Chapter 11

The limits and end of knowledge


It appeareth then, what is now in proposition, not by general circumlocution, but by particular note, no former philosophy varied in terms or method; no new placet or speculation upon particulars already known; no referring to action by any manual of practice, but the revealing and discovering of new inventions and operations.

This to be done without the errors and conjectures of art, or the length or difficulties of experience; the nature and kinds of which inventions have been described as they could be discovered; for your eye cannot pass one kenning without further sailing: only we have stood upon the best advantages of the notions received, as upon a mount, to show the knowledges adjacent and confining.

If therefore the true end of knowledge not propounded, hath bred large error, the best and perfectest condition of the same end, not perceived, will cause some declination. For when the butt is set up, men need not rove, but except the white be placed, men cannot level. This perfection we mean, not in the worth of the effects, but in the nature of the direction; for our purpose is not to stir up men’s hopes, but to guide their travels.

The fulness of direction to work, and produce any effect, consisteth in two conditions, certainty and liberty.

Certainty is, when the direction is not only true for the most part, but infallible. Liberty is, when the direction is not restrained to some definite means, but comprehendeth all the means and ways possible: for the poet saith well, “Sapientibus undique latæ sunt viæ;” and where there is the greatest plurality of change, there is the greatest singularity of choice.

Besides, as a conjectural direction maketh a casual effect, so a particular and restrained direction is no less casual than uncertain. For those particular means whereunto it is tied may be out of your power, or may be accompanied with an overvalue of prejudice; and so if for want of certainty in direction you are frustrated in success, for want of variety in direction you are stopped in the attempt.

If therefore your direction be certain, it must refer you, and point you to somewhat, which, if it be present, the effect you seek will of necessity follow, else may yon perform and not obtain. If it be free, then must it refer you to somewhat, which, if it be absent, the effect you seek will of necessity withdraw, else may you have power and not attempt. This notion Aristotle had in light, though not in use.

For the two commended rules by him set down, whereby the axioms of sciences are precepted to be made convertible, and which the latter men have not without elegancy surnamed, the one the rule of truth, because it preventeth deceit, the other the rule of prudence, because it freeth election, are the same thing in speculation and affirmation, which we now observe. An example will make my meaning attained, and yet percase make it thought that they attained it not.

Let the effect to be produced be whiteness; let the first direction be, that if air and water be intermingled, or broken in small portions together, whiteness will ensue, as in snow, in the breaking of the ways of the sea and rivers, and the like. This direction is certain, but very particular, and restrained, being tied but to air and water. Let the second direction be, that if air be mingled as before with any transparent body, such nevertheless as is uncoloured and more grossly transparent than air itself, that then, &c. as glass or crystal, being beaten to fine powder, by the interposition of the air becometh white; the white of an egg, being clear of itself, receiving air by agitation, becometh white, receiving air by concoction becometh white; here you are freed from water, and advanced to a clear body, and still tied to air.

Let the third direction exclude or remove the restraint of an uncoloured body, as in amber, sapphires, &c. which beaten to fine powder, become, white in wine and beer; which brought to froth, become white. Let the fourth direction exclude the restraint of a body more grossly transparent than air, as in flame, being a body compounded between air and a finer substance than air; which flame if it were not for the smoke, which is the third substance that incorporateth itself and dieth the flame would be more perfect white.

In all these four directions air still beareth a part.

Let the fifth direction then be, that if any bodies, both transparent, but in an unequal degree, be mingled as before, whiteness will follow; as oil and water beaten to an ointment, though by settling, the air which gathereth in the agitation be evaporate, ye remaineth white; and the powder of glass, or crystal, put into water, whereby the air giveth place, yet remaineth white, though not so perfect. Now are you freed from air, but still you are tied to transparent bodies. To ascend further by scale I do forbear, partly because it would draw on the example to an over-great length, but chiefly because it would open that which in this work determine to reserve; for to pass through the whole history and observation of colours and objects visible, were too long a digression; and our purpose is now to give an example of a free direction, theieby to distinguish and describe it; and not to set down a form of interpretation how to recover and attain it.

