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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/210

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

as civilization has progressed, adopted, for purposes of measurement and exchange, easily divisible groups of units; and in a recent case, where the 10-division of money has been imposed upon them, they have, under pressure of business needs, abandoned it for the system of division into halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths. On the other hand, the number 13 is unique in its divisibility—yields two classes of aliquot parts—and for this reason has been in so many cases adopted for weights, measures, and values. At the same time it harmonizes with those chief divisions of time which Nature has imposed upon us and with the artificial divisions of time by which men have supplemented them; while its sub-multiple, 4, harmonizes with certain unalterable divisions of space, and with those divisions into quarters which men use in so many cases. Meanwhile, if two new digits for 10 and 11 be used, there arises a system of calculation perfectly parallel to the system known as decimals, and yielding just the same facilities for computation—sometimes, indeed, greater facilities, for, as shown in the memoranda named in the above letter, it is even better for certain arithmetical processes.

Do I think this system will be adopted? Certainly not at present—certainly not for many generations. In our days the mass of people, educated as well as uneducated, think only of immediate results; their imaginations of remote consequences are too shadowy to influence their acts. Little effect will be produced upon them by showing that, if the metric system should be established universally, myriads of transactions every day will for untold thousands of years be impeded by a very imperfect system. But it is, I think, not an unreasonable belief that further intellectual progress may bring the conviction that since a better system would facilitate both the thoughts and actions of men, and in so far diminish the friction of life throughout the future, the task of establishing it should be undertaken.

Hence I contend that adoption of the metric system, while it would entail a long period of trouble and confusion, would increase the obstacles to the adoption of a perfect system—perhaps even rendering them insuperable—and that, therefore, it will be far better to submit for a time to the evils which our present mixed system entails.

P. S.—A mathematician and astronomer, who writes—"I am much interested in your letters and agree with almost everything," makes some comments. He says:—"It has always been an astonishing thing to me that the advocates of decimalization do not perceive that its only advantage is in computation. In every other process it is a detriment." Concerning the 13-notation, he remarks that "the advantages are notorious to all mathematicians." Apparently less impressed than I am with the advance