Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/242

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stimuli will act, or will act strongly, only under favorable social and physical conditions, and these last are what I have called the conditions of the advancement of science. They are a step farther removed from the product than the cause. As crops are cultivated in soils of different degrees of fertility, so science is pursued under conditions which are more or less favorable to its advancement; but science is not followed to any considerable extent, nor are the best results obtained, except under favorable social conditions.

The causes leading to the advancement of science are somewhat difficult to trace, so many and varied are the influences affecting the intellectual life. Doubtless our knowledge of science has been increased to some extent by chance discovery, but the amount of credit which should be given to this influence will depend upon our ideas of what is really accidental in discovery. The alchemists, in trying to produce gold from the baser metals, discovered a number of valuable chemical compounds. These discoveries were accidental in the sense that they were not the real objects of the researches, yet the compounds would not have been discovered if the alchemists had not been experimenting in the field of chemistry and with those particular chemical elements. Chance discoveries are seldom made far from the field which is attracting attention. Certain discoveries, like the properties of saltpeter, may have been wholly accidental; but such discoveries are rare. Therefore instead of making pure accident an important cause of the advancement of knowledge, it is more nearly correct to say that an unexpected element often enters into scientific discovery.

Another minor influence leading to the progress of knowledge is idle curiosity. Probably the early observations of the stars and the planets were due to little else. Few discoveries, however, can be attributed to this stimulus alone, although curiosity in some form doubtless enters into the majority of scientific discoveries. Professor Ward[1] quotes De Candolle as saying, "the principle of all discoveries is curiosity." But such an assertion gives us little help. Our task lies in attempting to discover the various influences which arouse curiosity. Mere curiosity, accompanied by no other motive, seems really to have had little influence in advancing science. It is true that students engaged in research may select one problem rather than another, simply because they have a greater interest in it; but their motive for investigating some problem is quite different from idle curiosity.

The greatest stimulus to the progress of science in its earliest stages is to be found in an attempt to achieve some great object. Although logically science is the basis of art, historically early art precedes science and is the greatest incentive to its advancement. The history of almost all the sciences shows that their beginnings lay in a desire to

  1. "Pure Sociology," p. 445.