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Dalton, John – Philosophical Experiments – 01 The Elements and the Laws of Attraction



Type of Spiritual Experience


John wrote better explanations for children as teaching aids than he did in his scientific tracts, which tend to be wordy – unnecessarily so at times.  So we have taken some extracts from his Philosophical Experiments a book with very small print and few pictures, which nevertheless had the objective of providing ‘young persons with the means of obtaining a knowledge of some of the most important phenomena of nature and the application of science to purposes of utility; and secondly to furnish them with an almost inexhaustible fund of amusement for winter evenings and other occasions when exercises in the open air are obliged to make way for indoor recreation.’

A description of the experience

John Dalton – Philosophical Experiments


82. The earth, and the various substances, animate and inanimate, that are found upon it, however diversified in their appearance, and different in their sensible qualities, are all formed out of a few simple elements, which, combining together in different proportions, produce the vast variety of animals, vegetables, and minerals, with which we are acquainted. Thus, two or more elements, in consequence of the affinity they have for each other, will combine and form a particular compound ; and this compound, having an affinity or liking for some other compound body, or for an element, unites with it, and produces another substance ; by this means it will be seen, that everything on the earth can be formed out of a few simple elementary substances, when they enter into combination.

82. The difference between an element and a compound is this : an element is something that is not formed by the combination of other substances, while a compound, as the word implies, is a compound of two or more simple substances ; a something that is formed by the combination of some of the elements. Thus for instance, lead is called a simple substance, because no means have as yet been discovered by which we can show that it is formed out of anything else; but we can prove that the preparation called red lead is a compound, because, on subjecting it to a certain process, we can separate it into pure lead and oxygen, which are both simple substances.

We call lead, therefore, in a state of purity, an element, and its oxide, or red lead a compound. There are only fifty-four elements in nature, but the number of compounds is innumerable.

84. The cause which produces these combinations is termed chemical affinity. The word "affinity" does not convey the exact meaning it implies; the word "attraction" will better explain how the power operates. For instance, ammonia (an alkali) has a strong affinity, or is strongly attracted to unite with oil ; but it has a stronger affinity for any of the acids, or, in other words, they attract it more powerfully than the oil. It will happen, consequently, that if oil and ammonia are brought into close contact with each other, by being mixed together, that they will chemically combine, and form a compound body, which in fact, is a kind of soap ; but as the ammonia has a stronger affinity for an acid than for the oil, it will happen, that if we mix a little sulphuric acid with the soapy mixture, that the ammonia will be attracted from the oil, and chemically combine with the acid. (See experiment 106.)

In this case, we have an illustration of what is meant by the term affinity, and the manner in which it operates. It is indeed, merely a word used to express the degree of attraction, or as it has been called the " liking," which one substance has for another ; and by virtue of which, when allowed to mix together, they will combine chemically. According to the intensity of the attraction or affinity, so will be the force with which the bodies will combine, and with which they will draw the substance they are most strongly attracted to from any other substance with which it may be in combination.

85. Chemistry is the science which teaches the laws that regulate this peculiar kind of attraction; and the best chemist is he who knows most perfectly the different degrees of affinity which bodies have for each other……

The source of the experience

Dalton, John

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Science Items

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