Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/137

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THE INTERPRETATION OF NATURE

superficiality still more wide-spread and debilitating than it is now? Not at all. Paradoxical as it may seem, the very conditions that would produce a broader knowledge of living things would make that knowledge more accurate and penetrating.

Once see clearly how much more educational effort can accomplish with small children when it takes advantage of curiosity about, and spontaneous interest in, nature, than when it tries to compel interest, and one of the main ways of escape from the difficulty here indicated will have been found. As to more advanced youths and adults, the belief is altogether too widely and influentially held that interest in nature is more dependent upon continuous work with and exhaustive knowledge of the particular sections of nature concerned, than is actually the case. Under the guidance of a free and expansive general theory of living nature a keen and genuinely elevating interest in a vast range of things about which one's technical knowledge is rather meager, is undoubtedly possible.

The dread of superficiality entertained by professional biologists, while justifiable to a certain extent, is yet often strongly tinctured with the notion that profundity of knowledge means knowledge of the deeply located parts of organisms; and contrariwise, that any knowledge of the exterior, easily visible parts and activities is superficial. This tincturing is another of the results of the bad metaphysics already referred to.

But perhaps the most important consideration under this head concerns the powers of men. Human beings are indeed limited in capacity. No one can learn or do everything. Yet exactly where are the bounds of human capacity? What psychologist has determined accurately the utmost limits of the power of acquisition by any given human mind? When we ascribe limitations to the powers of the mind it is vitally important that we measure our words. There is a vast difference between recognizing that limits do exist and knowing just where they are.

Such expressions as "we can do anything we really want to do," and "we can do what we must do," though so long familiar in common life, are only now coming to scientific definiteness of meaning in psychology and biology. We must presently become aware that the discovery of the unused spiritual and physical capacities of the human being is of transcendent importance; and but for the circumstance that our dominant biological philosophy has had no use for, and hence no interest in, the facts, it would be surprising that so little notice has been taken of them.

Who that has had anything to do with children has not noticed the facility with which they learn certain things, which they take up all by themselves, and which it seems there is no reason why they should learn? Conspicuous illustrations before us everywhere in the United