Friday, 2 October 2009

Hippy Crack

"...Some Chinese scholars, as early as the eighth century A.D., thought of air as having two parts. They called these parts the yin and yang of air. The properties of the Chinese yin and yang can be compared to the properties of oxygen and nitrogen.

The first person in Western Europe to describe the "parts" of air was Italian artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). Leonardo pointed out that air is not entirely used up when something is burned in it. He said that air must consist, therefore, of two parts: one part that is consumed in burning and one part that is not."

I don't think hydrogen and oxygen make up water. I think that it is something more like nitrogen and oxygen which make-up water. On top of that, I think that common air is actually vapourous water. I think that we breathe and survive on water vapour enriched with something akin to nitrogen.

In respiration we are taught that we take-in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. It is said that the primary function of the respiratory system is to supply the blood with oxygen in order for the blood to deliver oxygen to all parts of the body. But the thing is - if we survive only on breathing oxygen, and it is something which is supposedly good for us - why is it that breathing pure oxygen over a prolonged period is actually toxic?

We are told that 79% of common air is nitrogen. I'm not sure if this is true. I wonder if the true figure is perhaps a little less. I think nitrogen is basically a bag of vapourized carbon that inhibits combustion, and respiration. But if nitrogen can be "watered-down" by oxygen then you have something very combustible, and respirable - which brings me on to nitrous oxide or "laughing gas".

Nitrous oxide contains two parts nitrogen and one part oxygen. In the 19th C, there was a lot of "high" hopes for nitrous oxide, not just as an anaesthetic, but as somekind of wonderdrug. Sir Humphrey Davy, one of the first experimenters to describe the effects of nitrous oxide, once wrote that he "danced about the laboratory like a madman". Here's a charming little article I found in the New York Times expounding the benefits of nitrous oxide as a "powerful supporter of combustion and of life!". It's dated May 28th 1864:

I've also found a book that goes into much greater detail on some pretty remarkable aspects of nitrous oxide. It is called "Researches on the medical properties and applications of nitrous oxide ... ", and is written by George Jacob Ziegler, around 1865. Zeigler has a desire to "extend its sphere of usefulness in the preservation of life, promotion of health, and the relief of disease." Judging the contents of the book, one almost certainly feels like Zeigler is describing nitrous oxide as an elixir. He even thinks that nitrous oxide will replace good old fashioned booze. A little further in the book and there was a paragraph that really tickled me:

"The effects of protoxide of nitrogen [nitrous oxide] upon the human system vary inproportion to the quantity appropriated and the particular susceptibilities or conditions of indivual organisms, passing from a gentle acceleration of all the functions of the body to a high degree of physical excitement and mental exhilaration amounting in the extreme to an intensely pleasurable delirium or ectasy which may indeed become so pure and exquisite as to absorb the consciousness of existence itself."

If that last line did not capture your imagination, then you must have left the room (and now it's your chair that's reading this!). I think Zeigler was on to something. In the past I have dabbled with drugs in search of something to make me feel "numb". I wanted delirium or ectasy but it never lasted long, and afterwards there was always a price to pay. I know from bitter experience that with every high there has to be a low. The great thing about nitrous oxide is - there is no low!! From what I understand of a users' typical experience with nitrous oxide, there is a high, but once you stop, there's no crashing low.

I'm glad Zeigler has mentioned consciousness. I don't think that the mind manufactures consciousness. I think that the Universe itself is consciousness. I think consciousness is an empty awareness which I fill with all my thoughts. I'm intrigued as to how phlogiston fits into this picture. I wanted to leave Zeigler with the last paragraph from his book - with all its hopes for the future:

"In consequence, therefore, of its pre-eminent importance to the medical profession and humanity at large, it is hoped these general observations will attract the favorable attention of scientists to the transcendant merits of this remarkable agent, and thereby aid in extending its application for the preservation of life, diminution of suffering, and the promotion of health and happiness."

I've then stumbled upon a section on nitric acid in "A dictionary of practical surgery: comprehending all the most interesting ..." by Samuel Cooper and David Meredith Reese, and was published around 1836. We are told the case of one Mr. Wm Scott, a surgeon at Bombay, whom is inflicted with chronic hepatitis. It states that on "September 11th he took at different times about a drachm of the strong nitric acid diluted with water."

Nitric acid is highly corrosive. Drinking diluted nitric acid does not sound too delightful, but it's interesting that after a week, Mr. Scott "found his health considerably improved". Other cases are revealed where gonorrhoea, veneral sores, and syphilis are cured using the nitric acid.

Nitric acid contains five times more oxygen than nitrous acid. In other words, nitrous oxide is a compound which is richer in phlogiston than nitric acid. Today, nitrous oxide is considered as an anaesthetic but with toxic properties. All those great expectations Zeigler heaped upon nitrous oxide have simply not materialised. Here's a paragraph I found on the forum "Mad About Kitcars" which describes the toxicity of nitrous oxide:

"Use of nitrous oxide for prolonged periods results in inhibition of the enzyme methionine synthase which is involved in protein synthesis, causing changes in bone marrow after as short a time as 3-4 hours. The enzyme is very important, as methionine, an amino acid, it helps produce is the starting amino acid for all proteins synthesised. This is a direct result of irreversibly oxidising the Cobalt II up to the III state in the Vitamin B12, a cofactor in the methionine synthase. Furthermore the enzyme cannot displace the oxidised B12, so the only regeneration possible is de-novo synthesis of new enzyme, in the presence of fresh, intact B12. Prolonged exposure to nitrous oxide may cause agranulocytosis, as well as leading to increased plasma concentrations of Homocysteine which has been implicated as a risk factor for peri-operative myocardial ischemia."

A 50/50 mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen, more commonly known as "gas and air" (supplied under the trade name Entonox) is used during childbirth, for dental procedures, and in emergency medicine. Surely though by adding oxygen - are they, or are they not making the mixture more acidic as it enters the body? Whereas today we think it's best to dilute nitrous oxide with oxygen, Zeigler appears to have set about diluting the nitrous oxide with water, and achieved more satisfactory results.

If the atmosphere is made up with 20% oxygen, and 79% nitrogen - then where on Earth is the carbon dioxide? We hear of all these problems with CO2 in the atmosphere - but hardly ever is it mentioned in the air we breathe. But it must be there right? Because plants use CO2 in photosynthesis. I'm told that CO2 is a trace gas being only 0.0383% of the atmosphere. And you know what? I'm not so sure.

Many thanks:

Elements of chemistry: including the recent discoveries and doctrines of the ... By Edward Turner
Popular Science May 1935

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