Text from Brian Clegg, author of the book:

The First Scientist - A Life of Roger Bacon

Bacon was an English scholar who studied at Oxford and Paris. When he became interested in the sciences, Bacon claims to have spent 2,000 pounds on books and equipment - a huge sum when a substantial house cost two or three pounds.

He became a Franciscan friar and was about to start work on a universal encyclopedia of knowledge when his Order was banned from writing books. He appealed to a friendly cardinal for support. This cardinal became Pope Clement IV.

As pope, Clement authorized Bacon to begin writing and he produced three summaries of what he hoped to cover, the longest of which, the Opus Majus, runs to 500,000 words and is a stunning summary of medieval knowledge in fields from geography to optics. Unfortunately Clement died before he received the summaries, and Bacon was propbably imprisoned for holding heretical views until a year or two before his death.

Many of Bacon's ideas were ahead of his time. Christopher Columbus unwittingly quoted Bacon on geography when persuading the King and Queen of Castille to support his voyages. Bacon dismissed the stylised maps of his contemporaries for a true projection, the first in over a thousand years. He saw the need to change the calendar and made recommendations that matched those adopted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, something that would not reach the USA and Britain until 1752.

Bacon's imagination enabled him to see far ahead of his time making accurate descriptions of telescopes and microscopes. He sent his imagination soaring on flights of fantasy that were to come true, from horseless carriages to flying machines, and was one of the first in the West to describe gunpowder. He tried to construct a rainbow using glass beads in order to study it. This marked one of the earliest attempts to reproduce a natural phenomenon in the lab for closer scrutiny.

Most significantly, Bacon emphasized the essential contribution that math made to science (even 400 years later this was not widely accepted), and made the fundamental shift from natural philosophy's reason-based theorising to science's experimental foundation.

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