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What was Francis Bacon's New Atlantis about?
Francis Bacon's New Atlantis was published in 1626 and went through 10 editions by 1670. In it was described "The House of Solomon," a research institute with laboratories for experimentation and observation in the natural sciences to include: heat, light, cold, medicine, minerals, weather, crafts, astronomy, animals, and agriculture. There would be a staff of 36 fellows and their assistants, who would set out to make discoveries. Resident scholars would read written works on past discoveries. Three "Interpreters of Nature" would assess all of this information to construct axioms and principles.
What roles did others play in furthering Francis Bacon's ideas?
Samuel Hartlib (c. 1600-1662), a wealthy merchant with an interest in science, wrote Description of the Fameous Kingdom of Macaria, about a center of practical learning, inspired by Bacon's New Atlantis. Hartlib's friend, William Petty (1623-1687), the founder of modern economics, envisioned a center for teaching practical trades, which he first proposed to Robert Boyle (1627-1691). A more theoretical precedent for these plans already existed in Gresham College, which was founded by Elizabeth I's financial agent in 1598. Professors there lectured on law, physics, rhetoric, divinity, music, geometry, and astronomy to scholars, nobles, and business and professional men.
What was the Invisible College?
In 1645 Robert Boyle (1627-1691) and other younger scientists met weekly over lunch to discuss current scientific news about research in England and Europe. They called themselves "The Invisible College." They discussed the Copernican theory, William Harvey's evidence for the closed circulation of blood, barometric experiments with mercury, and studies of magnetism. After England's King Charles I was beheaded, this group and their friends, who had academic posts at Oxford, organized the Philosophical Society of Oxford.
Following a lecture on astronomy at Gresham College by Christopher Wren (1632-1723) in 1660, plans were made to found a college "for providing Physio-Mathematical learning." Charles II approved their plans within a week. There were 115 original members. One third were scientists and the first president was Lord Brouncker, the leading mathematician of the day. This was The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge. It was presented with a silver mace by King Charles II at its inaugural meeting on July 15, 1662. It exists to this day, as an independent academy for scientific knowledge in the United Kingdom.
Robert Boyle—a scientist best remembered for discovering the law named for him about the relationship between volume, pressure, and gases—was an inventor, theologian, and philosopher who was a member of "The Invisible College" (Art Archive).
What ideals for scientists did the early Royal Society promote?
After a rejection of Aristotelian ideals of certainty in scientific knowledge, members of the Royal Society sought what was no more than "probably true." Their ideals included open-mindedness, cooperation, and good will toward colleagues. It was as important to know what one did not know as assert what one did. Here is how Thomas Sprat, in his 1667 History of the Royal Society, described the virtues of a virtuoso:
The Natural Philosopher is to begin where the Moral ends. It is requiste, that he who goes about such an undertaking, should first know himself, should be well-practis'd in all the modest, humble, friendly Vertues; Should be willing to be taught, and to give way to the Judgement of others. And I dare boldly say, that a plain, industrious Man, so prepar'd, is more likely to make a good Philosopher than all the high, earnest, insulting Wits, who can neither bear partnership, nor opposition.... For certainly, such men, whose minds are so soft, so yielding, so complying, so large, are in a far better way, than the bold and haughty Assertors: they will pass by nothing, by which they may learn: they will be always ready to receive, and communicate Observations: they will not contemn the Fruits of others diligence: they will rejoice, to see mankind benefited, whether it be by themselves, or others.
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