Today we see Science that is free. A Science that relies on observation, on experimentation, on constant discussion, point and counterpoint. However it was not always this way. There was a time( in not too distant past) when people thought that the only way to achieve knowledge was to discuss and interpret holy texts and the writings of Greek Scolars like Aristotle. A person with more knowledge had read these texts deeper than the others.
One man who helped changed all this was Francis Bacon. He is regarded by many as the “Father of Modern Scientific Method”.
Francis Bacon was born in 1561. He was only 12 years old when he entered Cambridge University. He was not impressed by his teachers.
This is what he said about them :” Men of sharp wits, shut up in their cells of a few authors, chiefly Aristotle, their dictator”. Bacon rejected a blind faith in Aristotle’s writings.
At the age of 18 his father died. Francis Bacon joined law and by the age of 23 he was a member of the British parliament. He rose to the post of Lord Chancellor of England. But politics caused his downfall. He was accused of taking a bribe and he lost his post and his honour. In a way this was a good thing. THis allowed Bacon to write more and with more thought. His writings before the bribe scandal were more of works of spare time. After the scandal his writing and philosophy became much deeper.
Our aim in today’s VERITAS is not to examine the personal life of Francis Bacon in detail. Our aim is to examine his philosophy and its impact on Science.
Bacon believed that true knowledge was empirically rooted in nature and observation of nature could enable man to master it. He coined the famous expression “knowledge is power”.
Bacon’s first work came out in 1605. It was called “The Advancement of Learning”. In 1620 Bacon published the Novum Organum(The new organ(tool). This contained a new method to acquire and develop knowledge and was designed to replace Aristotle’s methods. Bacon considered himself the inventor of the new method which would “kindle a light in nature, a light that would bring to sight all that which is most hidden in nature”. His method was: collection of data, careful interpretation of data, experimentation, understanding nature by a careful observation of its regularities.
See the attached picture. It appeared on page one of Novum Organum. It shows a ship passing through the pillars of Hercules, which symbolized for ancient greeks the limits of man’s explorations. Bacon wrote ” For why should a few received authors stand up like Hercules columns, beyond which there should be no sailing or discovering?”. The latin phrase at the bottom of the picture means “Many will pass through and knowledge will be increased”.
Bacon’s thoughs inspired a whole generation of people to give up just learning ancient texts and go out there and observe.
Bacon died in 1626…. ironically it was his love for experimentation that killed him. He wanted to study the effects of ice on the decay of meat. He stuffed a fowl with snow while travelling. He caught a cold and died of bronchitis a few days later.
Lets look at the difference between Bacon’s method and Aristotle’s method. Bacon’s method was the inductive method and Aristotle’s was the deductive method. The deductive method takes a small set of axioms and derives facts based on these. The inductive method takes a huge number of observations and then tries to make a theory that contains the reason for all these observations.
Bacon realized that there are no logical inconsistencies in Aristotle’s deductive method and it would work very well for mathematical sciences. But for the study of nature you would need a more observational technique and not based on logic alone and this is the inductive method.
Here are some famous Francis Bacon quotes:
Books must follow sciences, and not sciences books.
Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man
No pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage-ground of truth
Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;