The Formation of the Scientific Mind (1938)


Epistemological rupture/break can be seen as a breakup

Key concepts: epistemological obtacle, epistemolical rupture/break, phenomenotechnic, discursive rectification


-Introduction to the guy/from conference-


Gaston Bachelard grew up in a little village of Champagne-Ardenne within a modest family. Born in 1884, he is a product of Jules Ferry’s laws, which allowed him to enter the Republican school (free and mandatory school, 1881-1882 in France). First a postman, he trained simultaneously in astronomy, physics, and chemistry. After the 1914-1918 world war, he presented himself at the ministry of education and became a professor of physics and chemistry  in his native village. Very hard worker, he trained throughout his life by learning the science of his time and philosophy.

In, The Formation of the Scientific Spirit (1938), this philosopher of sciences develops the notion of epistemological obstacle. As in one of his other works, The Philosophy of No (1940,) he seeks to overcome the opposition rationalism-empiricism, with rationalism applied to the rupture/break. 

Vincent Bontems, a researcher at the Material Sciences Research Laboratory (France), analyzes here an original position between two strong epistemological postures. The one of Khun and the one of Auguste Comte. For Auguste Comte, scientific improvement  passes by the step of three states  law. This model is, therefore, rather continuous. 

  1. .The theological or fictitious state: the causes of a phenomenon are perceived as divine.
  2. .The metaphysical or abstract state:  For August Comte, it corresponds to philosophers of the enlightenment. Reason from abstract metaphysics through attribution of cause.
  3. .The positive state: The phenomenon is observed, mathematical laws are founds. We can describe and predict evolution.

For Thomas Kuhn, science is made of ruptures, revolutions, paradigm shifts. For example, the law of gravitation gave dead ends to explain electromagnetism. For Gaston Bachelard, there is all the same continuity through the ruptures. The notion of epistemological rupture is a word that does not exist in Bachelard but is implicit. He evokes the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry (1940). Euclid defined five axioms, basic principles serving as the basis for a demonstration which are obvious.These axioms are valid for a flat surface, realized on a spherical geometric surface, they don’t work. This means that another geometry with other foundations is possible (the sum of the angles of a triangle can exceed 180 degrees !).

In The Formation of the Scientific Spirit (1938), Bachelard rather talk of rectification or correction. Euclid is better understood with this re-foundation, rectification. It also appears that it was more obvious to trace the shapes in the sand at that time.

Bachelard evokes mainly through its books, cognitive obstacles and the emotional side of intellectual reason. The mind is not young facing reality. That is why great genius are the ones that question what they have learnt. Einstein’s theory of relativity breaks with Newton’s theories of attraction. But this is not that easy. There is affection towards the first knowledges and representations. People are also losing their symbolic capital if science is reformed. Bachelard has done it three times in his life 

Book Intro/Science is *abstraction*:

“Why we do not accept to state abstraction as the normal and fruitful process of the scientific mind.” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.5, )

For Bachelard, there is no definitive theory. They are abstractions based on experiences that replace and contradict each other. The abstraction concept highlights a shift from the spontaneous perception of phenomena. From a set of concrete facts, the scientific abstracts a physical law. A scientific theory is said to be abstract and the experimentation that justifies concrete.

To build scientific knowledge is to realize an abstraction from reality. In a similar way to the law of the three states, Bachelard observed three states concerning sciences through which an individual mind will pass.

  • .The concrete state: of reason: curiosity of nature. 
    .The concrete-abstract state: the mind will add diagrams on the experience without setting aside the empirical data that goes to geometric designs
    .The abstract state: the mind realizes abstractions from reality.

Even if it is referred as individual disposition and apart from all historical correspondence, it seems that these three states,  join the restricted periods of the ages of scientific thought:

  • .The pre-scientific period from antiquity to the end of the 18th century
    .The scientific period from the 18th to the beginning of the 20th.
    .The new scientific spirit: Einstein’s concept of relativity distorts primordial concepts. The mind undertakes information voluntarily withdrawn from the intuition of real space, voluntarily detached from immediate experience and even in open controversy with primary reality.

