Category Archives: alchemy

A Story for Everyone

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a common story we could all learn and share? A story about who we are, what we are, and maybe even a little about the how and the why. Could it be told in such a way that each of us could accept it as our very own? A film and companion book coming out soon will attempt just that, titled Journey of the Universe.

Previous books by Loyal Rue and Brian Swimme have tried to achieve this ideal. Swimme is involved in this new movie, and is the narrator. Rue’s book is a personal favorite. Astrophysicist Eric J. Chaisson has written many books on this topic. Their common theme is evolution, expanded from the biological to encompass the cosmos. Cosmic evolution, if you will.

Evolution merely means change over time, i.e. transformation. Most people agree that things have changed over time, but many disagree on how much, how long, and how come. How can we decide what information to accept, and what to reject? The great unifier of human knowledge is science, yet science is often disparaged even while making the modern world possible. Partially, I’m sure, for that very reason.

Different cultures have had their own creation stories since the very beginning of humanity. Many have said that a large part of being human is the impulse to tell and the need to hear stories. All narratives are built from atomic parts that answer questions: who, what, how, and why. Or, to cast them into modal verbs: may, can, must, and should. Who may? Intention or agency: the characters. What can? Chance or contingency: the setting. How must? Structure or necessity: the plot. Why should? Obligation or responsibility: the theme.

Would a story simplistic enough for everyone to accept be so dilute as to be worthless? All life as we know it requires water, and pure water is ultimately ‘diluted’. But water is certainly not worthless. Daniel Dennett calls the concept of evolution the ‘universal acid’, an alchemical alkahest. Can we replace the corrosive acid in his metaphor with sustaining and nurturing water?

http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2011/03/31/135008214/journey-of-the-universe-the-challenge-of-telling-everybodys-story

http://www.journeyoftheuniverse.org/

Loyal Rue / Everybody’s Story: Wising Up to the Epic of Evolution

Brian Swimme / The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era–A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos

Daniel Dennett / Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: evolution and the meaning of life

Eric J. Chaisson / Epic of Evolution: seven ages of the cosmos

Marjolein Groefsema / Can, May, Must and Should: A Relevance Theoretic Account, in Journal of Linguistics, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 53-79

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Arthur M. Young’s Fourfold Theory of Process

I have recently come across the philosophical work of Arthur M. Young (AMY). This is an initial impression of that work since I have only read what is available from the web links below, and even then there is a great deal to digest. In addition, there is difficulty in presenting a summary of his theory because of similarities to my ideas as well as substantial differences. I am sure I will need to return to AMY’s theory after more consideration.

I have hinted at a correspondence between several double duals presented in this blog, but I have steered away from claiming that they are all linked to each other – that they are essentially equivalently exchangeable. AMY’s theory links the four elements, the four causes, Jung’s functions of the psyche, geometrical elements and transformations, as well as several other fourfolds into a cosmic theory of reality.

Some of these same fourfolds are present in my theory, and I am considering how others may be introduced. Some not mentioned by AMY are only mentioned in earlier entries on this blog, without presentation. However, from many of these same fourfolds I have reached substantially different conclusions from AMY. I believe this is because AMY’s theory of process is essentially dualistic, whereas my theory appears to be physicalistic, although one might also say it is a process and/or relational theory.

Below is a table of some of the correspondences for AMY’s theory of process:

Aristotle’s
Four
Causes
Jung’s
Functions
of the Psyche
Four
Elements of
Empedocles
Geometric
Transform-
ations
Purpose Final Intuition Fire Rotation Spirit
Value Material Emotion Water Scale Soul
Form Formal Intellect Air Inversion Mind
Object Efficient Sensation Earth Translation Body

Below is a table of some of the correspondences for my theory:

Four Elements
of Empedocles
The Here and
the Now
Aristotle’s
Four Causes
Duality of
Time and
Information
Hjelmslev’s
Net
Fire Before Efficient Change time Substance
of content
Water After Final Bear time Form of
content
Air Above Formal Bear
information
Form of
expression
Earth Below Material Change
information
Substance
of expression

References:

Arthur M. Young / The Reflexive Universe

Arthur M. Young / The Geometry of Meaning

http://www.arthuryoung.com/barr.html

http://www.arthuryoung.com/4levels.html

http://www.arthuryoung.com/the2exc.html

[*6.84-*6.89, *7.78, *7.79, *8.2, *8.62, *8.63]

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The Here and the Now

Whosoever speculated on these four things, it were better for him if he had not come into the world —

  • what is above?
  • what is beneath?
  • what was beforetime?
  • and what will be hereafter?

— From the Mishnah (Hagigah 2:1)

All things have a root and a top; all events an end and a beginning. Whoever understands correctly what comes first and what follows draws nearer the Dao.

— From T’ai Hioh by Confucius

As above, so below.

— From The Emerald Tablet

I like these quotes because they show that Above, Below, Before and After are linked together. The first quote gives a warning about thinking about these concepts, but the second, encouragement. Above and below, or higher and lower, can be thought of as directions in space, but also as terms of hierarchy. Before and after can be thought of as directions in time, but also as beginnings and endings, causes and results.

Every individual is situated in space and time (see SpaceTime). Every perspective is due to expression and content (see Hjelmslev’s Net). Here is space, now is time.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerald_Tablet

[*5.160, *6.30]

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The Four Elements of Empedocles

Into this wilde Abyss,
The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixt
Confus’dly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more Worlds,
Into this wilde Abyss the warie fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and look’d a while,
Pondering his Voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.

— From Paradise Lost by John Milton


The Four Elements of Empedocles is one of the earliest ontologies. While not of special interest in itself (except of course to alchemy), other double duals are comparable to it, such as the The Here and the Now and Heidegger’s Fourfold. Additionally, it is interesting to remember that it was thought that the four elements were the primitives of which everything is composed; for example bone was fire, air, water, and earth blended in a certain proportion. I am unsure of the origin of the choice of the elements: why these four and not others?

Also, note that with respect to light transmission, the four elements can be arranged in the sequence of bright, light, dim, and dark. This is not to say that fire is “good” and earth “bad”, or that fire and earth are the most different from each other. Perhaps this distinction will have some meaning later.

[*5.188, *6.32, *6.56, *7.194]

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Introduction

“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world’s one, and only truth.”

Alphonse Elric, in the first opening to Fullmetal Alchemist

The concept of Equivalent Exchange introduced in the anime quoted above inspired the title of this blog. “To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.” Though this term was recently coined, the concept is a familiar one and has been around for a long time. It is found as guides, rules, and laws in philosophy, religion, and science. For example:

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Don’t take more than you give.
  • Give and you shall receive.
  • What goes around comes around.
  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  • You get what you pay for.
  • You get what you deserve.
  • An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
  • You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.
  • Energy is neither created nor destroyed.
  • Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
  • Yin and yang.
  • Karma.

I’m sure many more can be listed. I invite my readers to submit them.

These are all conservation laws: total value is maintained, even while it changes hands. And they certainly seem to be “conservative”:  all things being equal, they usually hold.

That being said, this blog isn’t specifically about “equivalent exchange”, except for hopefully obtaining the value of knowledge for the effort expended. Instead, I hope to explore a common thread that runs through philosophy, logic, and semiotics in the form of “double duals” (which themselves seem to have the property of equivalent exchange), with the goal of understanding and classifying different philosophical subjects and systems, exploring the nature of pluralism, and enhancing dialogue between opposing viewpoints. The image of the Tower of Babel in the title banner was chosen because public discourse has become fragmented and even broken.