Living Chemistry

by Brian Lantz

Recall that yellowing periodic table, hanging on a wall in your science classroom, or perhaps the color-coded version that appeared at the back of your chemistry textbook. You read it in that textbook: modern science bows in the direction of Dimitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev, and gives him credit for the discovery of the periodic table of elements. Ask yourself whether “textbook” science understands Mendeleyev at all. The answer may not be known to you, and that, perhaps, will peak your curiosity. What is taught today, of the actual methods of Lavoisier, Pasteur, Mendeleyev? Do we know anything of those methods of Mendeleyev, which led him to his famous discovery? He knew nothing about electron shells, which explained the periodic table in your textbook. Consider that his writings are now virtually nonexistent in English, and only scantily available, or studied, anywhere in our noosphere. Perhaps, a benefit derived from this pedagogical series will be an appreciation of the methodological “roots” of that enormous chemical knowledge bequeathed to modern society, and further recognition that only if noetic methods are applied, might we reverse the very definite, measurable entropic effects of ignorance!

Consider the following comment of Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev (1834-1907) – a correspondent of Henri and Marie Curie, and intellectual predecessor of Vernadsky – taken from a lecture before “The Royal Institution of Great Britain,” May 31, 1889. He is speaking of his periodic table, whose “groups,” “families,” and “periods” reveal the periodic ordering of the elements.

“The tendency to repetition – these periods – may be likened to those annual and diurnal periods with which we are so familiar on the earth. Days and years follow each other, but, as they do so, many things change; and in like manner chemical evolutions, changes in the masses of the elements, permit of much remaining undisturbed, though many properties undergo alteration. The system is maintained according to the laws of conservation in nature, but the motions are altered in consequence of the change of parts.”

Can we not surmise that, like Kepler, Mendeleyev appears to have plumbed the universe, and found it alive with {intention}? Dimitri’s lecture was entitled, “An attempt to apply to chemistry one of the Principles of Newton’s Natural Philosophy.” In that lecture, he stated that {only one} of Newton’s three laws of motion could be applied to chemical molecules, and he thanked Lavoisier (and also Dalton) for recognizing, in “the unseen world of chemical combinations,” {the same orderings} which, he pointed out, Kepler – and, he said, Copernicus – discovered in the planetary universe.

We will return to dialogue with our new-found friend, Dimitri Mendeleyev, soon. In this and following pedagogicals, we prepare the way by considering some of the chemistry of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and particularly the revolution worked by Mendeleyev’s ‘friend’, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794).

What Is Elementary?

Today, the typical chemistry textbook begins from discrete “building blocks.” These discrete parts, presented as self evident in-and-of-themselves, are ripped from the larger cycles, ‘periods,’ and evolutions of which Mendeleyev spoke. They can only appear as if dead: Elements are compiled from atoms, which in turn are differentiated by their atomic number, etc. Molecules are then built up out of combinations of these discrete elements which, we have just been told, are not really so elementary. Then only, interactions of molecules – “inorganic” by their nature – are built up. Today, the colors and techniques of computerized graphics present this all vividly to the eye, but not more alive. The principle of life is really no where to be found. Lyn has pointed us to Erwin Schrodinger’s influential little paper,{What is Life?}, and there you may find a banal, lifeless rationalization: life comes down to chromosome fibres, which are “aperiodic crystals,” albeit “novel and unprecedented.”

How refreshing then, to consider that the scientific revolution associated with Lavoisier and his circles, which in turn was also the acknowledged foundation for Mendeleyev’s work, began with the study of {respiration}, and what Lavoisier (borrowing from Stephen Hales) termed “plant and animal economy” – life! Lavoisier’s conscious jumping off point, in 1773, as guide to his future work, were the topics of fermentation, vegetation, respiration and the composition of bodies formed by plants and animals. The development of the scientific field of chemistry, proceeded from the study of {life} as certainly as the physical sciences, taken as a whole, began with the study of the heavens (astrophysics).


Of course mankind had long had a practical understanding of many natural, chemical processes. Man has been making wine and beer for thousands of years, to generally good effect, but that is not science. Today, many of our post-modern denizens might find the idea, of the discovery of oxygen, an ‘intuitive’ no-brainer: “Hey, it’s what we breathe, and somebody named the stuff oxygen.” Thank God that Leibniz, Franklin, Priestley, Lavoisier, among others, understood that the development of physical economy required that man discover new physical principles, not name them! Let us lay a foundation. Consider now, albeit briefly, a few, provocative examples of early work, prior to Lavoisier, into the why’s of chemical and physical processes.

It had long been know that an animal could only live for a certain length of time in a given quantity of common air. But why? In 1660 Robert Boyle demonstrated that a flame is extinguished and an animal dies in an evacuated chamber of an air pump. Is there a connection between these two empirical facts, and what is it? In the 17th century it was also shown that venous blood become arterial in passing through the lungs, and that the color change takes place only so long as the lungs are supplied with fresh air. However, it was also known that air {in} the blood could be fatal – certainly a paradox. It was also thought, based on no small amount of empirical evidence, that air – one of the four physical elements along with fire, water and earth – did not enter into chemical combinations. To the practitioners of the principle of sufficient reason, the contradictions and paradoxes were everywhere!

The answers, as we will discover, were not “right in front of their noses.” The efforts, to carefully isolate the essential paradoxes, required painstaking work, the proofs were indirect, the actual experiments tedious, and the means cognitive. Facts did not, and do not, “add up.”

By the middle of the 18th century, work on the chemistry of “airs” prompted the consideration of new postulates, if not revolutionary new axioms. Joseph Black isolated what he coined “fixed air” – a distinct “aeriform” substance which, unlike ordinary air, could combine (“fix”) with lime and with alkalis. This fixed air was deadly; observation found that animals placed in it died in a matter of seconds. Joseph Black then convinced himself that the exhaled air of respiration was the same as his fixed air, “that the change produced on wholesome air by breathing it, consisted chiefly, if not solely, in the conversion of part of it into fixed air. For I found, that by blowing though a pipe into lime-water, or a solution of caustic alkali, the lime was precipitated, and the alkali was rendered mild.” Black also found that fermentation and burning charcoal produced his “fixed air.” Air obviously entered into chemical combinations.

We leave it to the reader to investigate what modern chemistry would say about the process(es) involved here. (“Lime-water” is made up from the mineral, not the fruit.) We do see, even without satisfying the itch to look into a chemistry textbook, that Joseph Black, among others, was onto something. Respiration produced a kind of gas, which combined (“fixed”) to lime, but why?