I- The *epistemological obstacle* concept

“It is in terms of obstacle that we must think of the problem of scientific knowledge” (Bachelard, 1989, page 14)

For this philosopher, we know against previous knowledge and the mind is not young  facing reality. He thinks with the references of the past. Thus, research habits can hinder research. They are are stagnations or regressions.

  • .A scientific experiment, then, is an experiment that contradicts the common experience.
  • .To be a scientist is to accept the changes that contradict the past. It is to fight against the opinion that does not think, on questions that “we” do not understand or do not know how to problematize.
  • .It is in the sense of the word “problem” that science takes shape. Scientific knowledge is an answer to a problem, so the scientists knows how to delineate problems.

Bachelard, therefore, proposes a scientific epistemology where the main obstacles to objective knowledge are cognitive. For him, psychoanalysis will shed light on the emotional side of knowledge.

II- The first experience obstacle:


“The scientific spirit must be trained against nature, against what is in us and outside us, the impulse and instruction of Nature, against the natural training against the colorful and diverse fact, the scientific spirit must train by reforming” ( Bachelard, 1934, p.25)

Humankind thinks that he immediately understands. For Bachelard, there is a rupture between observation and experimentation and thought must leave immediate empiricism to avoid wrong generalizations. The fact does not speak for itself. He, therefore, calls for a discursive practice of Science, proceeding by successive reasoning. To illustrate his point, he even gives a few examples by evoking the pre-scientific period.

In the 18th century, Science served for the wondrous shows at the court. This Science was a topic of interest in the whole society. Bachelard evokes the “minauderies/ simperings” of Mme Chatelet around mathematics and the “frivolous” concerns of the public. At the 18th century royal court, it is important to know Descartes or Newton to seduce.

“At the sight of the most interesting, the most striking phenomena, man goes naturally with all his desires. We should not be surprised that the first objective knowledge is the first mistake.”   (Bachelard, 1989, p.54)

Bachelard, therefore, evokes the passions and dream passions linked to the first experience through alchemy. The alchemists’ hypothesis relies on deep convictions linked to intimate meditations. An experience that is missing is linked to bad moral dispositions. The emotional life is mixed with the laboratory life. The chemical elements have a moral value. For Bachelard alchemist burn with love for nature that burns or blinds him. Science at this time must interest, be sensational. It leads  to substantiations and metaphors.Metaphors are described as related to primary experienceScientifics should shape the experience with reason, to position themselves regarding the problem and thus avoid projecting unconscious desires.

For him, there is a necessary step, the rational shaping of  experiences . Taking Coulomb as an example, he proposed the first attempts at geometrizing the laws of electricity, which eliminates the first experiment of problems. The experience is then rationally shaped. Science endowed therefore pass by reasoning to be scientific. We understand by resisting nature. Also, a concept is accompanied by a realization technique. Science realizes, constructs its objects without ever finding them quite one. This is what Bachelard calls “phenomenotechnics”, the phenomenon is caused by technique, by instruments and measuring instruments are theories. The microscope is an extension of the mind rather than of the eye.

III- General knowledge:


“The search for the general leads most often too hastily generalities misplaced without link with essential mathematical functions of the phenomenon.” (Bachelard, 1989, p.56)

The general’s doctrine is that which reigned from Aristotle to Bacon. It is based on a collection of facts and inductive reasoning. This doctrine aims for the universal. For Bachelard, if general laws have been active, they generally block thought. They respond without questioning. General knowledge sooner or later hinds research.

Many authors of the 18th century were seeking the universal. The academy analyzed the most different phenomena from the point of view of coagulation. M de Clos created a whole cosmogony (describing or explaining the world’s formation), achieving an extension of general knowledge. For others, it is the fermentation. The earl of Tressan explains electricity by fermentation.

To encompass new experimental proofs, it will then be necessary to deform the primitive concepts to study the conditions of application of these concepts. Modern thought is, therefore, a rectified generality, a discursive union of experience and reason. The scientific mind is ultimately concerned with the singular and the universal, incorporating the conditions of experience into the theory. Bachelard is against totalizing theories. The modern scientist specifies limits. He does not seek universalism. It will be universal only if it is possible.

