|A depiction of the three ships of Columbus that landed in the new world, that as folklore explains, could not be seen by the native Indians.|
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”— Arthur Schopenhauer (c.1844), German philosopher
Schopenhauer, here, would likely here be referring to German polymath Johann Goethe, who was his direct mentor, who came to his house as a youth, and who he later discussed his chemical affinity based "will to power" theory with (see: Goethe timeline), and in particular the envisioning of the future science of "human chemistry", or "human chemical thermodynamics" as Goethe would have conceived things presently, a target that he hit during a period (1796), when no one else even knew there was such a target and one that two-hundred years later, still the majority of the world, give or take a few handful, are not net aware exists.
Another classic example is German-born American physicist Albert Einstein's famous running along side a beam of light thought experiment. Certainly, it can be said that no one before him, in likely probability, would have ever conceived of such a target, the result of which, he hit a target no one else had seen or could see; resultantly, because of the collisional impact of hitting the target, a revolution in thought has emerged, in the form of relativity and mass-energy equivalence among other precipitates.
The term "ships not seen", in the context of scientific discovery, is reference to the famous Christopher Columbus story of how, upon arrival to the new world, the native Indians, supposedly, could “not see the ships” in the harbor, even though they were in plain sight, supposedly, because they did not have the proper mental slots or receptors to process or accept such foreign or rather never before seen views—meaning that, often times, scientists and modern thinkers, closed into a certain way of seeing or thinking about things, will often not "see" what is directly in front of them; a term which has a cousin similarity to not seeing the forest amid the trees and or not seeing the trees amid the forest, depending on discussion; and is related to the glass walls phenomenon.
In social and psychological folklore is the old puzzling tale of invisible ships, plain or visible to the anatomy of the eye, but invisible or not recognizable to the perception of the mind. This tale is found in the various forms in journals and ships logs of early European explorers to the new worlds, particularly Christopher Columbus (1492), Ferdinand Magellan (1520), and James Cook (1770), each describing local natives not being able, perceptually, to ‘see’ the large ships, because, supposedly, ships are reasoned to be beyond their understanding or outside of their experience. In one account left by Joseph Banks, a botanist aboard Cook’s ship, to cite one example of this frequently mentioned phenomenon:
“The ship passed within a quarter of a mile of them and yet they scarce lifted their eyes from their employment; I was almost inclined to think that attentive to their business and deafened by the noise of the surf they neither saw nor heard her go past them. Not one was once observed to stop and look towards the ship; they pursued their way in all appearance entirely unmoved by the neighborhood of so remarkable an object as a ship must necessarily be to people who have never seen one.”
On the metaphor of this tale, herein we will postulate that there are many such ‘invisible ships’ in science, historically, presently, and some yet to sail. One such ship that metaphorically set sail long ago, as we will argue, is German scientist Johann Goethe’s 1809 novella Elective Affinities, which is structured on a human double displacement reaction.
“It is difficult to overestimate the value of Goethe’s work to humanity. The bequest which he left to the world in his writings, and in the whole intellectual result of his life, is not as yet appreciated at its full worth; because, intellectually, the world has not yet caught up to him. His influence today asserts itself in a hundred minute ways—even where no one suspects it. The century has received the stamp and impress of his mighty personality. The intellectual currents of the age, swelled and amplified by later tributaries, flow today in the directions which Goethe indicated.”— Hjalmar Boyesen, “The Life of Goethe” (1885)
This novel sets forth the supposition that humans are large chemical species, no different than smaller reactants and products, and that all love affairs, marriages, divorces, friendships, social relations, etc., are each but different types of chemical reactions governed by the force of chemical affinity.
The comprehension of the depth of this theory requires nearly a decade of preliminary topic study before it can be acknowledged and recognized for its acumen as a treasure chest of modern human chemical science. In this context, we will argue that those not actively searching for the key or map to this treasure, will not see the treasure map even when in front of their face. More clearly, we argue that Goethe’s Elective Affinity is an invisible ship to all chemists, or those with a general knowledge of chemistry, and a nearly invisible ship to all physical chemists and chemical engineers, those with a more focused knowledge of chemical thermodynamics, wherein affinity goes by the name of ‘free energy’.
The natives we will use to make visible this large unseen ship of modern chemistry are the mindsets of Belgian chemical thermodynamicist Ilya Prigogine (1984), French chemist Jean-Marie Lehn (1995), American chemistry historian Mi Gyung Kim (2003), and Japanese chemical engineer Tominaga Keii (2004), all of whom give explicit reference to Goethe’s Elective Affinities in their respective works, but only as though it were an amusing metaphor, a theory having little or no significance to human existence. 
To begin with, Keii, the stimulus behind this paper, in his 2004 chemical physics series book Heterogeneous Kinetics, devotes an entire section to Goethe’s chemical affinity theory entitled “Chemical Affinity in 1806”, reprinting an entire page of Goethe’s famous chapter four, wherein the characters begin discussing the chemical concept of elective affinity.
To correct Keii, the date of publication of Goethe’s novella is October 1809. Goethe, in fact, had only begun to discuss his idea for a new novel in the year prior. In particular, early in 1808 he told his friend Riemer that “his idea for a new novella was to portray social relationships and their conflicts symbolically” and that “the moral symbols used in the natural sciences were the elective affinities discovered and employed by the great Bergman.” The work Goethe is referring to, of course, is Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman’s 1775 textbook A Dissertation on Elective Attractions, which contained chemical reaction diagrams (or mechanisms) and affinity (or rather free energy) measurements for several hundred different chemical reactions, in the wet and dry way.
