A Beacon Of Knowledge

Based on the tag line presented on the Royal Society`s website that reads, “through our policy work, journals, scientific meetings, events, worldwide partnerships and grants and awards, the Royal Society works to support excellence in science, building a home and future for science in the UK,” it is clear that today`s Royal Society encouraged scientists and work adamantly to defend and assist the technological advancement of society. In a sense the society`s image is projected as the proprietors of knowledge, however, its members that we have read about do not seem to be acknowledged for their full potential. The men that we have read about seemed to have the ability to help in the improvement of many areas of the websites addendum but based on the texts, their priorities assigned to them by the Society. In other words, the society encouraged them to focus on primary roles. For example, Isaac Newton focused on mathematics, astronomy and multiple other scientific pursuits while Francis Bacon approached the enlightenment of society through a more philosophical and judiciary point of view.

While these limiting focuses encouraged by the Royal Society may have helped promote knowledge and a prosperous society it may have also prevented other members from acknowledging the multiplicity of their intellect. As an example, the way in which this Thomas Sprat`s assistance and defense took place, seems to be the emphasis of the Royal Society`s purpose. Seeing as Sprat`s adoption into the society was because of his impeccable rhetorical skills and not his scientific abilities it is clear that his work promotes the importance of language development in the enlightenment that the Royal Society reflects. In his philosophical point of view, he often relates the English language as the foundation of civilization`s economic, industrial and event environmental growth. Sprat`s flowery depiction of the English language is used in his essay to endorse the Royal Society`s significance for societal improvement when he “focuses on the society`s capacity to improve ordinary life by producing inventions and shorter way of labor.” He depicts the society as a beacon of education and enlightenment but it may also be taken into consideration as an institution of limitations unfortunately.

-Kamani Morrow


Natural Philosophy, The Governance of Order

While Sir Isaac Newton may certainly have had his quirks, his philosophy regarding how the inner dynamics of The Royal Society was sound. In “The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” Newton breaks down the “rules” of how natural philosophy (or really the quest for scientific exploration and explanation) is designed to operate. While at first these four rules may seem odd, or even ill-grounded, it is important to note that they are important not only because of their content, but also their context. While the Royal Society is often thought of as a sort of rogue band for free thinkers, here we actually see it being structured more as a bureaucratic government. In this document Newton lays our very plainly the four rules (not guidelines, which both implies that they are absolute and also punishable) for practicing natural philosophy. Then Newton breaks down each rule in a subordinate clause, truly spelling out the degree of the rule, it’s implications and practical application.

We can still see elements of this sort of governmental structure in the 21st century online version of the Royal Society. The Royal Society’s website is broken down into categories that then open up to reveal additional drop downs. By clicking on those link one can delve further into the world of the Royal Society. However, I feel as those Newton would be disappointed in the conduct of the website. For instance, while there may be structure within the website, there does not appear to be any sort of governmental order as to who can access the information.

To me, this is the fundamental difference between the tradition Royal Society and that of today: ease of access. From my readings, I viewed the traditional Royal Society as a sort of elitist club. However, the Royal Society depicted today seems far more accessible, with events, scholarships and multiple contributors. That being said, I wonder if this sort of open accessibility is actually compromising the integrity of the society. If the greatest minds are being understood and accessed by the common individual does that mean that the average intellect is being raised, or the enlightened is being snuffed by the overwhelming demand of the dim-witted crowd. I think this is more a question of who deserves knowledge and how much should any one individual be allowed to have. Does knowledge truly set you free or act as an active agent in oppression? I do not have solid answers for these questions, but I thought they may be interesting food for thought or feeder for discussions.

Elle Lammouchi

“Take Nobody’s Word for it”

The Royal Society, where “Nullius in verba” or “take nobody’s word for it” is an essential element of “expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment”. The Royal Society takes pride in its history, and to its founders, and its process of work. In Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis , there is the similar foundations as expressed in the Royal Society.

As Bacon is writing about the fellows employment opportunities and he begins to describe:

“We Have three…

“-that collect the experiments which are in all books.”

“-that collect the experiments of all mechanical arts.”

“-that try new experiments.”

“-that draw the experiments.”

“-that bend themselves.”

“-that take care of.”

“-that do execute the experiments so direct, and report them.”

“-that raise the former discoveries by experiments into greater observations, axioms, and aphorisms”

Francis Bacon illustrated the importance of experimenting, fellows needed to look at work over and over. Understanding that science is a process, we can’t just accept one experiment, because then that would mean essentially accepting everything. To ask questions, because those questions will guide upon growth in intelligence. The primary fact that Bacon’s The New Atlantis  was so ahead of his time, parades his thought process. This thought process also illustrates The Royal Society’s pride, in a growing society we are constantly questioning concepts, and ideas. It is a great symbol for growth, which is essential in our modern world.

