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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 62.djvu/365

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A STATISTICAL STUDY OF EMINENT MEN.

A STATISTICAL STUDY OF EMINENT MEN.
By PROFESSOR J. McKEEN CATTELL,

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.

THE accounts of great men in biographies and histories belong to literature rather than to science. Modern science is either genetic or quantitative. It seeks to discover those uniformities which we call causes and to use that method of description which we call measurement. It is now time that great men should be studied as part of social evolution and by the methods of exact and statistical science.

History is only the last chapter of organic evolution, and both where similar causes are at work and where new factors have arisen, the parallel between social and organic evolution is instructive. While the Darwinian principle of natural selection as an explanation of the origin of species has an aspect which makes it almost as naive as the doctrine of special creations, it has given an extraordinary stimulus to modern thought. Natural selection is no cause of the origin of species or of anything else, but the environment is the condition of the survival of species and of individuals. Evolution has progressed through the occurrence of variations sanctioned by the environment. We are, it is true, not only ignorant of the causes of variations, but even of their nature. We do not know whether one species has been derived from another by gradual variations in many individuals or by sudden jumps in a few. We do not know whether the type prescribes the individual, or whether the individual forms the type. Yet in spite of our ignorance not only of the causes but even of the nature of organic evolution the distinctions formulated by the naturalist are fruitful when applied to social evolution.

It is evident that there are two leading factors in producing a man and making him what he is—one the endowment given at birth, the other the environment into which he comes. The main lines are certainly laid down by heredity—a man is born a man and not an ape. A savage brought up in cultivated society will not only retain his dark skin, but is likely to have also the incoherent mind of his race. On the other hand, environment has at least an absolute veto. Had the infant Newton been cast among Hottentots he could have announced no laws of motion. But were those differences—small from the point of view of organism, great from the point of view of function—which distinguished Dante from his Florentine fellow townsmen innate or due to the circumstances of his life? Here the biological parallel may be