To ordinary air and “fixed air” were soon added others. “Inflammable air” was produced by certain metals in dilute acids, and rigorously determined to be distinct from both common and “fixed” air – including by observing its effects on animals. Even though it was not known what animals (and humans) inhale or exhale, or the actual role of respiration in physiology, the effects of “airs” on respiration was a obvious reference point!


Enter Benjamin Franklin’s student and collaborator, Joseph Priestley, who became, by the early 1770’s, the most determined investigator of new “species” of airs. Joseph Priestley was among those who became intrigued by an experiment first done decades earlier: Placing a small animal under a glass inverted over water, he observed that its breathing caused the water level to rise in the glass, up to 1/27 (or there-abouts) of the total volume of the common air originally enclosed. The air diminished in volume! The “common air” we breath, Priestly hypothesized, drawing upon his wide ranging work with various airs, was “disposed to deposit one of the parts which compose it.”

That air might be a composite was, in itself, a potentially axiom-busting notion. Priestley, who studied putrefaction and compared it, through experiments, with respiration, also did not believe that Joseph Black, et al had proven that “fixed air” was alone created by respiration. “Animal and plant substances which are corrupted furnish putrid emanations, and fixed air or inflammable air, according to the time and circumstances,” reported Priestly, a not unimportant observation, as we will see.

Further, in studying the effect of respiration on air, which he originally understood to be a “corruption or infection” of the air, he rigorously reported, “There is no one who does know that a candle can burn only a certain time, and that animals can only live for a limited time, in a given quantity of air; {one is no more familiar with the cause of the death of the latter than with that of the extinction of the flame under the same circumstances, when a quantity of air has been corrupted by the respiration of animals placed within it}.” [Emphasis added -bl]

Let us pause, along our trail, leading up to Lavoisier and his work. We have seen that types of airs – almost entirely ‘invisible,’ directly, to the senses – were now being differentiated, and compared. The ability of some airs to “fix” to certain known substances had also been recognized – indirectly. We have seen that exhaled air of respiration had features that compared to that produced by the burning of fermentation and coal. Also, whatever air, or change air, that caused a candle to go out, in almost every case also killed a mouse or bird! (They also found that the animal, if removed from the bell jar could also often recover.) All of this is indirect – non-empirical – as we have seen with the lime-water experiments, but perhaps most transparently with the rise in the water level, in the bell jar, with the respiring mouse – a kind of barometer.

Consider now a stunning contribution, ‘holistic’ in nature, from Joseph Priestley: Priestley tenaciously believed that “nature must have a means” of reversing the process of respiration which “corrupted” ordinary air! Why? As animals died if exposed only to the corrupted air (or ‘fixed air’) expelled in respiration, Priestly argued, the mass of the atmosphere would have long ago become inhospitable for the sustenance of animal life! Basing himself on this certainty – that, in effect, the universe was not entropic, but rather ‘the best of all possible worlds’ – and testing the effects that plants might have on the “corrupted air” of man and animal, Priestly discovered that green plants restored this corrupt air to respirable common air! Here was a cycle, discovered among “airs”, as certain as those to be found in the orbits of the planets.


Lavoisier, who warmly admired and carefully studied Joseph Priestly’s ongoing work, and was himself a part of Franklin’s extended network, shared Franklin’s and Priestley’s underlying, if unstated, {Leibnizian} outlook.

In his early review of Priestley’s work, and undertaking his own experiments to confirm Priestley’s, Lavoisier recognized apparent, crucial anomalies in Priestley’s results, as based on Priestley’s own thorough, well-circulated reports. Utilizing “baths” of mercury (first utilized by Priestley), rather than water, in which a glass bell of “airs” could be contained and changes in their volume measured, Lavoisier drew certain distinctions. Lavoisier noted, in particular, the difference in airs from putrefying animal matters (which, in what follows, Lavoisier designates as the “fixed air”), and that of respiration, and that of both from common air:

“Air which has thus served for the respiration of animals is no longer ordinary air: it approaches the state of fixed air, in that it can combine with lime and precipitate it in the form of calcareous earth; but it differs from fixed air (1) in that when mixed with common air it diminishes the volume, whereas fixed air increases it; (2) in that it can come into contact with water without being absorbed; (3) in that insects and plants can live in it, whereas they perish in fixed air.”

In short, Lavoisier noted that exhaled air, and what he here distinguishes as fixed air, may also be distinct “airs”. You may have already leaped to conclusions, or tried to, calling up terms like “CO2,” “nitrogen,” etc. Stop yourself and consider what you actually know – have discovered – about the phenomena in question. Relax, and place yourself in the shoes of Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier. After all, how could {we} prove, for example, something which we probably all assume: that these different “airs” are actually, elementarily, different airs, as opposed to being different “fluxes” or “variations” of a single air, under varying conditions of moisture, light, pressure, etc.? That was still something that Priestley and Lavoisier have not answered for themselves.

Let us jump ahead, to Chapter II of Lavoisier’s {Traite’e’lmentaire de Chimie}, published in Paris in 1789, to also appreciate Laboisier’s universalizing, non-empirical standpoint, along side that of Joseph Priestley. Lavoisier was to coin the term ‘gasses’ to replace the more confusing term, ‘airs,’ as we will see. In chapter I, Lavoisier outlined his working premise, of an underlying process in nature by which there is “separation of particles of bodies, occasioned by caloric.” (Caloric (heat) was understood by Lavoisier to be a substance, itself a gaseous state of matter.) Here then, just from the second chapter, is what he writes:

“These views which I have taken of the formation of elastic aeriform fluids or gasses, {throw great light upon the original formation of the atmospheres of the planets, and particularly that of our earth}. We readily conceive, that it must necessarily consist of a mixture of the following substances: First, of all bodies that are susceptible of evaporation, or, more strictly speaking, which are capable of retaining the state of aeriform elasticity in the temperature of our atmosphere, and under a pressure equal to that of a column of twenty-eight inches of quicksilver in the barometer; and secondly, of all substances, whether liquid or solid, which are capable of being dissolved by this mixture of different gasses.”

[Emphasis added-bl]

Lavoisier then writes that, {to better consider the issues involved}, one might consider, “If, for instance, we were suddenly transported into the region of the planet Mercury, where probably the common temperature is much superior to that of boiling water”, and pressures would also be transformed. For Lavoisier, no Aristotelian or neo-Aristotelian division exists, between the heaven and earth or between macrocosm and microcosm! Lavoisier concludes chapter II with an hypothesis, regarding the possible “inflammable fluids” that might exist in the lighter upper stratta of air (atmosphere), and their relationship to “the phenomena of the aurora borealis and other fiery meteors.” [Emphasis added – bl]

To be continued……….

