Summary: More exploring of Ed in our time period as an immortal (ala Sandman series by Neil Gaiman). He now teaches a history class at a NJ college, and today's special discourse is our world's alchemy. Askew are major pop culture references, so cookies if you can pick 'em all out. This is mainly just a juxtaposition piece.
Note: All historical information is acurate. I reserached as I wrote.
Ed made his way quickly through the comic book store, barely waving to Walt Flanagan as he cruised by the walls lined with super heroes and mythological figures and girls with strange powers. Ed had just realized that he had ten minutes to change his pants and get to class, and going around the entire block of stores would only make him later. He only used this short cut on occasion, although he knew it was perfectly okay with the store to use their back entrance to get to another stairwell which lead to the flats above the comic book store.
Ed swore silently to himself as he fumbled up the cement lined stairwell, nearly tripping over several steps. He snarled down at them, “Whichever one of you steps tripped me, I’ll get you for this.” Ed snapped out of his stair vengeance mode, running up the final flight of stairs that lead into his apartment. He had forgotten to lock the door before he had gone to the diner, which made kicking the door open that much easier. The stillness of the main entrance hall reassured him that no one had tried to rob his home.
Finding a pair of pants was never easy for Edward, mainly because his entire living room had managed to become this closet. Instead of believing in laundry, like any normal person would, Ed had long ago decided to purchase 365 pairs of pants, one for each day of the year. In fact, he did that with all his clothing. 180 coats, 365 pairs of boxers, 365 pairs of socks, 365 shirts, and 365 pants. The real trick to this all was finding clothing that wasn’t dirty. Due to all the mismatched piles of clothing askew throughout green living room, this process was hindered even more so. So, instead of paying attention to what he was doing, Edward threw on a pair of kaki colour slacks, a black button up shirt, and a pair of electric green sandals, and made a bee-line to get out of the apartment.
Ed stared at his watch, “8 minutes to spare.” The next tricky part of all of this was managing to get to college on time. This would entail getting into his hunk-of-junk light blue Pacer with the lame flame detailing, speeding at 100 mph until he reached the campus, and then running as fast as he could to his lecture hall, unloading all the crap in the Pacer, and being in a mentally prepared state to teach. Ed had done it before, and he was confident he could do it again.
So, he did just that. The Pacer had managed to loose about half of the back bumper as Ed speed down Broad Street, and lost a tail light in the college parking lot. Running to class, Ed’s large leather bag of papers and artifacts had fallen out as he tripped over a flight of stone steps, and to top it all off, he had arrived 5 minutes late to class. Then he fell down the carpeted steps of the lecture hall, his ugly green sandals hitting the chalk board.
Ed’s class stared blankly at their professor’s folly, debating if they should laugh or not. Ed picked himself up off the floor and rubbed the back of his neck, turning a bright red. “Er...sorry about that.” A few of the girls in the class let out very slight giggles. Ed ignored them, “That was painful, so shut up.” The sparse giggling ceased.
Ed approached the large desk in the center of the lecture hall, flunking his brown leather bag atop the desk. He glanced around the semi-circular room for a moment, casually observing the class he would be teaching today. It seemed to be his normal crowd, no one he wouldn’t normally see. “Alright, let’s begin. Last week we left off with witch burnings in the medieval period, am I right?”
The class nodded.
”Okay, that’s what I thought,” Edward seated himself atop his desk, talking openly with his students. “What were some of the ways one was found or considered to be a witch?”
”They weighed less than a duck!” someone called out. A round of laughter accompanied the answer.
”Not really smartass,” Ed taunted playfully. “Anyone else have an actual answer?”
”A lot were tortured and forced to confess to lies.”
”A lot were widows.”
”Church often imprisoned its enemies, like the Knights of Templar.”
”Correct, correct, and correct,” he nodded approvingly. “After the Knights Templar were gotten rid of, the Spanish Inquisition…” He paused. No one dare made a Monty Python reference. “Had to keep burning witches to stay in business. There were also other practices condemned by the church. Does anyone know what another one is, aside from witchcraft?”
