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Alistair Cameron Crombie

Australian zoologist, historian of science

Alistair Cameron Crombie (4 November 1915 – 9 February 1996) was an Australian historian of science who began his career as a zoologist. He was noted for his contributions to research on competition between species before turning to history.


  • To understand events as experienced by actual men and institutions we must be concerned with the history of errors and false starts as well as successes-although we make this distinction on the basis of what we now know of the tradition of success. As we go back in time the uncertainty of the outlook and of the objectives of scientific inquiries increases. The essence of the scientific movement is research. The answers to the essential question, what to do in scientific research-what questions to put to nature, by what methods to get answers, what to count as satisfactory answers-became clear only by the accumulation of successes and the marking of failures.
    • A. C. Crombie, 1963. as cited in: Robert Maxwell Young. Mind, Brain, and Adaptation in the Nineteenth Century, 1970. p. 101.

Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science 1100-1700 (1953)Edit

A. C. Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science 1100-1700 (1953)
  • Grosseteste's contribution was to emphasize the importance of falsification in the search for true causes and to develop the method of verification and falsification into a systematic method of experimental procedure.
  • The strategic act by which Grosseteste and his thirteenth- and fourteenth-century successors created modern experimental science was to unite the experimental habit of the practical arts with the rationalism of twelfth-century philosophy.
  • Grosseteste appears to have been the first medieval writer to recognize and deal with the two fundamental methodological problems of induction and experimental verification and falsification which arose when the Greek conception of geometrical demonstration was applied to the world of experience. He appears to have been the first to set out a systematic and coherent theory of experimental investigation and rational explanation by which the Greek geometrical method was turned into modern experimental science. As far as is known, he and his successors were the first to use and exemplify such a theory in the details of original research into concrete problems.
  • In its application to natural science Grosseteste based his method of verification and falsification on two assumptions about the nature of reality. (a) The first was the principle of the uniformity of nature, meaning that forms are always uniform in their operations. ...In support of this principle he quoted 'Aristotles II de Generat.: ...'the same cause, provided it remains in the same condition, cannot produce anything but the same effect.' (b) The second assumption Grosseteste made was that of the principle of economy, or lex parsimoniae. This he also derived from Aristotle, who stated it as a pragmatic principle.
  • By this lux as the first corporeal form Grosseteste did not, of course, mean simply visible light. As an emanation or propagation of substance and power lux was the basis of all bodily magnitude and of all natural operations, of which the manifestation of visible light was only one. One of the most important functions of lux was to be the intermediary between spirit and matter. It was the instrument by which God produced the macrocosm of the universe, and the instrument by which the soul made contact with the physical body and the things of sense in the microcosm of man.

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