On the political economy of the Leibniz-Franklin-Priestly tradition, the interested reader is referred to the February 9,1996 EIR feature, “Leibniz, Gauss shaped U.S. science successes”.

Living Chemistry, Part II


In his private memorandum of February 1773, Antoine Lavoisier stated that it was “the operations of the plant and animal economy,” together with “the operations of art,” which absorb and disengage air. Lavoisier continued, “one of the principal operations of the animal and plant economy consists in fixing the air, in combining it with water, fire, and earth in order to form all of the composed with which we are acquainted.” Can we consider this vantage point a foreshadowing of Vernadsky’s much later discovery of the ordered phase-space relationship of the noetic, to the biotic and abiotic domains? Place Lavoisier’s 1773 statement in context, here simply considering Joseph Priestley’s discovery, acknowledged by Lavoisier, that the functioning of the atmosphere necessarily includes the respiration of plants, as the complement to the respiration of animals and man. Here, the atmosphere itself is a creation of living processes, taken as a totality, and those living processes act on the rest of nature, “in order to form all of the composed…” Benjamin Franklin’s own work with lightning also comes to mind.

That Priestley and Lavoisier be understood as forerunners of Vernadsky, as figures united in the simultaneity of eternity, is now of special significance. While anyone familiar with Lavoisier’s work and notebooks would realize that that the principle of life is central, today his best known idea is used to promote the opposite. An “axiom” of Lavoisier’s is given the modern, imputed content of systems analysis, a principle of no-change, ruling out the efficient existence of life.

Lavoisier’s Hypothesis

I think that it is very important to quote Lyn, from his latest paper, “A new Guide For The Perplexed – How The Clone Prince Went Mad!” to help us consider Lavoisier’s axiom. This is taken from the section of his paper titled, “The Definition Of Knowledge,” wherein he referred to Kepler’s discovery of universal gravitation and Fermat’s preliminary, experimental definition of the isochronic principle. He writes,

“The solution for such an ontological paradox, is the discovery of a verified hypothesis. By hypothesis, we signify an idea which has the quality, in form, of a universal physical principle. To qualify for the title of hypothesis, that idea must show either that some relevant axiomatic assumption of the believer was false, or that some additional axiomatic assumption, that of the hypothesis, would produce a new system of thought consistent with all of the relevant evidence. If a certain uniquely appropriate quality of design of experiment, shows that that hypothesis is universally correct, we adopt that hypothesis as a universal physical principle. The result of incorporating such an hypothesis as a universally efficient principle, in that way, is not merely the addition of a new universal principle to the system, but also a revolutionary transformation of the system itself.

“Universal physical principles, and non-deductive transformations of systems, effected in that way, qualify as scientific knowledge, as distinct from, and opposed to sense-impressions. No knowledge was ever acquired, except by means of hypotheses defined a sI have just summarized the functional meaning of the term hypothesis, contrary to the famous, silly aphorism of Isaac Newton…”

Lavoisier’s first, explicitly stated “axiom” is already stated in 1775, in the midst of intensive work on the conumdrum of “airs.” In a manuscript titled, “Of elasticity and the formation of elastic fluids,” Lavoisier states that it is to be “an axiom” of his method that all substances can exist as solids, fluids and in “the state of vaporization,” and that “a vaporous fluid is the result of the combination of the molecules of any fluid whatever and in general of all bodies,” with the matter of fire.

This may seem like another “no-brainer” to you, but someone had to actually discover, as a necessary hypothesis, that gasses were another form of what we see as liquids and solids! Without recognition of gasses as a {state} of matter, to which quantified measurements, could be extended, one could no more account for complete chemical processes (reactions) as account for the terror attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by the doings of Osama Ben Laden. His hypothesis would show that the process of chemical change was knowable, subject to man’s reason and utilizable for economic development, as opposed to no-change.

First, let us consider Lavoisier’s second axiom, here presented in the context wine’s chemistry, fermentation.

“This operation is one of the most extraordinary in chemistry: We must examine whence proceed the disengaged carbonic acid and the inflammable liquor produced, and in what manner a sweet vegetable oxyd becomes thus converted into two such opposite substances, whereof one is combustible, and the other eminently the contrary. To solve these two questions, it is necessary to be previously acquainted with the analysis of the fermentable substance, and of the products of the fermentation. We may lay it down as an axiom, that, in all the operations of art and nature, nothing is created; an equal quantity of matter exists both before and after the experiment; the quality and quantity of the elements remain precisely the same; and nothing takes place beyond changes and modifications in the combination of these elements. Upon this principle the whole art of performing chemical experiments depends: We must always suppose an exact equality between the elements of the body examined and those of the products of its analysis.”

From Chapter XIII, “Of the Decomposition of Vegetable Oxyds by the Vinous Fermentation”

Taken from {Elements of Chemistry}, 1789

How many times have we heard, “Matter can neither be created or destroyed”? Issac Asimov and many others have popularized Lavoisier’s ‘conservation of matter’ principle – or ‘conservation of total mass’ – as “a closed system” model, in effect a predecessor to the rantings of radical positivist John Von [sic] Neumann.

Taking historical specificity into account however, Lavoisier’s ‘conservation of matter’ “axiom” was a revolutionary supposition, adduced from a newly identified “type” of physical action occurring in the atmosphere, one closely identified with living processes. This new type of action, involving {empirically invisible} cycles and periodicities, is made comprehensible (measurable), as Lavoisier states above, by an experimental decomposition and re-composition of substances, which carefully includes the measurement of the airs that are “fixed” or disengaged in the process. The universe, for man, was increasingly one of multiply-connected action.

Recall that it had still been commonly believed in the 18th century, that air was one of four physical elements, along with fire, water and earth. Air was distinct in part because it did not enter into chemical combination. Certainly there was little visible evidence to assume that air did.

With gases axiomatically understood as a third state of matter, Lavoisier was able to zero-in on a necessary “sufficient cause” of various hither-too mysterious, or misunderstood phenomena. Lavoisier, famously “with the aid of the balance,” proceeded with the systematic weighting (indirectly) of what he could not see (gases), weighting elements and compounds in their solid or liquid states, and then weighing their reduction (or increase) in weight, as they were combined, and/or converted into “airs” filling measurable volumes. Lavoisier developed and utilizing most of the instruments and techniques that we think of today when we think of a chemistry laboratory – flasks, retorts, distillation techniques, etc. – and systematically revamped the nomenclature of chemistry to “name” the newly unlocked discoveries of nature’s processes. Has not Lyn been engaged in this same kind of process?

