Alchemy – Our Quest for Immortality

Alchemy Transformation

Origin of Alchemy

The name alchemy itself reflects the art’s mysterious origins. We have inherited the word from the Arabic al-kimia, as it was the Islamic world that did most to keep its practice alive during the early Middle Ages. However, the Arabs took the word from the Greek word chemeia, when they occupied Alexandria in the seventh century. And, chemeia, which is also the origin of the word chemistry, meant “those who have knowledge of the Egyptian arts.” As is often the case with the quest for immortality, all roads lead back to the Nile.

Two Goals of Alchemy

The oldest mention of alchemy in history is in the records of the first-century BC Chinese historian Sima Qian. He describes how the royal court alchemist sought to transform cinnabar, a bright red mercury ore, into gold – and that if this was used for eating and drinking it would ensure “you will never die.” Thus, from its earliest days, alchemy has been associated with the pursuit of two goals united by the idea of transformation: the transformation of base metals into gold and of mortal humans into immortals.

Achieving Immortality

Although now more associated with the transformation of base metals into gold, most alchemists would have considered at the very least that they were inextricably linked, and very often, as in Sima Qian’s description, that the production of gold was merely the means to the end of achieving immortality.

When aspiring to live forever, the elixir was whatever helped to stave off aging and death a little bit longer, and its pursuit encompassed what we would now consider to be very disparate traditions, from medicine to magic and science to religion. Yet, despite these many strands, the quest for the elixir has come to be known by one name: alchemy.

Taoism and Life Extension 

In China, at the time of the First Emperor (220-210 BC), alchemy was a vital part of Taoism – the prevalent religious-philosophical system. Taoist practitioners developed life-extension techniques that are now, over 2000 years later, continuing to prosper: meditation, breathing exercises, the gymnastics of tai chi and qigong, and the consumption of tea, ginseng and many other herbs and minerals. One of Taoism’s core texts, known as The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, remains the central source for Chinese traditional medicine.

Immortality book
Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization
Stephen Cave

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Stephen Cave
Stephen Cave

Stephen Cave is Executive Director of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He has a PhD in Philosophy from Cambridge.  Before turning to full-time writing, he worked as a diplomat. He writes regularly for the Financial Times and also contributes to the New York Times.


 The 4 Stories We Tell Ourselves About Death – TED Talk by Stephen Cave

Is Optimism a Way of Creating the Future?

Optimism

We Are Responsible for the Future

The possibilities that lie in the future are infinite. When I say ‘It is our duty to remain optimists,’ this includes not only the openness of the future, but also that which all of us contribute to it by everything we do.

We are responsible for what the future holds in store. It is our duty, not to prophesy evil, but, rather, to fight for a better world..

Karl Popper, The Myth of the Framework: In Defense of Science and Rationality

The Principle of Optimism

All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.

Optimism is a way of explaining failure, not prophesying success. It says that there is no fundamental barrier, no law of nature or supernatural decree, preventing progress.

Whenever we try to improve things and fail, it is not because the spiteful (or benevolent) gods are thwarting us or punishing us for trying, or because we have reached a limit on the capacity of reason to make improvements, or because it is best that we fail, but always because we did not know enough, in time.

In addition, optimism is a stance towards the future, because nearly all failures, and nearly all successes, are yet to come.

The Beginning of Infinity
The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World

David Deutsch

Background on David Deutsch

What is the Power of Compassion?

Compassion
Compassion Leads to Reconciliation

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.
These are your greatest treasures.

Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.

    Lao-Tzu

Book of Awakening
Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have
Mark Nepo

Background on Mark Nepo

 


Lao-Tzu
Lao-Tzu
6th or 4th century BC

 

Lao-Tzu (also Laozi, Li Er or Lao-Tze) was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, the founder of philosophical Taoism, and a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.

semi-legendary figure, Lao-Tzu was usually portrayed as a 6th-century BC contemporary of Confucius, but some modern historians consider him to have lived during the 4th century BC. A central figure in Chinese culture, Lao-Tzu is claimed by both the emperors of the Tang dynasty and modern people of the Li surname as a founder of their lineage. 

 

Gilgamesh & The Secret of Life

Gilgemesh

Ancient Sumerian Tale of Gilgamesh

The stubborn, hard king Gilgamesh sought to ask the Immortal One the secret of life. He was told that there would be stones on his path to guide him.

But in his urgency and and pride, Gilgamesh was annoyed to find his path blocked, and so smashed the very stones that would have helped him. In his blindness of heart, he broke everything he needed to discover his way.

We too, in the same confusion, break what we need, push away those we love, and isolate ourselves when we need to be held most.

Book of Awakening
Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have

Mark Nepo

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Mark Nepo
Mark Nepo
born 1951

. Mark Nepo website
. Wikipedia

Mark Nepo is a poet and spiritual adviser who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for over 35 years. He is a cancer survivor. In his 30s he was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, a struggle which helped to form his philosophy of experiencing life fully while staying in relationship to an unknowable future.

Nepo has a doctorate in English. He taught for 18 years at the State University of New York in Albany, New York.

Nepo is best known for his New York Times #1 bestseller, The Book of Awakening.

Books written by Mark Nepo include:


On the One Life We’re Given – Mark Nepo

Where Can We Find The Deepest Human Life?

Deepest Human Life

The Deepest Human Life is Everywhere 

Plato helps us realize that within each of us the very depths of being human are present – we see that each human life reflects something important about who we are.

The difference between regular folks and someone like Kant, pertains to our differing abilities to articulate the shape of a philosophical constellation – it has nothing to do with our inner substance. The pursuit of wisdom involves a confrontation with our ignorance, most famously embodied in the “I know I know nothing” of Socrates.

Regardless how challenging things may be, we take solace in the fact that even a profound confusion is a profound confusion. Whatever holiness can be found in Socrates and Confucius is within our reach.

Exploring Life Through Philosophy

Philosophy, as Plato shows, involves confronting the fact that our most stubborn attempts to think clearly come up short, but we nonetheless have to live as if we had answers to the stubborn mysteries. Philosophy is everything that humanly follows from a real confrontation with our strange predicament.

At it’s best it’s a way of life. The division between the wise and the foolish is not between those with all the answers and those who are confused. The great dividing line is between our usual folly and an enlightened folly, by which one understands life itself and has found a way of happily living in an impossible relationship.

Can Beliefs & Wisdom Coexist?

Thomas Aquinas, the master of the theologians, is said to have come down from his vision of God and declared his thousands of learned pages so much straw. Yet, as Socrates and other great ones teach us, we can’t do without beliefs. They’re a necessary part of being human.

Wisdom is compatible with any number of traditions, religious or otherwise. For wisdom is not so much the possession of right beliefs (though it involves dodging the worst of them) as finding a way to relate to our beliefs in such a way that the good parts of us are liberated. Wisdom isn’t a doctrine: it’s a style.

The Deepest Human Life
The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone

Scott Samuelson

Background on Scott Samuelson