comment + criticism welcome
Copyright © 2009 Ray Dickenson
The Two Bacons
The Scientist Monk, `Doctor Mirabilis' - Roger Bacon
The Scientist Baron, Lord Verulam - Francis Bacon
Roger Bacon (c. 1214 - c. 1292)
Young Roger Bacon was a good scholar who opted to join the Church in order to pursue his studies.
There was no other option in those days.
It was a time when the Church was really the political owner and ruler of a turbulent Europe and therefore any attempted freedom of thought or even possession of real information could be dangerous. To make matters worse, Bacon was an early proponent of testing hypotheses by experiment, a method not approved of by the Church, which clung to the Aristostotelian RB01 `decision by authority'.
Bacon suffered from authoritarian restrictions and suppressions throughout his life, which, apart from his many experiments in `optics' and other subjects, was spent mainly in getting hold of Arabic scientific treatises RB02, from them constructing his own theories and attempting to write & publish them.
He fell foul of petty-minded Church authorities many times, and was once apparently imprisoned for an unknown period - often quoted as thirteen years. An account (of 1370 CE approx) gives - `At the the advice of many friars the Minister General (of the Franciscans), friar Jerome, condemned the teaching of friar Roger Bacon ... as containing certain suspected novelties, on account of which this Roger was imprisoned' *.
He literally risked death by reading and writing of science at a time when new ideas were forbidden.
Later in life, when he became vastly interested in optics and theories of light, he was relying heavily on Al-Kindi's RB03 works, from 400 years earlier, which hinted at a "photon theory" and perhaps more, but he failed even in his own estimation, to make the breakthrough of comprehension. Little wonder, as light is not fully understood even today. RB04
Later he would be called Doctor Mirabilis for his wide-ranging learning, admittedly by a necessarily ignorant and credulous RB05 public.
During a life of much `political' dickering and many setbacks he did intermittently get permission to write several books - ostensibly written for Pope Clement IV - in which he attempted to record his current state of knowledge. These were the `Opus Majus', `Opus Minus', & `Opus Tertium' which, although containing wide-ranging views on many of what we now call `the sciences', also had sections on Philosophy & Astrology.
Other works included `Speculum Alchemiae' (on alchemy), and some are said to have prophesied aeroplanes, microscopes, steam engines, and telescopes.
from p. 48 `Light Years by Brian Clegg - 2001 ISBN 0-7499--21978
Francis Bacon was born with a silver spoon in his mouth but despite that was quite intelligent.
He was first a lawyer then a Member of Parliament (congressman) before further promotions and advancements.
(Some say he was self-interested and inclined to be oppressive or corrupt - however see Contemporary Notes on Bacon)
During the reign of King James I, Bacon was made Attorney General and eventually became Lord Chancellor FB01 (in charge of the law courts and the appointment of judiciary).
During this time he was writing essays on philosophy, history and also his thoughts on science.
However, something clearly went wrong with his standing in the Royal Court or perhaps in his relations with other politicians, for he was charged with accepting a bribe (in those days everybody in authority took bribes - they just didn't get prosecuted; how times change), found guilty, fined a huge sum of £40,000 (which may have been the reason for the charge) and banished from office.
In addition to his historical and philosophical writings he also developed (even during the pressure of controversy and prosecution), his classification of sciences.
In `Novum Organum' (1620 - the year before his banishment) he urged a revolution in teaching and and the use of the `scientific method' of induction or checking by experiment.
[Christian Huygens wrote to Colbert FB02 recommending its use, possibly by the French Academy of Sciences.]
This `new method' was opposed to the `deductive' methods of classicists, who would construct purely theoretical (and fanciful) "Laws" from presumed axioms - without ever dirtying their hands FB03 by actually checking anything.
It was also possibly in opposition to arrogant rules of the Church - still dangerous and still torturing and burning people at the stake.
So Bacon, in advance, had to carefully say that he excluded religion from all of his conclusions. I.e. - if you check his `method' FB05, you'll find he requires the abandonment of dogma before scientific thought.
You might be interested in this from `Novum Organum':-
Bacon's four `False Idols' or `Preventers of Discovery'
1 - "Of the Tribe"
`Physical' human nature, by which Bacon meant animal nature.
It has a grip on our senses and most often prevents impartial thought.
As Stephen Jay Gould wrote in one of his Natural History essays: dichotomies (`black' v `white', `believer' v `infidel', `legal' v `illegal') pervade human religions, politics and even the sciences.
From `The Dynasty of Dichotomy'
illustrated at fear page, conscious page and at free will page.
2 - "Of the Cave"
`Personal' human nature - those irrational likes, dislikes, sensitivities and intolerances etc., held by any individual (you might know yours better than me - or do you?).
(Bacon may've been referring to Plato's `Cave Allegory'.)
(partly) illustrated at percepts page and at free will page.
3 - "Of the Market-Place"
Group ethos, group `language' and all other unconsciously communicated ideas.
These tend to constrain or deform our abilities to receive un-biased information.
(partly) illustrated at causes page, bigthorts page and at free will page.
4 - "Of the Theatre"
`Theories' / `Propaganda' / `Teachings' - in fact, all `isms' preached by religious or political establishments and proselytizers.
These distort normal human intellect and sympathies, usually by application of the leverage of `animal' selfishness or fear.
(partly) illustrated at causes page, demrace-bbc page and at free will page.
Somewhere along the way Bacon invented the predecessor of our Murray Code - used for radio telegraphy, and the later ASCII computer code - among other things it allows our keyboards to talk to the computer.
What he worked out was: if you only use two digits - i.e. a binary code, like 1 and 0 - in groups of five you can represent all the letters of the alphabet and more, because 25 (2 multiplied by 2 five times) = 32 combinations.
Early ASCII actually needed another two groups, making 7 (i.e 27 = 128 combinations) because computers need to express more than just words.
In the last few years of his life Bacon also wrote a futurist `sci-fi' book, perhaps revealing his own idea of a possible human society.
`The New Atlantis' - appeals to some even now, as a period example of Utopianism.
take off the blindfolds?
NEW PAGE TIPS