Let us briefly examine how Lavoisier, working in dialogue with Joseph Priestley, went about laying the basis for this revolution in science and technology.

Weighty Airs

In the early 1770’s Lavoisier prepared systematic reviews of Joseph Priestley’s published reports, a continuing source of new experimental techniques, paradoxes, and results for the world. Lavoisier wrote, “The works of the different authors I have cited, considered from this point of view, have presented me with separate portions of a great chain; they have joined together several links. But there remains an immense series of experiments to carry out in order to forge a continuity…” Lavoisier turned first to {fermentation}.

Priestley, examining the processes of a nearby brewery, became fascinated with the “air” that lay over the liquids in the fermentation vats. He soon announced findings that fermentation produced prodigious amounts of fixed air, “of almost perfect purity.” Lavoisier, reporting on Priestley’s findings, as well as his replication of Priestley’s experiments, told a meeting of the Academy, “…one observes that as soon as the spirituous fermentation takes place there is a release of air in great abundance, but when through the course of the fermentation the liquor begins to turn acidic [vinegar-bl], all of the released air is soon absorbed again to enter into the composition of the acid.”

Here might be another “cycle” of airs, like that established between plants and animals, by Joseph Priestly. But were the airs the same – the air released, and the air re-absorbed? Do acids – defined as such by their bitter taste and other observable qualities – all contain air? “Acid fermentation” – the name given to the latter phase, when wine turns into vinegar, and beer goes bad – was not comprehensible yet to Lavoisier. He carried out an experiment, mixing equal amounts of flour and water in two flasks, one exposed to air, and the other placed under a bell jar in a pneumatic trough, to measure the changes in the volume of air and acidity. The results – after a month and a half – were discouraging; there was no identifiable sign of acidity in the mixture exposed to “common air.” Lavoisier noted that he did not understand the processes of “acids” sufficiently, and therefore was not yet prepared to provide “a complete theory” of fermentation.

Lavoisier {then} turned his attention to studying and experimenting with calcination and reduction, as well as combustion and the properties of fixed air – to “flank” the difficulties confronted in his initial skirmish with fermentation.

Lavoisier had been well trained in chemistry and botany by leading French scientists of the old school. The processes of “reduction” and “calcination” were well known from metallurgy. Now, scientists were intrigued because these processes were found to involve the “disengagement” and “fixing” of “airs”, respectively. This aspect of Lavoisier’s work is better known today, textbook wise, but ripped out of the context of his unfolding conceptual understanding of living processes.

Reduction and Calcination

Experiments utilizing the water or mercury troughs, bell jar, and pneumatic pump had allowed scientists to identify that the following processes all disengaged Black’s “fixed air”: fermentation (up until the wine or beer began going bad); the exhalation of air in respiration; metallic “reductions”; and solution of mild alkalis or earths in acids. (Recall, from last week’s pedagogical that Black’s “fixed air” was able to some-how “fix” in lime-water, with lime being precipitated out, and the resultant air “mild.”)

Iron was, and still is, usually extracted from iron ore by burning it (900 degrees plus) with charcoal or “charbon,” in common air. (Coke is now used.) The phlogiston theory, which you may have heard of, explained the former by stating that phlogiston, or the “principle of inflamability,” had been absorbed from the charbon, charbon being the source of this phlogiston, hence inflammability, from which even the word, carbon, is derived. The burning of iron ore, and other metallic ores, with carbon was called “calcination.” What was left after this burning was termed the calx. What was now determined, was the air surrounding the burning of metal with carbon, while contained by a bell jar suspended over a trough of water or mercury, was that calcination involved the “fixing” of airs in the metals – the volume of air in the bell jar was reduced and the calx weighted more than the original metal! (Hold that thought.)

Other metals, such as copper and nickel, were extracted by a different, but related process. First the ore containing copper, for example, was “roasted” in common air. This was termed reduction, as the weight was reduced, and the weight of the surrounding air increased in volume. It was now determined, utilizing the apparatus already discussed, and the test on the “airs” already utilized – lime-water, candle, and bird or mouse – that metallic reduction specifically involved the disengagement of Black’s “fixed air.” The pholgiston theory stated that it was phogiston that had been released, with some kind of effect of the air.

Acids are also used in the extraction of metals such as copper [hydrometallurgy-bl], with an increase in the volume of air. It was also known that acids applied to metal calces (plural of calx), at room temperature and a type of air was measurably “disengaged.” Therefore, Lavoisier thought that calcination and reduction were, combined, “a complete system,” – Gregory Bateson, Von Neumann, etc would call a closed system. Reduce a metal with acid and disengage Black’s fixed air; burn a metal with carbon and absorb Black’s “fixed air.”

There was also a very significant wrinkle: with increasing expertise in manipulating the new experimental apparatus, and increasing knowledge of airs common, fixed, and inflammable, the results of further experiments with calcination and reduction were paradoxical!

Getting the lead out

Experiments with lead undid the attempt at a simple solution – and opened another door. Lavoisier had observed, “with surprise,” that the calcination of lead in a closed chamber could be calcined only to a limited degree. “I began at that time,” he put down in his notebook, “to suspect…that the totality of the air which we respire does not enter into the metals which one calcines, but only a portion, which is not abundant in a given quantity of air.” He found that the calcination of lead could not consume more than one-sixth to one-fifth of the total volume of the air enclosed. The {combustion} of phosphorus also yielded similar results. As regards the reduction of the lead calx, known as minium, a sparrow, a mouse and a rat introduced into the “air” released by the reduction of lead calx (minium) were “dead on the spot.” Reduction of lead calx produced “fixed air,” but if calcination of lead did in turn “fix” this same air, why did it absorb only part of the common air, and stop? Priestley argued that the air was saturated with phlogiston; Lavoisier was attempting understand how a part of the air was converted into fixed air. Adding fuel to the fire, an early experiment with minium, when combined with a volatile alkali also produced an anomalous result. Unlike “fixed air,” which had a “prodigious affinity” for volatile alkali and would have combined, the air released from minium simply dissipated. The air combined in minium must therefore, noted Lavoisier, been “the air of the atmosphere.”

It was Joseph Priestly who would provide the means to sort out these paradoxes, breaking out of the closed system, and setting Lavoisier on his merry way.

