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Author Topic: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?  (Read 4086 times)

Offline ConfusedHermit

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Precious minerals have typically been used for jewelry. But what do they do if we never mine them out?

One argument I've read is that 'purpose' is a concept we've made up, and nature doesn't have to explain anything to us. Also, we ourselves are natural, so if we find a use for something (such as fossil fuels), then you could technically say that is its natural purpose now.

I'm still curious if those minerals (or anything else 'useless otherwise') actually do have a purpose, but perhaps the effects from us mining them out aren't very large.
« Last Edit: 22/07/2012 10:21:29 by ConfusedHermit »


 

Offline Bass

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #1 on: 23/07/2012 23:30:54 »

... Also, we ourselves are natural, so if we find a use for something (such as fossil fuels), then you could technically say that is its natural purpose now...


We (humans) have all sorts of uses for "precious minerals" (not sure if you mean gems, precious metals, or semi-precious stones?)- industrial, chemical, technological, and aesthetic.

Aside from our uses, these minerals are obviously one of the most stable minerals at the pressure/temperature/chemistry of their formation.  That allows removal or addition of certain elements from the surrounding rock, which has a bearing on its "natural purposes".
 

Offline ConfusedHermit

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #2 on: 24/07/2012 03:34:14 »
Yeah, I did mean gemstones, gold, silver and so on :]

Could you delve more on exactly what they do (besides what humans use them for) please? I feel like you could have kept going... :{o~

I'm no expert when it comes to geology. This question just stood out to me, and I couldn't find much detail in internet searches. Maybe others can find out more when they search the subject and find this thread :]]]
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #3 on: 24/07/2012 04:26:32 »
I would say that what we call "Precious" is purely an attribute assigned by humans.

Now, the stuff we mine is a number of different ores.  Most of the gemstones are relatively inert, and probably would have gone relatively unnoticed in nature.  (except by certain birds and packrats). 

Some metals might be toxic to some life, and potentially a benefit to other life (or just good at weeding out competitors).  However in many cases, naturally occurring levels of the minerals are sub-clinical.  Although hot springs might be a good source for naturally occurring salts and minerals.

Many of the previous gemstones can now be artificially synthesized.  For example sapphire is basically aluminum oxide (Al2O3)  Pure, and one can make extremely hard and durable, clear stuff, such as watch faces.  Impurities gives it brilliant colors.  As Bass mentioned, perhaps the hardness of the material is also what makes sapphires and rubies interesting gemstones. 

The hardness of diamonds make them excellent for things like industrial abrasives. 

Gold is one of the few metals that is most commonly found in its metallic state, and not as part of a compound with other elements.  This gives it its luster that has made it prized for jewelry.  Its physical properties also make it excellent for very fine electronics such as the connections between silicone computer chips and a circuit board.
 

Offline ConfusedHermit

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #4 on: 24/07/2012 10:46:43 »
Relatively inert, so mostly useless... Wow! To think that nature would create such a thing! :{O~

But with that example you gave about some being toxic and some hot springs (some of which can make you sick or help your health, as I looked up just now), you could say

'These minerals weed out intruders unfit to survive in the places where they grow, sometimes weed out intruders when they end up in hot springs, and sometimes benefit organisms that enter hot springs. But all very rarely to an almost unnoticeable degree.' 

That's their 'non-human-related' natural purpose... Sometimes kill things and sometimes help things.

So with AT LEAST having that, you could say that 'inert' may just be what humans perceive, just like we perceive 'precious' differently, huh? :{o~

I'm tempted to make another topic about this, but to save space:

What are some other 'almost useless, except for maybe one thing not including what humans do with it' things in nature? The fact that nature can make things 'just barely useful at all' after billions of years is incredible to me. It's like the planet has wisdom teeth!

 Fossil fuels would be an example, right? I have no idea what purpose they have by themselves... :{o~

« Last Edit: 24/07/2012 10:50:11 by ConfusedHermit »
 

Offline Mazurka

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #5 on: 24/07/2012 13:38:04 »
You have an interesting and perhaps slightly unconventional view point.

I do not accept that there is any purpose behind these things - hot springs occur becasue water was moved through hot rocks, not because of some grander scheme - the hot spring does not "care" what enters it or otherwsie, it simply is, it does not deliberately help or harm anything.

There is no natural “purpose” to these minerals, they simply are the product of particular elements in particular proportions in particular conditions – hence with the right pressure/ temperature we can synthesize them.  These elements are (according to the current theory about planetary formation) in present in part due to the position of the earth in the solar system.  There are some minerals that are the product of biological processes - e.g. amber and jet, but the tree that oozed the resin that formed amber was not thinking "I will preserve this fly or this pollen for future asthetic or scientific purposes"

Some minerals – such as Halite (aka rock salt) have been instrumental in how our world looks by being an important control on certain geological processes. For example in the case of the European alps, halite layers are the planes along which thrust faults “built” the mountains.  However the shallow salty sea where the halite formed was not considering the future, or aware of its destiny in relation to the natural history of Europe.

There only value is what humans attribute to them – this is based on rarity and other properties such as colour, size and transparency.


