Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/349

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IN a previous article, we noticed that even circumstances which seem to result in accumulations involving vast lapses of time are seen to be temporary when considered with relation to very great and to us inconceivable periods. The stability is apparent only, and is due to our limited grasp of duration. The study of averages is valuable as showing the proportion of control attainable through knowledge of the limit of variation in certain kinds of events. It would require something like omnipresent intelligence to cope with the enormous variability in all events, so that were it not for the perception of identity, repetition, the law of probability, we would be as completely helpless in regard to circumstances as many claim we are. In extending this question of averages, demonstrating the illusion of chance, we see that the appliances of science and intelligence must lessen helplessness and misery with every coming century, although, owing to limitation of the individual, the control can never be anything like complete. It is important that we form right ideas of the control possible, so that we be neither like Don Quixote, who thought his power almost without limit, nor like a fatalist who resigns himself to the current of events. In the history of progress, we see that during centuries some suffering might have been escaped by a more complete knowledge of causes, as well as by better intellectual training resulting in more foresight. The delayed relief was and is due to crude methods of scientific thought and experiment, lack of that insight or flash of analogy by which all great truths are discovered. The power to group and combine complex results, shown by the most advanced minds when working under favorable conditions, is hardly sufficient for even a vague understanding of the development of diseased conditions. The mind is led step by step toward the truth, by means of scientific experiments. At last, Pasteur and others disclose the laws which account for some kinds of progressive destruction in the movements of organic or inorganic particles.

As we begin to comprehend vaguely the laws of events, and the importance of action as an element of modifying power—as we stand back and include a great number of incidents in our generalization—we see more relation between action and result. The direct importance of objective action, its immediate interest for us, is in considering the proportion of control which we can exert. This is one of the most complicated problems, because special thwartings conceal the control when we look from the "near point of view of daily life." Several years of experience are required to demonstrate the proportion of truth in the well-known business maxim that it is better to