The Man Who Stood on the Shoulders of Giants

Roger Bacon (born 1214) is generally considered to be the father of modern science. He wrote f the values of book and experience. This is from Jean Gimpel’s  The Medieval Machine. 

There are two modes of acquiring knowledge – namely by reasoning and experience. Reasoning draws a conclusion and makes us grant the conclusion but does not make the conclusion certain, nor does it remove doubt, so that the mind may rest on the intuition of truth when the mind discovers it by the path of experience.

But Bacon seems to claim the greatest experimental scientist was Petrus Peregrinus or Peter of Maricourt who he called “Dominus Experimentorum” who invented 2 perpetual motion machines.  Bacon wrote of him:

One man I knew, and only one, who can be praised for his achievements in this [experimental] science… Of discourses and of battles of words he takes no heed: he follows the work of wisdom, and in there finds rest. What others strive to see dimly and blindly, like bats in twilight, he gazes at in the full light of day, because he is a master of experiment. Through experiment he gains knowledge of natural things, medical, chemical and indeed of everything in the heavens or earth. He is ashamed that things should be known to laymen, old women, soldiers, ploughmen of which he is ignorant. Therefore he has looked closely into the doings of those who work in metals and in minerals of all kinds; he knows everything relating to the acts of war, the making of weapons, and the chase; he has looked closely into agriculture, mensuration, and farming work; he has taken notes of the remedies, lot-casting and charms used by old women and by wizards and magicians, and of the deceptions and devices of conjurors, so that nothing which deserves inquiry should escape from him and that he may be able to expose the falsehood of magicians.If philosophy is to be carried to its perfection and is to be handled with utility and certainty, his aid is indispensable. As for reward, he neither receives nor seeks it. If he frequented kings and princes he would easily find those who would bestow on him honours and wealth. Or, if in Paris, he would display the result of his researches to the whole  world would follow him. But since either  of these courses would hinder him from pursing the great experiments in which he delights, he puts wealth and honour aside, knowing well that his wisdom would secure him wealth whenever he chose.

There is a lot to digest here. The absence of fame for a pioneering scientist, which was deliberate. The medieval search for knowledge, to be found everywhere. The wise women seem to be highly respected, with no mention of witches, though there are of wizards, conjurors etc. I love this hunger for knowledge. Bacon (1561-1626) is often claimed to be the last man who knew everything – a ridiculous claim, but here he bows down to a less worldly man. The quote that is on our £2 coin ‘if I have seen further it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants – here’s the name of one of them. Fascinating.

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