IV-The unit and pragmatic knowledge obstacle


For the prescientific mind, unity is the ever-desired principle realized on one walk. You only need a capital letter “(Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.86)

Bachelard rejects the idea that nature is homogeneous and harmonic. Because of this presupposition,  philosopher see a need to elevate and enhance the value of objects, such as the Ligh with C. de la Chambre (1662).

    “Finding a use is find a reason” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p92)

What is useless is seen as irrational. This idea is problematic because it erases the contradictions of experience. It is also not deduced from the results of rigorous research. On the contrary, it is admitted in advance. Everything is perfect because it is useful. In this context, we cannot think scientifically. It prevents curiosity leading to overdetermination. Everything becomes the cause of everything. He gives the example of a far-fetched theory for which every disease has a metal and a related planet. Here it is not the organ that is studied but the conjunction of the stars. For Reaumur, historian of the academy, the chrysalises sweat, and if we put them with varnish, they hatch more slowly, it would be then a good idea to do the same for humans to prolong their life.

For Bachelard, contemporary science learns about isolated systems on fragmented units and, the negligible must be neglected. quantum physics gives the notion of quantitative threshold there are thresholds which do not influence the phenomena.

VI- The substantialist obstacle:


The term “substance” names the stability and the persistence of what exists as opposed to “phenomena” which are changeable. Bachelard notes that pre-scientists generally seek to describe the different substances and give their qualities as essential, whereas, as Bachelard specifies, any quality is a relation.

He analyzes the myth of the deep of the intimate from the fundamentally unconscious interior. There would be “privacy” to the objects. For the alchemists, it will be necessary to open the substances, and a key is needed to open them. Bachelard already sees the beginnings of sexual analogies. The substance can be galvanic, taking the properties of things through which she goes.

Veratti (1750) treats domestic with electricity and Scamonee (flower) in hands (galvanic theory). He tries with different people without good results. He thinks it is due to the first electrocution. The flower is supposed te be worn out of substance. He finally advises replacing the Scammonée. The substance is absorbant it has the properties of the place where it stays 1669. The beaver stinks because of living in the humidity ( life assimilates the qualities). From Bertholam, electricity influences passion or health. We must then use negative electricity on people with violent passions. To understand this shift, words in descriptions matter: agitation, negative, tension.

“The less precise an idea, the more words we find to express it”(Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.112)

The prescientific sciences are prolific. They give many attributes to remedies that are composed of many drugs. The substance is precious in distillation, small quantities for great effects, a power without secret: the sum of substantial sums. The modern remedies have a single adjective. They manufacture a quality rather than a substance. The scientific product is produced by an objective technique, in short, only keeping the most accurate qualifier.

The concept of ohm is abstract and rids science of THE direct sensitive reference. With the notion of electric resistance, we can see that vinegar has an influence but, through an abstraction, limits abusive extensions. Modern microbiology is based on discursive precision with precise diagnosis against substantialism, which is intuitive.

VII- Psychoanalysis of realism:

“The objective substance is loaded with quality and does not belong to it ” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.147)
For Bachelard, realists have a miserly relationship with matter and subjects. He calls it the “Harpagon complex”. They consider that they have the reality for them, and it is impossible to contradict them in this sense.

He notes, especially in the texts of alchemists, systematic dreams around the essence of precious stones or gold as remedies to be preserved, of course, in precious boxes, then slips in the field of pharmacy. For him, these researchers put supreme importance on these substances. They transfer their material interest in their physical interest, in other words, they essentialized the monetary value of these substances.Behind realism, there is also the complex of the small profit (small, precious stone). According to the dialectic of love and knowledge of reality, nature is stingy.

Generalized psychoanalysis establishes a prevalence of objective demonstration over individual convictions, it must closely consider the mentalities which pose proof by escaping the discussion and control. Now a way to escape objective discussion is to hide behind the substances. It is to load the substance with the most diverse nuances, to make it the mirror of our subjective impressions.


