Our reading group discussions will be divided into the following parts:
- Book I including Idols (1 – 68 inclusive)
- The rest of Book I
- Book II, Aphorisms I – IX (1 – 9 inclusive)
- Book II, Aphorisms X – XX (10 – 20 inclusive)
- Book II, Aphorisms XXI – XXXVII (21 – 37 inclusive)
- The rest of Book II
- Book III and 5 introductory essays (The Great Renewal and “Preface” to New Organon)
(Subject to changes as needs be to suit the group)
Those who cannot join us in person are welcome to participate via Skype.
We will begin with the five introductory essays (The Great Renewal and “Preface” to New Organon) and Book I, Aphorisms 1 to 68 (inclusive).
Though our discussion this time will not be focused on the five introductory essays (as these will be discussed in the last session), it is highly recommended to read them. Our discussion will center on the first part of Book I (Aphorisms 1 to 68).
(Note that Bacon is known by several other names: “Lord Verulam”, “Francis Verulam” and “Viscount St. Alban”. The King of England, James I, had a council called the “Privy Council”, something resembling that of a Cabinet under a president. When New Organon was published, Bacon was Lord Chancellor, the highest rank in the council.)
Book I is written in Aphorisms—short and terse texts—enumerated with Roman numerals. (It might be ordinary numbers in some editions.) Aphorisms I (1) to XXXVII (37), inclusive, is general metaphysics and epistemology. Aphorisms XXXVIII (38) to LXVIII (68), inclusive, cover the “Idols”.
It is recommended to read the text slowly because it is dense with content. One gets the most out of the book by continuing to read only when an aphorism is understood.
You may notice that “Knowledge is power” and “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” do not appear directly in the text verbatim; these are even terser versions of what Bacon writes.
Two things to pay close attention to are: 1) how complementary he is with Objectivism and 2) how he sometimes goes beyond Objectivism and presents a more advanced and insightful understanding. One example where he goes beyond is his discussion of deduction. Another example is the clarity offered by his four Idols.
- Bacon uses the term “notion” where Objectivists use “concept”, “axiom” means “proposition” or “generalization”, “body” means “entity”, “anticipation” is related to what Objectivists call “rationalism”, “Lack of conviction” or “acatalepsia” is what Objectivists call “skepticism”.
- The whole book covers Bacon’s new method. This is why the book is called “New Organon”—Organon is Greek for “instrument”, referring to a new instrument of thinking.
- Bacon suggests making sure you are not a victim of the Idols—a great and crucial suggestion! A lot of thinking problems and stagnation may be attributed to not following this advice (indeed, most don’t even know about it).
Bacon continues his brilliant, piercing insight: He will now look at the signs of a good philosophy and the causes of past errors, then evaluate the hopes for future progress.
In Aphorisms LXXI – LXXVII (71 – 77), Bacon names four signs of good philosophy: progress, products, admission, and consensus. These are highly insightful and can be used to evaluate the Objectivist movement.
In Aphorisms LXXVIII – XCI (78 – 91), Bacon tells us about the causes of error – why philosophies have produced errors in the past. Notice the religious passage after he accurately criticises religion as a major cause of error.
In Aphorisms XCII – CXV (92 – 115), Bacon deals with the hope of future progress. Notice how relevant this is today!
In Aphorisms CXVI-CXXVIII (116 – 128), Bacon answers potential objections to his hopes for progress.
In Aphorisms CXXIX – CXXX (129-130), Bacon brilliantly motivates future scientists by elaborating on the potential of science to greatly advance human life.
In this part we encounter a variety of new concepts: bodies, natures, forms, latent structure, latent process, superinducing, and instances. The following will attempt to clarify these ideas for a modern Objectivist audience.
A body is the equivalent of an entity in Objectivism. It is a particular thing in reality – for example: a particular stone, a particular bird, a particular man, a particular house, or a particular planet.