To be continued…………………

Living Chemistry – part III


— ——————————

Letter from Antoine Lavoisier to Benjamin Franklin


We have set aside next Thursday, the 12th of the month, to repeat a few of the principal experiments of M. Priestley on different kinds of air. If you are interested in these experiments, we would think ourselves very honored to do them in your presence. We propose to begin at about one o’clock and take them up again immediately after dinner. I sincerely hope that you can accept this invitation; we will have only M.le veillard M. Brisson and M. Beront – too large a number of people not being, in general, favorable to the success of experiments. I hope that you will be so good as to bring your grandson…

At the Arsenal 8 June 1777


Call freshly to mind, Joseph Priestley’s discovery of the vital inter-relationship of animal and plant respiration. Consider the atmosphere itself as, in turn, a coupling of these living processes with non-living processes, and, with Lavoisier, reserve an important role for light and heat. Living processes, a relatively “weak force” in the empirical terms of mass, volume, etc, incorporates the apparently “strong” forces of the abiotic manifold, with its elements, compounds and energetic processes, for the development of the biosphere. Likewise, the noosphere’s relationship to both the biotic and abiotic manfolds, which we are here investigating.

As regards the state of knowledge of the biotic manifold in 1774, Lavoisier noted,”…[P]lant analysis is much less advanced than one believes. Ordinarily we completely destroy the composition of the plants…” Unfortunately, this sounds very modern!

By contrast, in this third part of this “Living Chemistry” pedagogical series(1), we will unfold Lavoisier’s discovery and exploration of the actual ‘well tempered,’ harmonic domain of chemistry. We will follow Antoine Lavoisier, in dialogue with Joseph Priestley, as he utilizes a methodology of ‘inversion’ and ‘counterpoint,’ discovering thereby a rich treasure trove of anomalous singularities, and unfolding revolutionary new orderings and periodicities, for mankind in the development of the noosphere.

Respiration and Combustion

Let us now pick up an important thread in our story of chemical discovery. We had earlier noted that Joseph Priestley foreshadowed Vernadsky, in the way in which living processes, on a universal scale, engage the non-living. What about at the ‘micro’ level? Joseph Priestley ‘coupled’ the biotic and abiotic processes of respiration and combustion, while recognizing certain real differences in the behavior of respiration and, say, burning candles. Both actions produced ‘fixed air,’ and so, Priestley insisted, the two processes must therefore both entail combustion.

In 1775, Antoine Lavoisier further noted,

“The respiration of animals is likewise only a removal of the matter of fire from common air [phlogiston – indicated combustion], and thus the air which leaves the lungs is in part in the state of fixed air…

“This way of viewing the air in respiration explains why only the animals which respire are warm, why the heat of the blood is always increased in proportion as the respiration is more rapid. Finally, perhaps, it would be able to lead us to glimpse the cause of the movement of animals.”

It was in the context of the simultaneous study of respiration, and half-formed hypothesis regarding the unseen relationship of heat to the “movement of animals,” that new discoveries, regarding the equally invisible, ‘inorganic,’ processes of calcination and reduction, were proceeding.**

Airs, Again

Recall that Joseph Black, in 1756, had determined that in respiration we exhale a specific type of air, which became known thereafter as “Black’s fixed air.” You can do a simple chemistry experiment, with a shallow bowl, a short candle stick in the center of a flat piece of cork, and a tall water glass. Fill the bowl with a quarter inch of water, float the lit candle, and carefully place a glass over the lit candle and cork. What happens, over time, to the water level in the glass? What happens to the candle? What happens if you then lift up the glass, without tipping and insert a new lit candle up under the glass? This is a simple example of the tests for the disengagement of Black’s “fixed air.” (It is also a simplified model of the pneumatic trough, and principle of the barometer.)

You will recall, that in the last pedagogical of this series, the careful measurement of these airs, initiated by Lavoisier, in the processes of (non-living) reduction and calcination, produced a wealth of (contradictory) new evidence. Unseen but indirectly measurable air “fixed” and “disengaged,” in still little-understood chemical processes. Respiration was being investigated as a crucial example of the processes at work. Now, a paradox had arisen, that other “airs” were being “fixed,” as we saw with the preliminary investigations of the air fixed in the calcination of lead. All of these airs had different properties, and were compared to the standard of the “common,” breathable air of our atmosphere.

In 1774, Josephy Priestley’s {Experiments and Observations on different kinds of Air} had been published in England. Soon, Lavoisier was studying this report with keen interest, in France. A feature of Priestley’s report was the development of a new measure of “the goodness of air.”

Following up some intriguing findings made by Stephen Hales, Priestley found that combining various metals in spirit of nitre [an acid; nitre as in saltpeter, an organically produced compound, used in making gunpowder and in meat preservation] generated a ‘red flume” of a gas, which Priestley named, “nitrous air.” “Nitrous air,” when introduced into a glass bell suspended over, and slightly into, a trough of water (i.e. a pneumatic trough), caused the volume of air inside the bell glass to actually {shrink}, as measurable by a rising water level inside the bell glass! That is, the water level inside the glass bell was higher than the water level outside. Priestley was amazed that, “a quantity of air…devours another kind of air…yet is so far from gaining any addition to its bulk, that it is considerably diminished by it.”

Mixing his nitrous air in various combinations with common air, Priestley found that the volume diminished by one-fifth the original quantity of common air. Further, he found that this diminution only occurred with common air – that is air known to be fit for respiration – and therefore was a rigorous means of testing the “goodness of air,” scaled according to the reduction in volume. He wrote in 1774,

“[T]hat on whatever account air is unfit for respiration, this same test is equally applicable. Thus there is not the least effervescence between nitrous and fixed air, or inflammable air, or any species of diminished air. Also the degree of diminution being from nothing at all to more than one third of the whole of any quantity of air, we are, by this means, in a possession of a prodigiously large scale, by which we may distinguish very small degrees of difference in the goodness of air.”

A place has now been reached, where we might remind ourselves of Laviosier’s famous “axioms,” as discussed in the last pedagogical in this series. Especially, that which is known today as the “law” of “the conservation of matter.”

Lavoisier’s ‘first’ “axiom” had been drafted out, in detail, in February, 1775. That axiom was that all matter can exist in solid, liquid or gaseous state, depending on temperature and pressure. (This axiom Lavoisier would later reduce to a “corollary,” of his “caloric” hypothesis.) Let us focus on Lavoisier’s ‘second’ axiom, which emerges into view, in his notebooks, in 1775-1776. As first published in his {Elements of Chemistry}:

“We may law it down as an incontestable axiom, that, in all the operations of art and nature, nothing is created; an equal quantity of matter exists both before and after the experiment; the quality and quantity of the elements remain precisely the same; and nothing takes place beyond changes and modification in the combination of these elements.”

