From natural history to science: the emergence of experimental philosophy


Director of project:
Dana Jalobeanu

Team Members:
Mihnea Dobre
Sebastian Mateiescu
Oana Matei
Doina-Cristina Rusu
Claudia Dumitru

Associate Members:
Bogdan Deznan
Sandra Dragomir
Iovan Drehe
Laura Georgescu
Madalina Giurgea
Ioana Magureanu

Description of the project

PCE grant awarded by the CNCS, 2012-2015 ( PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-0719)

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This is a 3-years research grant awarded by the Romanian national agency for scientific research (CNCS) to a team of 7 researchers and students coordinated by Dana Jalobeanu at CELFIS (Center for Logic, History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest) for a project aiming to explore the ways in which observation and experiment featured in various forms of natural history of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in view of reassessing the role and function played by natural historical explorations (ranging from cosmography to medical natural histories and from diverse collections of ‘individuals’ to topical investigations of natural phenomena) in the development of experimental philosophy and ultimately of the early modern science.

The project aims, on the one hand, to disentangle the discussion on the nature and function of early modern experimentation from its age-long association with questions of testimony, credibility and evidence. Without questioning the role of experimentation in the assessment of scientific theories, we intend to show on particular cases that experiments have played an equally essential role in the context of (scientific) discovery: as problem-solving devices, tools for triggering creative analogies or devices for generating or ordering works of natural history.

On the other hand, our purpose is to reconstruct a series of particular case studies and discuss them comparatively in order to show how rich and how relatively unexplored is the field of what has been labeled as ‘natural history.’ We also aim to extend the field and the label ‘natural history’ into relatively unexplored writings that defy disciplinary boundaries. Works classified as cosmographies, geographies, travel literature, medical literature, spiritual medicine etc. will be the subject of our investigation, in so far that they can be shown to contain interesting and sophisticated observations and ingenious experiments. Last but not least we aim to trace the ways in which some of these observations and experiments ‘migrated’ from works of natural history into treatises of natural (and experimental) philosophy or ‘early modern science.’

CFP: Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy

Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy


Fifth Edition: 28-29 November 2014

Keynote speakers:

John Henry (University of Edinburgh)
Arianna Borrelli (Technical University of Berlin)


The Center for Logic and History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Bucharest is organizing its fifth graduate conference for advanced master and PhD students working on early modern philosophy. The event will be held on November 28-29, 2014 at the University of Bucharest, Romania.


We cordially invite graduate students to submit abstracts on any topic related to early modern philosophy at by August 20, 2014. Abstracts should not exceed 500 words and should be prepared for blind review. Papers will be given 40 minutes (30 minutes talk, 10 minutes open discussion). The Program Committee will notify authors of its decision by September 10.


Conference fee: € 40.

For any further questions, you can get in touch with us via email or on Facebook at


New Publications

Just a quick update on some of our recent publications.

For anyone interested in reading Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius as a natural history, Dana Jalobeanu’s recent article can offer a very useful introduction. The article was published by the Revue Roumaine de Philosophie.

Mihnea Dobre published a book review of Gideon Manning’s edited volume Matter and Form in Early Modern Science and Philosophy. The review can be found in the British Journal form the History of Science.


In the mid-seventeenth century, the problem of vegetable philosophy was very much debated inside the Hartlib Circle. Samuel Hartlib, the center of a wide circle of correspondents, acted as a publicizer, sharing, printing, and even budgeting a significant number of interesting and novel ideas, and in this way helping the wider dissemination of inventions and ideas. In 1650 Hartlib turned his attention from ecclesiastical and pedagogical projects to husbandry and vegetable philosophy.

What exactly is vegetable philosophy? And what is its relation with the tradition of husbandry? This field of study does not have a place in today’s classification of knowledge. It is not botanic, because its objectives are diverse (metals, stones, natural ores). It is not just agriculture, because it has a manifested inclination for alchemical experiments. And, to complicate things even further, it is not simply natural philosophy, because it has a practical and operative side, concerned with technological advancement and amelioration.

Vegetable philosophy emerged inside the Hartlib Circle and has been used to define a new field of interest, which could connect alchemical interests, extraction of metals, natural magic, cultivation of the land, the Baconian tradition of experimentation and dedication to the open character of knowledge and benefit of mankind. Vegetable philosophy is essentially technological and anti-speculative, experimental and operational, orientated towards production of specific results, recipes, and technologies transferable form one situation to another and even from one domain to another.

