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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/429

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To the Editor of the Times.

Sir: Arguments and expressions of opinion may be continued without end. Against those of Lord Kelvey and Dr. Stoney 1 will simply set some facts already stated, joined with one other.

1. Always mankind had the decimal system at their finger ends and used it for counting. In the course of civilization they departed from it in their systems of weights, measures, and values; gradually adopting instead sets of easy aliquot divisions, and especially duodecimal divisions.

2. For half a century after the metric system had been legally established the French did not discover its convenience. The alleged discovery of its convenience went along with the discovery that they would be punished if they did not use it.

3. In the United States, where the decimal division of money is used, it has been departed from in the center of most active business, the Stock Exchange, and a system of easy aliquot divisions employed in its place.

4. The additional fact not yet named is sufficiently striking. The ancient wise men of the East and the modern workingmen of the West have agreed upon the importance of great divisibility in numerical groups. The Chaldean priests, to whom we owe so much, doubtless swayed in part by their astronomical arrangements, adopted the sexagesimal system of numeration, which at the same time facilitates in a special manner the division into aliquot parts. For 60 may be divided by ten different numbers—2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30. From this significant fact turn now to the fact presented in our ordinary foot rule. Each of its 12 inches is halved and rehalved, giving halves, quarters, and eighths. And then if we consider the subdivided foot as a whole, it gives us ten sets of aliquot parts. Beyond its 12ths the divisions yield 1/2, 1/4, 1/3, 1/6, 1/8, (11/2), 1/16 (3/4), 1/24, (1/2 inch), 1/32, (3/8 inch), and 1/48, (1/4 inch). And this ordinary mode of dividing the foot rule results from the experience of centuries; for builders, carpentera, and mechanics, always buying foot rules which best serve their needs, have gradually established the useful set of divisions. Yet now, though the early men of science and the modern men of practice are at one in recognizing the importance of great divisibility, it is proposed to establish a form of measure characterized by relative indivisibility.I am, etc.

Your Correspondent.
April 30th.

We must say that the arguments adduced by Mr. Spencer appear to us of much weight. On the whole, it would seem more probable that an approximately perfect system of weights and measures should be evolved in the course of age-long practice, than that it spring fully developed from the brain of any savant or body of savants. Weighing and measuring make up and have always made up, in one form or another, a considerable portion of the business of every day; and men naturally take to those modes of measurement and calculation which offer the greatest facilities for the work to be done. Their minds have naturally moved in the lines of least resistance, and the methods sanctioned by the history of the race express this mental tendency. It is therefore greatly to be desired that no change may be made either in England or in this country looking to a disuse of old established and popular methods without a very thorough and earnest consideration of the effects likely to be produced on the life of the people. The savants can follow what methods they find most suitable for the very exact researches and determinations which they are called upon to make; but they should be very careful how they call upon the people to abandon methods and instruments which for everyday purposes answer all their needs, while affording aids to their mental operations which it is extremely doubtful whether the arbitrary system it is sought to introduce can ever supply.




We publish elsewhere a letter by Mr. L. G. Bostedo, Corresponding Secretary of the Chicago Single-Tax Club, commenting on a brief article published in these columns last month under the title of "Neces-