The age of antiquity is the youth of the world.
It's important to remember that the 2,800 years during which these thoughts were developed is still just a spec in the vast sweep of evolutionary history—a spec that was overwhelmed once we discovered the tools to uncover the rest of time that our universe has existed. The update of Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson is on tv right now and I hope you are all watching it. In one of the recent episodes, they updated the cosmic calendar—a concept first popularised by Carl Sagan in his book Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, and then widely expanded when Sagan hosted the original televised version of Cosmos that first aired in 1980. In the cosmic calendar, the entire history of the universe is compressed into a 365-day scale to help our human brains make sense of the vast numbers we get into when discussing the 13.8-billion-year history of the universe. Here's the original 5-minute clip explaining this concept:
What happened that changed all this? What happened that unlocked the overwhelming majority of history to our inquisitive minds? The scientific method happened. And it was ushered in by Francis Bacon in 1620 when he published Novum Organum (New Instrument in English). Although Aristotle had "provided specific axioms for every scientific discipline, what Bacon found lacking in the Greek philosopher's work was a master principle or general theory of science, which could be applied to all branches of natural history and philosophy." Novum Organum filled that gap when it "outlined a new system of logic based on the process of reduction, which he offered as an improvement over Aristotle's philosophical process of syllogism. This contributed to the development of what became known as the scientific method" during the scientific revolution.
Under King James I of England, Bacon had risen to the highest political office of Lord Chancellor, but "his international fame and influence spread during his last years when he was able to focus his energies exclusively on his philosophical work, and even more so after his death, when English scientists took up his idea of a cooperative research institution in establishing the Royal Society." As if this all weren't enough, Bacon was also a beautiful writer, contributing many strong quotes to the history of philosophy.
The monuments of wit survive the monuments of power. Knowledge itself is power.
Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced.
We cannot command nature except by obeying her.
No pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage-ground of truth.
If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties.
Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury.
But by far the greatest obstacle to the progress of science and to the undertaking of new tasks and provinces therein is found in this—that men despair and think things impossible.
Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.
If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.
Nothing doth more hurt in a state than that cunning men pass for wise.
Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing, an exact man.
Let's see exactly what I wrote about Bacon when I considered him in my original Evolutionary Philosophy book.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626 CE) was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author, and pioneer of the scientific method. Bacon has been called the creator of empiricism, and remains extremely influential through his works, especially as a philosophical advocate and practitioner of the scientific method during the scientific revolution. The third US president Thomas Jefferson wrote; "Bacon, Locke, and Newton. I consider them as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception, and as having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences."
Scientific Method - a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. It bears repeating just how important this is to the discovery of knowledge we need to survive.
Bacon did not propose an actual philosophy, but rather a method of developing philosophy. He argued that although philosophy at the time used the deductive syllogism to interpret nature, the philosopher should instead proceed through inductive reasoning from fact to axiom to law. This is the spirit by which Evolutionary Philosophy hopes to develop its beliefs.
Needs to Adapt
The end of induction is the discovery of forms, the ways in which natural phenomena occur, the causes from which they proceed. The continuation of science has uncovered that perfect forms do not lie behind existence. Diversity of form, adaptability of existence - these are what allow natural phenomena to survive.
Bacon said that men should confine the sense within the limits of duty in respect to things divine, while not falling in the opposite error, which would be to think that inquisition of nature is forbidden by divine law. Another admonition was concerning the ends of science: that mankind should seek knowledge not for pleasure, contention, superiority over others, profit, fame, or power, but for the benefit and use of life, and that they perfect and govern it in charity. Life is the end goal. Senses must be confined within the limits of what is good for life. This is not divine. It is not from a god. It is from reality and the world we live in. It is profane and it is good.
In 1623 Bacon expressed his aspirations and ideals in New Atlantis. Released in 1627, this was his creation of an ideal land where "generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendor, piety and public spirit" were the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants of Bensalem. Taking the definition of piety as dutiful to oneself and to society (and not to religion), then this utopian vision does indeed describe a cooperative species built to survive for the long term.
Our first thinker with none of his major contributions having gone extinct. That is the power of the scientific method. Will we continue to use it? Will we use it wisely? As Carl Sagan said at the close of the clip above, "what happens in the first second of the next cosmic year, depends on what we do." In the anthropocene we are certainly now in, our choices do dominate the path that life on earth will take. Will we even make it another 500 years? I hope so. It would be a shame to throw away all this work from the last cosmic second.