Roger Bacon, was an English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed great importance on learning through empirical methods.
He is regarded, mainly from the 19th century onwards, as one of the earliest European proponents of the modern scientific method. More recent assessments emphasize that he was essentially a medieval thinker, and that much of his “experimental” knowledge was derived from ancient books.
Roger Bacon — “The Admirable Doctor,” the greatest philosopher of the Middle Ages — was born in Somersetshire, England, about 1214 and educated at Oxford and Paris. He entered the Franciscan order, and his ecclesiastical position never conflicted with his real scientific thinking.
He was an ardent advocate of observation and experiment as the basis of deduction, and never ceased to urge the study of primary sources and texts as the basis for any reliable knowledge.
Pope Clement IV, learning of his scientific accomplishments, asked him to compile and send a summary of what he knew in an incredibly short time.
In 1268, he wrote an encyclopedic summary of all known sciences. It is filled with original experiments and inferences in mathematics, physics, and other disciplines. He addressed the next part of his work to William of Paris, which eventually made its way to the Pope.
Here are a few excerpts from some of the subtopics of this voluminous Latin treatise (translated into English from a French work published in 1899).
“IV. On marvelous artificial instruments.”
“I shall first speak of marvelous works of science and technology, in order then to indicate the causes and manner of their creation, in which there is nothing magical, so that it may be seen that all magical power is inferior to these works and worthless.
For means of transportation on the seas can be made without men as rowers, so that the largest ships, river and ocean, can be carried, steered by one man, with greater speed than if they were full of men. (Ships with propulsion.)
Also wagons can be made so that without an animal they can travel at incalculable speeds, like those chariots with which battles were fought in ancient times (automobiles, armored cars, tanks, etc.).
Also, wagons for flight can be made so that a person can sit in the middle of the wagon, spinning some contraption by which artificially created wings can beat the air, in the manner of a bird’s flight. (Airplane)
Devices may also be made for walking in the sea or rivers, down to the bottom, without bodily danger. (submarines, diving equipment).
For Alexander the Great used them to see the mysteries of the ocean,
According to the account of Ethicus, the astronomer, these things were made in ancient times, and are still being made in ours, which is certain, unless it be for instruments of flight, which I have not seen, and know no one who has;
But I do know that the wise man who conceived this device has brought it to completion.
There are still bridges over rivers without poles or any other support, and machines, and unheard of devices (bridges with quantum levitation) and much more.
“V. On experiments in artificial vision.”
“Glasses can be so constructed that things very far away may appear very near, and vice versa; so that from an incredible distance we can read the smallest letters, view things however small, and make stars appear wherever we wish.
This is why Julius Caesar, on the seashore in Gaul, discovered through huge spectacles the location and position of castles and cities in Great Britain. (Optics: telescopes and microscopes)
“But there is a more sublime power of design by which rays can be conducted and collected through various forms and reflections to any distance we wish, so far that it is possible to incinerate any object (laser weapons) by means of burning glasses acting backwards and forwards, various authors in their books confirm this. (Lasers).
“And the greatest of all constructions and constructed things is that the sky may be represented according to its longitudes and latitudes, in bodily figures, as it moves in its daily motion; and these things are worth a kingdom to a wise man. (Astronomy)
Bacon is often credited as the first European to describe the mixture containing the basic ingredients of gunpowder. Based on two passages from Bacon’s Opus Maius and Opus Tertium, analyzed in detail by J. R. Partington, several scholars, cited by Joseph Needham, have concluded that Bacon likely witnessed at least one demonstration of Chinese firecrackers, possibly obtained through the mediation of other Franciscans, such as his friend William of Rubruck, who visited the Mongols. The most telling passage reads:
“We have an example of these things (which act upon the senses) in the sound and fire of that child’s toy which is made in many different parts of the world; that is, a device no larger than a thumb.