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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/509

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natural selection. And what is true of sense perception is of course also true of the intellectual powers which enable us to erect upon the frail and narrow platform which sense perception provides, the proud fabric of the sciences.

Now natural selection only works through utility. It encourages aptitudes useful to their possessor or his species in the struggle for existence, and, for a similar reason, it is apt to discourage useless aptitudes, however interesting they may be from other points of view, because, being useless, they are probably burdensome.

But it is certain that our powers of sense perception and of calculation were fully developed ages before they were effectively employed in searching out the secrets of physical reality—for our discoveries in this field are triumphs but of yesterday. The blind forces of natural selection which so admirably simulate design when they are providing for a present need, possess no power of prevision; and could never, except by accident, have endowed mankind, while in the making, with a physiological or mental outfit adapted to the higher physical investigations. So far as natural science can tell us, every quality of sense or intellect which does not help us to fight, to eat and to bring up children, is but a by-product of the qualities which do. Our organs of sense perception were not given us for purposes of research; nor was it to aid us in meting out the heavens or dividing the atom that our powers of calculation and analysis were evolved from the rudimentary instincts of the animal.

It is presumably due to these circumstances that the beliefs of all mankind about the material surroundings in which it dwells are not only imperfect but fundamentally wrong. It may seem singular that down to, say, five years ago, our race has, without exception, lived and died in a world of illusions; and that its illusions, or those with which we are here alone concerned, have not been about things remote or abstract, things transcendental or divine, but about what men see and handle, about those 'plain matters of fact' among which common sense daily moves with its most confident step and most self-satisfied smile. Presumably, however, this is either because too direct a vision of physical reality was a hindrance, not a help, in the struggle for existence, because falsehood was more useful than truth—or else because with so imperfect a material as living tissue no better results could be attained. But if this conclusion be accepted, its consequences extend to other organs of knowledge besides those of perception. Not merely the senses, but the intellect must be judged by it; and it is hard to see why evolution, which has so lamentably failed to produce trustworthy instruments for obtaining the raw material of experience, should be credited with a larger measure of success in its provision of the physiological arrangements which condition reason in its endeavors to turn experience to account.