Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/323

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APRIL, 1911

By Professor JOHN C. SHEDD


SINCE the earliest ages man has been interested in the world outside of himself. Thunderstorms, waterfalls, winds, waves, fire, the starry heavens have aroused his wonder, admiration or fear.

During the earlier stages of racial development the simplest phenomenon was explained by reference to some arbitrary power, and soon gods and demigods were conceived of as presiding over the agencies of nature. Later men who had wrested some of her secrets from nature or had won some victory over her were exalted to the position of heroes and worshipped, while their exploits, greatly magnified, became part of the legendary history of the race. Slowly man began to realize that there is a constancy about nature that may be expressed in general statements. These statements were often vaguely expressed as, "Nature abhors a vacuum," "Water and fire are antagonistic," "There are three elements, earth, air and water" or "earth, fire and water." These crude beginnings led to more careful and more systematic study of nature, and to more exact statements of what we now call the laws of nature.

It took long ages—perhaps we have not even yet reached the goal—for man to realize that the content of his study is here objective, so that the method of study must be inductive and not deductive. This being the case, the conclusions arrived at must be allowed to shape themselves regardless of consequences to antecedent beliefs. Thus it happened that the study of nature has been for ages hampered by many a prejudice and by many a "Thou shalt not" from churchman and philosopher.

Another and perhaps greater impediment than the inertia of the human mind was the ravage wrought by war and time. Could each