Natural versus Artificial Substances

Natural substances are made either by nature or by human beings when they use natural methods in their production. On the other side we have artificial substances made by the means of chemical or genetic engineering which cause change in the chemical structure of a substance or genetic structure of an organism. Also included in the group of artificial substances are hydrocarbons – substances which have belonged to the plant and animal realms in past geological periods and which have been in the meantime subjected to the subterranean processes that have caused the changes in their chemical compositions and structures.

The Origin and Character of Natural vs Artificial Substances

We can introduce this topic with the common sense definition of "natural compounds referring to those that are produced by plants or animals" [1] – that is, substances produced by living organisms. And we could define artificial substances as those which are produced in laboratories by means of chemical or genetic engineering. But things are not so simple. For in nature we also find minerals, such as stones, rocks and whole mountain ranges which are not produced by plants or animals. And then we have coal, crude oil and gas which originate from the remnants of living organisms from the past geological epochs. Besides, throughout millennia human beings have been using biological processes which cause chemical changes in substances. What is the difference between these methods and modern chemical engineering?

In fact, the greatest amount of chemical transformation is happening in nature itself. Plants are chemical geniuses in natural chemistry in comparison with animals and human beings. They are capable of producing not just living organic substances from minerals, water, carbon dioxide and light, but an enormous array of chemical compounds of all sorts. Only in the last two decades have scientists tapped into this realm of so-called phytochemicals, and started to figure out their chemical structures (formulas) and give them names (e.g. indole-3-carbinol, 16-alpha-hydroxyestrone, dihydroacetoxymatricin, etc). As an example you can look at The Chemistry Found in a Single Yarrow Plant to see for yourself the amazing power of 'chemical engineering' performed by the plant kingdom. This is not surprising when by means of spiritual science we get to know the twofold nature of plants. Because plants contain the physical and the etheric body we can see them as true representatives of the power of etheric body. This body is composed of four ethers – among them the chemical ether. The presence of this ether which governs chemical processes and its kinship with the element water explains the extraordinary ability of plants to handle chemical processes. [2]

In comparison with this the essential character of chemical engineering is the human ability to manipulate chemical reactions with the aim to produce specific substances we require. For that purpose we use two basic groups of chemical reactions:

In modern chemistry this twofold division is somehow obscured by an extended list of chemical reactions which are no more than variations of these two basic processes of combining and dividing. However, with little effort we can see the existence of two groups of chemical processes. In one group are chemical processes of synthesis, and in another processes of decomposition[3]

Although in the previous centuries chemists had learned to make several chemical substances in a laboratory conditions, the great breakthrough came in the second half of the nineteenth century, in a period of so-called 'second industrial revolution' – a revolution based on gas, oil, electricity and chemical engineering. This was the time of the emergence of coal tar chemistry, petroleum chemistry and pharmaceutical industry. This was the time when chemists discovered how to make the first synthetic dyes, perfumes, and sweeteners; they learned to make the first artificial rubbers, adhesives, fertilisers, pesticides, plastics and drugs. There was a further development of their skills in the twentieth century by taking substances derived from plant or animal sources and transforming them by means of chemical engineering. [4] This was also the period of emergence and great expansion of food additives. In fact, only since the middle of the nineteenth century has there existed the need to distinguish between natural and artificial substances in our food chain; in previous times such differentiation would be senseless and superfluous.

Chemical engineering works on the level of inorganic substances – that is, the chemical elements arranged in the periodic table. Here we are dealing with single elements (atoms) or molecules (chemical compounds). These substances belong to the inorganic mineral kingdom. In the living kingdoms of nature – including plants, animals, human beings, and the extraordinarily realm of microorganisms [5] – we have further structural layers: cells, tissues, and organs. The entrance of scientists into these realms of living organisms with the same methods of manipulation can be seen as a kind of 'natural development'. However, this has brought into existence the controversial methods of manipulation of the genetic codes of cells and microorganisms. This is the origin of genetic engineering in a laboratory environment where people by their choice try to transfer a specific characteristic that is not typical for the organism in question. The latest method of manipulation is nanotechnology by which the matter is manipulated on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale of existence. [6]

What all these methods have in common is that they are performed by human beings in a laboratory environment – either research or factory laboratories – and that in this manner a change occurs inside the three lowest structural levels of substances: atomic, molecular and cellular levels. These changes can be in the chemical structure of substance or in the genetic structure of a cell. Thus we have arrived at the key character of artificial substances.

On the basis of this we can characterize natural substances as: [7]

With the help of this 'definition' the following conclusions are evident:

The Reverse Chemistry of Subnatural Hydrocarbons

Among the substances found in the earth's core are also substances which cannot be counted as natural. While ores are counted as natural substances until they are subjected to the processes of chemical engineering, substances like coal, crude oil, natural gas, and similar substances, are in their basis artificial. Behind this seeming paradox is the hidden reason which provides a very good argument in favour of this exception.

