Before physics and chemistry there was alchemy. The alchemists asked questions that were beyond the resources available to them to provide satisfactory answers. Many of the gaps between what they wanted to know and what they could find out through experimentation were filled in with speculation and imaginings – usually added on top of the speculations and imaginings of those who came before them.
Substances, like people, generally behave in fairly predictable ways consistent with their personalities. Since the alchemists were intensely interested in substances, and studied them over long periods of time, they felt they knew them. And they saw a little of themselves in their glowing caldrons.
When the alchemists projected aspects of themselves on the substances they studied lots of internal stuff – psychological stuff – was revealed. The image above is composed of 12th Century alchemical symbols arranged to suggest the ongoing process of individual experience.
represents the sun and gold and is a metaphor for consciousness.
represents the moon and silver and is a metaphor for the unconscious.
represents mercury, a fluid state, and is a metaphor for a personality in transition. This symbol is composed of both the symbols for gold and silver, plus a cross that represents space and time divided into quadrants – crosshairs suggesting “you are here.”