Chapter 1 Book 1 of Nova Organum

THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE Icon

January 31, 2022

1 Man is the minister and interpreter of nature.

He tries to understand the order of nature.

2 The unassisted hand and the understanding left to itself possess but little power.

Effects are produced by the means of instruments and helps, which the understanding requires no less than the hand; and as instruments either promote or regulate the motion of the hand, so those that are applied to the mind prompt or protect the understanding.

3 Knowledge and human power are synonymous, since the ignorance of the cause frustrates the effect; for nature is only subdued by submission, and that which in contemplative philosophy corresponds with the cause in practical science becomes the rule.

4 Man can only apply or withdraw natural bodies. Nature internally performs the rest.

5 V. Those who become practically versed in nature are, the mechanic, the mathematician, the physician, the alchemist, and the magician,[2] but all (as matters now stand) with faint efforts and meagre success.

6 It would be madness to suppose that things never been done can be done without using some untried means.

7 The creations of the mind and hand appear very numerous. But all that variety consists of an excessive refinement, and of deductions from a few well known matters—not of a number of axioms.

8 Even the effects already discovered are due to chance and experiment rather than to the sciences; for our present sciences are nothing more than peculiar arrangements of matters already discovered, and not methods for discovery or plans for new operations.

9 The sole cause and root of almost every defect in the sciences is this, that while we falsely admire and extol the powers of the human mind, we do not search for its real helps.

10 The subtilty of nature is far beyond that of sense or of the understanding: so that the specious meditations, speculations, and theories of mankind are but a kind of insanity, only there is no one to stand by and observe it.

11 As the present sciences are useless for the discovery of effects, so the present system of logic is useless for the discovery of the sciences.

12 The present system of logic rather assists in confirming and rendering inveterate the errors founded on vulgar notions than in searching after truth, and is therefore more hurtful than useful.

13 The syllogism is not applied to the principles of the sciences, and is of no avail in intermediate axioms,[5] as[14] being very unequal to the subtilty of nature. It forces assent, therefore, and not things.

14 The syllogism consists of propositions; propositions of words; words are the signs of notions.

If, therefore, the notions (which form the basis of the whole) be confused and carelessly abstracted from things, there is no solidity in the superstructure. Our only hope, then, is in genuine induction.

15 We have no sound notions either in logic or physics; substance, quality, action, passion, and existence are not clear notions; much less weight, levity, density, tenuity, moisture, dryness, generation, corruption, attraction,[15] repulsion, element, matter, form, and the like.

They are all fantastical and ill-defined.

16 The notions of less abstract natures, as man, dog, dove, and the immediate perceptions of sense, as heat, cold, white, black, do not deceive us materially, yet even these are sometimes confused by the mutability of matter and the intermixture of things. All the rest which men have hitherto employed are errors, and improperly abstracted and deduced from things.

17 There is the same degree of licentiousness and error in forming axioms as in abstracting notions, and that in the first principles, which depend on common induction; still more is this the case in axioms and inferior propositions derived from syllogisms.

18 The present discoveries in science are such as lie immediately beneath the surface of common notions. It is necessary, however, to penetrate the more secret and remote parts of nature, in order to abstract both notions and axioms from things by a more certain and guarded method.

19 There are and can exist but two ways of investigating and discovering truth. The one hurries on rapidly from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from them, as principles and their supposed indisputable truth, derives and discovers the intermediate axioms. This is the way now in use. The other constructs its axioms from the senses and particulars, by ascending continually and gradually, till it finally arrives at the most general axioms, which is the true but unattempted way.

20 The understanding when left to itself proceeds by the same way as that which it would have adopted under the guidance of logic, namely, the first; for the mind is fond of starting off to generalities, that it may avoid labor, and[16] after dwelling a little on a subject is fatigued by experiment. But those evils are augmented by logic, for the sake of the ostentation of dispute.

21 The understanding, when left to itself in a man of a steady, patient, and reflecting disposition (especially when unimpeded by received doctrines), makes some attempt in the right way, but with little effect, since the understanding, undirected and unassisted, is unequal to and unfit for the task of vanquishing the obscurity of things.

22 Each of these two ways begins from the senses and particulars, and ends in the greatest generalities. But they are immeasurably different; for the one merely touches cursorily the limits of experiment and particulars, while the other runs duly and regularly through them—the one from the very outset lays down some abstract and useless generalities, the other gradually rises to those principles which are really the most common in nature.[6]

23 There is no small difference between the idols of the human mind and the ideas of the Divine mind—that is to say, between certain idle dogmas and the real stamp and impression of created objects, as they are found in nature.

24 Axioms determined upon in argument can never assist in the discovery of new effects; for the subtilty of nature is vastly superior to that of argument. But axioms properly and regularly abstracted from particulars easily[17] point out and define new particulars, and therefore impart activity to the sciences.

25 The axioms now in use are derived from a scanty handful, as it were, of experience, and a few particulars of frequent occurrence, whence they are of much the same dimensions or extent as their origin. And if any neglected or unknown instance occurs, the axiom is saved by some frivolous distinction, when it would be more consistent with truth to amend it.

26 We are wont, for the sake of distinction, to call that human reasoning which we apply to nature the anticipation of nature (as being rash and premature), and that which is properly deduced from things the interpretation of nature.

27 Anticipations are sufficiently powerful in producing unanimity, for if men were all to become even uniformly mad, they might agree tolerably well with each other.

28 Anticipations again, will be assented to much more readily than interpretations, because being deduced from a few instances, and these principally of familiar occurrence, they immediately hit the understanding and satisfy the imagination.

On the contrary, interpretations, being deduced from various subjects, and these widely dispersed, cannot suddenly strike the understanding, so that in common estimation they must appear difficult and discordant, and almost like the mysteries of faith.

29 In sciences founded on opinions and dogmas, it is right to make use of anticipations and logic if you wish to force assent rather than things.

30 If all the capacities of all ages should unite and combine and transmit their labors, no great progress will be[18] made in learning by anticipations, because the radical errors, and those which occur in the first process of the mind, are not cured by the excellence of subsequent means and remedies.

31 It is in vain to expect any great progress in the sciences by the superinducing or ingrafting new matters upon old. An instauration must be made from the very foundations, if we do not wish to revolve forever in a circle, making only some slight and contemptible progress.

32 The ancient authors and all others are left in undisputed possession of their honors; for we enter into no comparison of capacity or talent, but of method, and assume the part of a guide rather than of a critic.

33 To speak plainly, no correct judgment can be formed either of our method or its discoveries by those anticipations which are now in common use; for it is not to be required of us to submit ourselves to the judgment of the very method we ourselves arraign.

34 Nor is it an easy matter to deliver and explain our sentiments; for those things which are in themselves new can yet be only understood from some analogy to what is old.

35 Alexander Borgia[7] said that the French, during their expedition into Italy, came with chalk in their hands to mark up their lodgings, and not with weapons to force their passage.

Likewise, we want our philosophy to make its way quietly into those minds that are fit for it, and of good capacity. We do not need to contend in our:

  • first principles
  • notions, and
  • forms of demonstration.

36 We only have 1 simple method of delivering our feelings:

  • We must bring men to particulars and their regular series and order.
  • They must renounce their notions for a while, and begin to get acquainted with things.

37 Our method intitially match that of the skeptics. But we are very different and opposite in our conclusion.

They assert that nothing can be known. But we say that a small part of nature can be known by the present method.

Their next step, however, is to destroy the authority of the senses and understanding, while we invent and supply them with assistance.

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