By 1775, Lavoisier and friends already possessed a virtual encyclopedia of various invisible “airs,” and compounds, calcinations, reductions, etc. However, such an ‘encyclopedia’ did not provide conceptual closure. Lavoisier’s notebook of this period shows that he was continually working to conceptualize a thoroughly consistent {lattice work}, starting from hypothesized first principles, attempting to order a growing body of closely observed phenomena and conceptual fragments. Our difficulties, dear reader, in following this story of scientific discovery, pale by comparison!

Fleet-Footed Mercury

The closer study of a liquid metal would turn out to be a key. It had been known since alchemical times that by heating liquid mercury one could convert it into a red powder, from which, by further heating, one could convert again to liquid mercury. A number of “physicians” – as scientists were called – were studying this anomalous substance, and the nature of the unseen processes involved. Was the red powder, so produced in the intermediary step, merely a new form of mercury, or was it a true calx, which was then “reduced” back to liquid mercury? (It is worth bearing in mind that the steps involved, in these mercury experiments, took a week or more of continuous heating, maintained around the clock, at stable, sustained temperatures!)

Joseph Priestley took up the anomalous behavior of mercury, from the vantage point of his mastery of techniques which isolated the invisible airs. What airs, Priestley asked, might be involved in the anomalous transformations of mercury? In October, 1774, Joseph Priestley revealed that he had recovered a “new air,” as he heated the red powder and transformed it back into liquid mercury. Lavoisier, intrigued, repeated Priestley’s experiment with the red powder mercury precipitate.

Priestley pushed ahead. Early in 1775, Priestley determined that he had actually produced a new “species of air” from {mercurius calcinatus per se}, under controlled conditions. Repeating again his earlier experiment, utilizing his pneumatic trough to capture the air recovered from heating the mercury calx, he applied his nitrous air test. Once again, he found that the air, derived from the heating of the red precipitate, was diminished to one-fifth less than its original volume, when a measured amount of nitrous air was added, as was common air. On a whim however, Priestley reports that he decided to add a second measure of nitrous air. To his surprise, the volume of air decreased further! More nitrous air was added. Applying other tests, such as the lit candle, Priestley discovered that his new species of air was “five or six times better than common air, for the purpose of respiration, inflammation, and I believe, every other use of common atmospheric air.” He termed this new air, “dephlogisticated air.”

Learning then of Priestley’s new findings in December, through an advance copy of portions of the second volume of Priestley’s {Experiments and Observations of Different Kinds of Air}, Lavoisier proceeded to again replicate Priestley’s experiment. Lavoisier needed nitrous air, for testing the air.

For Priestley’s grand scale, nitrous air could be “easily” produced by dissolving mercury in nitrous acid. Lavoisier went right to work, heating the combination, deciding to collect the air given off, over time, as separate portions. At a certain point, the vapor began to turn reddish and he could see that some of the air was being absorbed, even as it was produced. Lavoisier realized that “common air or dephlogisticated air” – one or the other – was being given off, and he captured these, again over time, in separate glass cylinders.

Lavoisier was surprised. When he tested fractions six though nine, inserting the “nitrous air” which he had just otherwise produced, he noted that, “This air was much better than that of the atmosphere…”, finding that prodigious amounts of nitrous air could be added. With the ninth fraction, he starting with “four parts” of each air, and ended up adding a total of seven parts of nitrous air, while reducing the volume by 7/8. He thus confirmed that this ‘secondary air,’ produced while making nitrous air, was itself the “deplogisticated air” of Priestley!

Now, it was Lavoisier who leaped {conceptually} ahead. It would be natural to infer that the air, which the liquid mercury had originally absorbed in being heated and transformed into a calx (calcination}, was identical to the “dephlogisticated air,” which Priestley had found was produced when the red powder (calx) was converted (reduced) to liquid mercury. However, that simple explanation had proven wrong before, in earlier calcinations and reductions, especially involving charcoal. Conceptually though, from the standpoint of his ‘conservation of matter’ hypothesis, Lavoisier should be able to ‘invert’ the process: If one assumes that “dephlogisticated air” was absorbed, out of the common air, in the heating process which produced the red powder (calx of mercury) in the first place, then adding dephlogisticated air to the portion of air remaining after calcination of liquid mercury, should recompose the original common air. To five parts of the air remaining after the calcined mercury had absorbed one-sixth of the air, Lavoisier now added one part of the dephlogisicated air. The air then behaved exactly as ordinary air!

Consider: Lavoisier had carried out the decomposition and re-composition of the atmosphere.

Almost simultaneously, Lavoisier proceeded to prove that the process of creating nitrous air from nitrous acid could also be ‘inverted,’ this in a demonstration before the Academy. Nitrous air (to test the properties of airs) was produced by combining nitrous acid and mercury (a calcination). Lavoisier now combined measured amounts of nitrous air and “dephlogisticated air,” disengaged while heating the calx of mercury (a reduction), and re-composed predicted amounts of nitrous acid.

The very next page of Lavoisier’s notebook shows that he rushed to next experimentally decompose the atmosphere by respiration, and recompose it with the “dephlogisticated air” derived from the reduction of the mercury calx, proving to himself, “that respiration in absorbing air, renders a portion vitiated,” and can then be restored. Lavoiser, it might be said, had discovered, and now was exploring, the ‘well-tempered’ nature of God’s chemical domain!

Following this trail of discoveries and experiments, you might realize that Lavoisier (and Priestley) had identified that which Lavoisier would name oxygen, after its acidifying quality. More precisely, Lavoisier termed it, in 1780, “the oxygen principle,” first wishing to rigorously clarify what an element was – and was not. The reader can surmise that it is this “oxygen principle,” as an air, which is being absorbed in calcinations, combustion, and respiration. Like Lavoisier, you are conceptualizing what you cannot see. Some of Lavoisier’s further work resulted in his discover of azote, now termed nitrogen, which together with oxygen predominate in the earth’s atmosphere. The oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle and the nitrogen cycle are both essential to life.

Conceptually exploring chemical processes as occurring within an hypothesized harmonic domain, allowed for the emergence of lawfully created dissonances, the basis for new (invisible) discoveries.(2)Apparent “elements,” including water, were discovered to be specific compounds, as measurable amounts of an alleged element disappeared on the ‘other side of the equation.’ Nor were all chemical processes so simply ‘inverted,’ as in those requiring a catalyst. Lavoisier, as can be seen with the mind’s eye, had to work very hard to be a “systemic thinker”!

To be continued …………….

(1) Part I of “Living Chemistry” appeared in the Friday, 10/12/01 briefing. Part II appeared in the Saturday, 10/19/01 briefing. They can otherwise be found as a1415BLZ001 and a1426BLZ001.