But at the same time in the website you can’t help but notice the importance of the Royal Society’s grants and how much money is coming in on a yearly basis. And the sad thing is is that’s what is more important today rather than education. We can even look at our own school systems and see how much money is wasted and not properly spent on student programs. Funds have become more important, building the next business that makes a good amount of money has become more important.

-Viviana Ojeda

The Royal Society’s Conquest for Knowledge

Like all advancements in culture, there are political implications that shaped the Royal Society when Charles II reigned. The terms science and exploration tell us the implications it had on the scientific world. However, these terms also reflected that at the time, science and reasoning were put on a hierarchy, which in turn shaped the way people thought about the world around them. The important thing to note here is that, as a western civilization, they were not the first to put these terms on a pedestal.

The image of the Royal Society that includes Francis Bacon has references that could be expressed as intertextualities about the classical times of the Roman and Greek empires. Judging by Bacon’s “New Atlantis” there were many ideas of, not only a utopic vision, but also the importance of functionality. The narrator’s litany that is offered by the wise man he meets represents the ideal world for a learning environment. Indeed, the location is fictional, but like all utopic visions, it represents the ideal. It is significant to see how the characteristics of the location are emphasized by their function, even if they are just for ornament. When the narrator lists the “beasts” that will be there for both visual pleasure and dissection, it is stated matter-of-factly to further emphasize the idealistic characteristics that would make the civilization whole. This phase of praising science and reasoning seems to be like a fashion, as if trying to emulate the classical times. This begs the question whether the Royal Society is doing it to allude to the classical times or to actually seek out knowledge. Furthermore, the importance of seeking a location like New Atlantis serves to recognize conquest of knowledge on a spatial format. I say conquest because this almost seems to justify the colonization of other lands in order to search for this idealistic pinnacle of learning—and even teaching.


–Cesar Ramirez

Don’t Take Their Word for It

The Royal Society has obtained the motto, “Nullius in verba” or “Take Nobody’s Word for It”, it would appear the twenty first century Royal Society holds true to its name. Publishing and supporting various scientific studies in order to better the chances of discovering something in the future, the Royal Society is a meant to be seen as one of the most prestigious groups in the world. However, in building themselves up, they have managed to tear down the images of other practices.

Take Isaac Newton, the man behind gravity, calculus, and a common belief of disconnecting scientific research and evidence from the sweet speech of fiction and poetry. Newton describes this in The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy saying, “[w]e are certainly not to relinquish the evidence of experiments for the sake of dreams and vain fiction of our own devising”, and I would say I both agree and disagree with Newton.

I agree with the fact that those who work to make discoveries that push forward scientific thinking should not feel the need to decorate their words for the sake of creating a beautiful yet informative piece of work. A scientific theory should create an easy to understand explanation of its discovery. However, when I use “easy to understand”, the words do not go to the general public, but instead goes to the other scientists who are attempting to either add onto or disprove a theory made. As a student of literature, I am able to understand that a scientific report will not necessarily be meant for me.

Of course, I feel it is important to make note of Newton’s removal of experiments from fiction. I would argue that any experiment that works to prove a theory begins as its own work of fiction. For someone to bring in the idea of gravity, though we now agree with the theory, is something that must begin as an untrue statement, a work of fiction. Proving the theory of gravity can be seen as a dream come true or a story has suddenly switched genres. So in its own way, the more theories are proven true, the more Newton is actually managing to disconnect science and literature.

-Elizabeth Dominguez

Contradiction Within The Royal Society

Thomas Prat’s essay, The History of the Royal Society of London, for the Improving of Natural Knowledge, focuses on the abandonment of eloquence in speech and writing in order to thrust the ideas within scientific knowledge into a much clearer and obvious light. Such alienation of language served as a fundamental idea at the start of The Royal Society’s establishment during the 17th century.

Taking a look at The Royal Society in the 21st century, the community is still active in it’s “mission” to progress the understanding and acquisition of scientific knowledge on a more massive scale. Specifically, listed under their “Priorities List” we find:

  • Promoting science and its benefits
  • Recognising excellence in science
  • Supporting outstanding science
  • Providing scientific advice for policy
  • Fostering international and global cooperation
  • Education and public engagement

While the first four bullet points include “science,” we can safely assume its core idea of empiricism is still relative. What becomes contradictory though, for the site, is its priority to “foster international and global cooperation.” How can such cooperation exist if the precise alienation of eloquence is thrust upon its explanations of the physical world? Or rather, at what point does language become “flowery” or “purely didactic”? There exists not a standard for simple language to advance one’s point. While the priorities don’t explicitly address the issue of language, the absence of the importance of plain language is still a problem, considering it was one of the early points enforced by The Royal Society in the time of founding such a scholarly community.

Furthermore, plain or in this case, “scientific” speech is only understood by those who study the field, thus rendering their global engagement limited to scientist and scholars. The limitation of language is such a backwards-thinking idea, you might as well require everyone to only speak in Latin or Greek; seeing as how the classics so heavily influenced the foundations of The Royal Society.