VIII: The animist obstacle:


“Life is a magic word, it is a valued word. Any other principle pales when one can invoke a vital principle” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.154,)

Bachelard, in this chapter, criticizes the animist illusion tat he calls “life fetishism”(Bachelard, 1934, p149). It is a belief in the universal character of life. The fetus is the product of the whole world and the forces of nature. He begins by evoking the importance of the three kingdoms in this literature: vegetable, animals, mineral and the superiority of the two first. These three kingdoms are constantly compared, mythologized. The putrefaction is to the plant what chewing is to animals. Nails and hair belong to the vegetable kingdom for Bordeu (1768). The vegetation in the or unconscious expresses the quiet the fatal become. For Tressan, an electric fluid animates the whole universe, the plants etc… But there is no proof for all of this.

In the inert world, there is also many introductions of life in a domain that is stranger. Rust is a “disease” of metals. Mines are “fertil”. They respond to limits sowed and rediscovered. It is that in proceeding from biology to physics, we necessarily fall into the trap of the metaphor, which is the mark of the unconscious. It is the unconscious that interprets all continuity as an intimate duration as a wanting to live as a desire when the biological serves to explain the physical.


IX: The digestion myth


“Hunger is, therefore, the need to have an integrable, assimilable, sustainable solid food”
(Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.170)

Bachelard completes the portrait of the realistic man by detailing, in connection with the animist tendency, an inordinate fascination with digestion. This fascination, however, does not lead to a renewal of rigour. The real becomes food, and digestion is a possession. It would be necessary to operate for Bachelard psychoanalysis of the feeling of “having”. Digestion is also sometimes compared to an oven with slow cooking.

The concepts of digestion are assigned to the mineral world. There are corrosive substances which “devour” metals. In some cosmogony, the earth is a digestive system. For Tap, what circulates in the earth as in the stomach and convert into lead marble. The fascination with digestion is often accompanied by the importance given to faeces. Remedies like “album garecum ” is dog poop against all kinds of throat disease.

For Bachelard, only the unconscious with disorders can advise such use of excrement. The human mind sometimes seeks to give value to the fact of having overcome repugnance. Bachelard somewhat mocks these considerations, which, failing to explain a complex phenomenon, accepts the most naive or magical reasons, as long as they agree with the general vision of a unified nature.

X: Libido:

“Since the libido is mysterious, all that is mysterious arouse the libido.” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.185 )

Bachelard dwells here on a major obstacle for modern science other than the previous ones, libido or sexual desire. The libido has duration over what lasts. Classical psychoanalysis posits the supremacy of libido over appetite.
“A lover can be as patient as a scholar ” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.183 )

For him, the mind loves mystery. We need mystery.The unconscious desires are then transposed into the observed phenomena. One of the first mysteries in this regard is the one of life of how we make children. From this attraction to mystery, the alchemist sees everything as a belly that must be opened with patience.

Bachelard thinks that in front of the experiments, one often finds sexual thoughts. The mercury is “sterile”. Normal sexuality is sometimes the object of reference in alchemy books where operations are described as “copulations”, “weddings” metals, as masculine or feminine. There would be a “mineral sexuality”, according to Robinet, who sees in stones bristling with pods from which a seed/ sperm emerges and other stones with cavities. During a chemical experiment,  two bodies come into play are immediately sexualized with a active-passive references. The base is feminine the masculine acid, the neutral salt for Boer is hermaphrodite.

All science goes through a sexualist phase because of the mysteries it causes. Electricity is directly sexualized in the 18th. It is sexualized because mysterious. For, Bertholon electricity can restore fertility. The metaphors always bear the unconscious sign and can be sexual desires, libido discharges. They tell us more about the author than the object. Bachelard observes proliferation of names, 602 for gold the “sperm of rock” and ” “a lover only can give six hundred names to the loved one” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.194 ))

“So when the unconscious consciously consents when all the experiences are made and all the books are read, how sad the flesh remains! THE disillusionment of the child always disappointed by the interior of the puck is matched only by the disillusionment of love when he knows his mistress(Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.193 )

Masochistic or sadistic tendencies can also mark the influence of valuation by valuing the good against the bad. The viper powder is used to return the triumph against the reluctance of an object. It can help a repression, it is necessary to heal jump fools unconscious that needs to be discharged by crude procedures for Bachelard. What is bitter in the mouth is good for the body

The germ

The germ evokes pure concentration. The prescientists think the seed/sperm of a man is the seed of seeds. It is composed of the purest part of food, itself drawn from the earth’s universal seed the quintessence of the seeds and therefore a precious elixir for Guy de Chauliac .

