There is a simple rule that every student of Economics 101 knows:
The higher the price of an item, the lower the quantity demanded becomes.
This is because a rational person would feel that the item is not worth it above a given price point.
However, there are many goods that do not follow this law. Veblen goods describe a group of goods where paradoxically, higher prices result in greater demand. Examples of Veblen goods include luxury cars, designer jewellery and trending fashion items such as Air Jordans.
The simple explanation is that these goods are not demanded because of their functionality and usefulness, but because they are status symbols. Possession of a Veblen good suggests that you are financially successful and wealthy enough to disobey the law of demand and get away with it.
For the purchasers of Veblen goods, the fact that they are so expensive and exclusive make them appealing.
There is a type of Japanese pottery art called kintsugi (きんつぎ), which translates to “golden joinery”. Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery by filling the cracks with lacquer (treated tree sap commonly used to decorate pottery) that has been dusted with gold or silver powder. This gives the pottery a distinct look as the pattern of cracks are always random and unique.
Kintsugi is not only an art, but a philosophy. When something is broken, the common practice is to repair it in a way to hide the fact that it was ever damaged. Kintsugi takes the opposite approach by directly incorporating the break into the identity of the pottery.
It follows the Buddhist principle of impermanence and imperfection – understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. Instead of hiding the damage or throwing the pieces out altogether, kintsugi can produce something greater out of the pieces than its original form.
Nothing is constant in life. We are not perfect and cannot remain unflawed. Life constantly knocks us down, leaving us with scars. But when you get back up, you have two choices: to pretend you were never hurt and hide the pieces away, or to embrace that you are flawed but choose to show to the world how you mended yourself to become even more beautiful.
The world is full of people of all creed and races and it is a common fact that people from certain races have different skin colours to people from other races. But other than the range of normal skin colours, there are certain skin colours that can occur with specific medical conditions.
The most common reason for a change in skin colour is a suntan, which damages the skin and causes darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation). However, some diseases are also known to cause hyperpigmentation, such as Addison’s disease or haemochromatosis.
The converse is lightening of the skin (hypopigmentation) and can happen with diseases such as leprosy, vitiligo or albinism. Alternatively, people can look pale when they are anaemic or extremely frightened, triggering a sympathetic nervous response, shutting down blood circulation to the face and extremities.
It is common to see red skin with flushing, sunburns, skin infections or numerous dermatological conditions such as rashes. Occasionally, these rashes may be associated with serious diseases such as lupus or Crohn’s disease.
Cyanosis (literally “blueness” in Latin) causes the skin to bluish-purple and it is due to the lack of oxygen in the blood. This could be caused by any number of reasons that causes hypoxia. For example, babies can be born with a heart defect that causes mixing of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood, leading to something called “blue baby syndrome”.
Liver dysfunction can present as jaundice, which is yellowing of skin and the white of the eyes due to a build-up of bilirubin.
Some stranger skin changes can be caused by certain chemicals. Carrots contain beta-carotene (which gives carrots their orange colour) and excess consumption can cause carotenosis (or carotenodermia), a yellowing of the skin. Eating too many tomatoes causes a similar condition called lycopenodermia, which presents as reddened skin (lycopene gives tomatoes their red colour). A combination of the two produces a distinctively orange colour. Both conditions are harmless and disappear after reducing the amount of carrots and tomatoes eaten.
Even stranger still is a condition called argyria, which can be caused by exposure to silver, either through medications especially alternative medicine), mining or contamination of the water supply. Silver causes skin to turn a deep blue colour and the pigmentation is irreversible. Similarly, copper can turn skin green and gold can turn skin grey.
Next to the discovery of fire and the wheel, the discovery of metals and the mastery of metalworking was arguably one of the most important advances for prehistoric humanity. Metal was far superior to rock, clay, wood or any other natural resource known to man in terms of strength and sharpness. Because of these properties, metal soon became a valuable commodity. It can be seen how much impact metal had on humanity’s history, considering that the stages of human prehistory were named after the type of metal (or lack thereof) that was mastered then: Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.
The discovery of metal came in two ways.
