This treatise presents thoughts on the divide that exists in chemistry between those who seek their understanding within a universe wherein the laws of physics apply and those who prefer alternative universes wherein the laws are suspended or ‘bent’ to suit preconceived ideas. The former approach is embodied in the quantum theory of atoms in molecules (QTAIM), a theory based upon the properties of a system’s observable distribution of charge. Science is experimental observation followed by appeal to theory that, upon occasion, leads to new experiments. This is the path that led to the development of the molecular structure hypothesis—that a molecule is a collection atoms with characteristic properties linked by a network of bonds that impart a structure—a concept forged in the crucible of nineteenth century experimental chemistry. One hundred and fifty years of experimental chemistry underlie the realization that the properties of some total system are the sum of its atomic contributions. The concept of a functional group, consisting of a single atom or a linked set of atoms, with characteristic additive properties forms the cornerstone of chemical thinking of both molecules and crystals and Dalton’s atomic hypothesis has emerged as the operational theory of chemistry. We recognize the presence of a functional group in a given system and predict its effect upon the static, reactive and spectroscopic properties of the system in terms of the characteristic properties assigned to that group. QTAM gives physical substance to the concept of a functional group.
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