Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/801

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that fallacy to which we are all too prone, that we have at length reached an elevated sure position on which we may rest, and only think and guide. In this way specialism in doctrine or in method of study has hindered the progress of science more than the specialism which has attached itself to the study of one organ or of one method of practice. This kind of specialism may enslave inferior minds: the specialism of doctrine can enchant into mere dreaming those that should be strong and alert in the work of free research.

I speak the more earnestly of this because it may be said, if our Congress be representative, as it surely is, may we not legislate? May we not declare some general doctrines which may be used as tests and as guides for future study? We had better not.

The best work of our International Congress is in the clearing and strengthening of the knowledge of realities; in bringing, year after year, all its force of numbers and varieties of minds to press forward the demonstration and diffusion of truth as nearly to completion as may from year to year be possible. Thus, chiefly, our Congress may maintain and invigorate the life of our science. And the progress of science must be as that of life. It sounds well to speak of the temple of science, and of building and crowning the edifice. But the body of science is not as any dead thing of human work, however beautiful; it is as something living, capable of development and a better growth in every part. For, as in all life the attainment of the highest condition is only possible through the timely passing-by of the less good, that it may be replaced by the better, so is it in science. As time passes, that which seemed true and was very good becomes relatively imperfect truth, and the truth more nearly perfect takes its place.

We may read the history of the progress of truth in science as a paleontology. Many things which, as we look far back, appear, like errors, monstrous and uncouth creatures, were, in their time, good and useful, as good as possible. They were the lower and less perfect forms of truth which, amid the floods and stifling atmospheres of error, still survived; and just as each successive condition of the organic world was necessary to the evolution of the next following higher state, so from these were slowly evolved the better forms of truth which we now hold.

This thought of the likeness between the progress of scientific truth and the history of organic life may give us all the better courage in a work which we can not hope to complete, and in which we see continual and sometimes disheartening change. It is, at least, full of comfort to those of us who are growing old. We that can read in memory the history of half a century might look back with shame and deep regret at the imperfections of our early knowledge if we might not be sure that we held, and sometimes helped onward, the best things that were, in their time, possible, and that they were necessary steps to the better present, even as the present is to the still better future.