The concept of vegetable philosophy has been first used by Ralph Austen:

‘The Learned, and incomparable Author Sr Francis Bacon hath left unto men such Rules, and helps in all kinds of Learning, that they will be much wanting to themselves, if Arts, and Sciences improve not, very much above what they have been in former ages: And as the foresaid worthy Author was eminently seen in all Arts and Sciences, so his delight was especially (as is recorded of him) in Vegetable Philosophy, which was as it were, his darling delight, having left unto us much upon Record in his Naturall History; some part whereof referring to Fruit-trees, Fruits, and Flowers, I have, (by encouragement from himself) endeavoured to improve unto publique profit, according to what understanding, and experience I have therein … And seeing I perceive (since you have been pleased to honour me with your acquaintance) that your Genius is towards things in nature, to promote them, in order to the Common good, and that I have encouragements in my labours thereabout, (both as to the Theory and Practise) I humbly, present these following Observations into your hands, and am (for all your favours).’[1]

Which is the relation between husbandry and vegetable philosophy? Is vegetable philosophy just a sub-domain of husbandry (along with other sub-domains such as botanic, agriculture, metallurgy)? Or knowledge of husbandry is a prerequisite for vegetable philosophy?

[1] Austen, R., Observations upon some part of Sr Francis Bacon’s Naturall History, as it concernes fruit-trees, fruits, and flowers …, Oxford, Hall for Thomas Robinson, 1658, Dedication To the honourable Robert Boyle Esq. sonne to the Lord Boyle of Corke.

From Natural History to Natural Magic: Francis Bacon’s “Sylva sylvarum” – PhD dissertation

