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Most people today when they hear the word alchemy think of turning metals into gold. But alchemy began as a science in the ancient cultures of Egypt, China and India. Arabs exposed Europe to the practice during the 8th century. While alchemy does include the idea of turning a variety of base metals into gold, it was a much more multi-faceted discipline. Practioners of alchemy were interested in philosophical and spiritual pursuits, including the search for an "elixir of life."
Alchemists are responsible for many practical inventions still used today, including gunpowder and a variety of chemical processes such as metalworking and the making of ink, dyes and paints.
In addition to these useful advances there is a wealth of literature devoted to the science. Perhaps the best-known book about alchemy is the Mutus Liber. In keeping with alchemy's more fantastic pursuits, the 17th-century French book was written using only symbols and no words. One of the famous pursuits of early alchemists was the Philosopher's Stone. Mutus Liber contains instructions on making the stone, which alchemist's believe is necessary to increase their knowledge and aid them in creating the "elixir of life" and transforming metals.
During the 16th century, European alchemists divided into two camps, one that continued to focus on scientific compounds and reactions, and another group that concentrated on a means of achieving eternal life. Prior to this division, alchemy had many famous followers, such as Sir Isaac Newton, and was seen as a serious science.
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