A nature is one way a body behaves at a particular time. For example, a stone might be hot or cold. We can then say the stone has the nature hot or has the nature cold. A body has multiple natures at any given time. A stone placed on my desk has the following natures: hard, opaque, grey, heated (at room temperature), weight, smooth, high density, etc. A person placed next to me has the natures: weight, alive, rational, heated (body temperature), ambitious, moral, honest. Note that these are natures of a particular stone and a particular person at a particular time. It is not the case that all stones are grey or that all persons are moral. In summary: a particular body has a number of natures at any one time.
Bacon’s use of the word “form” needs a bit of explanation. A nature has a form: For example, heat has a form, opacity has a form, rationality has a form. The form, much like a scientific explanation, is the cause of the nature. The genus of a form is a better-known nature. A form can be stated thus: “All S is P”. For example, if we know the form of heat, we can say: “All heat is internal motion” – motion is the genus. A body of water might have the nature waving. The genus of the form of a wave is chain reaction, so we can state that “All waves are (a kind of) chain reaction.”
Note that many different bodies can have the same nature, for example “waving”: air can be waving, water can be waving, iron can be waving. Since the form of a wave is (a kind of) chain reaction, you can make a wave in many different bodies by causing a chain reaction in it.
Another example: A stone can be hot, an animal can be hot, a fire is hot, air can be hot. Since we know the form of heat is internal motion, we can make something hot in many different ways – for example, compressing a gas makes it hotter.
Bacon says that if we know the form of a nature, we can take a body without the nature and give it that nature. This is called superinducing a nature on a body. For example, if we know the form of heat, we gain a wide range of ways to give a body heat. For example, by exposing it to a wave at the resonating frequency of its parts (a microwave), or decompressing gas to remove heat (a refrigerator or an air conditioner). Notice how these things would be almost impossible to imagine without knowing the form (or cause) of heat.
Whenever a body has a particular nature, the form is there – that is, it is always present when the nature is present. Therefore, “All S is P”: all heat is internal motion; all waves are chain reactions.
It is important to note that only natures have forms. If a stone is hot, it has internal motion. If it does not have internal motion, it is not hot. It is much more useful to understand each nature and its form (which is present in the body when the nature is there and not present when the nature is not there) than to treat all the natures in the body as one and try to find the form of the body – this is an error that philosophers have made in the past.
What is the role of concepts in all of this? We can classify a number of existents under a concept. For example, a number of existents can be classified as man, or another number of existents as blue, or another number of existents as liquids, or a number of colours can be classified as colours. We can then define the concepts: “A man is a rational animal” or “A liquid is a freely flowing substance”. A definition contains a genus, which is a concept that subsumes those and more existents (e.g. the genus of man is animal). Then we pick a distinguishing characteristic. There exist many other animals, but what distinguishes man from those others is his rational faculty – this is his essential distinguishing characteristic. So, man is the rational animal. In different contexts, a concept can have different definitions. For example, in biology, modern humans are called Homo sapiens (Homo is the genus, sapiens is the differentia). The role of a definition is to assist reason about these kinds of existents in a context. “A primitive definition does not contradict a more advanced one: the latter merely expands the former.” (ITOE)
Concepts are formed by abstraction. According to Rand, this is done by omitting the concrete measurements of each existent subsumed under the concept. The meaning of a concept is all the existents it subsumes. Though Bacon said that induction should be used to define concepts, he primarily focuses on using induction to find forms of natures. Finding the form (or cause) of a nature A is done by finding a better-known nature B that gives rise to the nature A.
When Bacon discusses “latent structure”, he is referring to the internal parts of a body and how they are arranged. “Latent” means hidden – if we could observe the structure, it would not be latent. Since our senses have a limited scope, there will be structures that we are unable to observe directly because they fall outside this range. An important discovery of latent structure is molecules and atoms; as science progresses further, we may find even finer latent structure. A latent structure can also be too large to be observed directly, such as clusters of galaxies.
By “latent process”, Bacon is referring to the inner behaviour of a body. For example, an iron ball can have the following latent processes: the vibration of the molecules in the ball, the attractive bonding between the atoms and molecules, and the internal electric repulsion.
Finally, an instance is a description of something you can repeatedly observe. An instance is described and can then be reproduced as an observation by someone else. For example: The sun rises in the morning. Or, the stars move quicker than the sun across the sky. Or, ice is cold. Or, moonlight is not hot (we can observe the heat of the moon only using an instrument, not directly).
