I’ve been reading A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. One chapter is devoted to Francis Bacon (1561–1626). Bacon was a philosopher and a scientist.
As such he built on the work of predecessors as far back as Thales, Pythagoras, and Aristotle in ancient Greece. Bacon also owed much to Roger Bacon (1214–94), William of Occam (1287–1347), Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), and Nicolaus Copernicus (1479–1543).
Although the origins of science are hazy and disputed, many scientists credit Francis Bacon with formulating the modern scientific method of induction. Such praise would have shocked him.
Bacon was critical of the philosophers and scientists of his day. Scientists, he thought, spent too much time admiring their fabulous collections. Philosophers, he thought, spent too much time admiring their clever syllogisms.
(Pardon the interruption, but had women been included in the domains of science and philosophy from the beginning there never would have been such a disconnect from reality. But I digress. Let’s allow Bacon to finish his thought.)
What was needed, he thought, were practical people who translated knowledge into useful products. Thus, he offered an allegory of sorts in Novum Organum (1620).
Here’s my paraphrase.
Some people are like ants, some like spiders, some like bees. Ants travel along the highway of life collecting tidbits to take home. Spiders spin webs from their own inner resources and get nowhere. Bees flit from flower to flower gathering nectar and convert it into honey for others to enjoy, including humans.
(With all due respect to Bacon, I’m certain that no bee at no time in no place ever considered humans as beneficiaries of its work. But we can let that anthropocentric egotism go for the sake of the following moral.)
There’s nothing wrong with collecting tidbits of news and information here and there like an ant. There’s nothing wrong with spinning beautiful webs of self-delight and wonder from your inner resources like a spider. But if you want to be someone who benefits others, be a bee. Turn thistles into honey.
Scientists heeded Bacon’s advice. Soon science replaced the church as the bestower of salvation. Priests might transform bread and wine into “the body and blood of Christ,” but scientists transform facts and theories into medicine, vaccines, prosthetics, electricity, high-yield crops, solar panels, and GPS.
And that’s only a sample.
What else has science brought?
See Paula’s “Clematis and White Poppies in Ice” on the home page.