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Francis Bacon and Continental Drift

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Abstract

Although Bacon mentioned the shape of the continents in his Novum Organum (1620), there was no reference to the so-called jig-saw fit of the west coast of Africa with the east coast of South America. Instead the similarities of both east coasts and both west coasts were noted. The beginnings of the concept of continental drift can therefore not be attributed to Bacon.

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... In his book Novum Organum, published in 1620, Bacon wrote about the Old and New Worlds as examples of 'conformable instances' (Carozzi, 1970;Romm, 1994). This assumption, however, is evidently false, as pointed out by Davies (1965) and Carozzi (1970). The shape of the two continents is mentioned, but only briefly in Aphorism XXVII of Novum Organum, Lib. ...
... Bacon says that the Old and New Worlds both taper southwards, and that Africa and South America display a further general similarity in their outlines. It seems he did not compare the opposite coasts of the two continents, but rather noted how their west coasts were similar in outline (Davies, 1965;Carozzi, 1970). Bacon offers no discussion of the subject, but it appears that he was merely suggesting that a feature such as the 'horn' of East Africa may be likened to the 'shoulder' of Brazil, or the Gulf of Guinea to the Peru-Chile bight (Davies, 1965). ...
... It seems he did not compare the opposite coasts of the two continents, but rather noted how their west coasts were similar in outline (Davies, 1965;Carozzi, 1970). Bacon offers no discussion of the subject, but it appears that he was merely suggesting that a feature such as the 'horn' of East Africa may be likened to the 'shoulder' of Brazil, or the Gulf of Guinea to the Peru-Chile bight (Davies, 1965). ...
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Palaeogeography is the cartographic representation of the past distribution of geographic features such as deep oceans, shallow seas, lowlands, rivers, lakes and mountain belts on palinspastically restored plate tectonic base maps. It is closely connected with plate tectonics which grew from an earlier theory of continental drift and is largely responsible for creating and structuring the Earth's lithosphere. Today, palaeogeography is an integral part of the Earth sciences curriculum. Commonly, with some exceptions, only the most recent state of research is presented; the historical aspects of how we actually came to the insights which we take for granted are rarely discussed, if at all. It is remarkable how much was already known about the changing face of the Earth more than three centuries before the theory of plate tectonics, despite the fact that most of our present analytical tools or our models were unavailable then. Here, we aim to present a general conspectus from the dawn of ‘palaeogeography’ in the 16th century onwards. Special emphasis is given to innovative ideas and scientific milestones, supplemented by memorable anecdotes, which helped to advance the theories of continental drift and plate tectonics, and finally led to the establishment of palaeogeography as a recognized discipline of the Earth sciences.
... Despite the fact that continental drift is traditionally linked to the name of Alfred Wegener, there have been other outstanding personalities before his time, who have, in some way, treated various aspects of the theory that he proposed in 1912. The first of which we have knowledge was Francis Bacon, who, in 1620 (see Bacon 1818), for the first time noticed the amazing conformity of the coastlines of Africa and South America, highlighted by the appearance of the first sufficiently accurate geographical maps (Hurley 1974;Bosellini 1978;Miller 1985; but see Davies 1965 for a different interpretation). Later, in the early nineteenth century, the famous naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt ( Figure 2) returns again to emphasise the correspondence between the continents bordering of the Atlantic, assuming their connection in the past. ...
Article
One hundred years ago in 1915 ‘Die Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane’ by Alfred Wegener was published, destined to become one of the most controversial geological opus in the first half of the twentieth century. Wegener is the first to combine the most diverse geological (sensu lato) evidences in a single great synthesis. Nonetheless, apart from few upholders, the initial reaction to the drift hypothesis was fierce opposition, and the strongest criticism came from geophysics, the same discipline that, paradoxically, starting from the 1950s led to the Plate Tectonics revolution and, ultimately, to a complete re-evaluation of Wegener’s hypothesis. In the present paper we discuss the initial reaction of Italian scientists to the original continental drift theory, with particular focus on the period between the two world wars. Italian geologists like Fossa-Mancini and Gortani were almost favourable to the new theory, while authors such as Vardabasso and Sacco were neutral or even hostile to the new hypothesis, so iconoclastic for the widely accepted fixist vision of the time. In any case, all these scientists agreed that the new theory had great potential for reopening an enthusiastic debate on issues that were given as established paradigms – the genuine way for progress in science.
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