- Bodies: particular things, entities
- Natures: behaviours, attributes, or effects of bodies
- Forms: a scientific explanation, the cause of a nature (genus: a more general or better-known nature)
- Concepts: classifying existents (genus: a more general concept)
- Latent structure: the inner construction of bodies
- Latent process: the inner behaviour of bodies
- Superinducing: imposing a nature (or several natures) on a body that did not have it
- Instance: a description of a repeatable observation
Examples of bodies and their natures:
- A particular stone: hard, opaque, grey, heated (at room temperature), weight, smooth, high density
- A particular man: weight, alive, rational, heated (body temperature), ambitious, moral, honest, aging.
- A piece of gold: tawny coloured, heavy with a certain weight, malleable or ductile to a certain degree, not volatile, loses none of its quantity in fire, melts with a certain fluidity, separated and dissolved in certain ways.
- The earth: gravitational, magnetic, heavy, moving, rotating
- A glass window: transparent, solid, smooth
- Water: transparent, liquid
- Powdered glass: white, opaque
- Foamy water: white, opaque
Examples of forms:
- Heat: All heat is (a kind of) motion.
- Cold is the opposite of heat.
- Wave: All waves are (a kind of) chain reaction.
- Light: All light is (a kind of) wave.
- Sound: All sounds are (a kind of) wave.
- Gravity, heaviness or weight: Unknown
- Magnetism: Unknown.
- Hardness: All hardness is (a kind of) internal bonding.
- Inertia: Unknown.
- Colour: All colours are (a kind of) frequency.
- Atomic decay: Unknown.
The Black Swan
- Common analysis (Popper, Taleb, etc.): No matter how many white swans we see, we can never know all swans are white because a black one might show up. It historically did, so induction does not work and is naive.
- Peikoff/Harriman: When we have observed a number of swans, we cannot conclude that all are white because we have to integrate the hypothesis that all swans are white with our other knowledge of other animals having many different colours. This will alert us that there might be different coloured swans as well and we abandon the hypothesis.
How do you think Bacon would analyse this problem?
In this round, Bacon illustrates how to use his method on an example of how to find the form of heat. In other words, we will find out what heat really is. This is what Bacon calls “conquering nature by work”.
Recall that heat is a nature. Bodies can have this nature or lack it. When a body lacks heat, we say it has the nature cold. Recall also that the form of heat is a kind of another nature. Which other nature? Is heat density? Is heat weight? Is heat glowing red? Is heat glowing white?
To start investigating this question, Bacon will use three relationships between natures and forms:
- If a body has heat, it must have the form of heat.
- If a body does not have the form of heat, it does not have the nature heat.
- If the form of heat in a body increases, the nature does as well. If the form of heat decreases, the nature does as well.
Based on these three, Bacon suggest we create a list of instances for each. Recall that an instance is a description of a repeatable observation. You can verify all instances by observation.
In Aphorism XI, he creates Table 1. This table contains a list of instances where the nature is present. Because the nature is present in all these, we know the form must be present as well.
In Aphorism XII, he creates Table 2. This table contains a list of instances where the nature is absent. Because the nature is absent in all these, we know the form must be absent as well. However, such a list would be endless, so there is an additional requirement to Table 2: Each instance must be related to instances in Table 1 to provide direct contrast.
In Aphorism XIII, he creates Table 3. This table contains a list of instances where the nature varies in degree. This means that the form must vary as well.
From our Tables of instances, we can start doing induction. Bacon starts with rejections. We can reject a nature as the form of heat if it violates some of the rules listed above.
- If a nature is absent in the instances in Table 1.
- If a nature is present in the instances in Table 2.
- If a nature varies opposite to heat in Table 3.
All of these rejections involve counterexamples. They disprove that a nature is the form of heat.
In Aphorism XVIII, Bacon rejects several natures as the form of heat. After this, we are left with natures that could not be rejected. This means we have natures that are:
- Present in all instances in Table 1.
- Absent in all instances in Table 2.
