Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/94

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the second test would, viz., hopeless want of proper relations among the tables. Our proper attitude toward the present English tables is that of wholesome and final despair!

Addressing ourselves to the task of reform, we proceed to remark what the metric system, in substance, will do. It stands the two tests, perfectly; indeed, it was made to order for that very purpose. To provide a system with a proper scale and relations was the work undertaken by Science, and that work has been diligently and well done. Its merits are great and substantial; so full is it of practical utility as well as theoretical beauty, that President John Quincy Adams did not hesitate to pronounce it "a greater labor-saving machine than steam itself."

Our object, however, is not to make an argument in its favor, but to inquire into the impediments to its progress. These, though not obvious, are certainly formidable, as is shown by results. There are two sets of conditions to be fulfilled which may be distinguished as the natural and the human conditions of the problem. The difficulty is not to be found in the non-fulfillment of the former; as has already been remarked, the natural conditions have been well met by Science. But, after all the successful work laboriously done upon these—chiefly in the verification of the units—the hardest part of the problem yet remains, viz., such an adaptation of the system to mankind that the peoples to be benefitted shall adopt and use it in the daily business of life.

Nor are men of physical science, as such, specially qualified for this task. To adapt the system to man requires a different sort of observation from theirs, for which there are no instruments, but only the patient observation of the ways of this fastidious creature. The huge inertia of this ponderous mass of humanity, as results show, is yet to be overcome. Until this adaptation to man is complete, the problem is not solved.

Were a Pacific Railway begun upon the wrong general line, the best remedy would be a change of location. In our present problem the human conditions furnish guiding principles—the great salient points of our Pacific Railway—more stubborn than Nature itself. The system is for man—not man for the system; and, if the two do not tally, it must yield, not he!

What modifications of the metric system are needed to fit it for common use?

Roughly, directness and simplicity. In aiming at these we should study actual human experience. The currency system of America furnishes invaluable guidance. One of its chief lessons is, that men like not many denominations.

In our decimal currency, five denominations are proposed—mills, cents, dimes, dollars, and eagles. Of these but two are practically used—dollars and cents. Had the other three been omitted, we should not have missed them.