Praise/retweets: Scott Alexander (Astral Codex Ten), Steven Pinker
Top articles in no particular order (although the first is my personal favorite): Ideas are Alive and You are Dead, Morning of the Mutants (3rd place in 2022 ACX book review contest), Fuck Your Miracle Year, 20 Modern Heresies, The Myth of the Myth of the Lone Genius, The Shaman’s Tale: Science, Magic, and Super Placebo, Friendship Forever, The Cult Deficit: Analysis and Speculation (v2.0), Predictions for 2050: Black Swan Edition, On Stories and Histories: Q & A
I am also the co-founder of Seeds of Science, new scientific journal publishing speculative or non-traditional articles with community-based peer review. If you believe we need to disrupt scientific publishing landscape and create new platforms that encourage creativity and diversity of thought, consider joining us as an author or “gardener” (our community of peer reviewers, 100% free and all are welcome).
Why Roger’s Bacon?
Well, one reason is that I’ve eaten a lot of it in my life—my dad’s name is Roger (also my middle name) and he often cooks bacon in the morning.
In a weird historical coincidence, two of the thinkers most credited with developing empiricism and the scientific method had the surname Bacon. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) , sometimes referred to as the father of empiricism, lived more recently and is more well-known than Roger Bacon (1219-1292). I find the lives and works of both Bacons to be fascinating for a number of reasons, but Roger Bacon in particular will serve as kind of a totem for what I hope to do with my writing. For some reason, I feel a strange kind of kinship with Roger. I have this feeling that his life is what mine might have been like had I been born in 13th century England and that my life is like what his might have been like had he been born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1990.
Why Secretorum (“of Secrets”)?
This name is inspired by an ancient pseudo-aristotelian treatise that had a huge influence on Roger Bacon and was one of the major inspirations for his focus on empiricism and experiment.
“The Secretum or Secreta Secretorum (Latin for "The Secret of Secrets"), also known as the Sirr al-Asrar (Arabic: كتاب سر الأسرار, lit. 'The Secret Book of Secrets'), is a pseudo-Aristotelian treatise which purports to be a letter from Aristotle to his student Alexander the Great on an encyclopedic range of topics, including statecraft, ethics, physiognomy, astrology, alchemy, magic, and medicine. The earliest extant editions claim to be based on a 9th-century Arabic translation of a Syriac translation of the lost Greek original. Modern scholarship finds it likely to have been a 10th-century work composed in Arabic. Translated into Latin in the mid-12th century, it was influential among European intellectuals during the High Middle Ages” (Wikipedia)”
“Bacon produced an edition of Philip of Tripoli's Latin translation, complete with his own introduction and notes; and his writings of the 1260s and 1270s cite it far more than his contemporaries did. This led Easton and others, including Robert Steele, to argue that the text spurred Bacon's own transformation into an experimentalist.”
It’s straight out of Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider—an ancient and mysterious treatise, purportedly written as letters from Aristotle to Alexander the Great, on everything from statecraft and ethics to astrology and alchemy that was passed down through the ages from the greeks to the arabic world and back up to Roger Bacon in England. It’s dubious whether Aristotle really wrote the text, but our current understanding of its origin is no less mysterious:
“The origin of the treatise remains uncertain. The Arabic edition claims to be a translation from Greek by 9th-century scholar Abu Yahya ibn al-Batriq (died 815 CE), and one of the main translators of Greek-language philosophical works for Al-Ma'mun, working from a Syriac edition which was itself translated from a Greek original. It contains supposed letters from Aristotle to his pupil Alexander the Great. No such texts have been discovered and it appears the work was actually composed in Arabic. The letters may thus derive from the Islamic and Persian legends surrounding Alexander. The Arabic treatise is preserved in two copies: a longer 10-book version and a shorter version of 7 or 8 books; the latter is preserved in about 50 copies.”
Aside from the Secreta Secretorum, I draw inspiration from the following passage (featured in my article “The Cult Deficit: Analysis and Speculation”).
“Peter Thiel’s argument is broader: Not only religious vitality but the entirety of human innovation, he argues, depends on the belief that there are major secrets left to be uncovered, insights that existing institutions have failed to unlock (or perhaps forgotten), better ways of living that a small group might successfully embrace.
This means that every transformative business enterprise, every radical political movement, every truly innovative project contains some cultish elements and impulses — and the decline of those impulses may be a sign that the innovative spirit itself is on the wane. When “people were more open to the idea that not all knowledge was widely known,” Thiel writes, there was more interest in groups that claimed access to some secret knowledge, or offered some revolutionary vision. But today, many fewer Americans “take unorthodox ideas seriously,” and while this has clear upsides — “fewer crazy cults” — it may also be a sign that “we have given up our sense of wonder at secrets left to be discovered.”