The germ is a natural principle for animists, and substantialists unites what grows linked germ seed the germ is a noun of growth. The germ is a force more than a form among prescientists.

For Bachelard, we should study the effects of libido because the sight of certain objects is charged with such emotion. The teachings do nothing to heal the anxiety that grips every mind when faced with the need to correct its own thinking and to come out of oneself to find objective truth. (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.209 )

XI- Obstacles to quantitative knowledge


“We must reflect in order to measure and not measure in order to reflect” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.213 )

Size is not directly objective. Long studies are needed for a new phenomenon to reveal suitable variables. The realist will take the object in his hand and measure it, he will exhaust the measure. The scientist takes the time to know how he will measure.He discusses the conditions of his study, determines the sensitivity and the range of his instruments. Ultimately, it is his method of measurement rather than the object of his measurement that the scholar describes. The object can change in nature when the scientific changes the degree of approximation. In this regard is against the fetishism of measurements and false precision.

He gives the example of geography textbooks which illustrate a great deal of precision in density at the temperature to tenths after the dot when the units are used in practice. These are as many figures that the pupil must remember (on average for him, 100 numbers per lesson), which defies the good sense of a good pedagogy of the disciplines. We could determine the science by the technique of their measuring instruments, which are standardized (before, there were a large variety of thermometers). The instruments assert themselves, and the scientific product, better defined, knowledge is instrumental in the sense of the instrument. In quantitative measurements, Bachelard also observes the abuse of reciprocal determinations. Retz (1785) takes the thermometer making the relation between electricity and heat to measure the body’s electricity. Naive realism claims measure without proof of the causes of the different phenomena.

“The scientific mind clearly and dictates that it has to neglect what is negligible that the philosophical mind tirelessly refuses”(Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.223 )

Bachelard challenges totalizing theories based on general determinism. Science can overlook data. The colour of a projectile on its speed ballistic properties is not deterministic. Everything is not possible. What is possible is what is demonstrated.He criticizes astrology which combines substantialism and totalizing materialism.

The excess of images the fear of spending a million to buy a prism all helps to prove to us the affectivity which charges the unconscious of our surroundings against Newtonian mathematics “(Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.230 )

He also evokes the easy/difficult parallel, which can be repossessed as much as it attracts vigorous minds. Too hard physics, you have to be a millionaire to experiment. You shouldn’t be hostile to maths or measurements. The claims to grasp phenomena directly and the hostility of abstractions The teaching of the results of science is never scientific teaching if one does not exploit the line of spiritual production which led to the result, one can well be sure that the student will combine the result with the most familiar images. 234

Bachelard believes that mathematics is the basis of physical explanation but beware of simple geometric shapes. The algebraic production goes through a discursive calculation. It is important to don’t focus on the result but on the think as abstract asceticism to dominate the experimental knowledge. Our imagination is a sublimation in the reign of our intuitions valid if we have a psychoanalysis of the principle.

XII- Psychoanalysis of objective knowledge

We must accept the fundamental break between sensitive knowledge and scientific knowledge” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.239 )

Bachelard finally states that it is necessary, for objective knowledge to be psychoanalytic. Science is rectified over time and the scientific spirit must accept failure. This is the process of discursive rectification, understanding the faults from reason. He synthesizes the opposition between rationalism and entanglement that has alienated the history of science. He sees in it a necessity that drives scientific progress. Thus, any philosophies that lock culture in realism or nominalism constitute obstacles to the evolution of thought.

He also castigates against dogmatic teaching physics, which lacks human error’s psychological experience as the only defensible utility of school composition. (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, p.244 )

“A culture blocked in the school years is the negation of the scientific culture” (Gaston Bachelard, 1989, ? )

The knowledge is never completed that is why Bachelard is in favour of school all the life. In fact, science is a reflection on reflection, where the scientist struggles against his own reason, against his brain, which coordinates his appetites and desires. The scientist is the one who is aware of his desires and would renounce them. The scientist is the one who thinks resists the object and the subject