Therefore, true cooperation cannot exist if the language in one’s writings or speech is too “flowery” or “simple” for one another within the society. Arguments and even annoyance would ensue, taking into account if it held meetings with speeches and ceremonies of the sort. It would be a hilarious chaos.

-Daniel Corral

“To extend not only the boundaries of the Empire…”

One of the more interesting subtleties of the “Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s ‘The History of the Royal Society’” is the positioning of Sir Francis Bacon’s left hand. Sir Francis Bacon, seen seated beside an Angel, and between Charles II and a medley of scientific and nautical instruments, is pointing to, interestingly, neither Angel, nor instrument, nor King. Sir Francis Bacon points to a firearm, mounted on the wall, hanging conspicuously beside many instruments of science.

This raises a question. Considering all of the points of focus in the engraving, what is the artist saying about Sir Francis Bacon, and considering that this is the “Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s ‘The History of the Royal Society,’” what then is being said about the Royal Society as a whole?

First, the grouping of the firearm with the instruments of science can only point to the idea that maybe, historically, the Royal Society had other ideas on their mind, ideas other than science and reason. It is unreasonable to assume that the narrator of “The New Atlantis” was searching for a utopia, and it is unreasonable to assume that the narrator was exploring for exploration’s sake. As per usual, the sailors of “The New Atlantis” were almost certainly looking for trade and conquest.

Ah, but those were only a handful of sailors in a work of fiction! Surely the Royal Society itself was focused in science, and not in conquest.

Well, the original, 1662 Royal Society charter begins with a formal greeting from King Charles the Second. Immediately following that, the author, King Charles the Second, says “We have long and fully resolved with Ourself to extend not only the boundaries of the Empire, but also the very arts and sciences.” King Charles, with conquest on the brain, wants to prove to the world that England is best in both conquest and science. He continues, “that such studies… may shine conspicuously amongst our people, and that at length the whole world of letters may always recognize us not only as the Defender of the Faith, but also as the universal lover and patron of every kind of truth.”

The intent appears, given the above, that the Royal Society was to function to bring English knowledge to the “world of letters,” or all peoples with a written language. The key here is not that King Charles wants to bring knowledge to all people, but he wants to bring English knowledge, he wants everyone to know that England is better, and presumably, if he has to send his sailors to knock on your door and tell you, he will probably do that.

-Ross Koppel

Knowledge Appreciated for Monetary Value Rather than Intellectual Cultivation

During the quest for enlightenment, religiosity and spiritual values were in decline, while rationality and scientific reasoning were prized as redeeming qualities for well-known intellectuals, such as Francis Bacon, Thomas Sprat, and Sir Isaac Newton.  The inception of the Royal Society was to be a breeding ground of intellectual stimulation for scientists, architects, sociologists, psychologists, astronomers, philosophers, etc.  What I noticed about the current Royal Society’s motto, which states, “Take nobody’s word for it,” is the fact that it mirrors the initial goal of the Royal Society, as well as Bacon’s utopian novel, The New Atlantis, and even University of California campuses.

Science is largely conducted by experimentation, and no matter the amount of knowledge we have gained, there will be a continual cycle of new knowledge to refute what was just learned.  Last semester in Core lecture, my class and I had to unlearn the reasons that revealed why Pluto is not a planet, and follow the criteria to debunk the original reasoning scientists classified Pluto’s planetary status.  Bacon’s The New Atlantis even covers how the islanders’ desire to grow in knowledge of the world.  They select their best suited explorers to travel and cultivate all they have learned and report it back in twelve years.  After those twelve years another succession of explorers will take place to learn more.  As Bacon writes the purpose of Solomon’s House, was to “enlarge the bounds of the human empire.”  As a University of California student I appreciate the research conducted in each individual campus because, like the Royal Society, all of the campuses contribute to this “21st-century learned society.”  Although I would argue there are drawbacks to the UC system, like the fact that  it functions more as a business enterprise in some ways, especially with the recent tuition increase, it does perform what Sir Francis Bacon desired in his mythic-utopian society.  Students can participate in abroad programs to learn new languages or teaching techniques in order to expand their knowledge of a subject. I suspect that since the United States and other countries focus on capitalist means for trade, rather than “trade for light of growth of all the world” this results in the view of knowledge as a commodity rather than a value for intellectual cultivation and stimulation.  Even the Royal Society and other scientific institutions focus more on the industrious and economical means, rather than showcasing skillful language or fiction and poetry to give a different outlook on intellectualism and scientific thought.  Does this mean our society is growing lethargic due to innovations in technology, or that we are more fact-based rather than expressing the facts in clearer or artistic perspectives?  This certainly was not what Bacon had in mind, nor what the Royal Society intended, but it does spark a discussion on whether we value an efficient understanding of things, instead of a complex, artistic approach toward what we are learning. -Jessica Mijares