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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/448

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

hazards we have established rules. It is the aggregate of these rules that is called science.

It is thus that men, desirous of diversion, have instituted rules of play, like those of tric-trac for instance, which, better than science itself, could rely upon the proof by universal consent. It is thus likewise that, unable to choose, but forced to choose, we toss up a coin, head or tail to win.

The rule of tric-trac is indeed a rule of action like science, but does any one think the comparison just and not see the difference? The rules of the game are arbitrary conventions, and the contrary convention might have been adopted, which would have been none the less good. On the contrary, science is a rule of action which is successful, generally at least, and I add, while the contrary rule would not have succeeded.

If I say, to make hydrogen cause an acid to act on zinc, I formulate a rule which succeeds; I could have said, make distilled water act on gold; that also would have been a rule, only it would not have succeeded. If therefore scientific 'recipes' have a value, as rule of action, it is because we know they succeed, generally at least. But to know this is to know something and then why tell us we can know nothing?

Science foresees, and it is because it foresees, that it can be useful and serve as rule of action. I well know that its previsions are often contradicted by the event; that shows that science is imperfect and if I add that it will always remain so, I am certain that this is a prevision which, at least, will never be contradicted. Always the scientist is less often mistaken than a prophet who should predict at random. Besides the progress though slow is continuous, so that scientists, though more and more bold, are less and less misled. This is little, but it is enough.

I well know that M. LeRoy has somewhere said that science was mistaken oftener than one thought, that comets sometimes played tricks on astronomers, that scientists, who apparently are men, did not willingly speak of their failures and that, if they should speak of them, they would have to count more defeats than victories.

That day, M. LeRoy evidently overreached himself. If science did not succeed, it could not serve as rule of action; whence would it get its value? Because it is 'lived,' that is, because we love it and believe in it? The alchemists had recipes for making gold, they loved them and had faith in them, and yet our recipes are the good ones, although our faith be less lively, because they succeed.

There is no escape from this dilemma; either science does not enable us to foresee, and then it is valueless as rule of action; or else it enables us to foresee in a fashion more or less imperfect, and then it is not without value as means of knowledge.