THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
|THE INSTRUMENTS AND METHODS OF RESEARCH|
CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON
WERE I to accuse you of forgetfulness, of shortness of memory, or possessed of that quality apt to prove troublesome to others, though characterized by the oldest of our past presidents, in his delightful "Reminiscences of an Astronomer" as a valuable quality—absentmindedness—I dare say you would not be much offended, though possibly a trifle annoyed. But were I to accuse you of narrow-mindedness I might meet with a different reception. To none of us would it matter much to be called short-memoried or absent-minded, but to be termed narrow-minded arouses our resentment immediately. But are we not all necessarily so, more or less, according to the circumstances in which we find ourselves?
Mind the Chief Instrument of Research
I believe it was the mathematical physicist Stokes who warned us we must not forget that the chief instrument of investigation—the mind—is itself the object of research. To the mind, then, we should devote our first and chief attention in the discussion of the subject for this evening. How to reduce and check as far as possible this natural tendency of all of us to narrow-mindedness in one or more directions, or how, realizing its necessary existence, to make due allowance for it in the formulation of conclusions which, though drawn with utmost care, are nevertheless subject to "personal equation," is, as we at once readily see, a matter of the very highest importance.
Many of you are doubtless familiar with the Hindoo fable set to rhyme by Saxe:
It was six men of Indoostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side.
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
- Address of the retiring president, delivered before the Philosophical Society of Washington, Saturday evening, December 5, 1908.