(2) The reader might be struck by a parallel to Bruce’s recent pedagogicals on Gauss, where what appear, in the form of natural numbers, as an open series, or, in the case of “powers,” as open, growing cycles, turn out to be periodic, closed cycles with respect to a modulus. From where does this periodicity arise?”

Living Chemistry, Part IV


“Lavoisier, the putative father of all the discoveries that are talked about; as he has no ideas of his own, he seizes those of others; but scarcely ever knowing how to appreciate them, he abandons them as lightly as he took them up, and changes his views as he changes his shoes…”

– M. Marat, from his pamphlet,{Modern Charlatans, or Letters on Academic Charlatanism, published by M. Marat, the friend of the People}, 1791

Last week we re-discovered the harmonic domain of chemistry, with Antoine Lavoisier. Lavoisier’s continued his work, despite extraordinary demands.

In 1783, Cavendish reported that the burning of “inflammable air” had produced water. Lavoiser, repeating the experiment and inverted the process, quickly determined that water was composed of “dephlogisticated air” and “inflammable air” – oxygen and hydrogen. “Inflammable air,” which we have only mentioned in passing and had already been isolated, was the then-current name for hydrogen.

To shake off the cobwebs that so quickly occupy any unused corner of you mind, ask yourself: Did Lavosier ever see or touch or hear these “airs”? We have to almost shake ourselves, to let go of these airs as “things,” and realize that they are rigorously proven {concepts}, the results of fruit of discoveries, not Sarpi’s [facts].

Antoine Lavoisier had never seen any of these “airs,” and he had only determined their existence indirectly.


So,what of these “elements”? A common chemistry textbook will credit Lavoisier with the discovery of nitrogen, and with producing the first table of elements, for his introduction to chemistry, {Elements of Chemistry}.

Here, Edgar Allen Poe’s character, August Dupan, is required. Worthy of note is the easily overlooked fact that the English language title of Lavoisier’s textbook is itself misleading, as it implies to the casual reader that it is a book about {elements}. Compare to the title, in the original French, {Traite’ e’le’mentaire de Chimie} and you grasp the difference. So, how did Lavoisier {think} about what we today classify as elements? You may already have some ideas, from following Lavoisier on his voyage of discovery, over the past weeks. Let us hear from Lavoisier himself, and compare our thinking to his. The following is from the preface to his {Traite’}, as translated in the 1790 English language edition:

“It will, no doubt, be a matter of surprise, that in a treatise upon the elements of chemistry, there should be no chapter on the constituent and elementary parts of matter; but I shall take occasion, in this place, to remark, that the fondness of reducing all the bodies to three or four elements, proceeds from a prejudice which has descended to us from the Greek Philosophers…

“It is very remarkable, that, notwithstanding of the number of philosophical chemists who have supported the doctrine of the four elements, the is not one who has not been led by the evidence of facts to admit a greater number of elements into their theory…All these chemists were carried along by the influence of the genius of the age in which they lived, which contented itself with assertions without proofs; or, at least, often admitted as proofs the slightest degrees of probability, unsupported by that strictly rigorous analysis required by modern philosophy.

“All that can be said upon the number and nature of elements is, in my opinion, confined to discussions entirely of a metaphysical nature. The subject only furnishes us with indefinite problems, which may be solved in a thousand different ways, not one of which, in all probability, is consistent with nature. It shall therefore only add upon this subject, that if, by the term {elements} we mean to express those simple and indivisible atoms of which matter is composed, it is extremely probably we know nothing at all about them; but, if we apply the term {elements} or {principle of bodies}, to express our idea of the last point which analysis is capable of reaching, we must admit, as elements, all the substances into which we are capable, by any means, to reduce bodies by decomposition. Not that we are entitled to affirm, that there substances we consider as simple may not be compounded of two, or even of a greater number of principles; but, since there principles cannot be separated, or rather since we have not hitherto discovered the means of separating them, they act with regard to us as simple substances, and we ought never to suppose them compounded until experiment and observation has proved them to be so.”

Certainly a surprise! Note Lavoisier’s emphasis on an “element” being the “principle of bodies… which analysis is capable of reaching.” (Here we see the caution he had already expressed, when he named “the oxygen principle,” as we pointed out, in the last pedagogical.) Here, we have a concept of elements, drawn methodologically from Liebniz’s “Monadology.” Certainly a healthy dose of “learned ignorance”! It can be more quickly agreed that Lavoisier’s conception of element is not the reductionist, “atomist” conception of matter, usually presented as a British (i.e. Venetian) bloodline of horses’ asses, running from Boyle, through Galileo, Hobbes, Bacon, Newton, and so forth. Do not read too much into his off-handed comment regarding discussions “of a metaphysical nature.” Metaphysical, in the sense of Socratic universal conceptions, is exactly what Lavoisier was all about!

Algebra and Heat

Let us return to the first of Lavoisier’s original axioms. By the time Lavoisier is writing his {Traite elementarie}, his early axiom – that all matter can be, in principle can be converted from one of three states of matter to the others, by altering the relative heat and pressure – has been reduced to a “corollary” of his “matter of heat” or “caloric.” He defined this caloric as, “…a real and material substance, or very subtile fluid, which, insinuating itself between the particles of bodies, separates them from each other.”

It is often overlooked that Lavoisier’s conception of caloric, a form of the hypothesized “aether” entertained by the likes of Hugygens and Mendeleyev, precluded a “blackboard” interpretation of his “law” of the Conservation of Matter. No Venetian double-entry book keeping here! Consider: Lavoisier’s “caloric” does not enter into his “equations” of chemical reactions! Indeed, here we see the flexibility of Lavoisier’s own ‘harmonic’ concept, which, among other things, duly noted the limits of his apparatus to measure exactly the phenomena that might be in question. It is often argued, by academics, that Lavoisier reached correct conclusions through erroneous results, as for example in the fermentation tables of his {Traite elementarie}. Let us not bother with the details of their sniping. Let us rather quote Lavoiser, on his “algebriac” scientific method.

“I can regard the matter submitted to fermentation, and the result obtained after the fermentation, as an algebraic equation; and by considering each one of the elements of this equation successively as the unknown, I can deduce a value, and thereby correct the experiment through the calculation, and the calculation through the experiment. I have often profited by this method in order to correct the first results of my experiments, and to guide me in the precautions to take in order to repeat them.”

No blackboard mathematics here! His equations were not meant as {verification} of the principle, that the material present before the operation is equal to the material afterward. Lavoisier was studying what he could not see, and often was measuring indirectly. Instead, the hypothesis is verified by his effectiveness in producing results.

