Monday, February 15, 2016

Reading Francis Bacon In The Waiting Room

Having recently chosen to annoy some of my more stupid trolls by bringing up The Authorship Question, I decided that I'd read far too little of Francis Bacon's writing and have made a start at filling in that gap in my education.  I've got lots of time spent in waiting rooms, these days.  

I hope to read the major works that are available online and then to go back and re-read "THE PLAYS AND POEMS" even as I am continuing to fill in the ones of those I never read.   I am not that interested in cryptography to have a plan on looking at that line of research, I'm not really that interested in it - though Bacon certainly was.   I'm more interested in finding out if the philosphical writing of Bacon might make some of the plays make more sense than they do.  The "bad plays" don't seem to have been experimental or part of an apprenticeship, they might have missed some mark - no one always gets it right - but there might be more to them than a superficial reading of them might bring.  

Even the first few pages of reading Francis Bacon show he was, as Ben Jonson, Alexander Pope and so many others said, an incredibly expansive thinker, deeper than almost anyone else I've read and astonishingly widely learned.  Just the preface of the Novum Organum is full to the last detail of insights that anticipate many of our problems, today.   Here is a passage later in the book I found especially interesting.

XXXIX. Four species of idols beset the human mind, to which (for distinction’s sake) we have assigned names, calling the first Idols of the Tribe, the second Idols of the Den, the third Idols of the Market, the fourth Idols of the Theatre.

XL. The formation of notions and axioms on the foundation of true induction is the only fitting remedy by which we can ward off and expel these idols. It is, however, of great service to point them out; for the doctrine of idols bears the same relation to the interpretation of nature as that of the confutation of sophisms does to common logic.

XLI. The idols of the tribe are inherent in human nature and the very tribe or race of man; for man’s sense is falsely asserted to be the standard of things; on the contrary, all the perceptions both of the senses and the mind bear reference to man and not to the universe, and the human mind resembles those uneven mirrors which impart their own properties to different objects, from which rays are emitted and distort and disfigure them.

XLII. The idols of the den are those of each individual; for everybody (in addition to the errors common to the race of man) has his own individual den or cavern, which intercepts and corrupts the light of nature, either from his own peculiar and singular disposition, or from his education and intercourse with others, or from his reading, and the authority acquired by those whom he reverences and admires, or from the different impressions produced on the mind, as it happens to be preoccupied and predisposed, or equable and tranquil, and the like; so that the spirit of man (according to its several dispositions), is variable, confused, and as it were actuated by chance; and Heraclitus said well that men search for knowledge in lesser worlds, and not in the greater or common world.

XLIII. There are also idols formed by the reciprocal intercourse and society of man with man, which we call idols of the market, from the commerce and association of men with each other; for men converse by means of language, but words are formed at the will of the generality, and there arises from a bad and unapt formation of words a wonderful obstruction to the mind. Nor can the definitions and explanations with which learned men are wont to guard and protect themselves in some instances afford a complete remedy—words still manifestly force the understanding, throw everything into confusion, and lead mankind into vain and innumerable controversies and fallacies.

XLIV. Lastly, there are idols which have crept into men’s minds from the various dogmas of peculiar systems of philosophy, and also from the perverted rules of demonstration, and these we denominate idols of the theatre: for we regard all the systems of philosophy hitherto received or imagined, as so many plays brought out and performed, creating fictitious and theatrical worlds. Nor do we speak only of the present systems, or of the philosophy and sects of the ancients, since numerous other plays of a similar nature can be still composed and made to agree with each other, the causes of the most opposite errors being generally the same. Nor, again, do we allude merely to general systems, but also to many elements and axioms of sciences which have become inveterate by tradition, implicit credence, and neglect. We must, however, discuss each species of idols more fully and distinctly in order to guard the human understanding against them.

"many elements and axioms of sciences which have become inveterate by tradition, implicit credence, and neglect"   He could be talking about both the common received wisdom of the right and of the alleged left in that, the credulous beliefs of the officially ignorant and the allegedly educated, the junk that has been propagated by the supposed enlightened organs of media, PBS and the BBC and their costume and commentary style of presenting history and even science.  

The "Idols of the Tribe" couldn't possibly be more relevant to contemporary physics, which seems to founder on the widespread refusal to acknowledge that what we can know of the universe is intrinsically and, inevitably, bound by the fact that it is human minds which are trying to find that out and, though Bacon may not have fully realized it, centuries before science concluded so, that we can't escape those vicissitudes of our existence.  

Of course, given the controversy that I find so entertaining, I'll notice whatever he has to say about theater (in a more restricted sense than Bacon discussed it here) and poetry and anything that might touch on themes and passages in The Plays and Poems.  I have a strong feeling that reading those Baconically (as it were) might be more rewarding than they would be reading them in reference to the fiction and fables that constitute the supposed substance of the the Stratford Idol's school of analysis provides.  Not that I know of anyone who actually bothers to do that, even the champions of the phonied up effigy and the masked cartoon with two left arms in the Folio.  The one that Ben Jonson, while helping Francis Bacon prepare his life's work for publication, so ambiguously and rather sarcastically commented on.   And now let's see if they got this far in reading this provocation. 

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