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Thumbnail of Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus (source)
Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus
(1 May 1493 - 24 Sep 1541)

German-Swiss physician and alchemist.


Paracelsus
“Alchemy is the art…”

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Detail from painting: Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus. An alchemist kneels to observe a glowing flask of vapours from a retort
“Alchemy is the art that separates what is useful from what is not by transforming it into its ultimate matter and essence.”
— Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus
from Labyrinthus Medicorum.

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This translated quote is given in a book on Paracelsus by Walter Pagel. It appears in a paragraph concerning how Paracelsus used the term “Prime Matter” as an immature material which is worked upon and converted into a finished product “ultimate matter” by the chemist.

Pagel writes:

All objects in nature undergo at some time a transmutation from a “prime” through an “intermediate” towards an “ultimate” stage—the latter indicating the final fulfilment of destiny, the Aristotelian “perfection” or “entelechia” of an object. This transmutation is brought about by alchemy—the alchemist being Nature itself or man helping to promote a natural process to its end. There is the example of bread. Its “prime matter” is the grain as supplied by nature. It becomes “middle matter” in the oven. It is the inner alchemist of man (“Archeus”, “Vulcanus”) who converts it into “ultimate matter”—namely flesh and blood. In terms of alchemy the conversion of primary into intermediate and final matter can also be regarded as one of disease, into the decline and death of an object. “Prime matter” may also be seen as the product of putrefaction, for this causes the seed to germinate in the soil. Intermediate matter can be visualised as a result of the consumption of prime matter, while ultimate matter is “powder and earth”. “Alchemy is the art that separates what is useful from what is not by transforming it into its ultimate matter and essence.”

In Labyrinthus Medicorum. Cap. V. Von dem Buch der alchimei, wie on dasselbig der arzt kein arzt sein mag. Ed. Sudhoff, vol. XI, 188-189. As cited in Walter Pagel, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (2nd rev. ed., 1982), 112-113. (source)


See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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