But as we intend not now to reveal, so we are circumspect not to mislead; and therefore, this warning being given, returning to our purpose in hand, we admit the sixth direction to be, that all bodies, or parts of bodies, which are unequal equally, that is, in a simple proportion, do represent whiteness; we will explain this, though we induce it not. It is then to be understood, that absolute equality produceth transparence, inequality in simple order or proportion produceth whiteness, inequality in compound or respective order or proportion prcduceth other colours, and absolute or orderless inequality produceth blackness; which diversity if so gross a demonstration be needful, may be signified by four tables; a blank, a chequer, a fret, and a medley; whereof the fret is evident to admit great variety. Out of this assertion are satisfied a multitude of effects and observations, as that whiteness and blackness are most incompatible with transparence; that whiteness keepeth light, and blackness stoppeth light, but neither passeth it; that whiteness or blackness are never produced in rainbows, diamonds, crystals, and the like; that white giveth no dye, and black hardly taketh dye; that whiteness seemeth to have an affinity with dryness, and blackness with moisture; that adufition causeth blackness, and calcination whiteness; that flowers are generally of fresh colours, and rarely black, &c., all which I do now mention confusedly by way of derivation, and not by way of induction. This sixth direction, which I have thus explained, is of good and competent liberty, for whiteness fixed and inherent; but not for whiteness fantastical, or appearing, as shall be afterwards touched. But first do you need a reduction back to certainty or verity; for it is not all position or contexture of unequal bodies that will produce colours; for aquafortis, oil of vitriol, &c. more manifestly, and many other substances more obscurely, do consist of very unequal parts, which yet are transparent and clear. Therefore the reduction must be, that the bodies or parts of bodies so intermingled as before, be of a certain grossness or magnitude; for the unequalities which move the sight must have a further dimension and quantity than those which operate many other effects. Some few grains of saffron will give a tincture to a tun of water, but so many grains of civet will give a perfume to a whole chamber of air. And therefore when Democritus, from whom Epicurus did borrow it, held that the position of the solid portions was the cause of colours; yet in the very truth of this assertion he should have added, that the portions are required to be of some magnitude. And this is one cause why colours have little inwardness and necessitude with the nature and proprieties of things, those things resembling in colour, which otherwise differ most, as salt and sugar: and contrariwise differing in colour, which otherwise resemble most, as the white and blue violets, and the several veins of one agate or marble, by reason that other virtues consist in more subtile proportions than colours do; and yet are there virtues and natures which require a grosser magnitude than colours, as well as scents and divers other require a more subtile; for as the portion of a body will give forth scent, which is too small to be seen; so the portion of a body will show colours, which is too small to be endued with weight: and therefore one of the prophets with great elegancy describing how all creatures carry no proportion towards God the creator, saith, “That all the nations in respect of him are like the dust upon the balance;” which is a thing appeareth, but weigheth not. But to return, there resteth a further freeing of this sixth direction: for the clearness of a river or stream showeth white at a distance, and crystalline glasses deliver the face or any other object falsified in whiteness, and long beholding the snow to a weak eye giveth an impression of azure, rather than of whiteness.

So as for whiteness in apparition only, and representation, by the qualifying of the light, altering the intermedium, or affecting the eye itself, it reacheth not.

But you must free your direction to the producing of such an incidence, impression, or operation, as may cause a precise and determinate passion of the eye, a matter which is much more easy to induce than that which we have passed through; but yet because it hath a full coherence both with that act of radiation, which hath hitherto been conceived and termed so unproperly and untruly, by some, an effluxion of spiritual species, and by others, an investing of the intermedium, with a motion which successively is conveyed to the eye, and with the act of sense, wherein I should likewise open that which I think good to withdraw, I will omit.

