How To Turn Rocks Into Money
In the words of Isaac Asimov, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”
He must be rolling over in his grave today. The word wisdom has declined over the years while the word knowledge has increased. Today, wisdom is packaged as an existential goal rather than a passionate pursuit of ethics and morality. It's the subject of one-liner inspirational quotes, corporate mission statements, Internet memes, and cat posters trying to make us feel good. We think that repeating these wise quotes makes us smarter. That's like saying that parrots can talk when they can't use the words they repeat in a different sentence. Having an opinion about vulnerability is not the same thing as being able to respond wisely in a vulnerable moment, or knowing the difference between vulnerabilities.
I can understand why we think knowledge is golden.
Gold is both dense and malleable. Its malleability makes it easy to extract and craft as adornment. Artist can create unique pieces of art with with fine details, such as jewelry and mosaics . Its density makes it heavy with a strong physical measure of weight, or worth. Perfect for coins. Its color, shine, and beauty among other metals is irresistible. A metal, the color of the sun, transform by fire. As a commodity that is widely scattered through out Earth and discovered by every culture it can be easily recognized and traded. Gold went on to become more than a shiny rock on the side of a trail, and went on to become the bedrock of our global economy. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements, and is solid under standard conditions. Just like knowledge.
Knowledge turns rocks into money, puts men on the moon and satellites into space. Here is the rub. Knowledge lets us rationalize, do and say whatever we want. Wisdom does not. It demands we understand the knowledge of good judgment when using a means to an end. One that everyone can understand . Without wisdom, the value of gold can be a means to an end for power and oppression, and not fair trade and freedom.
Perhaps it's why alchemy, the precursor to chemistry, saw transmutation of base metals into gold and immortality as an outer elixir that led to an inner elixir of life—a perfect parable for how wisdom and knowledge works.
What really makes us vulnerable today is that we can be know-it-alls and also plead ignorance. It's time for alchemy to rise again and philosophy degrees to become mandatory.
Here's a list of some of my favorite alchemists.