Now lets explore, in our final pedagogical, Lavoisier’s work on heat.

Respiration and Work

Already in 1776, Priestley had already jumped ahead of Lavoisier with new evidence on the nature of the changes in blood. Coagulated sheep blood, he showed, became “black” and “red”, as it was transferred back and forth, between fixed air and deplogisticated air. Priestly showed the he got a similar response when the blood was enclosed within a bladder which separated it form the air, demonstrating that the lungs too could communicate the phlogiston to the air through the membranes. Lavoisier, following up on these promising results, suddenly {discovered} that there were “two causes tangled in one” – that together with the absorption of a portion of the air, that air which had already served for respiration “approaches the state of fixed air.”

Let us quote from his memoir, co-credited to Seguin, presented late in 1789:

“Starting from acquired knowledge, and confining ourselves to simple ideas which everyone can readily grasp, we would say to begin with, in general that respiration is only a slow combustion of carbon and hydrogen, which is similar in every way to what takes place in a lamp or illuminated candle; and that from this point of view animals that respire are true combustible bodies which burn and consume themselves.

“In respiration, as in combustion, it is the air of the atmosphere which furnished the oxygen and the caloric; but in respiration, it is the very substance of the animal, it is the blood, which furnishes the combustible; if animals do not regularly replenish through nourishment what they lose by respiration, the lamp will soon lack its oil; and the animal will perish, as a lamp is extinguished when it lacks nourishment.

“The proofs of this identity between the effects of respiration and of combustion can be adduced immediately from experiments. In fact, the air which has served for respiration no longer contains the same quantity of oxygen when it leaves the lungs; it includes not only carbonic acid gas, but, in addition, much more water than it contained before being inspired. Now, since vital air can be converted into carbonic acid gas only by an addition of carbon; and it can be converted into water only by the addition of hydrogen; and this double combination can take place only if the vital air loses a part of its specific caloric; it follows from this that the effect of respiration is to extract from the blood a portion of carbon and of hydrogen, and to deposit in its place a portion of its specific caloric, which, during the circulation, is distributed to all parts of the animal economy, and maintains that nearly constant temperature which one observes in all animals that respire.”

It is impossible to deny the influence of Liebniz on the work of Lavoisier.

Lavoisier extended his research and experimentation on respiration, to develop the outlines of a concept of a work function, related to respiration, and thus the atmosphere. Lavoisier, in 1790, posed two important postulates, based on detailed measurements taken during his collaborator’s physical exertions. (The drawings of the experiments survive and, like those done for the {Traite’ Elementaire}, were done by his Madam Lavoisier.)

Mssr. Lavoisier derived two important postulates: that the pulse rate increased in direct proportion to the total weight which a person lifted to a given height; and that the vital air consumed was directly proportional to the product of the pulse rate and the frequency of breathing, arguing that one could calculate the “weight lifted to a given height which would be equivalent to the sum of the efforts he has made.” This is so close to Leibniz’s concept of vis viva that it must give us pause. Antoine Lavoisier may have known Lazare Carnot, ten years his junior. Carnot’s interest in the subject of heat and its utilization in powering machinery was to last through his entire life. In 1783, Carnot had restated Liebniz’s concept of {vis viva} as “the moment of activity exerted by a force” or MgH, where M =the total mass of a system, g = the force of gravity, and H = the height of rise or fall. This, it is reported, is the initial seed crystal for Carnot’s concept of “work.” Lavoisier at one point equated the “weight lifted to a given height” with the “sum of the efforts,” language closely resembling Carnot.

Addendum: The political life of Antoine Lavoisier

Marat, clearly on orders of Jeremey Bentham, made Lavoisier one of his first targets. We should not lose sight of Lavoisier’s nation-building efforts, as this is a necessary part of any pedagogical dealing with driving force behind real discoveries in “the hard sciences.” Let Marat tell us about Lavoisier’s role, from his {Ami du Peuple}, of January, 1791: “I denounce to you the Coryphaeus – the leader of the chous – of charlatans, Sieur lavoisier, son of a land-grabber, apprentice-chemist, pupil of the Genevan stockjobber [Necker] Farmer-General, Commissioner for Gunpowder and Saltpeter, Governor of the Discount Bank, Secretary to the King, Member of the Academy of Sciences…”

Lavoisier, was a friend and collaborator of Bailly, and was a member of the ’89 Club (later supplanted by the Jacobin Club), with Monge, Bailly and others. As we see, he had been appointed to numerous national committees by the King, and continued to serve during Bailly’s period of leadership, including in the Treasury. While Bailly was Mayor of Paris, and the Marquis de Lafayette commanded the National Guard, Lavoisier not only continued to hold his crucial position of the Gunpowder Commission, which had the life-and-death responsibility of producing sufficient supplies of gunpowder for embattled France, but continued as the resident of the Arsenal, where he also continued his scientific research. It is recorded that, on one occasion, Bailly and his wife personally, physically intervened, to rescue Lavoisier and his wife from a threatening mob.

Midst the crisis of these times, Lavoisier presented a reasoned proposal for the reorganization of the national debt, in 1790, and presented to the National Assembly his long-prepared work, {The Territorial Wealth of the Realm of France}, to be the basis of a rational reorganization of the French tax system. In 1793, even after the execution of the King, Lavoisier presented to the National Convention as proposal for national education, with the aim of educating the whole nation, and all mankind. Lavoisier was executed, for counter-revolutionary activity due to his role in the tax farm system, on May 8, 1794, his body thrown into a nameless grave.


Unused notes

Lavoisier now also had the basis for answering one of Priestly’s anomalous findings: Priestly had found that inflammable air could be made respirable by “continued agitation in a trough of water, deprived of its air.” He then ascertained that “this process has never failed to restore any kinds of noxious air on which I have tried it.” Priestley has asked, how could there be such a uniform outcome?

Black’s fixed air, which was released from most forms of reduction, we know today as burning dephlogisticated air (oxygen) with carbon – carbon dioxide, as Lavoisier quickly determined. The phlogiston theory explained the former by arguing that phlogiston, the “principle of inflamability,” existed in charbon, alchohol, etc and was released as heat and light.

Priestley’s “nitrous air” is nitrogen oxide. Lavoisier proceeded to isolate “the unbreathable part” of common air, naming this unbreathable part, which killed animals “on the spot,” termed this azote. Azote was later renamed nitrogen, after its common association with nitre.

We can identify here aspects of a revolution in man’s knowledge, the transformation of the entire lattice work, based on the change of axioms, which Lavoisier was working.