Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/687

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When we are working out practical ends, we must follow Nature's method of working; and, as that is by isolating the separate qualities, we must perform the act of mental isolation, which is to abstract, or consider, one power to the neglect of the rest. When we want to put forth heavy pressure, we think of various bodies solely as they can exert weight, in however many other ways they may invite or charm our sense. This is to generalize or to form a general notion of weight; and the motive to conceive it is practical need or necessity.

This motive of practical need at once brings us to the very core of causation, viewed as a merely speculative notion. The cause of anything is the agent that would bring that thing into being, suppose we were in want of it. The cause of warmth in a room is combustion properly arranged: we use this fact for practical purposes; and we may also use it for satisfying mere curiosity. We enter a warm room; we may desire to know how it has been made warm, and we are satisfied by being told that there has been, or is now somewhere, a fire in communication with it.

Thus it is that in proportion as we come to operate upon the world practically ourselves, and from that proceed to contemplate causation at large, we are driven upon the abstracting and analyzing process, so repugnant to one large portion of our feelings. Science finds an opening in our minds at this point, when otherwise we might need the proverbial surgical operation.


These observations will serve to illustrate the working of the emotion named Curiosity, which is justly held to be a great power in teaching. Curiosity expresses the emotions of knowledge viewed as desire; and more especially the desire to surmount an intellectual difficulty once felt. Genuine curiosity belongs to the stage of advanced and correct views of the world.

Much of the curiosity of children, and of others besides children, is a sham article. Frequently it is a mere display of egotism, the delight in giving trouble, in being pandered to and served. Questions are put, not from the desire of rational information, but for the love of excitement. Occasionally the inquisitiveness of a child provides an opportunity for imparting a piece of real information; but far oftener not. By ingeniously circumventing a scientific fact, one not too high for a child's comprehension, we may awaken curiosity and succeed in impressing the fact. Try a child to lift a heavy weight first by the direct pull, and then by a lever or a set of pulleys, and probably you will excite some surprise and wonder, with a desire to know something further about the instrumentality. But one fatal defect of the childish mind is the ascendency of the personal or anthropomorphic conception of cause. This, no doubt, is favorable to the theological explanation of the world, but wholly unsuited to physical science. A child, if it had any curiosity at all, would like to know what makes the grass