Ed grinned a bit more, “Right. Today’s class is going to be a bit of a discourse, but it will be on your final exam, so I suggest paying attention. This isn’t covered in depth in your text books, hint hint. Anyone know what modern processes are based on alchemy?”
”Mhmm. A lot of symbolism was also tied into the practice, such as the common day pentagram used as a symbol of Satan. The pentagram was used to change lead into gold, in theory. Alchemists’ main goals were two change lead into gold and to create the Philosopher’s stone. Anyone know anything about the stone?”
”In the Harry Potter books, it’s supposed to be the Elixir of Life.”
”Somewhat true,” Ed confessed, laughing on the inside. His life’s old quest panged at the back of his head. “The Elixir of Life was also known as the Universal Panacea, and was thought to cure any and all diseases and to create immortality. Changing elements into other elements was called transmutation, and the Stone was key in both processes. The final goal was to create human life, but we’ll get to that in a bit.” The scribbling of writing implements allowed Edward to collect his thoughts on his previous statement. He shivered slightly, remembering his mother’s transmutation, but knew better than to speak of practical alchemy before his class.
”First and foremost, we need to talk about transmutations and their significance,” Edward hopped off his desk and began to talk animatedly before the class. “The most common transmutation goal was lead into gold. The idea was that gold and lead had similar base elements and atom structure, but not exactly the same. So, alchemists would try to change the atom structure of the lead into the atom structure of gold. Today, this is actually possible, but it would take millions of years to make enough lead into gold to form a penny, never mind a large hunk of gold.
”It’s also important to note that until the 18th century, alchemy was a serious science. Isaac Newton’s discoveries soon completely changed alchemy, until it became obsolete. Considering that alchemy is mostly ignored, except for by random occult groups here and there, Newton’s methods and ideas were more correct than the alchemist’s, but both view points were equally valid. Alchemy evolved into modern day chemistry. Question so far?”
Ed paused as a hand raised. “Go ahead.”
“Was alchemy considered a sin?”
”Punishable in Hell in circle 8 according to Dante,” Ed replied. “That is, if you take The Inferno to be definitive. Most of the church, and some people I’ve met in my travels, believe alchemy takes away from God’s creations. Therefore, distorting something by alchemy is a sin, and the alchemist is a sinner.” Scar’s face flashed into Ed’s mind. A small grin slipped over his face. ‘If he could only hear what I was saying now.’
”But why? We make things from natural resources all the time.”
”Plastics for one.”
Ed grinned, “As far as we know, plastics could be the only reason we exist. Let’s move on shall we? Check your text books on page 1,842. It only gives you insight into European alchemy. Alchemy was around long before Europe. The most common origin comes from Chinese alchemy, which survives in the form of Taoism. Chinese alchemy is also closely linked to medicinal practices. The Elixir of Life in the Harry Potter series is borrowed from Chinese alchemy.
”Another important ancient civilization to use alchemy was Egypt. Although there is rarely surviving text concerning Egyptian alchemy, the common held belief is that the god Thoth wrote 42 books,” Edward paused for the sci-fi nerds to grin, “Wrote 42 books of knowledge. These books covered information in all fields, one book was devoted to one type of knowledge. Amongst these books was a book solely devoted to alchemy. When the Greek city of Alexandria appeared in Egypt, Egyptian alchemy entered the Greek world. When the Greeks read about the Egyptian’s alchemy, alchemy became fused with their philosophies as well. You’ll find information concerning the combined philosophies noted in several library books which I will write on the board later.
”As you may guess, Rome also adopted Greek alchemy and Greek metaphysics when they adopted the Greek’s Gods and Goddesses. However, this timing was bad and marked the start of the Christian’s belief that alchemy was Satan’s work. The belief in experimental philosophies, which alchemy fell under, was that, and I quote: "There is also present in the soul, by means of these same bodily sense, a kind of empty longing and curiosity which aims not at taking pleasure in the flesh but at acquiring experience through the flesh, and this empty curiosity is dignified by the names of learning and science.” These ideas were Augustinian, for the record. During the medieval period, Augustinian thought was deeply set into the culture, and alchemy was frowned on.
