Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/117

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

tional color. At any rate, as few of the colors in nature are pure, but almost all arise from the combination of rays of different wave-lengths, and as in such cases the visible resultant would be composed not only of the rays we see, but of these and the ultraviolet, it would appear that the colors of objects and the general aspect of nature must present to animals a very different appearance from what it does to us.

These considerations can not but raise the reflection how different the world may—I was going to say must—appear to other animals from what it does to us. Sound is the sensation produced on us when the vibrations of the air strike on the drum of our ear. When they are few, the sound is deep; as they increase in number, it becomes shriller and shriller; but when they reach forty thousand in a second they cease to be audible. Light is the effect produced on us when waves of light strike on the eye. When four hundred millions of millions of vibrations of ether strike the retina in a second, they produce red, and as the number increases the color passes into orange, then yellow, green, blue, and violet. But between forty thousand vibrations in a second and four hundred millions of millions we have no organ of sense capable of receiving the impression. Yet between these limits any number of sensations may exist. We have five senses, and sometimes fancy that no others are possible. But it is obvious that we can not measure the infinite by our own narrow limitations.

Moreover, looking at the question from the other side, we find in animals complex organs of sense, richly supplied with nerves, but the function of which we are as yet powerless to explain. There may be fifty other senses as different from ours as sound is from sight; and even within the boundaries of our own senses there may be endless sounds which we can not hear, and colors, as different as red from green, of which we have no conception. These and a thousand other questions remain for solution. The familiar world which surrounds us may be a totally different place to other animals. To them it may be full of music which we can not hear, of color which we can not see, of sensations which we can not conceive. To place stuffed birds and beasts in glass cages, to arrange insects in cabinets, and dried plants in drawers, is merely the drudgery and preliminary of study; to watch their habits, to understand their relations to one another, to study their instincts and intelligence, to ascertain their adaptations and their relations to the forces of nature, to realize what the world appears to them—these constitute, as it seems to me at least, the true interest of natural history, and may even give us the clew to senses and perceptions of which at present we have no conception.