Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/224

This page has been validated.
212
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

slight excess of elevated surface at points either north or south of the equator, and that in time this resulted in difference of temperature, in ice accumulation, in axial variation due to unequal attraction. Professor Hitchcock's suggestion of many causes is valuable because it calls attention to the possibility or probability of a vast and connected ring of variations, each related to the other, so that ultimately we can only understand the facts as illustrating the instability of the homogeneous as taught by Herbert Spencer. But the oscillation is manifested in so many other ways that, even when it fails as applied to a special series of geological facts, we are still justified in believing it as an underlying truth not demonstrated in this case, owing to our want of definite knowledge concerning the glacial period.

Having thus glanced at mathematical considerations, we now pass to the identity pervading widely different phenomena. In addition to this law by which exceptional events are found to accord with a certain average, we further find identity in various kinds of action. When the ice on the river is rent with a sound like the booming of cannon, we detect some resemblance to the rumbling of an earthquake. Hence the theory may be that the subterranean sound involves the cracking of rocky strata. The motion of a small whirlpool, of a tornado, of the solar system, and hypothetically of great extents of nebulous matter, discloses an undercurrent of identity indicating that we should not value the event in itself, but the wide play of phenomena so represented. We may further conclude that the material universe, as far as known, is of value as standing for something beside optical appearances and mechanism. Aside from this representative value, concerning sidereal systems, men of genius may discern direct practical power in small things, as in the following instances: Watt applies to a wider use the lifting power of steam, as seen in the upward motion of a tea-kettle cover,[1] and Edison applies the lessened friction between electrified metal and rough paper to the general purpose of reducing the friction of machinery—at present this principle is used to increase the sounding power of the telephone. Many things appear trifling because we fail to see in them the wonderful analogies awaiting disclosure and the possibilities of development, so that lack of perception or combining power is the main condition of our helplessness in the presence of many forms of material action or phenomena.

In direct opposition to the idea of mastery through knowledge and continuous effort, we find the belief in luck, the central idea of which is that a bias in our favor may pervade events. The notion of natural order in events, followed regardless of persons, substitutes for the illusion of luck the truth of a mere coincidence between what we like and what results. Such favorable coincidences when not read aright have wrecked the lives of some men who might otherwise have developed useful powers. A careful study of such a fortunate turn of events

  1. The story has been discredited, but the truth is applicable.