Francis Bacon's Novum Organum [A Review]

Novum Organum Scientarium, 'New Instrument of Science', 1620 AD.

Novum Organum Scientarium, 'New Instrument of Science', 1620 AD.

Through these pages it becomes keenly aware that Francis Bacon was a top notch observationalist. His in depth analysis of heat and cool are fascinating to the modern mind. The permutations he arrives at put to shame any wikipedia entry that could be mounted on the matter. Perhaps the most striking element to this book is the rigourous sense of faith which stands tall alongside his earnest desire for inductive reasoning as a method to 'penetrate nature'.

The overall treatise can be summarized as follows:

"Let the investigation of forms which (in reasoning at least, and after their own laws) are eternal and immutable constitute metaphysics, and let the investigation of the efficient cause of matter, latent process, and latent conformation (which all relate merely to the ordinary coarse of nature, and not to her fundamental and eternal laws) constitute physics. Parallel to these, let their be two practical divisions: to physics that of mechanics and to metaphysics that of magic, in the purest sense of the term as appplied to its ample means, and its command over nature."

For there is nothing in nature more true than the twofold proposition - that nothing proceeds from nothing and that nothing is reduced to nothing, but that the quantum, or sum total of matter is constant, and is neither increased or diminished.
— Franc Baconis, 1st Viscount St. Albans

Across the text Bacon makes reference to Virgil, Galileo, Plato, ("He who can properly define and divide is to be considered a god"), Aristotle, a long list of ancient Greek Philosophers, including, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Leucippus, Democritus, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Philolaus, (he omits Pythagoras for being superstitious, and yet refers back to him later)... and Biblical passages, referencing Daniel & Solomon.

On why we must doubt our knowing from the onset, Bacon discusses the difference betweeen an immediate apprehension of true nature, which he believes is restricted to divine and possibly angelic intelligences, whereas humans, he urges, must make use of a different kind of approach.

Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, English Philosopher

Francis Bacon, 1561-1626, English Philosopher

"But is is only for God (the bestower and creater of forms), and perhaps for angels and intelligences, at once to recognize forms affirmatively at the first glance of contemplation: man, at least, is unable to do so, and is only allowed to proceed first by negatives, and then to conclue with affirmatives, after every species of exclusion."

Of how to approach this new way of thinking Bacon makes an analogy to how the French came to Italy: "Alexander Borgia said of the expedition of the French into Italy that they came with chalk in their hands to mark up their lodgings, and not with weapons to force their passage. Even so do we wish our philosophy to make its way quietly into those minds that are fit for it, and of good capacity; for we have no need of contention where we differ in first principles, and in our very notions, and even in our forms of demonstration."

The book, which catalyzed the origins of what became, for some, a bastion of reductive materialism, is highly faithful, and makes no claims as to create anything contrariwise to the faith of a man, simply instead, giving him tools to unlock nature's secrets.

Let us begin from God, and show that our pursuit from its exceeding goodness clearly proceeds from him, the Author of good and Father of light. Now, in all divine works the smallest beginnings lead assuredly to some result, and the remark in spiritual matters that “the kingdom of God cometh without observation,” is also found to be true in every great work of Divine Providence, so that everything glides quietly on without confusion or noise, and the matter is achieved before men either think or perceive that it is commenced. Nor should we neglect to mention the prophecy of Daniel, of the last days of the world, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased,” thus plainly hinting and suggesting that fate (which is Providence) would cause the complete circuit of the globe (now accomplished, or at least going forward by means of so many distant voyages), and the increase of learning to happen at the same epoch.
— Francis Bacon

It's fascinating to think Bacon speaks of Daniels' prophecy (Daniel 12:4) as having come to pass in his time, when we were just discovering the New World, and how much more accurate that is in the days of airplanes and wikipedia...

