Historical Perspective

Any scientific pursuit starts out with an examination of objects and phenomena of interest and proceeds by the accumulation of relevant data. As regularities emerge, classification of related facts inevitably leads to the formulation of laws and hypotheses that stimulate experimental design, until better understanding culminates in a general theory. The wider the field of enquiry the more cumbersome the development of theoretical understanding would be. In a subject like chemistry with so many facets it is even more difficult to recognize the central issues to feature in a comprehensive theory.

Chemistry has its roots in alchemy, best described as the most extensive project in applied research of all time. It pursued a single-minded search for the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life for more than a thousand years, through the middle ages and into the modern era. It relied with dogmatic certainty on a given theory that clearly specified the powers of the philosopher’s stone and its hidden existence. No room was left for improvement or falsification of the theory and failed experiments were documented with the sole purpose of avoiding the same mistakes in future. Claims of successful production of alchemical gold were fiercely protected secrets and the only visible benefits were in the isolation, purification and characterization of theoretically irrelevant chemical substances. Alchemy, in this sense, is the exact antithesis of scientific endeavour. In science there is no authority or infallible theory. Any theory that claims final validity stifles further progress.


Quantum Theory Historical Perspective Theoretical Chemistry Extensive Project Phlogiston Theory 
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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

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