Significant Quotations: #5 Frozen chickens, Bacon and Certainties!

Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St. Alban (1561 –1626), was an English philosopher and statesman, who has been described as one of the greatest thinkers ever, whose ideas have changed the way people think. He first became known to me during my doctoral research in the late 1960s, I was studying chemistry and found a reference to him as a scientist rather than as a philosopher. Being more than curious at that stage of my life I began to read a little about him and discovered that he had begun a way of thinking about science based on experiments, quite revolutionary at the time when so much was based on bible interpretation. Once an experiment had been conducted it was essential to sit down and discuss results with colleagues and then to conduct further experiments to test any hypothesis. We now call this inductive methodology or empiricism, though at the time it was associated with magic and alchemy.

One of Bacon’s experiments concerned searching for ways to preserve chicken meat from decay before consuming, and he hit on the idea of storing it at low temperatures! Naturally he didn’t have a freezer or refrigerator (!) so he buried a chicken in snow outside his house and left it for several days. On digging it up, lo and behold one fresh chicken emerged! Before the punch line of this true story, here’s the famous quote from him:

If a man begins with certainties he shall end in doubts, but if he be content to begin with doubts he shall end with certainties.”

That’s a cracker of a quote for a young PhD student conducting research with his whole career depending on it. However this saying has followed me all of my life especially after I became a consultant psychologist with so many human and organisational problems to understand and diagnose, as well as when working in the education aid field in Nepal to improve the primary education system. 

 But what about the punch line to the frozen chicken experiment conducted by Bacon? Well, sadly because of his constant stepping outdoors in freezing conditions he caught a chill and died of pneumonia! You’ve got to laugh! Sorry Sir Francis but I think of you every time I see frozen chicken!

Categories: Philosophy

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4 replies

  1. Great story about Sir Francis. His conclusion about doubts and certainties is one we need to remember all the time. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

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