My dissertation “From Natural History to Natural Magic: Francis Bacon’s Sylva sylvarum,” draws attention to a posthumously published and neglected book by Francis Bacon, Sylva sylvarum or a Natural History in Ten Centuries. Because of its title, this work has generally been taken as belonging to the genre of natural history. This dissertation shows that Sylva mixes elements of natural history with those of physics, mechanics, metaphysics and 1466315_10200784446793912_901050667_nnatural magic. Moreover, Sylva sylvarum has often been regarded as an imperfect natural history, because it looked like an amalgam of observations, experiments and theoretical considerations on very different topics. Arguing once more against the prevalent view, this thesis tries to show that this work reflects Bacon’s model of how nature can and should be manipulated by the naturalist.
According to Bacon, the reform of the natural sciences must start with collecting natural histories, that is, with collecting facts about nature, through observing and experimenting. Natural philosophy has the task to theorize upon these histories in order to arrive at the principles behind the unity of nature. Physics – the first science of natural philosophy – begins to theorize upon them so as to discover the hidden processes of nature, which lie behind the visible phenomena. As for metaphysics – the second speculative discipline – it seeks a higher degree of abstraction. Mechanics and magic, the two operative sciences, in turn, apply the knowledge thus obtained and modify natural bodies, mechanics using the knowledge of physics and magic that of metaphysics. Physics investigates the hidden structures of bodies, from the viewpoint of their material and efficient causes. Metaphysics studies the formal causes of these schematisms, which are also called “forms.” As this dissertation proves, Bacon’s science works through a continuous interplay between theory formation and its verification in practice. This means that while speculative philosophy is composed by provisional rules and axioms, there are also different types of experiments, functioning at different levels of knowledge. It also means that magic can be performed before metaphysics has been completed, by testing its provisional axioms.
Chapter one offers an overview of the existing scholarship on Bacon’s natural philosophy. The aim of this chapter is to understand the status quaestionis and to show where further research is needed. The analysis of Sylva’s contents starting in chapter 2 shows that some of the negative judgements that have led to its general neglect are not warranted. Sure enough, its use of the vernacular, its lack of order, and the dispersion of its subject matters over many disciplines are certainly puzzling. This thesis argues that there is a methodological purpose behind these puzzles. Bacon used the vernacular and his method of presentation as a way of selecting his readers, in the sense that he aimed to reach those who could discern the unity behind the apparent diversity of nature reflected in separate experiments, and who could connect the instances presented in Sylva both with each other and with the theory and experiments provided in Bacon’s other works. While this viewpoint does not yield a possible secret order of the experiments, it does connect the lack of order with Bacon’s method for the transmission of knowledge.
By means of a comparison with the Latin natural histories that Bacon had published during his lifetime, we find in Sylva falls only in a small part under the definition of a natural history: we find descriptions of facts, interventionist experiments, advice for further experimentation, pieces of theoretical considerations, axioms, medical receipts, and instances of natural divination or spiritual magic. All these instances are also found in the Latin natural histories, under their proper designations and they rise Sylva at the level of those histories he “kept for himself” and wrote for the Instauratio magna.
Chapter three focuses on a specific group of experiments, namely those used in the production of knowledge. It proposes a classification of these experiments into six classes. The accent is put on the last three classes of experiments, which are are proper “experiments of light.” The first of them studies the changes a body undergoes during a process. These experiments not only provide the basis for further experimentation, but they can be tabulated, just like the famous experiments reported in the Novum organum or in the Historia densi et rari. Because some of these changes cannot be observed directly by the experimenter, and the only way in which they can be made observable is with the help of specially designed instruments, another type of experiments is needed. They are particularly important, as they provide insight into what is happening at the level of the hidden activity of matter. The last class of experiments, finally, uses simplified models and then transfers the knowledge obtained to modify more complex classes of objects. In order for this transfer to be done, very strong metaphysical assumptions are needed. Bacon bases this transfer upon his matter theory, considering that there exists a fundamental set of entities and of activities that are everywhere the same.
This use of simplified models is analysed at length in chapter four: plants are simplified models of animals and human beings. Many of these experiments are taken from Della Porta’s Magia naturalis and this has incidentally been taken as proofs that the Sylva sylvarum is above all a collection of experiments copied from literary sources. A detailed comparison of the reports on plants in the Sylva and the Magia naturalis shows, however, how critical, original and creative Bacon was in using his sources. The major changes Bacon introduces into Della Porta’s instances are the generalisation according to his matter theory and the addition of explanatory causes also in terms of matter theory. This dissertation also brings into light a new source of Sylva – Hugh Platt’s Floraes Paradise. Platt’s book is in fact Bacon’s second major source for the experiments with plants. In more than one case, Platt’s experimental reports are used to reject Della Porta’s “fantastical” theories. While Della Porta remains the most important source for Bacon, the latter’s willingness to reject certain experiments or theories reported in the Magia naturalis on the basis of Platt’s reports demonstrates that Bacon did not blindly copy his sources, but made a philosophically and experimentally informed choice.
Chapter five continues the comparison between Della Porta’s Magia naturalis and Bacon’s Sylva sylvarum, with an examination of their respective understanding of natural magic and the manipulation of nature. As is shown in this chapter, Bacon took Della Porta’s book to be about physics and mechanics (according to his own definition of these sciences), because they are bound to the knowledge and the modification of individual bodies. Bacon wished to take these experiments further in the service of the construction of a metaphysical theory and a truly magical manipulation of bodies, which required the knowledge and manipulation of “forms.”
The first part of this chapter deals with the redefinition of Bacon’s form of heat as given in the second book of the Novum organum. The form of heat can be influenced and induced on a given body by manipulating the basic appetites of matter. What the natural magician must do is to understand which appetite must be activated to which effect and how this can be achieved, so that in collaboration with the existing forms naturally occurring in a given body, a certain motion will be produced, which will induce the change of a simple nature in that body. Though mechanics and magic may sometimes produce the same changes in the bodies; magic, can, however, go further and create new things. This is possible because magic manipulates more fundamental entities of matter and the changes produced upon a body are greater. It is precisely in this understanding of the natural magician and the type of knowledge and of operations of which he is capable that the difference between Bacon and Della Porta lies. The latter possesses, at least in Bacon’s view, a superficial knowledge of the natural phenomena as well as of the artificial ones he produces. The implications of this difference show up not only in the central concept of magic itself, but also in Bacon’s and Della Porta’s respective understanding of the fundamental processes of nature, such vivification, transmutation or new species, analysed in the second part of the last chapter.
When one connects the features of magic, discussed in this chapter, with the evidence produced in the other chapters, the specific feature of Sylva becomes evident. As mentioned earlier, not all the “experiments” in Sylva are experiments of metaphysics or magic. Many of them remain at the level of descriptions of facts or simple experiments of natural history. Others are experiments of physics and mechanics. They contain explanations in terms of material and efficient causes or else superficial manipulations of bodies. However, a great number of experiments involve areas that for Bacon belong to metaphysics and magic. Sometimes it is necessary to connect different experiments in order to discover the profound knowledge they contain when combined. This intelligence and labour required for this combination was – or so I claim in this dissertation – how Bacon selected the readers by which he wished to be understood. With respect to our classification of experiments, provided in Chapter three, it is in the transit from the experiments studying changes of bodies during a process to those experiments rendering invisible processes visible that the experimenter enters the realm of natural philosophy. Depending on how deep he will delve in the process of his investigations, he can arrive at a provisional knowledge of forms. In the verification of these provisional rules – these axioms become rules once they are put in practice – if they turn out to work, natural magic is performed. An even clearer confirmation of these axioms is to be found when the rule is applied to objects not previously studied, as happens in the transfer from simple models to the complex subjects.
All in all, then, Sylva sylvarum can be read as an instruction booklet which provides models and instructions of how nature has to be investigated and transformed. Bacon saw his project as being far from complete. Still, he believed that science could advance if his investigations were imitated and advanced by others.

