Chemistry, Understanding, and Reality

FB Post:

To everyone that’s worried about chemicals that they put in our food and in the air, I have very bad news for you:

WE ARE ALL MADE OUT OF CHEMICALS. ALL FORMS OF MATTER ARE CHEMICAL SUBSTANCES. GOD FUCKING DAMMIT.

My Reply:

Most honestly put, “Chemistry” and “chemicals” are a conceptual means of understanding life’s processes by virtue of recognizing common elements, relatively stable communities or compounds formed by these elements, and the complex patterns of interaction that result when these compounds intermingle in the world. By applying the schematics of chemistry (as well as the physical laws on which Chemistry sits on top of and the biological laws that emerge from chemical collaborations), humanity has achieved powerful advances in observing, coping with, and controlling nature to suit the needs and desires of our species. And so, for the time being, the model stands. All things are chemical because that is a useful and powerful way of looking at the world. That is as far as the truth of that assertion goes.

Now, the revolt against putting chemicals into our food and air is based upon the unfortunate truth that despite incredible intelligence and good intentions, when humans attempt to mess with the natural progression and constituency of life, it is rare that this results in a purely positive result – and even if some progress is made, other derivative problems are created in the process. That is not to say that this form of natural intervention is to be revolted against and not carried out, but rather that one must be wise in choosing which forms of progress to support and to incorporate into your life. Perhaps you brush your teeth using sodium fluoride (NaF) along with the inactive ingredients because you value clean teeth and see the concoction as largely harmless, but you opt to live with a small headache as opposed to popping painkillers that slowly degrade your stomach lining.

In order to move forward, mistakes must be made, learned from, and then replaced by better mistakes. The language of chemistry is useful in this process of evolution. How we understand the world directly determines how we live our lives. The understanding derived from the genetics revolution that demonstrated the common genomic code linking all of humanity as well as revealing common evolutionary roots in the shockingly compact forms of coding contained in the DNA of every organism on the planet has led to a greater sense of community and moral responsibility.

And so, yes, we are all made out of chemicals, but that is merely to say that we all share fundamental patterns and have miraculously and meticulously developed a language and theoretical system with which to understand and manipulate ourselves and the world. And in a world where our brains seem to be composed of semantic modules that contain meaning within what would otherwise be a cold, sterile, mechanical computer, all this talk about the semantics of chemistry is not mere word play. It is the essence of the nature of experience as well as the physical basis of what determines and shapes experience. Knowledge is not only power, it is reality.

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