One was through mining, where prehistoric people discovered that shiny, hard objects were buried in the ground. They later discovered that with enough heat, they could melt the metal out of ores (copper and tin were the first metals to be gathered this way) and mould them into any shape. After smelting technologies developed, our ancestors found that mixing copper and tin produced bronze – a much stiffer and more durable metal than either of its components. A mixture of metals is called an alloy. This was the start of the Bronze Age. Bronze was extremely useful and people quickly came up with innovative ways of using it, such as farming equipment and weapons.
Some other metals used during this age were: gold, silver, lead and mercury. It is likely that gold was one of the earliest metals used as it comes in pure nuggets and is easily workable thanks to its chemistry. However, given that gold is rather soft and was treated more as jewellery than a practical metal, it was not used as much to advance technology.
The second way mankind came upon metals was in the form of “gifts from the gods”. A prime example is iron. Although the Iron Age began around 1200BC at the earliest, there are iron objects (mainly jewelleries) that have been dated back to 5000BC. How could this be? This was before mankind had the technology to smelt iron ores (which is more difficult and needs much higher temperatures than copper or tin ores), so the iron could not have been gathered through mining. The answer to this conundrum lies in meteorites. About 6% of meteorites contain iron and nickel, which prehistoric civilisations may have stumbled onto and taken the shiny pieces back to their tribe. The people would have considered the gathered iron a “gift from the gods”, as it had crashed down from the “heavens”. Because of this reason, iron was considered more valuable than gold or silver and was frequently used for jewellery. This is reflected in Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction short story, The Songs of Distant Earth, where sentient sea scorpions hoard metal objects stolen from the humans and wear it proudly as a badge of honour.
The history of iron and how it was believed to be a gift from the heavens relates to a common superstition of how finding a penny (or any coin) represents good luck. As “metal” (mainly iron) was considered a holy gift bestowed unto mankind, finding a piece of metal was believed to be a blessing and some form of protection against evil. This is also represented in various traditions such as hanging horseshoes over doorways and wearing charm bracelets with metal on it.
Although it sounds like a silly superstition, it clearly shows how metals have been an integral part of the development of civilisation.
Alchemy, which is considered the origin of chemistry, is commonly thought to have originated in ancient Egypt, but many scholars in the East studied it also. For example, Chinese alchemists invented black powder, the first gunpowder.
The history of alchemy can be seen from ancient Egyptian books dating to 4000BC.
There were two things that alchemists sought: transmutation of common metals into gold, and the creation of the philosopher’s stone. A philosopher’s stone is a mystical stone believed to drastically boost an alchemist’s abilities and grant immortality. This is similar to Eastern alchemy’s goals of seeking immortality.
Also, the idea from ancient Greece that all matter is formed from the four elements air, water, fire and earth, is very similar to the Five Element Theory of Eastern philosophy.
However, the major difference between Western and Eastern alchemy is that Western alchemists sought gold for wealth while Eastern alchemists sought medicine for the people.
In the Middle Ages, a “recipe” was invented for transmutation and the creation of the philosopher’s stone, called Magnum Opus, or “The Great Work”. It mentions three steps, which strangely mimics the creation of the world.
Firstly, the Black Step (nigredo) involves mixing Materia Prima (the first matter) in earth and burning it. This causes all the ingredients to become a black, solid mixture, entering a state of chaos.
Secondly, the White Step (albedo) heats this black solid, turning it into a liquid (a property of water). Impurities are washed away by aqua vitae, The Water of Life.
(Some sources suggest that there is another step, the Yellow Step (citrinitas), between the White Step and the Red Step, that involves the “yellowing” of the matter into gold.)
Lastly, the Red Step (rubedo) continues to add heat until the liquid is totally purified, while obtaining the sediments created from the fusion of matter and spirit, which is gold.
At the end of these three steps, the alchemist gains the philosopher’s stone. Upon closer inspection, one can see how the steps transform simplicity into complexity, bring order to chaos, and develop ignorance into enlightenment.
Therefore, the philosopher’s stone is only the knowledge that we gain, nothing more, nothing less. Although that may not be a simple task.