Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker

Lecture 10.  Wedding Technology and Science



Exploration of the new world stimulated popular interest in natural wonders.  Eyewitnesses published reports of wondrous plants and animals both real and imaginary.

Plant samples were collected and displayed in teaching gardens like the one at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands:

Rather than rely on pictures in books, students could see plants for themselves, examine their stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds and observe their growth and decay.

Increase in trade and travel abroad increased opportunities for non-scholars to gather and share new knowledge outside the confines of the university system.

Beautiful and/or intriguing objects, both natural and man-made, were collected by wealthy and worldly individuals who organized and displayed them privately in rooms called Kunstkammers or "cabinets of curiosities."

The cabinet of pharmacist Francesco Calzolari (1522-1609) at Verona, 1622

The cabinet of pharmacist Ferrante Imperato (1550-1631) at Naples, 1672

Technical Knowledge and the New Philosophy

The rise of the New Philosophy in the 17th century engendered new patterns of social organization with participants as seekers, probers, and witnesses.

One vocal proponent of this "new" philosophy was Francis Bacon (1561-1626).  Bacon studied at Cambridge University from age 12-15.  Reading Aristotle's work left him dissatisfied and critical, particularly of Aristotle's natural philosophy.  Bacon began to question the university system's blind and unquestioning adherence to the works of ancient philosophers.  He blamed the guild structure of universities for stifling, not facilitating, the acquisition of new and useful knowledge. 

Bacon urged loosening the university's stranglehold on knowledge transmission in order to achieve real social and economic progress.  To accomplish that goal, he argued vigorously not only for the rejection of ancient teachings but for the entire overthrow of the authority of the ancients. 

The disputation, for example, was (and still is) an important element in university instruction.  It was originally designed to give young scholars the opportunity to argue thoughtfully and creatively against the authority of their masters.  By Bacon's time, the disputation had devolved into a meaningless exercise -- verbal battles over words in which the fundamental ideas of the ancients were always on the winning side.  For Bacon, such pointless exercises only proved that teaching and knowledge had become divorced from utility and practice.

Venerating long-dead ideas in old books would not and could not stimulate new inventions.  A new philosophy must be established from scratch.  To do that, the scholar must turn to nature itself, observe it directly, strain and stretch it, categorize it.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

In Bacon's view

• the natural world is a maze;

• the scientist is an explorer who travels through the maze of nature like Columbus;

• a scientist can get somewhere and make discoveries if he travels enough; and

• the scientist/explorer must use signposts -- crucial experiments to determine which way to go next.

Novum Organum (1620)--The New Method by Francis Bacon
 excerpts from Bacon's New Method

Those who have treated of the sciences have been either empirics or dogmatical.

The former, like ants only heap up and use their store, the latter like spiders spin out their own webs.

The bee, a mean between both, extracts matter from the flowers of the garden and the field, but works and fashions it by its own efforts....

The true labor of philosophy resembles [that of the bee], for it neither relies entirely nor principally on the powers of the mind, or yet lays up in the memory the matter afforded by the experiments of natural history and mechanics in its raw state, but changes and works it in the understanding....

[T]he reverence for antiquity, and the authority of men who have been esteemed great in philosophy ... have retarded men from advancing in science....

[B]y far the greatest obstacle to the advancement of the sciences ... is to be found in men's despair and the idea of impossibility....

[T]he secrets of nature betray themselves more readily when tormented by art than when left to their own course....

Scientific Societies
Bacon's "new" philosophers:
  • were virtuosi:
    • wealthy patrons
    • curious literati
    • merchants and craftsmen
  • operated outside normal boundaries of intellectual discourse:
    • used vernacular, not Latin, used for communicating ideas
    • vested authority in firsthand experience rather than books
  • needed a new model to guide their practice to establish the what, where, how, and why of scientific investigation.
The first half of the seventeenth century, saw the formation of an increasing number of scientific groups formed to promote discussion and to disseminate the "new" philosophy.  These were not merely groups of enthusiasts, but assemblies of individuals representing a broad cross-section of educated society.

"Intelligentsers" encouraged and maintained active communication among widely-scattered virtuosi:

  • Fabri de Periesc (1580-1637) of Montpellier
  • Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) of Paris
  • Henry Oldenburg (1615-1677) of London


Accademia dei Lincei [Academy of the Lynx-Eyed] (1603-1630)

    The Lincean Academy desires as its members philosophers who are eager for real knowledge, and who will give themselves to the study of nature, and especially to mathematics.  At the same time, it will not neglect the ornaments of elegant literature and philology, which like graceful garments, adorn the whole body of science.
  • founded by Prince Federigo Cesi (1585-1630)
  • secret society whose four original members shared an interest in natural science and the occult:
      -Cesi (Il Celivago--the heaven-wanderer)
      -Johannes Van Heeck (L'Illuminato--the enlightened one)
      -Anastasio Di Filiis (L'Eclissato--the eclipsed one), and
      -Francesco Stelluti (Il Tardigrado--the slow one)
    Galileo inducted in December 1611.
  • selected the lynx as their symbol to represent the importance of clear-sightedness in science
  • meetings held at Cesi's spacious villa in Rome; made use of his large library and cabinet of curiosities
  • members conducted own individual investigations
  • group discussed results at meetings
  • oversaw publication of worthy books written by members:  Galileo's work on sunspots (1613) and The Assayer (1623)

