Part 9

The knowledge of ourselves

by Francis Bacon Icon

The knowledge of ourselves deserves more accurate handling, by how much it touches us more nearly.

The ancient oracle directs us to this knowledge. It is the end and term of natural philosophy in the intention of man.

As a general rule:

  • all partitions of knowledges is accepted rather for lines and veins than for sections and separations
  • the continuance and entireness of knowledge is preserved.

For the contrary hereof hath made particular sciences to become barren, shallow, and erroneous, while they have not been nourished and maintained from the common fountain.

This is why Cicero, the orator, complained that Socrates and his school first separated philosophy and rhetoric.

This made rhetoric an empty and verbal art.

Copernicus thinks that the rotation of the earth cannot be corrected by astronomy itself, because it is consistent with phenomena. Yet natural philosophy may correct it [by making the phenomena revolve around the Earth?].

So we see also that the science of medicine if it be destituted and forsaken by natural philosophy, it is not much better than an empirical practice.

With this reservation, therefore, we proceed to human philosophy or humanity, which hath two parts: the one considereth man segregate or distributively, the other congregate or in society; so as human philosophy is either simple and particular, or conjugate and civil.

Humanity particular consistd of the same parts as man consists:

  • knowledges which respect the body
  • knowledges that respect the mind.

But before we distribute so far, it is good to constitute.

Generally, human nature should be made a knowledge by itself as the sympathies and concordances between the mind and body. These are mixed and cannot be properly assigned to the sciences of either*.

*Superphysics Note: This is what Superphysics is made for.

This knowledge of human nature is not to create delightful and elegant discourses about man’s:

  • dignity
  • miseries
  • state and life
  • the like adjuncts of his common and undivided nature

This knowledge has 2 branches:

for as all leagues and amities consist of mutual intelligence and mutual offices, so this league of mind and body hath these two parts:

  1. discovery – How the one discloses the other

  2. impression – How the one works on the other


This has led to 2 arts:

  • prediction or prenotion; whereof the one is honoured with the inquiry of Aristotle
  • the other of Hippocrates.

And although they have of later time been used to be coupled with superstitions and fantastical arts, yet being purged and restored to their true state, they have both of them a solid ground in Nature, and a profitable use in life. The first is physiognomy, which discovereth the disposition of the mind by the lineaments of the body. The second is the exposition of natural dreams, which discovereth the state of the body by the imaginations of the mind. In the former of these I note a deficience. For Aristotle hath very ingeniously and diligently handled the factures of the body, but not the gestures of the body, which are no less comprehensible by art, and of greater use and advantage. For the lineaments of the body do disclose the disposition and inclination of the mind in general; but the motions of the countenance and parts do not only so, but do further disclose the present humour and state of the mind and will. For as your majesty saith most aptly and elegantly, “As the tongue speaketh to the ear so the gesture speaketh to the eye.” And, therefore, a number of subtle persons, whose eyes do dwell upon the faces and fashions of men, do well know the advantage of this observation, as being most part of their ability; neither can it be denied, but that it is a great discovery of dissimulations, and a great direction in business.


This touches impression. It has not been collected into art, but hath been handled dispersedly.

It hath the same relation or antistrophe that the former hath. For the consideration is double—either how and how far the humours and affects of the body do alter or work upon the mind, or, again, how and how far the passions or apprehensions of the mind do alter or work upon the body. The former of these hath been inquired and considered as a part and appendix of medicine, but much more as a part of religion or superstition.

For the physician prescribeth cures of the mind in frenzies and melancholy passions, and pretendeth also to exhibit medicines to exhilarate the mind, to control the courage, to clarify the wits, to corroborate the memory, and the like; but the scruples and superstitions of diet and other regiment of the body in the sect of the Pythagoreans, in the heresy of the Manichees, and in the law of Mahomet, do exceed.

So likewise the ordinances in the ceremonial law, interdicting the eating of the blood and the fat, distinguishing between beasts clean and unclean for meat, are many and strict; nay, the faith itself being clear and serene from all clouds of ceremony, yet retaineth the use of fastlings, abstinences, and other macerations and humiliations of the body, as things real, and not figurative.

The root and life of all which prescripts is (besides the ceremony) the consideration of that dependency which the affections of the mind are submitted unto upon the state and disposition of the body. And if any man of weak judgment do conceive that this suffering of the mind from the body doth either question the immortality, or derogate from the sovereignty of the soul, he may be taught, in easy instances, that the infant in the mother’s womb is compatible with the mother, and yet separable; and the most absolute monarch is sometimes led by his servants, and yet without subjection.

As for the reciprocal knowledge, which is the operation of the conceits and passions of the mind upon the body, we see all wise physicians, in the prescriptions of their regiments to their patients, do ever consider accidentia animi, as of great force to further or hinder remedies or recoveries: and more specially it is an inquiry of great depth and worth concerning imagination, how and how far it altereth the body proper of the imaginant; for although it hath a manifest power to hurt, it followeth not it hath the same degree of power to help.

No more than a man can conclude, that because there be pestilent airs, able suddenly to kill a man in health, therefore there should be sovereign airs, able suddenly to cure a man in sickness.

But the inquisition of this part is of great use, though it needeth, as Socrates said, “a Delian diver,” being difficult and profound.

But unto all this knowledge de communi vinculo, of the concordances between the mind and the body, that part of inquiry is most necessary which considereth of the seats and domiciles which the several faculties of the mind do take and occupate in the organs of the body; which knowledge hath been attempted, and is controverted, and deserveth to be much better inquired.

Plato placed:

  • the understanding in the brain
  • animosity (which he did unfitly call anger, having a greater mixture with pride) in the heart
  • concupiscence or sensuality in the liver

This deserveth not to be despised, but much less to be allowed.

So, then, we have constituted (as in our own wish and advice) the inquiry touching human nature entire, as a just portion of knowledge to be handled apart.


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