Origins of the Exploratory
Francis Bacon's New Atlantis
The concept of the Exploratory, as we see it, can be traced back to the Seventeenth Century: to Francis Baconís fragment of a book which appeared in 1627, the year after his death Ė The New Atlantis.
Baconís New Atlantis is in imaginary country, based on America. In this country is the fabulous House of Salomon. Established, as he imagines, before Greek philosophy Ė which he rejected as ineffective logic-chopping Ė the House of Salomon contained the engines and instruments of technology and exploratory science with all manner of experiments, which the people of New Atlantis could try out for themselves. It was a place to stimulate and amuse; a place to find out about the natural and man-made world, the Universe as seen by the eyes and understood by science, and to discover oneself.
Here is a taste of Baconís House of Salomon in his words:
We have also perspective-houses, where we make demonstrations of all lights and radiations; and of all colours; and out of things uncoloured and transparent, we can represent unto you all several colours; not in rain-bows, as it is in gems and prisms, but of themselves single. We represent all multiplications of light, which we carry to great distance, and make so sharp as to discern small points and lines; also all colourations of light: all delusions and deceits of the sight, in figures, magnitudes, motions, colours: all demonstrations of shadows. We find also divers means, yet unknown to you, of producing of light originally from diverse bodies. We procure means for seeing objects afar off; as in the heaven and remoter places; and represent things near as afar off, and things afar off as near; making feigned distances. We have also helps for sight, far above spectacles and glasses in use ... We make artificial rainbows, halos, and circles about light. We represent ail manner of reflexions, refractions, and multiplications of visual beams of objects ...'
We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds and their generation. We have harmonies which you have not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds ... We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices of and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which set to the ear do further the hearing greatly ... We have also means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.'
We have also perfume-houses; wherewith we join also practices of taste. We multiply smells, which may seem strange. We imitate smells, making all smells to breathe out of other mixtures than those that give them. We make divers imitations of taste likewise, so that they will deceive any manís taste ....'
We have also engine houses ... Also fire works for pleasure and use. We imitate also flights of birds; we have some degrees of flying in the air; we have ships and boats for going under water, and brooking of seas; also swimming-girdles and supporters. We have divers curious clocks, and other like motions of return, and some perpetual motions. We imitate also motions of living creatures, by images of men, beasts, birds, fishes, and serpents ...
We have also a mathematical house, where are represented all instruments, as well of geometry and astronomy, exquisitely made.
There is, indeed, a House of Salomon, in New Atlantis Ė the Exploratorium in San Francisco which was founded by Dr. Frank Oppenheimer. It is Baconís dream come true: an enchanted palace where anyone can by their own initiative, discover how things work; and a great deal about how he, himself or herself, understands and sees.
The Exploratorium has inspired several interactive Science Centres in the United States and Canada: the Exploratory was the first hands-on Science Centre, together with the London Science Museum's Launch Pad gallery, in Britain.
Adapted from: The Exploratory Interactive Science Centre, Plan for Action 1, February 1983.
© 2000 The Exploratory