For the complete PDF version, please visit:

CFP: Society and Politics: Natural Magic, Natural History and the Emergence of Experimental Science

The Journal SOCIETATE ȘI POLITICĂ (Society and Politics) is searching for articles and book reviews for its Autumn 2014 issue. This issue will focus on:

Natural magic, natural history and the emergence of experimental science

We invite contributions investigating different aspects of the interrelations between early modern natural magic, natural history, experimental practices or experimental natural philosophy. We aim to put together a volume picturing a diversity of approaches and methodologies, and featuring papers coming from history of philosophy, history of science and intellectual history.

SOCIETATE ȘI POLITICĂ (Society and Politics) is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal published by “Vasile Goldiș” Western University of Arad, Romania. See Papers no longer than 8.000 words, or book reviews no longer than 800 words, should be submitted by email to Doina-Cristina Rusu by 1st of July 2014.

For the authors guidelines see:

Seminar CELFIS S2 2013-2014

Seminar CELFIS semestrul II:

12 martie Valentin Cioveie, Matricea creației. Sensul istoriei științei și al ideilor.
19 martie Vintilă Mihăilescu, Despre oameni și cîini. Post-umanismul și criza omului
26 martie Adrian Nita, Identitate şi individuaţie la Leibniz
2 aprilie Octavian Buda, Știința barocă – imagologie și experiment medical în sec. XVII
9 aprilie Tinca Prunea, TBA
16 aprilie Constantin Stoenescu, Scrisorile lui Feyerabend către Kuhn și începutul drumului către Structură
5 mai Jurg Steiner, Deliberative democracy. Theory and Praxis
14 mai Bryan Hall, The Two Dogmas without Empiricism
21 mai – TBA
28 mai, Ioan Muntean, Optimality, minimization, evolution in scientific discovery. A tale of three centuries (Descoperirea științifică prin optimizare, minimizare și evoluție. O istorie de trei secole)
Seminarul are loc în zilele de miecruri, de la ora 18 în amfiteatrul Titu Maiorescu, la Facultatea de Filosofie.

Workshop: Mechanicism, mathematics and experiment: Early modern intersections

Mechanicism, mathematics and experiment: Early modern intersections

16-17 January 2014

Faculty of Philosophy

Splaiul Independentei 204, Bucharest



Thusday 16 January
16.30-17.40 Catherine Goldstein (CNRS, Institut de mathématiques de Jussieu-PRG, Paris),

Baconian mathematics in Mersenne’s circle

17.40-18.50 Dana Jalobeanu (University of Bucharest),

Francis Bacon’s experimental construction of “space”

Friday 17 January
10.00-11.10 Sophie Roux (ENS Paris),

What kind of mechanism for Cartesian physics?

11.10-11.30 break
11.30-12.40 Charles Wolfe (Ghent University),

Mechanism and mechanisms: ontological considerations in an early modern context, with a look at embodiment

12.40-15.00 lunch
15.00-16.10 Vlad Alexandrescu (University of Bucharest),

R. Descartes and J.B. Morin about the uses of the infinite (in French)

16.10-16.30 break
16.30-17.40 Tamas Demeter (Hungarian Academy of Science and University of Pécs),

Hume on the Limits and Prospects of Natural Philosophy

17.40-18.50 Tinca Prunea Bretonnet (Romanian Academy),

Kant on Mathematical Method and the Specificity of Philosophy in the Early 1760s


Event organized within the framework of the project From natural history to science: the emergence of experimental philosophy.

