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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/470

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ily yield of the nature of the conceptions and the logic which command a certain popular interest and acceptance. The interest in these notions, is, as Mr. Lang argues about ghosts and rappings and bogles, in how they come to be believed rather than in how much or how little they chance to be true. In examining the professed evidence for the facts and laws and principles (sit venia verbis) that pervade astrology or phrenology or palmistry or dream-interpretation, or beliefs of that ilk, we find the flimsiest kind of texture that will hardly bear examination and holds together only so long as it is kept secluded from the light of day. Far-fetched analogy, baseless assertion, the uncritical assimilation of popular superstitions, a great deal of prophecy after the event—it is wonderful how clearly the astrologer finds the indications of Napoleon's career in his horoscope, or the phrenologist reads them in the Napoleonic cranial protuberances—much fanciful elaboration of detail, ringing the variations on a sufficiently complex and non-demonstrable proposition, cultivating a convenient vagueness of expression together with an apologetic skill in providing for and explaining exceptions, the courage to ignore failure and the shrewdness to profit by coincidences and half-assimilated smatterings of science; and with it all an insensibility to the moral and intellectual demands of the logical decalogue, and you have the skeleton which clothed with one flesh becomes astrology, and with another phrenology and with another palmistry or solar biology or descriptive mentality or what not. Such pseudosciences thrive upon that widespread and intense craving for practical guidance of our individual affairs, which is not satisfied with judicious applications of general principles, with due consideration of the probabilities and uncertainties of human life, but demands an impossible and precise revelation. Not all that passes for, and in a way is, knowledge, is or is likely soon to become scientific; and when a peasant parades in an academic gown the result is likely to be a caricature.

To achieve fortune, to judge well and command one's fellow-men, to foretell and control the future, to be wise in worldly lore, are natural objects of human desire; but still another is essential to happiness. Whether we attempt to procure these good fortunes by going early to bed and early to rise, or by more occult procedures, we wish to be healthy as well as wealthy and wise. The maintenance of health and the perpetuity of youth were not absent from the mediæval occultist's search, and formed an essential part of the benefits to be conferred by the elixir of life and the philosopher's stone. A series of superstitions and extravagant systems are conspicuous in the antecedents and the bye-paths of the history of medicine, and are related to it much as astrology is to astronomy or alchemy to chemistry; and because medicine in part remains, and to previous generations was conspicuously an empirical art rather than a science, it offers great opportunity for practical