These substances have been produced from the remnants of ancient plant and animal organisms by 'geological chemistry' of the earth, under extreme pressures and temperatures. These processes have caused the profound changes in their chemical compositions. The most important change is the complete loss of oxygen. Their chemical structures have similar carbon frameworks like carbohydrates, but without any oxygen. For that reason they are called hydrocarbons. From a spiritual-scientific perspective they are dead substances, because they lack the element of oxygen, the carrier of cosmic life in nature. [10] The realm where these substances can be found lies below the visible kingdoms of nature and is therefore called 'subnature'. For that reason these substances are not regarded as natural; however, they could be called 'subnatural'.

It is an interesting historical fact that the emergence of modern chemical engineering is linked with the emergence of coal tar chemistry. Coal was the main source of energy in the first phase of the industrial revolution. Amongst other uses it was utilized for the production of coke and illuminating gas. "A by-product of coke and gas industry was coal tar. At first it was just a nuisance, because of its resistance to chemical and oxidizing agents. The main breakthrough happened with the discovery that a combination of sulphuric and nitric acids could break down the cycloparaffins," [11] the main chemical compounds of coal tar. With further chemical discoveries coal tar and later petroleum have become the mainstay of the modern chemical industry.

Now if we compare the natural chemistry of plants with the outcomes of the coal tar and petroleum chemistry we can see the following: [12]

"Contrasting the two realms, we get the impression that the upper one is the realm of dynamic biological reality, the scene of a ceaseless harmonization of the living polarities of earth and heaven, giving rise to an endless range of metamorphoses. The underworld of the chemistry of hydrocarbons, on the other hand, seems – figuratively speaking – like ghostly reflections of the dynamic creativity of the cosmos. Despite the calculable certainties found in this sub-earthly realm, it cannot seem more real to us than that of the greening, flowering and fruiting plants." [14]

Why was it possible to create from hydrocarbons the spectrum of artificial substances which are as a mirror-image of natural substances? This is due to the fact, that the primary origin of hydrocarbons is the antediluvian world of plants and lower animals – all these substance once upon the time belonged to the living natural world. But in the meantime they have gone twice through the process of change of their chemical structure:

For that reason we could define them as double-artificial substances, or 'artificial on square'. The hydrocarbons are a good source of energy for transport and industry, but for the sake of human wellbeing they should have never entered the food chain in any form.

   NOTES

  1. Wikipedia/Organic compound, March 2012
  2. If you wish to gain a better insight into plants' skills in chemistry read Plants Are All Chemists, a short description of more hidden activities of plants.
  3. One can find with some effort the twofold division of chemical reactions also in modern chemistry. We can notice that one group of chemical processes is centred around synthesis, and another group around decomposition. Source: Wikipedia/Chemistry, February 2014
  4. There is also a case where the original substance is derived from human beings. Human hair is collected from barber shops, cleaned and chopped. "This sort of hair is sold on to chemical companies which convert it into amino acids for use in food, medicines and many other products." Source: article from The Independent Magazine, 2001
  5. Of all microorganisms bacteria are the most prolific and numerous. See short description of Bacteria – Our Splendid Kin to gain some insight into their importance for life on the earth.
  6. There might be more technologies with the same effect, but I am not in a position to do a survey of all artificial substances. Even if there are, it doesn't change the description of the main difference between natural and artificial substances.
  7. This 'definition' cannot be simply transferred to the food, because in food production there are more things that need to be taken into account. The distinction between natural and artificial food is addressed in Real vs Fake Food.
  8. For their distinction see INORGANIC vs ORGANIC SUBSTANCES.
  9. Refined sugar is especially problematic in regard to this aspect. It is not artificially made, as is saccharine or industrially made sorbitol; nevertheless it cannot be called natural, because the process of refining has removed all other minerals and mineral compounds which are part of natural whole sugar. This means that the overall chemical composition of sugar has been changed, but not by any method of chemical engineering, but with physical means. For that reason alone we cannot call it artificial. But we also cannot call it natural.
  10. For a description of the nature of oxygen see COSMIC ORIGIN OF LIVING SUBSTANCES.
  11. Rudolf Hauschka, The Nature of Substance – Spirit and Matter, Sophia Books, Forest Row, UK, 2002
  12. This comparison is not intended to be a complete survey of all substances which can be produced by plants and by chemical engineering from coal-tar, petroleum and other forms of hydrocarbons. The aim of the picture is to show the principle of mirroring of artificial substances made in the laboratory environment with those made by the plants.
  13. See note 11
  14. See note 11