Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/29

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SCIENCE AMONG THE CHINESE

years "sat still," and so robbed themselves of the glory that might have been theirs!

7. The Defect.—It may be admitted that Chinese philosophers entertained some general ideas concerning an all-pervading medium, that they assumed an original unity of matter in all their cosmological speculations, that they had clear ideas on mechanical action and reaction, and very crude ones concerning the transformations of energy, which vaguely suggest those held to-day by the foremost investigators. But we see no just grounds for believing that they, or the Greeks, either, held any ideas comparable with the modern doctrines of vortex motion in the ether, of the conservation of energy, or of biological or cosmological evolution, for it does not seem to us that in the case of either the Greeks or the Chinese should their vague guesses be regarded as true anticipation of modern science. The method of modern science is its distinguishing characteristic, and this was almost completely lacking among the Chinese, and to a less extent among the Greeks also. There is a vast chasm between rampant imagination and scientific imagination, starting with observed facts and following paths that lead to results which can be directly or indirectly verified.

It is not enough to find in an ancient writer a few or even a considerable number of sentences seemingly anticipatory of modern thought. Nor must we neglect the hundreds of other ideas embodied in the context which distinctly are not in accord with modern science. We must observe the scope and design of the writer; inquire into his full aim and end in that book, or section, or paragraph, which will help to explain particular sentences. In particular propositions the sense of an author may sometimes be known by the inference which he draws from them himself; and all those meanings must be excluded from our interpretation of what was in his mind, which will not allow of that inference. Yet even in them we must take heed, lest we mistake an allusion for an inference, which is often introduced in almost the same manner. We must carefully guard against "reading into" an ancient writing the modern connotation of the term employed centuries ago, and that too as translated by means of a very dissimilar language in its present-day equivalents.

Too often these Chinese philosophers (as did the Greeks) assumed innate tendency as the basis of their crude and vague speculations. But innate tendencies are not looked upon with as much favor in the philosophy of to-day as in that of past ages, and suggestions so incapable of verification have little or no value as scientific hypotheses.

However interesting and worthy of notice the results of this guesswork may be as representing the philosophical creed of China, they are in the present connection simply a mass of cosmological conjectures into the details of which it would be unprofitable to follow.