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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/453

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449
THE VALUE OF SCIENCE

Shall we thence conclude that the facts of daily life are the work of the grammarians?

You ask me: Is there a current? I try whether the mechanical effect exists, I ascertain it and I answer: Yes, there is a current. You understand at once that that means that the mechanical effect exists, and that the chemical effect, that I have not investigated, exists likewise. Imagine now, supposing an impossibility, the law we believe true not to be, and the chemical effect not to exist. Under this hypothesis there will be two distinct facts, the one directly observed and which is true, the other inferred and which is false. It may strictly be said that we have created the second. So that error is the part of man's personal collaboration in the creation of the scientific fact.

But if we can say that the fact in question is false, is this not just because it is not a free and arbitrary creation of our mind, a disguised convention, in which case it would be neither true nor false. And in fact it was verifiable; I had not made the verification, but I could have made it. If I answered amiss, it was because I chose to reply too quickly, without having asked nature, who alone knew the secret.

When, after an experiment, I correct the accidental and systematic errors to bring out the scientific fact, the case is the same; the scientific fact will never be anything but the crude fact translated into another language. When I shall say: It is such an hour, that will be a short way of saying: There is such a relation between the hour indicated by my clock, and the hour it marked at the moment of the passing of such a star and such another star across the meridian. And this convention of language once adopted, when I shall be asked: Is it such an hour? it will not depend upon me to answer yes or no.

Let us pass to the stage before the last: the eclipse happened at the hour given by the tables deduced from Newton's laws. This is still a convention of language which is perfectly clear for those who know celestial mechanics or simply for those who have the tables calculated by the astronomers. I am asked: Did the eclipse happen at the hour predicted? I look in the nautical almanac, I see that the eclipse was announced for nine o'clock and I understand that the question means: Did the eclipse happen at nine o'clock? There still we have nothing to change in our conclusions. The scientific fact is only the crude fact translated into a convenient language.

It is true that at the last stage things change. Does the earth rotate? Is this a verifiable fact? Could Galileo and the Grand Inquisitor, to settle the matter, appeal to the witness of their senses? On the contrary, they were in accord about the appearances, and, whatever had been the accumulated experiences, they would have remained in accord with regard to the appearances without ever agreeing