Curs 09.10.2013: Curs introductiv


Sursa imaginii:

1. Ce este cosmologia?


DEX: Cosmologie = „ramură a astronomiei care studiază structura și evoluția cosmosului și legile generale care îl conduc”.

Este o definiție înșelătoare, care sugerează apartenența cosmologiei la astronomie. În Enciclopedia lui d’Alembert, aceasta este prezentată în felul următor:

Cosmology. This word is formed by the combination of two Greek words, κόσμος, world, and λόγος, speech, which signifies the science which speaks of the world; that is to say the reason concerning the world in which we live and such as it actually exists.” (d’Alembert, Jean Le Rond. “Cosmology.” The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by John S.D. Glaus. Ann Arbor: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library, 2006. Web. 9 October 2013. <>. Trans. of “Cosmologie,” Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 4. Paris, 1754.)

O definiție mai recentă este următoarea:
Cosmologie = 1. Ramura filosofiei, considerată adesea o subdiviziune a metafizicii, care se ocupă de Univers ca totalitate a fenomenelor, încercând să combine într-un cadru coerent speculația metafizică și rezultatele științei. În perimetrul ei intră în general problemele privitoare la spațiu, timp, eternitate, necesitate, schimbare și contingență. Diferă prin metoda sa de cercetare rațională, de explicațiile pur mitice ale originii și structurii Universului.” (p. 81)
„2. Studiul științific modern al originii și structurii universului bazat pe instrumente de felul investigării spectrale a distribuției elementelor în Univers și al analizei stării spre roșu asociată Galaxiilor”. (Antony Flew (coord.). 1996. Dicționar de filozofie si logica. București: Humanitas, pp. 81-82)

În afara cosmologiei, este important să spunem și ce se înțelege prin univers.
Univers și univers = prezența sau absența majusculei la începutul cuvântului servește la distingerea a două sensuri ale acestui cuvânt. 1. „Universul” se definește ca incluzând tot ceea ce există, cu excepția Dumnezeului creator, dacă acesta este admis. 2. Un univers nu poate fi decât o parte a acestui Univers: despre nebuloasa Andromeda, bunăoară, s-a spus uneori că este „un univers insular”. În acest sens, filosofii vorbesc uneori de universuri de discurs diferite, ca de pildă, cel a fizicii ca opus celui al criticii de artă.” (A. Flew, p. 347)

Conform lui Edward Harrison, cosmologia și universul sunt discutate în felul următor (Harrison, Edward. 2000. Cosmology. The Science of the Universe. 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press.):
„Cosmology, the science of the universe”
Științele se ocupă de decuparea și de fărâmițarea lucrurilor pentru a își putea determina domeniul de aplicabilitate.

Univers = realitatea ca atare.
univers = un model al Universului.

„Cosmology is the study of universes, how they originate, how they evolve” (p. 1).
„The Universe is everything and includes us thinking about what to call it. … It has many faces and means many different things to different people. … Cosmic pictures evolve because cultures influence one another, and because knowledge advances. … If the word „Universe” is used we must distinguish between the various „models of the Universe.” … When used alone, without specification of the model we have in mind, it conveys the impression that we know the true nature of the Universe.” (Harrison, p. 13)
„Cosmology is the study of universes. In the broadest sense it is a joint enterprise by science, philosophy, theology, and the arts that seeks to gain understanding of what unifies and is fundamental.” (Harrison, p. 15)

Consecințele de până acum ar putea fi descrise în felul următor:
• Cosmologia nu are specializarea științelor standard.
• Cosmologia este o disciplină foarte veche: orice imagine despre lume este o cosmologie. Orice model de univers este coerent în sine, fiind relevant pentru un anumit context socio-cultural. (astfel, mitul poate furniza o imagine a lumii, la fel ca modelele spirituale, religioase, filosofice, sau științifice).

2. Cosmologia filosofică vs. științifică – O dezbatere (G. J. Whitrow & H. Bondi, „Is physical cosmology a science?” BJPS, 4:16 (1954), pp. 271-283.

