Bacon’s New Atlantis and the Fictional Origins of Organised Science

Lucas, Peter orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5391-3087 (2018) Bacon’s New Atlantis and the Fictional Origins of Organised Science. Open Cultural Studies, 2 (1).

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It is a commonplace that science fiction draws inspiration from science fact. It is a less familiar thought—though still widely acknowledged—that science has sometimes drawn its inspiration from science fiction. (Arthur C. Clarke’s idea of geostationary communications satellites is a well-known example.) However, the debt of science to science fiction extends beyond such specific examples of scientific and technological innovations. This essay explores the paradoxical-sounding thesis that science itself, as we now know it, was originally the product of a science fiction vision. At a time when the collective endeavours of early modern researchers amounted to something less than science, Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627) helped show what wonders might be achieved by organised and methodical state-sponsored scientific research. Bacon’s vision was highly prescient: many of the scientific possibilities he sketched have since become realities. It was also highly influential: early modern science bears the characteristic stamp of Bacon’s vision, and that same influence is discernible right down to the present day.

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