Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/133

This page has been validated.

But, as we have admitted, there may be cases where the nature of the individual is such as to repel all effort for its improvement. Here the law must step in, and secure the community against the dangers to which the existence of such individuals exposes it. There is a certain element in the population which wishes to live, and is determined to live, on a level altogether below anything that can be called civilization. Those who compose it are nomadic and predatory in their habits, and occasionally give way to acts of fearful criminality. It is foolish not to recognize the fact, and take the measures that may be necessary for the isolation of this element. To devise and execute such measures is a burden a thousand times better worth taking up than the burden of imposing our yoke upon the Philippine Islands and crushing out a movement toward liberty quite as respectable, to all outward appearance, as that to which we have reared monuments at Bunker Hill and elsewhere. The fact is, the work before us at home is immense; and it is work which we might attack, not only without qualms of conscience, but with the conviction that every unit of labor devoted to it was being directed toward the highest interests not of the present generation only, but of generations yet unborn. The "white man," we trust, will some day see it; but meanwhile valuable time is being lost, and the national conscience is being lowered by the assumption of burdens that are not ours, whatever Mr. Kipling may have said or sung, or whatever Governor Roosevelt may assert on his word as a soldier.




That division of labor is as necessary in the pursuit of science as in the world of industry no one would think of disputing; but that, like division of labor elsewhere, it has its drawbacks and dangers is equally obvious. When the latter truth is insisted on by those who are not recognized as experts, the experts are apt to be somewhat contemptuous in resenting such interference, as they consider it. An expert himself has, however, taken up the parable, and his words merit attention. We refer to an address delivered by Prof. J. Arthur Thompson, at the University of Aberdeen, upon entering on his duties as Regius Professor of Natural History, a post to which he was lately appointed. "We need to be reminded," he said, "amid the undoubted and surely legitimate fascinations of dissection and osteology, of section cutting and histology, of physiological chemistry and physiological physics, of embryology and fossil hunting, and the like, that the chief end of our study is a better understanding of living creatures in their natural surroundings." He could see no reason, he went on to say, for adding aimlessly to the overwhelming mass of detail already accumulated in these and other fields of research. The aim of our efforts should rather be to grasp the chief laws of growth and structure, and to rise to a true conception of the meaning of organization.

The tendency to over-specialization is manifest everywhere; it may be traced in physics and chemistry, in mathematics, in archæology, and in philology, as well as in biology. We can not help thinking that there is a certain narcotic influence arising from the steady accumulation of minute facts, so that what was in the first place, and in its early stages, an invigorating pursuit becomes not only an absorbing, but more or less a benumbing passion. We are accustomed to profess great admiration for Browning's Grammarian, who—