Întrebarea care se ridică acum este ce înțelegem prin cosmologia filosofică? Care este acel element ce face din cosmologie un obiect de interes pentru filosofi? Care sunt acele aspecte ale cosmologiei ce nasc întrebări și reflecții de natură filosofică?

Răspunsuri la aceste întrebări vor fi oferite în diferite stadii ale cursului, în funcție de materialul parcurs și competențele dobândite. Pentru moment însă, afirmația fundamentală asupra căreia vrem să ne oprim este că prin natura sa, o dezbatere asupra aspectelor filosofice ale cosmologiei duce în mod inevitabil la o discuție asupra naturii științei, în general. Iar o asemenea analiză constituie fără îndoială și apanajul filosofiei, fapt dovedit atât de istoria filosofiei cât și de multiplele întrebări cosmologice susceptibile de răspunsuri justificabile din punct de vedere filosofic.

Oferim aici, cu titlu de exemplificare a acestei situații, un scurt rezumat al unei dispute petrecute în anii 1950’, nu între filosofi, ci chiar între cosmologi. Ne referim aici la dialogul dintre G. J. Whitrow și H. Bondi, cel din urmă chiar unul dintre artizanii modelului cosmologic al stării staționare (Steady-state), dialog redat în paginile revistei British Journal for the Philosophy of Science sub titlul: G. J. Whitrow & H. Bondi, „Is physical cosmology a science?” BJPS, 4:16 (1954), pp. 271-283.

În acest schimb de idei asupra statutului filosofic vs. științific al cosmologiei, Whitrow adoptă poziția filosofului și consideră că în cosmologie întrebările cât și răspunsurile nu pot fi separate de interpretări filosofice, pe când Bondi susține cu tărie imunitatea cosmologiei față de filosofie.

Argumentele fiecăruia dintre combatanți merită atenție deplină întrucât relevanța lor este valabilă pentru o discuție generală asupra statutului filosofic al cosmologiei.

Iată câteva dintre aceste puncte divergente asupra științei:

Puncte divergente – natura științei:
• scopul oamenilor de știință este obținerea unanimității în interpretarea rezultatelor științifice vs. scopul oamenilor de știință este obținerea validării experimentale și supunerea teoriilor științifice principiului falsificabilității
[potrivit lui K. Popper, principiul falsificabilității poate fi enunțat astfel: “statements or systems of statements, in order to be ranked as scientific, must be capable of conflicting with possible, or conceivable observations” (K. Popper, Conjectures and refutations. The growth of scientific knowledge, New York: Basic Books. 1962, p. 39)].
• natura și interpretarea principiului falsificabilității: falsificabilitatea este supusă obținerii unanimității între oamenii de știință vs unanimitatea este supusă criteriului falsificabilității teoriilor științifice

Puncte comune – natura științei:
• știința este un demers obiectiv, care nu depinde de opiniile personale ale omului de știință
• teoriile științifice tind către obținerea celor mai simple explicații
• în știință, se acordă o importanță majoră a experimentului
• știința țintește spre un acord general sau chiar universal al oamenilor de știință cu privire la rezultatele lor
• cunoașterea în știință evoluează cumulativ

Pozițiile opuse asupra naturii științei determină la rândul lor interpretări diferite asupra statutului filosofic vs. științific al cosmologiei:

Puncte divergente – natura cosmologiei:
• întrebările filosofice sunt preluate în timp de către știința cosmologiei (analogie: întrebările filosofice clasice despre spațiu și timp au fost preluate în teoria relativității) vs. întrebările filosofice din cosmologie nu vor putea fi tratate complet în cosmologia științifică
• stabilirea statutului filosofic vs. științific al cosmologiei presupune o anumită raportare la istoria gândirii: începe cosmologia o dată cu filosofia sau mai degrabă este cosmologia un domeniu recent, provenind din știința modernă?
• starea de fapt din cosmologie, anume existența unor diferite modele în cosmologie vs. existența unui „singur” univers observabil duce sau nu la opțiuni filosofice între aceste modele?

