Paracelsus: Prince of Physicians, King of Chemists
_Original Rockstar of Science
Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, self-styled as Paracelsus, was a Swiss-German polymath and occultist active in the early 1500s. Notable among his many contributions (including the designation “father of toxicology”) was his emphasis on observation when knowledge from the past held in highest regard. This belief, admittedly revolutionary at the time, was further reflected in his personal motto: alterius non sit qui suus esse potest (“let no man belong to another who can belong to himself”). He refused to follow centuries-old schools of thought, relying on his own wits to understand the world around him. Paracelsus’s defiant independence naturally clashed with authorities, only serving to stoke his ego (see quote below). His challenges to traditional medicine, advocacy for observation as the path to knowledge, and use of common language for scholarly communication (learned individuals only lectured in Latin) all reflect changes society still struggles with today.
What can we learn about science from a 16th Century mystic?
Science, compared to other fields like math or art or finance, is formally a recent development. The first text to resemble a modern journal article - Galileo’s Starry Messenger - like Paracelsus and his philosophy, is prophetic of open science and data. Paracelsus believed knowledge and the information behind it should be wide-spread (e.g. even physicians of his time were comparably educated with barbers and butchers (Stowe 1986)) as well as rigorously examined and questioned.
He also thought he was incredibly smart: