From the book The Nature of Substance: Spirit and Matter by Dr Hauschka
Alkalis and Halogens
The largest, most inexhaustible source of salt is the ocean, where the percentage of dissolved salt is 3% or more. This salt is extracted by a panning or refining process in which the evaporation surface is increased and the sea water subjected either to concentration or to evaporation. Similar processes have been carried out by nature when, in the course of earth’s evolution, a catastrophe or other geological event made an inland sea of some part of the ocean. This is the origin of salt deposits. There are many spots in Europe where such deposits have been found, often enclosed by layers of rock. Nearby towns sometimes got their names from this proximity — for example, Salzburg, Halle (The German ‘Hall’ means ‘salt’) on the Saal, Reichenhall, Hallstatt, Hall in the Tyrol, Leopoldshall, Schweizerhall, and so on. One of the largest salt deposits is at Stassfurt, Anhalt.
Geologists have reckoned that the amount of salt contained in the ocean would be more than enough to construct all the land now above sea level, including mountain ranges. This means that there is as much salt in the sea as there is solid rock on land.
What do we mean when in chemistry we describe something as a salt?
We have already recognised bases and acids to be a polarity. The base and acid tendencies already noted in lime and silica respectively come to clearest expression in the polarity represented by alkalis and halogens. The harmonising of these polar forces produces salts. Salt is thus a mineralised state of balance between base and acid-forming forces, between alkali and halogen.
When seawater, which contains common salt in a proportion of one hundred parts to approximately two of potassium salts, is evaporated, the lighter potassium salts stay in solution longer than the common salt does. They then form a layer only a few metres thick on top of the salt deposits, which at Stassfurt reach a depth of nine hundred metres. This top layer had to be removed to get at the common salt below – at that time the only part that was considered valuable. This gave the potassium salts their name of waste-salts.
Sodium, potassium, and a few other rarer bases, such as lithium, rubidium and caesium, are all called alkalis, and they are chemically and physically very closely related. One special characteristic of all the alkalis stands out in the following experiment:
Some metal salt, such as copper sulphate or silver nitrate, is carefully dropped into an alkali solution. The drops do not immediately merge with the solution, but keep to their drop-form, enclosed by delicate, veil-like skins. Often they dissolve slowly into a colloidal system, particularly in the presence of ‘protective colloids’ such as proteins. Colloidal solutions, as we know, are especially prone to surface tension. One can picture them as liquids with tiny droplets or particles evenly dispersed through them. Every such droplet or particle in these solutions may be described as no longer subject to ordinary earth conditions, for in the colloidal state it has a protective skin that keeps it from combining with other substances. Alkalis, then, have a proclivity to form enclosing sheaths, and the colloidal state may be looked upon as a further development in this direction.
As we know, the body fluids chyle, lymph and blood serum, are colloids, as is the sap that is the lifeblood of the vegetable kingdom. All the up-building processes having to do with growth and nutrition in plants, animals and man alike are maintained by alkaline colloids present in the fluids of the various organs. In plants this alkali is chiefly potassium; in men and animals, soda. Up-building processes in man are localised in the area between the intestines, liver and kidneys. Physiologists and doctors are very familiar with the importance of alkalis for the liver functions. Here, where both in man and animal vegetative processes are especially active, we find potassium, the characteristic plant alkali.
The capacity to form enclosing sheaths is the most significant aspect of alkalis, as may be noted in the case of those used in ordinary daily life. We see this capacity very clearly in the cleaning and laundering properties of alkali compounds. They are especially effective in combination with fats and oils. Soap is just such a combination. It is colloid, and produces an emulsion, foam. What is foam other than a great increase in surfaces? Bubbles of foam envelope objects and particles of dirt, and soften them. A woollen cloth dipped in clear water does not always even get wet. But in soapy water every fibre and each least speck of dirt on it is at once fondly embraced, surrounded, softened and dissolved.
We described oil as condensed cosmic warmth. Soap, which is a boiled mixture of oil and alkali, is thus a carrier of enclosing warmth.
The sheath-forming potentiality of alkalis is not to be equated with silica’s form-creating surface action. Silica is itself a cosmic sheath, whereas alkalis are simply earthly sheaths that enclose whatever comes into their domain.
If one searches for an appropriate picture to express artistically the nature of alkali’s enclosing gestures we come upon the pictures of a maternal organism giving shelter to the child-to-be. What is meant here can be experienced by contemplating the Sistine Madonna. Here we see the mother surrounded by a host of angels, bearing in her arms a child that seems to be one of them. She has wrapped her mantle protectively around it. We feel in the gesture her deep connection with the heavenly powers for which she has provided earthly shelter.
In ancient times, when no one doubted that the terrestrial is always a housing for the spirit, this truth was felt to be pictured in the constellation of Virgo, the virgin. Here could be experienced the sheath-forming powers whence forces of fertility and ripening rayed down to earth.
The sun, which mediates these forces to the earth, passes through the constellation of Virgo in September the season when all vegetative burgeoning is concentrated in the swelling fruit. These fruits harbour the future in the form of seed ripening. We might say that an apple can be seen as a picture of brimming sap confined within a form by the Virgo forces active in the alkali.