- Varies with heat in all instances of Table 3.
These natures are what Bacon calls a “first harvest”: a hypothesis of what the form is. It is not a hypothesis that is reached arbitrarily, but one that is arrived at after a thorough process.
In Aphorism XX, Bacon presents a first harvest. It is testament to Bacon’s brilliance that this is actually the correct form of heat! Scientists would flesh out the proof of this in the following century.
In summary, Aphorisms X – XX shows a great scientific discovery in action: listen and learn.
Having found the first harvest, the rest of Book II, Bacon will describe how we should work with these tables and the first harvests to further flesh out and solidify the proof. This is done by searching for special instances that Bacon calls “Privileged instances”. These guide us further in our process of conquering nature by work.
Now to something that deserves great attention. In Book I, Bacon talks about the four signs that a philosophy is succeeding: 1) Products, 2) progress, 3) lack of admissions of skepticism and 4) true consensus.
In this part of the book, Bacon shows us how his philosophy enables Sign 4: If two scientists work to discover a form and they disagree, they can compare Tables, instances, and rejections of first harvests. This is a great way to discuss and cooperate to arrive at the goal.
Compare this to two rationalist scientists. They have both sat in their ivory tower and done what Bacon calls anticipating nature. When they disagree, how will they resolve their disagreement? This is often by having an argument without any particular structure. This argument goes nowhere. Then, they “agree to disagree” and each will protect his stance by refusing to deal with the other and try to recruit other people to his faction. Science thus becomes a battle of numbers.
The Baconian way is actual science and contributes to Sign 4: True consensus through cooperating to interpret nature.
The rest of Book II will cover 27 kinds of instances that are more important than ordinary instances. Bacon calls these “Privileged” or “First-class” instances. Recall that an instance is a description of a repeatable observation. In the first part of Book II, Bacon suggests creating tables of instances. Privileged instances are those that one should pay special attention to and seek out. Each kind of privileged instance also has different kinds of inferences associated with it. Bacon names and explains in detail 27 kinds of privileged instances.
Working to find the privileged instances is part of what Bacon calls “Conquering nature by work”. Finding them are part of a scientist’s job and an important part of Bacon’s New Method (his New Organon).
Note that skimming through these is not going to work – each requires thinking and digesting. Additionally, if one has not understood the preceding part of Book II, the privileged instances will be almost inaccessible.
In the fashion we have become used to in New Organon, the privileged instances are geared towards human action, power, and benevolence. They are tightly integrated with human nature. There are 3 categories of privileged instances:
- Aids to the understanding
- Aids to the senses
- Practical instances
- Mathematical instances
- Benevolent instances
The practical instances are divided in two. The mathematical instances deal with the relation between science and mathematics.
Session 5 only covers group 1 (aids to the understanding), Privileged Instances 1 – 15, inclusive. These instances aid the human understanding and gives it more power. Here are some notes on these.
1. Solitary instances (XXII)
These are a pair of instances that have one nature in common or all but one in common. Notice how Bacon uses pairs of instances to pierce into the form (or cause) of color.
An example: A) A graphite solenoid with charge flowing though it and B) a bar magnet. These have (almost) nothing in common except the magnetism around them. Thus, we might infer that charge is moving inside a bar magnet in circles.
2. Instances of transition (XXIII, XXXIII)
In these instances, the form goes from not being there to being there, or the opposite. Thus, we can search out what is being introduced and taken away. Example: Rubbing your hands make them hot. Motion is being introduced, which points us towards the form of heat being motion.
3. Revealing instances (XXIV)
They reveal the nature under investigation “naked and independent”. Example: For heat, a thermometer reveals motion: The liquid in the thermometer moves in response to added heat.
4. Concealed instances (XXV)
Exhibit the nature under investigation in its lowest strength. Leads us towards the genus of the form. For example: A bubble of water has a minimum amount of solidity. This points us towards solidity being links between the parts of the bubble.
