Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/408

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

led to review the labors of other searchers from this standpoint, because I had first learned, out of personal experience, that the most painstaking care was no guarantee of final accuracy; that to labor in the search for a truth with such endless pains as a man might bestow if his own salvation were in question did not necessarily bring the truth; and because, seeking to see whether this were the lot of other and greater men, I have found that it was, and that, though no one was altogether forsaken of the Truth he sought (or, on the whole review of his life as a seeker, but might believe he had advanced her cause), yet there was no criterion by which it could be told at the time whether, when after long waiting there came in view what seemed once more her beautiful face, it might not prove, after all, the mockery of error; and probably the appeal might be made to the experience of many investigators here with the question, "Is it not so?"

What then? Shall we admit that truth is only to be surely found under the guidance of an infallible church? If there be such a church, yes! Let us, however, remember that the church of science is not such a one, and be ready to face all the consequences of the knowledge that her truths are put forward by her as provisional only, and that her most faithful children are welcome to disprove them. What then, again? Shall we say that the knowledge of truth is not advancing? It is advancing, and never so fast as to-day; but the steps of its advance are set on past errors, and the new truths become such stepping-stones in turn.

To say that what are truths to one generation are errors to the next, or that truth and error are but different aspects of the same thing to our poor human nature, may be to utter truisms; but truisms which one has verified for one's self out of a personal experience are apt to have a special value to the owner; and these lead, at any rate, to the natural question, "Where is then the evidence that we are advancing in reality, and not in our own imagination?"

There are many here who will no doubt heartily subscribe to the belief that there is no absolute criterion of truth for the individual, and admit that there is no positive guarantee that we, with this whole generation of scientific men, may not, like our predecessors, at times go the wrong way in a body, yet who believe as certainly that science as a whole, and this branch of it in particular, is advancing with hitherto unknown rapidity. In asking to be included in this number, let me add that to me the criterion of this advance is not in any ratiocination, not in any a priori truth, still less in the dictum of any authority, but in the undoubted observation that our doctrine of radiant energy is reaching out over nature in every direction, and proving itself by the