Saturday, June 30, 2007

Retirement Planning and Alchemy

Retirement Planning and Alchemy

I begin the second section of the book titled "Seven Misunderstandings" with a brief discussion about the alchemist. The history of this pseudo-science, archaically referred to as Ars Magna has its roots on many different continents. The practice of transmutation was practiced by the Arabs, the Chinese, the Hebrews, and the Indians.

Many believe that the nature of alchemy can be broken down into three distinct categories. Some suggest four, adopting a French term to describe the alchemists who persisted in a single quests rather than anything that might resemble scientific methodology. Called "Les Souffleurs" or blowers, their goal was almost solely for material gain.

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But alchemist struggled with religious implications as much as the did with the philosophical and scientific disciplines of their profession. Because of the nature of the art form, transformation was necessary and given the time frame when alchemy arose, there was no one better at achieving such changes than the Pope himself. Unfortunately, alchemy does not lend itself to quick study.

It was far easier for the Pope to simply call it the work of the Devil. Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas all supported the notion that alchemy was otherwise.

The scientific alchemist invented, discovered or were among the first to develop gunpowder, arsenic, phosphorous, a wide variety of acids and most importantly, some sort of method to prove their findings. The alchemist believed that there were "three principles - salt, sulphur and mercury and that sources of these three principles were the four elements: earth, water, fire and air". Simply boil water in a kettle and you can see how the alchemist arrived at such conclusions. After the water boiled, what was left but earth and air (in the form of steam).

Among the most notable scientists to embrace alchemy was Newton. He was an astronomer as well. In Newton's time, astrology and astronomy were one and the same for thousands of years leading up to and during Newton's time in history. Astrology and alchemy had also been intertwined for thousands of years. This made Newton's deep studies into mathematics and his related breakthrough theories in gravity and astronomy, for which he is best known, possible. Newton was a mystic and possibly an occultist but much of what he worked on was destroyed in a fire.

Is it any wonder they have been described as Sorcerers? Because of the time needed to devote to such pursuits, the philosophical alchemist arose. This alchemist searched for elixirs to prolong life or inanimate objects that would provide wisdom.

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Alchemist did finally achieve some degree of notoriety when in 1935, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Doctors Irène Joliot-Curie and Frédéric Joliot of Paris for their synthesis of new radioactive elements carried out in partnership. In the speech given at the ceremony, Professor W. Palmaer who was serving as chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry said,"

    "Madame, Sir. In awarding to both of you in equal shares the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this year, the Royal Academy of Sciences has been pleased to be able to reward, in a brilliant way, the synthesis, achieved by your united efforts, of new radioactive elements.

    Thanks to your discoveries, it has become possible, for the first time, to transform artificially one element into another hitherto unknown. At last the old dream of the alchemists has become reality. Their main object, the production of gold, has been attained, though by a path, it is true, less direct than they thought would lead them there. The results of your researches are of capital importance for pure science, but in addition, physiologists, doctors, and the whole of suffering humanity hope to gain from your discoveries, remedies of inestimable value.

Retirement planning can have similar goals. We seek to transform years of hard work and toil, diligent saving and scrimping in the hope that the reward will be a comfortable, work-free lifestyle. Is this any less the work of an alchemist who tries to change one thing into another.

It is my hope that we can, in this section of the book, redirect some of the misunderstandings you might have and transform them into gold.

I leave you with this quote from Bertrand Russell: "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."