The World: In Terms of Chemistry

July 5, 2016

“When you pick up a grain of salt, you are holding more ions than there are stars in the visible universe.”

These are the quotes that are largely responsible for drawing my attention away from the more traditional arts (those I was so infatuated with as a skinny-framed youth) and putting me, more firmly, on the trajectory of learning more and more about science.

This quote, taken from a recent read of Peter Atkins’ What is Chemistry?, has a similar effect on one’s perspective of life and meaning that reading something like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos has on a first time reader.

Reading both has the result of blowing wide open your sense of awareness. Of taking you out of whatever meaningless dilemma you may find yourself in and reminding you of the ridiculous machinations of your ego.

Essential reading if you ask me.

But you’re probably not asking me. Because a book on chemistry, you’d assume, would be incredibly boring and read like one of those tired, old, school text-books that tried to be funny but just made the sciences seem all the more territory for desperate geeks.

Which, based on my experiences in secondary school, was indeed how it seemed.

Thank god, then, that I’m rediscovering it a little later in life. Also, that I’m using resources that seem to frame it in a way that’s a little easier to understand, where passion shines through and I can draw its context back to my day-to-day experiences in the world.

If I wasn’t doing this I’d probably continue to ignore things like chemistry in terms of their relevance on my life. Because things like digital marketing, content strategy, coding and fitness, don’t appear to have very much to do at all with the formation of molecules, ions and compounds.

At least at first glance.

Reading What is Chemistry? is sort of like an exercise into how much reality you can stand. Like vipasanna meditation, you go on a journey of realisation, understanding that the way you frame the world, at least from the perspective of your immediate desires and needs, is really way-off from the nature of reality itself.

As Atkins writes; “the key idea in chemistry is that when one substance changes into another, the atoms themselves do not change: they simple exchange partners or enter into new arrangements”, we too become aware of our transient states of being and the relationships we, as chemical compositions, fall in and out of.

And it’s this notion, which fits in with the assertions of the laws of thermodynamics; that energy is never lost, only transferred, that we need to remind ourselves of more frequently.

Just as I mentioned last week in light of what’s happening in the UK, the situation, like chemistry itself, is a pure illustration of the ever-changing nature of the universe and the bonds which break and separate continuously until our ultimate demise.

Not wanting to be bleak however, there’s something beautiful in that.

Something wonderful and relieving in appreciating that there is no finality, at least in terms of what we as humans and organizations assume to be complete and imperative, in lieu of the molecular world which is invisible to us most of the time.

So with that I’ll end this post by justifying why I think studying chemistry is a useful endeavour for all of us hoping to be good.

Yet not in my words, but rather Atkins’ himself.

“Chemistry adds a depth…for when the mood moves us and the inclination impels, we can look beneath the superficial pleasures of the world and enjoy the knowledge that we know how things are”.

Knowing how things are, as well as enjoying them, makes you all the more cognisant of the here and now.

Of the opportunities open to you.

Of the amazing things you’re failing to acknowledge that are within your grasp right this very second.