”But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A large chunk of European alchemy comes from Islamic alchemy. Many Islamic scientists and philosophies added important chemical information into the study of alchemy. Jabir Ibn Hayyan was the most influential of the group, due to his analysis of Aristotle’s four elements of Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind which he called hotness, coldness, dryness, and moistness. He believed that two of these elements were outside of a metal, and two were inside. By transmutation and reversing the two elements, a successful transmutation could occur. This reasoning introduced the Philosopher’s Stone into Western Europe’s alchemy. Does anyone have any questions?”
Ed ran a hand through his hair, reflecting heavily on all he had just said. It was a mouth full, and he gathered that it must be true. Even back on the Other Side, alchemy’s origins were befuddled. He gathered that somehow the two worlds must have crossed over more than once, making alchemy possible on one side of the gate, but not the other. No one seemed to have questions for him, so Ed continued with the lecture.
”The Western world has close ties to Greek and Roman culture, as well as Islamic due to trade. Although the notion that alchemy was the Devil’s work, it did not apply to everyone. Medieval European alchemists extensively absorbed Islamic alchemical knowledge. Gerbert of Aurillac, who became Pope Silvester II, was among the first to bring Islamic alchemy to Europe.
”In 1198 Albert Magnus was born. Magnus was, and still is, one of the most highly regarded figures in alchemy. Both Magnus and Thomas Aquinas worked to bridge the gap between alchemy and Christianity. Aquinas also spent time creating the scientific method. Aquinas also claimed that universals could be found via scientific reasoning, which contradicted the idea that universals were found via divine illumination. Both men studied alchemical theory. Although both called themselves alchemists, they experimented very little.
“The first true alchemist in Europe was Robert Bacon, who devoted much of his life to the Stone and the Elixir of Life. It should be noted that Bacon was a clergy man, much like many of his contemporaries and those that followed. This is because alchemy was sanctioned by the church as a good method of exploring and developing theology. Obviously the church used alchemy to it’s advantage.
”However, William of Ockham challenged the belief that faith and reasoning were compatible in the 14th century. He believed that God was a leap of faith, and no reason was needed to justify faith. Later on, Pope John XXII issued a demand that no clergy person could practice alchemy.
”The next part of alchemy’s legacy was written by Nicholas Flammel. Yes, the guy from the Harry Potter book was real. Flammel’s research was to the Philosopher’s Stone, and only the Stone. Although he wrote down his processes and reactions of transmutations, the actual formulas were never recorded. It should be noted that Flammel was not a clergyman.” Ed paused for a moment and walked over to the chalk board and picked up a piece of chalk. He drew a cross with a snake wrapped around it, a crown above the cross and wings. Ed grinned at his handiwork, the sigil that he was so familiar with. “This was Flammel’s own symbol or sigil. Does anyone have questions on where we stand?”
”What does Flammel’s sigil mean?” called out a girl in the second row.
”No one knows,” Ed replied. “But the cross and snake, in religious terms, ought to tell you something. Here’s a hint: The snake is being crucified. Anyone else?”
”So then Flammel’s portrayal in the book was semi-accurate.”
”Aside from the fact Flammel never found the stone, yes. The idea was correct, although it combined several aspects of alchemy. Here’s another bit of information that may interest you. Another alchemist is mentioned in the Harry Potter series, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. Agrippa was a bit of a loon, he called himself a wizard and thought he could summon spirits. His work wasn’t too great, but he was referenced by alchemists later on. Agrippa added magic theory into alchemy, which made people believe alchemy was an occultist practice
”Alchemy declined as the years progressed. Robert Boyle’s study of gasses and chemistry began to take alchemy and transform it into modern day chemistry. Other types of alchemy lead into medicine. By the gradual discovery of how the human body works, diseases were cured. The improvements in modern day science rendered alchemy obsolete.” Ed let a satisfied grin spread across his face. “Any questions?”
”What about human transmutations? You mentioned them?”
