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The language of chemistry
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2014/02/12
5:52pm
Ron Draney
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I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with Grant and say that chemistry is a language. It has vocabulary (the contents of the periodic table), grammar (the natural laws that allow atoms to hook up with each other in some ways but not in others), semantics (lead or cadmium in any compound implies toxicity, combining things with oxygen makes the result chemically fragile), and structure (classes of related elements react in the same ways while other elements behave very differently, and common clusters of atoms behave as a single unit in ways similar to single atoms, such as the way a sulfate or acetate group will combine much like a single chloride ion, or an ammonium or methyl group like a calcium atom). It even allows for abstract representation in things like the genetic code with its correspondence between triads of amino acids and proteins.

2014/02/12
11:47pm
Heimhenge
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Ron Draney said: I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with Grant and say that chemistry is a language.

Sure, and so are logic, mathematics, and physics, for exactly the same reasons you cite. On this derivative hierarchy:

logic -> math -> physics -> chemistry -> biology -> anatomy -> physiology -> psychology -> sociology -> history

where do we lose the coherence and internal self-consistency required for a working language? My guess is "biology," but we're getting close. That hierarchy is not of my design, and it's debatable, but I like the way it flows. All of chemistry can be derived from first principals of physics, but we can't yet say the same the same for chemistry and biology.

Biology has some equations, vocab, and syntax, but too much of its "language" is metaphor and hand-waving. Unfortunately, we don't yet "speak" biology. If we did, we'd have cures for MRSA, cancer, and aging. Maybe in a hundred years …

2014/02/20
2:33am
deaconB
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Heimhenge said On this derivative hierarchy:

logic -> math -> physics -> chemistry -> biology -> anatomy -> physiology -> psychology -> sociology -> history

Until the birth of Hari Seldon in the 11,988th year of the Galactic Era (GE),I would argue that history is not derivative pf mathematics.

 

2014/04/09
11:54am
EmmettRedd
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This thread reminds me of an occurrence in graduate school. When translating a Deutsche science article as practice for my PhD foreign language test, I came across a noun (capitalized in German) that did not make any sense from the German-English dictionary. It seemed to do something to do with land area or some such. Finally, I realized that the word was not German but chemistry--Ar, one of the noble gasses.

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