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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/282

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268
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

eighths. It is needless, however, to repeat here what is so fully stated in Mr. Spencer's article. He admits the great convenience of the decimal system for the expression of strictly scientific values, as in giving the results of chemical analysis. In this case no other system than one which expresses results to the minutest fraction would be of any avail. But he objects, that this ready applicability to scientific measurements, which has led scientific men to advocate its universal employment, is no advantage for purposes of trade, where easy divisibility is of the first importance. The question is whether it is or is not desirable to introduce standards of measurement which can only be subdivided decimally, and banish our present standards, which admit of more convenient subdivision into well-known and definite aliquot parts.

We quite agree with the writer that such a change as this should not be hastily made, and we think he has done well in marshaling the difficulties and disadvantages with which it would be attended. The standards of measurement which every nation possesses are part of its history, and their long survival is at least prima facie evidence of their utility and convenience. If we take the particular instance which the word "metric" itself suggests, it seems to us we are better off with such familiar and convenient measures as the yard, the foot, the inch, and the subdivisions of the latter into halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, etc., than we should be with the metre divided into centimetres and millimetres—that is, into hundredths and thousandths. What the subject wants, however, is discussion from every point of view. The question is one in regard to which no single interest should have a decisive voice; yet there is always danger, when a change is mooted, that it will be carried through the vigorous insistence of those who want it, and to whom, perhaps, it would be advantageous, and the lack of contrary effort on the part of a much larger number to whom it would not be beneficial but who are not sufficiently alive to their interest in the matter.

Mr. Spencer hints at a possible change to be made in our system of notation involving the use of two additional digits and making twelve instead of ten the basic multiple of progression. He does not expect it can be introduced for generations to come. That if introduced it would have the specific advantages he mentions can not be doubted; but we agree with him that the practical difficulties in the way of the change are enormous, and that we must be content to regard it rather as a shadowy possibility for the future than as a scheme offering any promise of early fruition.

 

 

THE PROVINCE OF SCIENCE.

Dr. Romanes's assertion[1] that "if a little knowledge of physiology and a little knowledge of psychology dispose men to atheism, a deeper knowledge of both and, still more, a deeper thought upon their relations to one another will lead men back to some form of religion," is sure of unquestioning welcome in certain quarters; but the earnest seeker after truth will care little to hear that George John Romanes or Francis Bacon '"thought thus," although he may care a great deal to learn what led these writers to their belief.

Tlie question which thoughtful men will wish to ask Romanes is whether his "religion" has any more


  1. Mind and Motion and Monism. By the late George John Romanes. Longmans, Green &, Co. 1895.