5. Constitutive instances (XXVI)
These are a collection of instances that together is a privileged instance. Bacon introduces a new concept here: species of a nature. A species is one aspect of a nature. One can split a single nature into, say, 10 species; that is, 10 aspects of a single nature. One can then collect 10 instances that exhibit these 10 species. Together, these 10 instances constitute the nature under investigation. Each of the 10 instances is a lesser form, which indicates to us what the true form is.
An example: The nature magnetism has these five species:
- Affects something but not everything.
- Spreading out or becoming less with distance.
- Affecting opposite in opposite directions
Constitutive instance, example 1:
1) Blowing air does not affect light but does affect smoke
2) An object looks smaller at a distance
3) Moving the hand through smoke causes swirls in different directions.
4) Ten lights are brighter than one (where the one has the same strength as each of the ten).
5) Pulling with the same strength in two directions makes an object stand still.
Constitutive instance, example 2:
1) Light shines through glass and water but not stone and metal.
2) A sound is lower at a distance.
3) Moving the hand through water causes swirls in different directions.
4) Ten people yelling is louder than one (where the one has the same strength as each of the ten)
5) A positively charged object does not move when placed in the middle between two positively charged objects with the same charge.
6. Instances of resemblance (XXVII)
Instances with physical similarities. Example: Structure of the ear and echoing places. Example: Inertial mass is the same as gravitational mass. This points us towards them having a similar cause.
7. Unique instances (XXVIII)
Instances which are very different than other instances. Examples Bacon gives: 1) moon and sun among the celestial objects. 2) Quicksilver among metals. 3) Sex among sensations 4) Elephant among four-legged animals.
8. Deviant instances (XXIX)
If you are well acquainted with something, and you see a case which is very odd, this is a deviant instance. Examples: 1) Opening a bottle makes the contents freeze. 2) That a solenoid with current behaves like a bar magnet.
9. Borderline instances (XXX)
Are between two things in bodily form. 1) Flying fish – between fish and bird.
10. Instances of Power (XXXI)
Instances of power are the most perfected work of man within a field. We should collect and cherish these state-of-the-art achievements. Try making a list of your own!
1) Epistemology: New Organon + Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
2) Power plant: Nuclear power plant
3) Politics: Capitalism + Individual rights
4) Ethics: Rational egoism
5) Personal transport: Car with petrol piston engine + asphalt highways
6) Long-distance travel: Jet airplane
7) Computer architecture: The Babbage architecture (CPU + RAM)
8) Presentation of intellectual material: The book
9) Banking: Gold standard
10) Computer CPU: The microprocessor
11) Inductive method: Bacon’s method
12) Novel: The Fountainhead, Les Misérables, Atlas Shrugged, Ninety-three
13) Business form: The limited liability stock company
14) Theory of war: Total war
15) Government form: Constitutional republic
16) Music form: The symphony
17) Literature: The novel
18) Heating: Electric heating
19) Cooling: Airconditioning
20) Musical element: The melody
21) Symphony: Rachmaninoff’s 2nd
22) Sculpture: Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne
23) Non-fiction: New Organon
11a) Instances of association (XXXIII)
Instances that exhibit a substance that is always present with a nature. Narrows the affirmative to something that enters or flees. E.g. for heat it is flame – flame is always hot.
11b) Instances of aversion (XXXIII)
Instances that exhibit a substance that always flees in association with a nature. E.g. air flees the solid or liquid.
12. Accessory instances (XXXIV, XXXIII)
How far a nature can be taken. Examples: 1) whale among the animals 2) silk in softness.
13. Instances of alliance (XXXV)
Instances that show that two natures thought to be different are the same. Example 1: Heat of the sun and heat of a fireplace. Example 2: Dropping a feather and lead ball in a vacuum: Indicate that inertial mass and gravitational mass are the same.
14. Crucial instances (XXXVI)
If one has found two candidates for a form, one can look for or construct an instance that asks nature to tell us which is true. Nature “knows” which is true or not, and by asking it, it will let us know. We force nature to tell us the truth. This explains why and how scientists constructs experiments.
15. Instances of divergence (XXXVII)
Indicate separations of natures which commonly occur. Examples: 1) air moves, but is neither hot nor bright 2) the moon is bright without heat 3) boiling water is hot without light.