September 2, 2012
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What is the best book of all time? That seems like a stupid question. It’s vague, subjective and quite meaningless. However, before I get replies like “Harry Potter”, “Twilight” or “Fifty shades of grey”, let me provide some context for this question. As this is a scientific blog, first and foremost, the answer should be a scientific book… and no, I am not talking about “On the origin of species”. I am looking for something grander, something without which Darwin’s publication was not even possible. The answer to this question, I think resoundingly, is Novum Organum by Francis Bacon, the 17th century philosopher scientist. Why is that? Well, I don’t know… may be because it formulated scientific method in its most basic form. For centuries, thinkers, authors and philosophers were expanding upon the ideas put forth by Aristotle and Plato. However, Francis Bacon made the case that, for the most part, these were mostly just ideas (what we now call hypotheses). He advocated a new setting in which philosophers could rise above these ideas and formulate new ones. However, he also clearly indicated that the validity of these ideas need to be tested through a rigorous “method” involving data collection, its interpretation, and even designing new experiments.
Now why do I think Novum Organum is the best scientific book of all time? Because it made a case for scientific method, before it was cool. And most important of all, he didn’t only talk the talk… he actually walked the walk. He contracted pneumonia while studying the effects of freezing on preservation. While I don’t condone working oneself to literal death, we should realize that the scientific process owes an undeniable debt of gratitude to giants who devoted their lives to science. Novum Organum is available on Amazon for $1 (the Kindle edition that is), I don’t have to tell you that it is worth every penny. I don’t believe in the “Great man theory“. I am not saying that had he not published this body of work, we would still follow an Aristotelian method. If Edmund Hillary hadn’t climbed Everest, someone else would have. But this fact does not make his trial more trivial and his adventure less dangerous. The same holds for Francis Bacon and his seminal work “Novum Organum”.