Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/92

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Yes, but it is experience which has taught us the laws of motion of a rigid solid; nothing would prevent our imagining them different. To sum up, for me to imagine that I get out of my prison, I have only to imagine that the walls seem to open, when I move.

I believe, therefore, that if by space is understood a mathematical continuum of three dimensions, were it otherwise amorphous, it is the mind which constructs it, but it does not construct it out of nothing; it needs materials and models. These materials, like these models, preexist within it. But there is not a single model which is imposed upon it; it has choice; it may choose, for instance, between space of four and space of three dimensions. What then is the rôle of experience? It gives the indications following which the choice is made.

Another thing: whence does space get its quantitative character? It comes from the rôle which the series of muscular sensations play in its genesis. These are series which may repeat themselves, and it is from their repetition that number comes; it is because they can repeat themselves indefinitely that space is infinite. And finally we have seen, at the end of section 3, that it is also because of this that space is relative. So it is repetition which has given to space its essential characteristics; now, repetition supposes time; this is enough to tell that time is logically anterior to space.


§ 7. Rôle of the Semicircular Canals

I have not hitherto spoken of the role of certain organs to which the physiologists attribute with reason a capital importance, I mean the semicircular canals. Numerous experiments have sufficiently shown that these canals are necessary to our sense of orientation; but the physiologists are not entirely in accord; two opposing theories have been proposed, that of Mach-Delage and that of M. de Cyon.

M. de Cyon is a physiologist who has made his name illustrious by important discoveries on the innervation of the heart; I can not, however agree with his ideas on the question before us. Not being a physiologist, I hesitate to criticize the experiments he has directed against the adverse theory of Mach-Delage; it seems to me, however, that they are not convincing, because in many of them the total pressure was made to vary in one of the canals, while, physiologically, what varies is the difference between the pressures on the two extremities of the canal; in others the organs were subjected to profound lesions, which must alter their functions.

Besides, this is not important; the experiments, if they were irreproachable, might be convincing against the old theory. They would not be convincing for the new theory. In fact, if I have rightly understood the theory, my explaining it will be enough for one to understand that it is impossible to conceive of an experiment confirming it.