Ed’s grin disappeared, “Those…” he sighed heavily. “Human transmutations. Human transmutation was first discussed by the alchemist Paracelsus or Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim.” A few giggles circled the room at the name, especially the word Bombastus. “Paracelsus claimed he created a false human being. This being was called a homunculus. Homunculus is Latin for “little man.” The basic recipe for creating such a being was said to be a full human skeleton, sperm…Oh, get over it…sperm, skin fragments, and hair. The hair could be either human or animal, as animal hair could create a hybrid being. These ingredients were supposed to be put in the center of manure for 40 days so that an embryo would form. Obviously, this didn’t work.” Ed’s mind wandered for what seemed like an eternity, remembering his calculations. Saltpeter, iron, everything floated into his head. He shook the thoughts off and continued. “However, the homunculus was also said to be a philosophical metaphor.” Ed paused and grabbed a piece of paper. “Excuse me, I really can’t remember the entire bit, so please, don’t mind me quoting a resource.
‘Homunculus argument accounts for a phenomenon in terms of the very phenomenon that it is supposed to explain (Richard Gregory (1987)). Homunculus arguments are always fallacious. In the psychology and philosophy of mind 'homunculus arguments' are extremely useful for detecting where theories of mind fail or are incomplete.
Homunculus arguments are common in the theory of vision. Imagine a person watching a movie. They see the images as something separate from them, projected on the screen. How is this done? A simple theory might propose that the light from the screen forms an image on the retinas in the eyes and something in the brain looks at these as if they are the screen. The Homunculus Argument shows this is not a full explanation because all that has been done is to place an entire person, or homunculus, behind the eye who gazes at the retinas. A more sophisticated argument might propose that the images on the retinas are transferred to the visual cortex where it is scanned. Again this cannot be a full explanation because all that has been done is to place a little person in the brain behind the cortex. In the theory of vision the Homunculus Argument invalidates theories that do not explain 'projection', the experience that the viewing point is separate from the things that are seen. (Adapted from Gregory(1987), (1990)).
Very few people would propose that there actually is a little man in the brain looking at brain activity. However, this proposal has been used as a 'straw man' in theories of mind. Gilbert Ryle (1949) proposed that the human mind is known by its intelligent acts. He argued that if there is an inner being inside the brain that could steer its own thoughts then this would lead to an absurd repetitive cycle or 'regress':
"According to the legend, whenever an agent does anything intelligently, his act is preceded and steered by another internal act of considering a regulative proposition appropriate to his practical problem."
"Must we then say that for the ..[agent's].. reflections how to act to be intelligent he must first reflect how best to reflect how to act? The endlessness of this implied regress shows that the application of the appropriateness does not entail the occurrence of a process of considering this criterion."
Ryle is proposing that if inner reflection were a process then it would be an endless activity if it occurred wholly within the brain (see Ryle's Regress).
However, if the homunculus argument is applied rigorously it should be phrased in such a way that the conclusion is always that if a homunculus is required then the theory is wrong. After all, homunculi do not exist.
The homunculus argument applied to Ryle's theory would be phrased in terms of whether the mental attribute of 'reflecting upon things internally' can be explained by the theory that the mind is 'intelligent acts' without the appearance of a homunculus. The answer, provided by Ryle's own logic, is that internal reflection would require a homunculus to prevent it from becoming an infinite regress. Therefore with these assumptions the Homunculus Argument does not support the theory that mind is wholly due to intelligent acts.
The example of Ryle's theory demonstrates another aspect of the Homunculus Argument in which it is possible to attribute to the mind various properties such as 'internal reflection' that are not universally accepted and use these contentiously to declare that a theory of mind is invalid.’.”
Ed put the piece of paper down and dropped his voice several tones, “Other far more occult sources are very different. They say that a homunculus is made of the Philosopher’s Stone, that it’s their core. They say that they’re failed human transmutations and have no soul. Having no soul means they have no conscious, and that they’re inclined towards evil.”
He paused for a reaction. “Yeah?” He pointed to a raised hand.
”That would imply alchemy is real, which would contradict modern science.”
”Mhm. These are only theories sir, remember that. Does anyone else have questions?”
”Have you ever tried alchemy?”
Ed paused, thinking long and hard about the question as he walked over to the chalk board. “I’ve only studied it with great enthusiasm.”