Neither do I contend, but that this notion, which I call the freeing of a direction in the received philosophies, as far as a swimming anticipation could take hold, might be perceived and discerned; being not much other matter than that which they did not only aim at in the two rules of axioms before remembered, but more nearly also than that which they term the form or formal cause, or that which they call the true difference; both which, nevertheless, it seemeth they propound rather as impossibilities and wishes, than as things within the compass of human comprehension: for Plato casteth his burden, and saith, “that he will revere him as a God, that can truly divide and define:” which cannot be but by true forms and differences, wherein I join hands with him. confessing as much, as yet assuming to myself little; for if any man can, by the strength of His anticipations, find out forms, I will magnify him with the foremost. But as any of them would say, that if divers things, which many men know by instruction and observation, another knew by revelation, and without those means, they would take him for somewhat supernatural and divine; so I do acknowledge that if any man can by anticipations reach to that which a weak and inferior wit may attain to by interpretation, he cannot receive too high a title. Nay, I for my part do indeed admire to see how far some of them have proceeded by their anticipations; but how? it is as I wonder at some blind men, to see what shift they make without their eye-sight; thinking with myself that if I were blind, I could hardly do it. Again, Aristotle’s school confesseth, that there is no true knowledge but by causes, no true cause but the form, no true form known except one, which they are pleased to allow; and therefore thus far their evidence standeth with us, that both hitherto there hath been nothing but a shadow of knowledge, and that we propound now that which is agreed to be worthiest to be sought, and hardest to be found. There wanteth now a part very necessary, not by way of supply, but by way of caution: for as it is seen for the most part, that the outward tokens and badge of excellency and perfection are more incident to things merely counterfeit, than to that which is true, but for a meaner and baser sort: as a dubline is more like a perfect ruby than a spinel, and a counterfeit angel is made more like a true angel, than if it were an angel coined of China gold; in like manner, the direction carrieth a resemblance of a true direction in verity and liberty, which indeed is no direction at all. For though your direction seem to be certain and free, by pointing you to nature that is unseparable from the nature you inquire upon; yet if it do not carry you on a degree or remove nearer to action, operation, or light, to make or produce, it is but superficial and counterfeit. Wherefore to secure and warrant what is a true direction, though that general note I have given be perspicuous in itself, for a man shall soon cast with himself, whether he be ever the near to effect and operate or no, or whether he have won but an abstract or varied notion, yet for better instruction I will deliver three particular notes of caution. The first is, that the nature discovered be more original than the nature supposed, and not more secondary or of the like degree; as to make a stone bright, or to make it smooth, it is a good direction to say make it even; but to make a stone even, it is no good direction to say, make it bright, or make it smooth; for the rule is, that the disposition of any thing referring to the state of it in itself, of the parts, is more original than that which is relative or transitive towards another thing. So evenness is the disposition of the stone in itself, but smooth is to the hand, and bright to the eye, and yet nevertheless they all cluster and concur; and yet the direction is more unperfect, if it do appoint you to such a relative, as is in the same kind, and not in a diverse. For in the direction, to produce brightness by smoothness, although properly it win no degree, and will never teach you any new particulars before unknown, yet by way of suggestion, or bringing to mind, it may draw your consideration to some particulars known but not remembered; as you shall sooner remember some practical means of making smoothness, than if you had fixed your consideration only upon brightness; but if the direction had been to make brightness, by making reflection, as thus, make it such as you may see your face in it; this is merely secondary, and helpeth neither by way of informing, nor by way of suggesting. So if in the inquiry of whiteness you were directed to make such a colour as should be seen furthest in a dark light; here you are advanced nothing at all. For these kinds of natures are but proprieties, effects, circumstances, concurrences, or what else you shall like to call them, and not radical and formative natures towards the nature supposed. The second caution is, that the nature inquired be collected by division before composition, or to speak more properly, by composition subaltern, before you ascend to composition absolute, &c.

Of the internal and profound errors and superstitions in the nature of the mind, and of the four sorts of idols or fictions which offer themselves to the understanding in the inquisition of knowledge. Being the XVIth chapter, and this a small fragment thereof, being a preface to the inward elenches of the mind.

Epicurus thought that the gods were of human shape. He was justly derided by the other sects.

The heresy of the Anthropomorphites was ever censured for a gross conceit, bred in the obscure cells of solitary monks that never looked abroad.

Again, the fable so well known of “Quis pinxit leonem,” doth set forth well, that there is an error of pride and partiality, as well as of custom and familiarity. The reflection also from glasses so usually resembled to the imagery of the mind, every man knoweth to receive error and variety both in colour, magnitude, and shape, according to the quality of the glass.

But yet no use hath been made of these and many the like observations to move men to search out, and upon search to give true cautions of the native and inherent errors in the mind of man, which have coloured and corrupted all his notions and impressions.

I do find therefore in this enchanted glass four idols, or false appearances of several and distinct sorts, every sort comprehending many subdivisions: the first sort, I call idols of the nation or tribe; the second, idols of the palace; the third, idols of the cave; and the fourth, idols of the theatre, &c.


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