Accademia del Cimento [Academy of Experiment] (1657-1667)

A meeting of the Accademia del Cimento

  • founded by Grand Duke Ferdinand II and Prince Leopold de' Medici of Florence
  • modelled after Saloman's House described by Francis Bacon in New Atlantis
  • members set to work in common on tasks of importance to science; unknown is too vast for one man to tackle single-handed
  • motto:  "Provando e Riprovando"--Testing and Retesting; or Testing and Refuting
  • members included:
    • Vincenzo Viviani (student and disciple of Galileo)
    • Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (leading scientist in Italy; specialized in mathematizing and mechanizing physiology)
    • Francesco Redi (physician; conducted experiments on spontaneous generation)
    • Carlo Renaldini (an Aristotelian professor of philosophy)
    • Lorenzo Magalotti (a man of letters with an interest in science)
  • Medici brothers used wealth to purchase the services of finest instrument makers
  • published record of experiments performed with these instruments--Saggi di Naturali Esperienze (1667)


Gresham College

  • lectures in science, geometry, astronomy were delivered in both English and Latin
  • citizens of London invited to attend
  • became meeting place for non-academic laymen

"Invisible College" (1645-1660)

  • formed around 1645-46 by group (mainly physicians and mathematicians) meeting at Gresham College
  • members included Royalists and Puritans
  • individuals looked for areas of agreement (Order and Harmony in nature) outside politics and religion
    About the year 1645, while I [mathematician, John Wallis (1616-1703)] lived in London (at a time when, by our civil wars, academical studies were much interrupted in both our Universities) ... I had the opportunity of being acquainted with divers worthy persons, inquisitive into natural philosophy, and other parts of human learning; and particularly of what has been called the New Philosophy, or Experimental Philosophy.  We did by agreements, divers of us, meet weekly in London on a certain day, to treat and discourse of such affairs....  These meetings we held sometimes at Dr. Goddard's lodgings in Wood Street (or some convenient place near), on occasion of his keeping an operator in his house for grinding glasses for telescopes and microscopes; sometimes at a convenient place in Cheapside, and sometimes at Gresham College, or some place near adjoining.

    Our business was (precluding matters of theology and state affairs), to discourse and consider of Philosophical Enquiries, and such as related thereunto:  as physic, anatomy, geometry, astronomy, navigation, statics, magnetics, chemics, mechanics, and natural experiments; with the state of these studies, as then cultivated at home and abroad.  We then discoursed of the circulation of the blood, the valves in the veins, the venae lactae, the lymphatic vessels, the Copernican hypothesis, the nature of comets and new stars, the satellites of Jupiter, the oval shape (as it then appeared) of Saturn, the spots in the sun, and its turning on its own axis, the inequalities and selenography of the moon, the several phases of Venus and Mercury, the improvement of telescopes, and grinding of glasses for that purpose, the weight of air, the possibility, or impossibility of vacuities, and nature's abhorrence thereof, the Torricellian experiment in quicksilver, the descent of heavy bodies, and the degrees of acceleration therein; and divers other things of like nature.  Some of which were then but new discoveries, and others not so generally known and embraced, as now they are, with other things appertaining to what has been called The New Philosophy, which from the times of Galileo at Florence, and Sir Francis Bacon (Lord Verulam) in England, has been much cultivated in Italy, France, Germany, and other parts abroad, as well as with us in England.


Royal Society of London (1660-   )

  • organized (November 1660) by members of the Invisible College as a "college for the promoting of Physio-Mathematical Experimental Learning"
  • chartered by King Charles II (1662)
  • motto:  "Nullius in Verba" -- "Deeds rather than Words"
  • group hired Robert Hooke to serve as "curator of experiments"
  • intelligentser Henry Oldenburg (1615-1677) began publishing (March 1665) Philosophical Transactions:  giving some Accompt of the Present Undertakings, Studies, and Labours, of the Ingenious in many Considerable Parts of the World
    • first scientific journal


Montmor Academy (1648-1664)

  • organized following the death of intelligentser Marin Mersenne (1588-1648)
  • aimed to gain knowledge of natural world and advance the comforts of life
  • meetings held at Paris home of Habert de Montmor (1600-1679), wealthy patron of René Descartes and Pierre Gassendi

Académie des Sciences (1666-   )

  • members of Montmor Academy, jealous of success of Royal Society, petitioned Jean Baptiste Colbert, Minister for Internal Affairs in court of Louis XIV, to sponsor a similar society in France
  • few of early activists were invited to be members of the Académie--no amateurs or dilettantes
  • members became civil servants with salaries paid by the crown
By the second half of the seventeenth century, scientific societies had evolved.  Participants aimed to develop the sciences rather than promote the new philosophy.  The task of scientific societies was less to secure the scientific revolution than to maintain its momentum and reap its harvest.
The New Philosophy and a New Role for Instruments
New tools were invented, improved and disseminated.  Wedding technology and science enabled investigators to measure Nature more precisely and identify patterns of small, but essential differences.

A seventeenth century optician advertises his wares:  magnifying glasses, spectacles, telescopes, prisms, and microscopes.

The New Philosophy and New Fields of Investigation



Go to:
  • "The Preface" to Micrographia (1665), by Robert Hooke (1635-1703).
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