Phlogiston is one of those old bits of science that we were never properly taught. We were only told to laugh at it. Ha ha ha, we learned. Alchemists thought fire was a physical element like oxygen, which fell out of the wood when it burned. THIS MOCKERY, LIKE MOST TROLLING, IS INTENTIONAL DECEPTION.

From the 1902 book:

Stahl observed that many substances which differed much from one another in various respects were alike in one respect; they were all combustible. All the combustible substances, he argued, must contain a common principle; he named this supposed principle phlogiston (from the Greek word phlogistos = burnt, or set on fire).

Stahl said that the phlogiston of a combustible thing escapes as the substance burns, and, becoming apparent to the senses, is named fire or flame. The phlogiston in a combustible substance was supposed to be so intimately associated with something else that our senses cannot perceive it; nevertheless, the theory said, it is there; we can see only the escaping phlogiston, we can perceive only the phlogiston which is set free from its combination with other things.

The theory thought of phlogiston as imprisoned in the thing which can be burnt, and as itself forming part of the prison; that the prisoner should be set free, the walls of the prison had to be removed; the freeing of the prisoner destroyed the prison. As escaping, or free, phlogiston was called fire, or flame, so the phlogiston in a combustible substance was sometimes called combined fire, or flame in the state of combination.

A peculiarity of the strange thing called phlogiston was that it preferred to be concealed in something, hidden, imprisoned, combined; free phlogiston was supposed to be always ready to become combined phlogiston.

PRINCIPLE, NOT ELEMENT. Crucial difference. This description makes clear that phlogiston was simply another name for molecular bonds. Bonds are not a substance or an element, and they prefer to be concealed. You can’t have a bond without a pair of elements that want to be combined.

Why did we need to mock Stahl? Post-1906 “science” assumes that the universe is nothing but randomly moving particles. Every force and field must be expressed as particles, no matter how many contradictions we get. This viewpoint can’t allow any PRINCIPLES or WAVES or SOULS or SPIRITS. Only randomly moving billiard balls.

Above all the particulators can’t allow purpose or intention or desire. Stahl was treating phlogiston as a purpose, not a particle.

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Irrelevant footnote on Google’s stubborn algo: For some reason GoogleBooks insists on looking only inside books even when you give it the exact title. Often I’ve written down the exact title of an old journal in my worklog so I can find it again. Later I try to relocate it by the exact title. Google feeds me mentions of the title in other books or bibliography lists. It won’t find the actual book unless I can think of a unique combo of words inside the book.