Within the text Bacon makes many interesting observations on the influences of heat and cold, among the heavenly bodies. Bacon says three things in particular can influence the heat of an object:

1) The approach to the perpendicular (like when the sun is at its azimouth)

2) Proximity or their perigree (like when a planet is closest to the earth in its orbital journey; Bacon listed in order by degree of heat: Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Venus, and in order by degree of cold: Saturn and the Moon)

3) The conjuntion or union of stars (Bacon listed Sirius as the warmest star, then Cor Leonis aka Regulus - the brightest star in the constellation Leo, and then the lesser Dog star)

"Hence the direct rays of the sun appear to have but little power even on the plane, and when reflected, unless they are multiplied and condensed, which takes place when the sun tends more toward the perpendicular, for, then, the incidence of the rays occurs at more acute angles, so that the reflected rays are nearer each other, whilest, on the contrary, when the sun is in a very oblique position, the angles of incidence are very obtuse, and the reflected rays at a greater distance."

His thoughts on the coolness of the moon:

"The rays of the moon, stars and comets, are not found to be warm to the touch, nay the severest cold has been observed to take place at the full of the moon."

His thoughts on the sun in the polar regions:

"The reflection of the solar rays in the polar regions is found to be weak and inefficient in producing heat."

His thoughts on lightning:

"The flame of vivid lightning is the hottest, so as someitmes to have melted even wrought iron into drops, which other flames cannot accomplish."

As to whether the stars moved overhead and the earth was stationary, or the earth rotated and the stars were stationary, Bacon seemed inclined to the former.

"For there is no doubt, that the light of the heavenly bodies not only far surpasses the vivid appearance of white, but even the light of any flame (with which we are acquainted) in the vigor of its radiation. The immense velocity of the bodies themselves, which is perceived in their diurnal motion, and has so astonished thinking men that they have been more ready to believe in the motion of the earth, renders the motion of radiation from them (marvellous as it is in its rapidity) more worthy of belief. That which has weighed most with us, however, is that if there were any considerable interval of time between the reality and the apperance, the images would often be interrupted and confused by clouds formed in the mean time, and similar disturbances of the medium. Let this suffice with regards to the simple measures of time."

Another bit on the rotatation of the heavenly bodies, which appeared earlier in the text.

"Again, let the required natures be motion and rest. There appears to be a settled classification, grounded on the deepest philosophy, that natural bodies either revolve, move in a straight line, or stand still and rest. For there is either motion without limit, or cotinuance within a certain limit, or a translation towards a certain limit. The eternal motion of revolution appears peculiar to the heavenly bodies, rest to this our globe, and the other bodies (heavy and light, as they are termed, that is to say, placed out of their natural position) are borne in a straight line to masses or aggregates which resemble them, the light towards the heaven, the heavy towards the earth; and all this is very fine language."

And one further still, whilst explaining the 9 types of motion of revoultion, Bacon highlights what he deems an area of dispute.

"This motion of revolution admits of nine differences: 1. with regard to teh centre about which teh bodies move; 2. the posles round which they move; 3. the circumference or orbit relatively to its distance from teh centre; 4. the velocity or greater or less speed with which they revolve; 5. the direction of the motion as from east to west, or the reverse; 6. the deviation from a perfect circle, by spiral lines greater or less distance from the centre; 7. the deviation from a perfect circle, by spiral lines at a greater or less distance from the poles; 8. the greater or less distance of these spirals from each other; 9. and lastly , the variation of the poles if they be moveable; which however, only affects revolution when circular. The motion in question is, according to common and long-received opinion, considered to be that of the heavenly bodies. There exists, however, with regard to this, a considerable dispute between some of the ancients as well as moderns, who have attributed a motion of revolution to the earth. A much more reasonable controversy, perhaps, exists (if it be not a matter beyond dispute), whether the motion in question (on the hypothesis of the earth's being fixed) is confined to the heavens, or rather descends and is communicated to the air and water. The rotation of missiles, as in darts, musket-balls, and the like, we refer entirely to the motion of liberty."

Lastly, the book concludes with a poetic homage to Man's fall from grace, and return to the garden, a poetic touch, no doubt.

"For man, by the fall, lost at once his state of innocence and his empire over creation, both of which can be partially recovered even in this life, the first by religion and faith, the second by the arts and sciences. For creation did not become entirely and utterly rebellious by the curse, but in consequence of the Divine decree, 'in the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread', she is compelled by our labors (not assuredly by our disputes or magical ceremonies), at length to afford mankind in some degree his bread, that is to say, to supply man's daily wants."