Francis Bacon

Posted: November 16, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

The great English writer and scientist Francis Bacon wrote: “All rising to great places is by a winding stair.”

Success seldom follow a straight or easy path.  Remember Bacon’s words whenever you face an obstacle.

Posted: June 13, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s Sunday feature on intersections of work and life.]

 Reading, Thinking about Reading

I’ve been very busy lately, for which I’m very grateful.  When there have been a few spare minutes, I’ve been reading from a book of essays by Francis Bacon.  Most of Bacon’s essays are short, 2-3 pages.  But his writing and thinking style is very dense.  Almost every sentence requires careful thought because the writer employs paradox or complex syntax to capture the reader’s attention.

The essay “Of Studies” explores how we learn – or how we should learn.  Bacon says that we should read not to have something to say or to look smart.  We should read to “weigh and consider.”  He believes that proper learning can help people overcome any “impediment in the wit.”  People who are not focused should study mathematics.  Someone who cannot understand distinctions or differences, should study philosophy.  Bacon’s faith in reading and learning challenges us to look at how we read and learn today. 

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a contemporary of Shakespeare.  His writing and studies are often seen as central in the development of science and thinking based on reason.  Today we live in a world were many – too many – dismiss science as “theory.”  They claim that dinosaurs existed 10,000 years ago (impossible).  Belief, especially the claim of personal belief, has come to outweigh facts:  “That’s how I see it.”  “That’s your opinion.”

People can differ in perspective and opinion.  Facts, however, defy denial.  Water is a liquid.  Boil it, and liquid turns to gas.  We have a tool in the Internet that gives us instant access to information that our great grandparents would never find in a library.  Even so, people are less able to engage in intelligent conversation or debate.  We don’t follow Bacon’s precept to “weigh and consider.”  Instead, we say the first thing that comes to our mind.  When we’re wrong, we shrug our shoulders and say, “My bad.”

We have more access to information, but we read less and skim more.  Someone reading the print version of the New York Times spends 45 minutes compared to 7 minutes for someone who reads the online version.  We like headlines and stories that are 300 words or less.  Bacon writes: “Crafty men contemn [condemn] studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation.”  Our learning is real only as it helps us see the world more clearly.

Bacon wrote his essays in the early 1600s.  The book of Bacon’s essays that I’m reading was published in 1908.  One can only wonder what Bacon would make of the Internet and Kindle, our tools to access knowledge.  I think he would say that the virtual world, like all tools for study, is valuable only to the degree that it helps us understand our world and live our lives.  We need to observe more, think more, and talk less.  Peace and wisdom begin in silence.

May your Sabbath be filled with quiet contemplation – and rest.

Sabbath Extra Helpings:

1908 Collection, courtesy of Google Books

Life & Works

Contributions to Science & Philosophy

Google Timeline (which ends with facts about the 20th Century painter by the same name)