Intellectual Alchemist at Work

From time to time, people ask me where I find so many and such varied post ideas. I always answer that I have been a steady reader for most of my life, and since 1990, I have had the habit of writing down my thoughts about whatever it is that I am reading. I also copy out a few quotes now and then. Over the years, those thoughts and quotes have accumulated in paper diaries, journals, notebooks, as well as their digital counterparts. Taken as a whole, they form a loosely structured representation of an ongoing attempt to understand the world around me and my own way of relating to it.

Old Computer Work Station

Working out a thorough understanding of my writing had the alchemical effect of illuminating and solidifying my entire worldview. (photo: Pdphoto)

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The Intrinsic Rewards of Mental Activity

I once saw a short film about the famous experiment where research scientists gave brushes, paint, and large sheets of paper to a number of chimpanzees, and then left them to their own devices. Soon, the chimps became so engrossed in daubing colour on the paper that they neglected their usual mating and eating habits. In a sense, they had become crude abstract artists! The important thing to note is that, while mating and eating are necessary for survival, daubing paint is not.

Mind Related Activities

Mind related activities can be so absorbing we neglect vital functions such as eating. (Photos: public domain)

The chimps were demonstrating that mind-related activity is so powerfully rewarding it can overpower even such basic life-sustaining drives as hunger and lust. If the effect is so strong in chimpanzees, we can easily see why human creators, with their more-powerful minds, behave the way they do. Here is the doorway that humans have walked through as we evolved beyond being just animals. Once our intelligence reached a certain point, mind became the primary driving force in our evolutionary development. Importantly, this is true not only because we became better at hunting and gathering, but also because mind is useful for much more than sharpening our survival skills.

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Personal Transformation Through Writing

Alchemist kneeling beside his alembic

Writing over a long period can be a powerful alchemical process of personal transformation. (Image: public domain.)

Alchemy was the medieval forerunner of chemistry. It was particularly concerned with trying to convert base metals (such as lead) into gold or to find a universal elixir – more popularly known as the philosopher’s stone – that would perform the conversion upon contact. In recent times, the word alchemy has evolved to indicate any process of transformation, creation, or combination that seems magical.

Even the ancients realized that alchemy is as much about refining the alchemist as it is about distilling some raw material into the philosopher’s stone. Jung popularized this notion in his writings. In this process of self-refinement, the alchemist must pass through three stages:

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