Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 28.djvu/246

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By Sir LYON PLAYFAIR, K. C. B., M. P., F. R. S.


V. SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY.—In the popular mind the value of science is measured by its applications to the useful purposes of life. It is no doubt true that science wears a beautiful aspect when she confers practical benefits upon man. But truer relations of science to industry are implied in Greek mythology. Vulcan, the god of industry, wooed science, in the form of Minerva, with a passionate love, but the chaste goddess never married, although she conferred upon mankind nearly as many arts as Prometheus, who, like other inventors, saw civilization progressing by their use while he lay groaning in want on Mount Caucasus. The rapid development of industry in modern days depends on the applications of scientific knowledge, while its slower growth in former times was due to experiments being made by trial and error in order to gratify the needs of man. Then an experiment was less a questioning of Nature than an exercise on the mind of the experimentalist. For a true questioning of Nature only arises when intellectual conceptions of the causes of phenomena attach themselves to ascertained facts as well as to their natural environments. Much real science had at one time accumulated in Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Arabia, though it became obscured by the intellectual darkness which spread over Europe like a pall for many centuries. The mental results of Greek science, filtered through the Romans and Arabians, gradually fertilized the soil of Europe. Even in ages which are deemed to be dark and unprolific, substantial though slow progress was made. By the end of the fifteenth century the mathematics of the Alexandrian school had become the possession of Western Europe; Arabic numerals, algebra, trigonometry, decimal reckoning, and an improved calendar, having been added to its stock of knowledge. The old discoveries of Democritus and Archimedes in physics, and of Hipparchus and Ptolemy in astronomy, were producing their natural developments, though with great slowness. Many manufactures, growing chiefly by experience, and occasionally lightened up by glimmerings of science throughout the prevailing darkness, had arisen before the sixteenth century. A knowledge of the properties of bodies, though scarcely of their relations to each other, came through the labors of the alchemists, who had a mighty impulse to work, for by the philosopher's stone, often not larger than half a rape-

  1. Inaugural address of the President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at the Aberdeen meeting, September 9, 1885.