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1644 __ The Invisible College
Robert Boyle (1627-1691)
Comment : An Invisible College is a group of peers, typically from different disciplines and with different viewpoints, who band together round a shared interest. The term was probably first used by Robert Boyle c. 1644. When his father died, Boyle inherited a bundle of land in Ireland and an estate in Dorset, and he was consequently sufficiently well-off to give up his to study and scientific research. He soon took a prominent place in the band of inquirers, known as the "Invisible College," who devoted themselves to the cultivation of the "new philosophy." They met frequently in London, often at Gresham College; some of the members also had meetings at Oxford, and in that city Boyle went to reside in 1654. In 1663 the "Invisible College" became the 'Royal Society of London for improving natural knowledge’. In the 1960's, Derek de Solla Price reintroduced the term in his work on scholarly communication. "It used to be that scientists learned about what their colleagues did by reading journals. Actually they used to read books, then things moved so fast they read only papers, then even faster so they read only letters to the editor in their rapid publication journals. Now they are moving so fast that they do not read but telephone each other, and meet at society meetings and conferences, preferably in beautiful hotels in elegant towns around the world. They get by in what are now called "invisible colleges" of little groups of peers. They are small societies of everybody who is anybody in each little particular speciality. These groups are very efficient for their purpose and, somewhere along the line, people eventually write [their findings and thoughts] up." (Derek de Solla Price, Little Science, Big Science, New York: Columbia University Press, 1963). Then, a few years later, along came the sociologist Diana Crane. She analyzed the ways in which social structures influence the development of ideas. According to Crane, participation in an Invisible College bolsters morale, inspires a sense of purpose, provides criticism, maintains solidarity, and focuses interest on particular issues. Perhaps most importantly, members of an invisible college see themselves as part of a complex network, not members of a special interest group. (Diana Crane, Invisible Colleges, 1972.)It seems there are some clear parallels here between Invisible Colleges and Echo Chambers. Echo chambers are the direct descendants of the Invisible College concept, an oldie but goldie that served to form the British Royal Society. What makes them different comes from their visibility and open access rather than their exclusivity. Echo Chambers have a valuable pedigree in the Invisible College. Just as with the Invisible College, by allowing like-minded individuals to argue over, agree over, and develop new ideas, Echo Chambers facilitate new thinking and specialism. But Echo Chambers do more: they are visible, open access versions of Invisible Colleges, and as such allow generalism. Their visibility allows those same like-minded individuals to look out and see where their thinking lives on the landscape. Their open access allows others to look in and appraise and critique.
French comment : The Invisible College (le Collège Invisible) est une expression employée par le chimiste anglais Robert Boyle dans des lettres de 1646 et 1647 pour désigner une société de savants à laquelle il appartenait. Il a été supposé que cette société était à l'origine de la Royal Society, fondée en 1660. En octobre 1646 (il a alors 19 ans), dans une lettre à son ancien tuteur, Isaac Marcombes, Boyle explique qu'il apprend la philosophie naturelle selon les principes de « our new philosophical college » (« notre nouveau collège philosophique »). Il demande à son tuteur de lui envoyer des livres qui le ferait bien accueillir dans ce collège invisible (« which will make you extremely welcome to our Invisible College »). En février 1647, dans une lettre à un autre ami , il dit « the best on't it that the cornerstones of the Invisible or (asthey term themselves) the Philosophical College, do now and then honour me with their company, [...] men of so capacious and searching spirits, that school-philosophy is but the lowest region of their knowledge ; and yet, though ambitious to lead the way to any generous design, of so humble and teachable a genius, as they disdain not to be directed to the meanest, so he can put plead reason for his opinion ; persons that endeavour to put narrow-mindedness out of contenance, by the practice of so extensive a charity that it reaches unto everything called man, and nothing less than an universal good-will can content it.And indeed they are so apprehensive of the want of good employment, that they take the whole body of mankind to their care ». En 1660, quelques mois après la Restauration de Charles II, un groupe de douze hommes, dont Robert Boyle et Christopher Wren, se réunirent à Londres pour créer une société destinée à étudier les mécanismes de la nature. A une époque où la superstition et la magie gouvernaient la raison. où le dogme répressif de la foi chrétienne réduisait au silence nombre d'individus et où les loyautés d'après-guerre ruinaient les carrières, ces hommes interdirent les discussions religieuses et politiques au cours de leurs réunions. La Royal Society - la Société royale de Londres - était née et, avec elle, la science expérimentale moderne. Cette situation paraît assez improbable, mais le fait que les membres fondateurs de la Royal Society fussent issus des deux camps d'une guerre civile brutale rend son origine d'autant plus étonnante. Le Collège invisible est l'étude fascinante du turbulent contexte politique, économique et religieux dans lequel est née la Royal Society - l'époque de la guerre contre les Néerlandais, de la Grande peste et du Grand incendie de Londres. Plus particulièrement, cet ouvrage unique révèle les desseins cachés d'un homme, Sir Robert Moray, le moteur de cette société érudite, bien qu'il ne fût pas lui-même scientifique, mais le premier franc-maçon spéculatif historique. En se fondant sur son expérience approfondie d'une autre organisation qu'il connaissait bien et sur les principes sur lesquelles cette dernière était fondée, Moray fut en mesure de structurer et de trouver des financements pour la Royal Society. Précisément, cette autre organisation - l'" invisible Collège ", comme l'appelait Boyle - est aujourd'hui connue sous le nom de Franc-maçonnerie. Le Collège Invisible va vous permettre de découvrir ou redécouvrir nombre des événements clés de cette période troublée et il vous montrera comment la Franc-maçonnerie, soutenue par le roi Charles II d'Angleterre, fut la force motrice derrière la naissance de la science moderne, sous le couvert de la Royal Society. (Robert Lomas)
Source : de Solla Price, Derek (1963), “Little Science, Big Science”, New York: Columbia University Press.

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