No Ghost in the Machine: Talking Heads in Sylva

At the end of Century II of Sylva Sylvarum, Bacon mentions the possibility of making a talking puppet by studying the principles that allow for the production of sound in animate and inanimate bodies:

[S]o that if a man, for curiosity or strangeness sake, would make a puppet or other dead body to pronounce a word, let him consider, on the one part, the motion of the instrument of voice; and on the other part, the like sounds made in inanimate bodies; and what conformity there is that causeth the similitude of sounds; and by that he may minister light to that effect. (SS:199)

Talking heads – of natural or artificial provenience – had been an object of fascination starting with the late Middle Ages and would continue to be one up to the eighteenth century (nineteenth, if we integrate them into the larger tradition of the “learned man’s android” as detailed by Sarah Higley [1]).  Yet the source of their fascination changed dramatically during this period, following a larger trend of naturalizing the preternatural and integrating it into “scientific” explanatory paradigms.[2]

On the natural front, Aristotle had declared severed talking heads an impossibility, on account of the fact that the lungs and windpipe were needed to produce sound (On the Parts of Animals, III:10). Despite this pronouncement, severed talking heads continued their career as a literary and hagiographical motif. Virgil and Ovid depicted the head of Orpheus, still calling out to Eurydice as it floated off to the sea. The heads of Christian saints were sometimes said to keep talking even after they were cut off (St. Edmund the Martyr in Abbo of Fleury’s Passio Santi Eadmundi a good example of this).

On the artificial front, brazen talking heads came to be regarded, in the late Middle Ages, as a symbol of dangerous knowledge. There was little insight into how they were produced, besides the fact that learned men studied the stars for favorable conjunctions to make them. Brazen heads were not to be trusted: legends had them telling the truth in a cryptic manner, so that those who relied on their advice were often led to their death. Among those who were said to have produced or owned a brazen talking head were Virgil (probably because he was a source for the legend of Orpheus), Pope Sylvester II (who was said to have died because he relied on the advice of said instrument), Robert Grosseteste, Albertus Magnus (whose creation was sometimes said to have been destroyed by Thomas Aquinas) and Roger Bacon.[3]

The cover Greene's play, showing Friar Bacon's brazen head

The cover of Greene’s play, showing Friar Bacon’s brazen head

Roger Bacon probably became the most famous of the group, as his example was later used in a popular Elizabethan play of Robert Greene’s, The Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (~1594). In Greene’s play, the brazen head shatters, after it utters only a cryptic pronouncement (“Time is. Time was. Time is past.”), and Bacon eventually renounces his magic. In this example, as in earlier others, the source of the brazen head’s powers was demonic. But there is something else worth noting in this play, and that is the skepticism displayed by the Oxford doctors towards Bacon’s discovery, which reflects a wider change in attitude during the period. As one of them says:

Have I not pass’d as far in state of schools,
And read of many secrets ? Yet to think
That heads of brass can utter any voice,
Or more, to tell of deep philosophy,
This is a fable Æsop had forgot.

The possibility that someone had ever built a real, autonomous talking head by consulting the stars was challenged by Della Porta, while at the same time an alternative explanation was given: it was possible that the talking head relied on long pipes conveying the sound of someone’s voice from a distance (Natural Magick, XIX:1). The same disparaging of the initial claim, followed by an explanation based on sound being carried through pipes is to be found in Campanella’s Magia e Grazia. (This explanation also happens to nicely parallel an episode from Chapter LVII of Don Quixote, where, steeped as he is in medieval romances, Don Quixote is deceived by a talking head relying not on supernatural powers, but on a system of pipes with a sharp-witted student at the end of them. The man owning the head claims that it was built by “one of the greatest magicians and wizards the world ever saw” who “observed the points of the compass, (…) traced figures, (…) studied the stars, (…) watched favourable moments, and at length brought it to the perfection we shall see to–morrow.”)

While Bacon, like Della Porta, offers a naturalistic basis for building a talking head, his project is far more ambitious, because it deals with imitating and not merely conveying the human voice, by deciphering what makes it possible in the first place.

Sources/Further reading:

[1] Higley S.L.; (1997) The Legend of the Learned Man’s Android. In: Hahn, T. and Lupack A. (eds.), Retelling Tales. Essays in Honor of Russell Peck

[2] Daston, L., & Park, K. (2001). Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750.

[3] Mills, R; (2013) Talking Heads, or, A Tale of Two Clerics. In: Santing, C. and Baert, B. and Traninger, A., (eds.) Disembodied Heads in Medieval and Early Modern Culture