By Thomas Page

Can science answer everything? Why does your phone keep deleting your notes? Ask science. Why do monarch butterflies migrate every year through California? Ask science. How do I cook ramen in less time? Ask science.

(Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban, unknown. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Francis Bacon says in his essay “The Four Idols” that science is the true path to knowledge. While science may be a guide to simple questions like these, science cannot answer the questions about the human experience such as love and hate. These experiences, despite our best attempts, haven’t been formulated to work on smart phones.

Bacon also says that other forms of knowledge are “idols” akin to the baby-throwing-into-a-fire worship of Moloch.

Offering To Molech by Charles Foster from Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Who knew reimaging someone’s political career into a musical could be so sinister?

Bacon even goes so far as to declare that the “theater” (his term for creative thinking) is:

“based on too narrow a foundation of experiment and natural history, and decides on the authority of too few cases” (Bacon 11)

And is:

“made bold to educe and construct systems, wrestling all other facts in a strange fashion to conformity therewith” (Bacon 12).

Bacon’s flowery language is saying in art and philosophy skim over important detail to make strange depictions of reality. While Bacon may be accurately describing the work of someone like James Abbott McNeill Whistler, this is a problem about the form rather than the content. Just because Whistler’s depiction of fireworks on a dark night in his Nocturn in Black and Gold—The Falling Rocket are strange in its shapes and colors, it does not take away from its addition to our understanding of the event.


Nocturn in Black and Gold—The Falling Rocket by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It shows the emotion of the event which a scientific account cannot. How Whistler saw the chemicals and smoke reacting to each other in the night sky is someone only Whistler can paint. Anyone can explain the science behind fireworks, but no one can paint the experience of fireworks like Whistler.

Every voice can add something into the great database of human knowledge. Want to know about Greek hospitality? Ask Homer. Want to know about the War of Roses? Ask Shakespeare. Want to know the effects of mental illness under strange situations? Ask Jackson.

“Photograph taken of the bust of Homer in the British Museum, London. Marble terminal bust of Homer. Roman copy of a lost Hellenistic original of the 2nd c. BC. From Baiae, Italy. The so-called Hellenistic blind-type can be paralleled with figures of the Pergamon Altar, and the original of the type was perhaps created for the great library at Pergamon.” Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I could have picked many people for this post but what is key is that each one is a credible example. One of the inherit problems associated with describing people through science is that numbers remove humanity. While I could explain at length how the science meter works in poetry, it is better to show you the works of master poets like Emily Dickinson.

Philip Sidney’s words about the issue neatly tie the bow between creative and scientific thought:

“truly, neither philosopher nor historiographer could, at the first, have entered into the gates of popular judgments, if they had not taken a great disport of poetry”

Truly, neither someone like Bacon nor someone like myself could, at first, comment on the nature of truth, if we had not taken a great interest in art.


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