In any event, Keii concludes that the only effect of Goethe’s publication was to promote the term “affinity” to the lay public. Moreover, Keii states specifically that “it did not add any scientific knowledge.” This is what one would call an invisible ship. In the words of Banks “the aborigines began to prepare dinner, to all appearance totally unmoved by us, though we were little more than a mile of them.” In our context, Keii moved on to the preparation of his next chapter section, i.e. applications of chemical affinity, with little more than a passing note as to the names of the three principle characters in the novella: Eduard, Charlotte, and the Captain.
Others, more in tune to the search for chemical thermodynamic understanding of human movement or drive, might arguably see the larger ships, and reason, conversely, that Goethe’s novella has been one of the greatest scientific contributions of the all time, pioneering subjects of science, such as human chemistry, human chemical bonding, and human thermodynamics, some two to three hundred years ahead of their time.
People with these views would include German science historian Jeremy Adler, who completed his 1969 PhD dissertation on the chemistry of Goethe’s novella, i.e. on the chemists and affinity reactions to each chapter, or American chemical engineer Libb Thims, who upon discovering Goethe’s novella in 2006 was forced, out of necessity, to write an entire ground floor textbook on human chemistry, as a prerequisite, to even begin to discuss the novella in the correct context, i.e. of “human molecules” chemically reacting together to break and form “human chemical bonds”, among others.
|A parody rendition of Israeli chemist Addy Pross' perspective that he and American complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman "see so many trees", such as catalysis, synthetic biology, RNA, metabolic pathways, DNA, molecular machinery, ATP, biosynthesis, etc., but the he and Kauffman "have no real view of the forest" which is solution to the question "what makes a cell alive?" |
Not seeing the forest
See main: Not seeing the forest; Forest blindThe following is a related quote by Israeli chemist Addy Pross, in commentary about statements from Stuart Kauffman's 2000 Investigations, about not being able to see the forest: 
“We see so many trees, yet we have no real view of the forest.”— Addy Pross (2012), restatement of Kauffman’s 2000 “life remains shrouded from view” perspective
The issue here is that Kauffman and Pross have many “trees” (molecular machinery, metabolic pathways, membrane biosynthesis, molecular biology, etc.), to look at and study, but they cannot see the “forest” (or as Kauffman states: “what makes a cell alive is still not clear to us”). The forest that they cannot see in this case is the defunct theory of life and subsequent life terminology upgrades—a very difficult forest to see, to say the least.
Human chemical reactions
See main: Human chemical reaction theory (14+ theorists)The modelling of human-human interactions, processes, and social transformations in the language of is not without criticism and many, such as Marcin Borkowski, Mitch Garcia, and Stephen Lower, consider the premise of “chemical reactions occurring between human molecules” to be a crackpot-subject, pseudoscience, and or a lunatic notion. To cite one example, in 2011 Irish openly-atheist biochemistry student Ryan Grannell spent a month blogging about human chemistry, commenting for example: 
“This is all just a horrendous analogy. Chemical laws apply to humans, but our behavior is more complex than something that can be modeled with a couple of thermodynamic equations. A + B → AB is just a pretentious way of stating something we already know; it tells us absolutely nothing new [and Goethe’s Elective Affinities is a 'nutty theory'.”
The comment "A + B → AB is just a pretentious way of stating something we already know; it tells us absolutely nothing new", of note, here is very telling, in that it seems to give way to the notion that Grannell, possibly like many new to the subject of human chemistry, and rightly skeptical, are in the mindset of something along the lines of not seeing the ships in the harbor + not seeing the forest amid the trees type of perspective; the glass wall of the human chemical bond, is one example of this.
To explain, in short, there's a minimum of ten years' worth of theoretical work alone embodied in the symbol AB, in regards to the particle physics nature of the human chemical bond; and there's decades of work, as evidenced in the person of Henry Adams, in the free energy description of state one (A + B) transforming, thermodynamically, into state two (AB), say fifty years down the line. A look at the equations of 40+ known human free energy theorists alone give way to this conclusion.
1. (a) Prigogine, Ilya. (1984). Order Out of Chaos – Man’s New Dialogue with Nature (footnote 2.5: “B.J. Dobbs [The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy, 1975] also exampled the role of the ‘mediator’ by which two substances are made ‘sociable’. We may recall here the importance of Goethe’s Elective Affinities. For what concerns chemistry, Goethe was not far from Newton.” pg. 319). New York: Bantam Books.
(b) Keii, Tominaga. (2004). Heterogeneous Kinetics: Theory of Ziegler-Natta-Kaminsky (Volume 77 of Springer series in Chemical Physics) (ch. 2: Thermodynamics of Chemical Reactions, pgs. 11-20; 2.3: Chemical Affinity: Thermodynamic Force of Reaction, pgs. 12-15; 2.5: Chemical Affinity in 1806, pgs. 16-17). Springer.
(c) Lehn, Jean-Marie. (1995). Supramolecular Chemistry (pg. 2: “molecular sociology” and “elective affinities”). VCH.
(d) Kim, Mi Gyung. (2003). Affinity, That Elusive Dream – A Genealogy of the Chemical Revolution. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.
2. Pross, Addy. (2012). What is Life?: How Chemistry becomes Biology ("so many trees", pg. 114). Oxford University Press.