Now, let us go on from these explorations of salt’s base-forming aspect to consider its acid-forming aspect.
Our senses provide immediate clues. Most alkalis are thick, even oily-appearing fluids, especially in concentrated form. But acids, especially the halogens, are usually thin and runny, and in their pure form can even be gaseous. Alkalis taken into the mouth seem to be expanding and filling it, while acids are sour and contractive. Alkalis are slimy and slippery to the touch; diluted acids feel astringent.
One can conclude from these experiences that alkalis, like everything hospitable to life, are of a waxing, flowing, expansive nature, while acids are dry, contractive and hostile to growth. In concentrated form, or on longer exposure, they attack other substances aggressively, searing the skin, for example, and making wounds like burns. They break down, burn, or dissolve what comes in contact with them. They are the solvents used on ores and metals. They have a close bond with hydrogen, enhancing its destructive or dissolving fire-force. Alkalis, in contrast, have an affinity with water, or else with oxygen.
Alkalis, then, are passive, receptive, support-giving; acids, positive and active.
These characteristics show up very clearly in connection with colour. All natural plant dyes – litmus, or the juice of some berry or fruit such as cranberry, elderberry or cherry, or a blossom colour – move in the presence of an alkali to the passive, dark side of the spectrum: blue, or violet. The addition of one small drop of an even slightly acid substance makes the colour move toward the active, light side and turn yellow, orange, and red.
Alkalis conduce to the colloidal state. They increase surface area, and enfold things, thus helping life to flourish. Acids are hostile to the colloidal condition and the developments it encourages. They press towards decisive action; they either curdle colloids or reduce them to a true solution. Fresh milk is an example of a colloid. Souring curdles it; it separates into curds and the transparent whey.
The acid-forming agents known as halogens — fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, and their acids, hydrofluoric hydrochloric, hydrobromic and hydriodic acids — are as like each other in character as are the alkalis among themselves.
Chemists are familiar with the similar behaviour of these substances, as is the physicist with their peculiar light reactions. In an earlier chapter we spoke of iodine as a light-thief. This last and densest member of the halogen group manifests its relation to light only in this overwhelming, total — one might almost say brutal — manner. Fluorine, the first and lightest of the halogens, exhibits the phenomenon of fluorescence. Its acid, hydrofluoric acid, is the strongest, chemically speaking. It is such a powerful solvent that it can dissolve glass. We can melt the broken end of a glass rod and round it off by using hydrofluoric acid just as easily as with a Bunsen burner.
This capacity for rounding off can be seen at work in the human organism too, and most clearly in the shaping of the teeth. When a child’s second teeth come through, they sometimes looked jagged and even broken. This is because their surfaces are still unfinished, a condition due to a disturbance of the fluorine or hydrofluoric acid process. Just as the broken end of a glass rod can be melted into a rounded edge, the jagged teeth are rounded off by enamel as they emerge.
Other bodily processes too, are related to the fluorine process. There is an illness in which the development of certain extremities such as the nose, chin, fingers and toes is not rounded off and brought to a close, but continues indefinitely. Here, again, the defining process which should give every last part and form the full working through and rounding off proper to it has not taken hold as it should have done. And the same condition can develop in the digestive tract when food is not properly metabolised and the contents of the intestines are insufficiently worked over and formed. We call it diarrhoea, and its cause may also be sought in a disturbance of the fluorine process. All these cases can be treated with potentised preparations of fluorspar (calcium fluoride), to stimulate the fluorine process.
All organic disturbances affect our thought-life in due course, and the above is no exception. How often we witness an incapacity to ‘think things through’ to draw the necessary conclusions from a train of thought! Loss of memory may be its final consequence.
We see the characteristic activity of the halogens in these processes. It is cosmic activity, pressing urgently toward the conclusion of some train of action, rounding our destiny, as often with destructive violence as with constructive, creative impulses.
The ancients saw these processes proceeding from the constellation of Pisces, the fish. This symbol is not readily understood without reference to its ancient meaning. The four last signs of the Zodiac were pictures of human occupations: Sagittarius is the hunter, Capricorn the animal breeder (with the fishtail picturing the taming of the wild beasts), Aquarius the tiller of the soil, and Pisces the trader on his ocean voyages. The paired fish of Pisces were also a symbol of the feet, and so of travelling. Here we find another indication of the characteristic activity, the moving toward conclusions, the fulfilling of destiny which we have been describing. One does not think out one’s destiny; one ‘walks’ an appointed path. Just as Virgo symbolises the selfless offering of an enclosing sheath within which other life develops, Pisces pictures an active coming to grips with the world and destiny. And like the alkalis and halogens which they create, Virgo and Pisces are antipodes confronting each other from opposite sides of the cosmos.
Receptive love and ego-like activity pour through the heavenly and earthly spheres from these two macrocosmic points of origin, Virgo and Pisces. But their interaction engenders a third force: the Salt of the earth, which in the realm of life stands for the balanced organism; in the realm of the spirit, cosmic evolution.
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