PS Clifford, I find silicone a bit wobbly for microprocessors
 

Offline ConfusedHermit

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #6 on: 24/07/2012 15:13:48 »
It's kind of mind-blowing how many things we find fascinating that we can just blow over by reminding ourselves we made the word 'fascinating' and nature doesn't care what that means.

Hell, we made the word nature! This big round THING just DOES STUFF and everything we know could be completely wrong and/or useless in the grand scheme of things! 'Purpose?' PFFFFFT!

Like trees. Oh, you think those are for making oxygen and supporting ecosystems? Silly human, you made that up! Sure sounds pretty, though! Add it to Wikipedia as a fact.

So these shiny rocks in the ground, we could say 'their purpose is to make us question what their purpose is' and nothing of worth would be gained or lost :{O~

This planet is trolling us!

Oh, Science... What have you done?!?!? 
/random tangent
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #7 on: 24/07/2012 20:34:50 »
You might think of fossil fuels as being useless. 
Yet, without them, humans most certainly would not be alive today.

Yes, it may be convenient to burn coal, or oil.  But, they actually have played a critical role in the evolution of life on our planet.

WHAT?

Ok...  So one only has to look a bit back at history.  A long way back.  And, perhaps compare Earth to Venus (which, of course, gets more sunlight..  but...)

Without plants, much of the Carbon on the planet may eventually find its way to the atmosphere as CO2, as has happened on Venus.  It then creates a very heavy and hot atmosphere...  certainly it would be difficult for us to exist if Venus' atmosphere was on Earth.

Plants use photosynthesis to convert carbon from the atmosphere into structure.  Animals need a high energy source...  and photosynthesis would just be too slow to keep us moving.  So, we can eat the carbon from the plants, oxidize it to make energy.  For this, we need OXYGEN.

The only way our relatively high levels of oxygen can exist in the atmosphere is if plants have taken carbon, converted it into hydrocarbons...  then somehow "lost" it.  And, thus, we have fossil fuels. 

The other thing is that it is believed that the sun has been getting hotter throughout the history of the planet.  Yet, Earth has had either a relatively constant temperature, or perhaps slowly cooling.  So, why was the young earth warm enough for life to evolve, and why isn't it hotter than a sauna today?  The primordial earth would have been warmer from the heat of the consolidation of the planet, as well as more nuclear decay in the core.  But, a rich CO2 atmosphere likely also warmed the planet somewhat.  Perhaps it also created other features that fostered abiogenesis.  Getting rid of the CO2 atmosphere has helped us from being literally cooked as on the surface of Venus (not quite as hot, but still hotter than would be comfortable).

Anyway, it has been a benefit for us today, as well as all modern animal life to have the plants lock so much carbon in the ground.,
 

Offline OokieWonderslug

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #8 on: 26/07/2012 04:30:06 »
If you take all natural gem like minerals and put them together, each with it's own shape crystals interlocking with each other you get an energy machine. They have to be the right size and they all have to fit together like a puzzle. They channel energy in a way that amplifies it.

Just kidding. Although I have often wondered what the result would be if one did that.
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #9 on: 28/07/2012 10:50:18 »
One could speculate about the Purpose of a divine Creator.

However, the benefit to us of these precious (and not-so-precious) minerals include:
  • About 25 elements are essential for our life http://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/Contexts/Just-Elemental/Science-Ideas-and-Concepts/The-essential-elements
  • The great mass of iron and silicates in the earth means that the earth's gravity can hold onto a breathable atmosphere
  • They provide the fertilisers we use to feed the world's population
  • They provide medical products and jewellery to make us feel healthy and wealthy
  • They provide the chemical, nuclear and electrical power that modern humans are using at increasing rates
  • They provide the materials for building houses, cars and bridges etc
  • They allow the pocket electronics without which most teenagers think they would die
Are there any costs of mining them?
  • We mine many of these rare minerals for their aesthetic value, but the mine tailings have a negative aesthetic value - hopefully in someone else's backyard!
  • The desirable mineral is often mixed or in a compound with "undesirable" chemicals. Refining them often produces toxic or polluting byproducts like heavy metals.
  • Some mining techniques are dangerous to the health and wellbeing of the miners and their families - death, injuries, lung and hearing damage
  • Using some compounds (like coal, oil and gas) produces toxic byproducts like NO2, SO2, H2SO3, plus the CO2 which is currently causing a lot of arguments
  • The minerals underground provide a stable surface on which to build our homes. Digging out big holes underground often causes subsidence of the surface, causing homes to crack and collapse
  • Some mining techniques like oil recovery and fracking have been associated with minor earthquakes.
  • If we strip-mine the land (and don't restore it), many valuable species of animals and plants will be wiped out
  • If we mine the minerals now, that will leave less for future generations
The problem with asking "Is it worthwhile to mine?" is that the person gaining the worth is often not the person paying the costs. Many of the costs are assumed to be zero, like the cost of cleaning up the air, loss of wildlife, cleaning up the mine tailings and toxic waste, dealing with the resulting health problems or any impacts on future generations.

What we really need is to be healthy, wealthy and wise.
« Last Edit: 28/07/2012 11:04:51 by evan_au »
 

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Re: What is the natural purpose of a precious mineral?
« Reply #9 on: 28/07/2012 10:50:18 »

 

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