Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/374

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obvious that they are called self-evident, and the rest of his work consists of subtle deductions from them. The teaching of languages, at any rate as ordinarily practised, is of the same general nature—authority and tradition furnish the data, and the mental operations are deductive." It would seem that from the above somewhat singularly juxtaposed paragraphs that, according to Professor Huxley, the business of a mathematical student is from a limited number of propositions (bottled up and labelled ready for future use) to deduce any required result by a process of the same general nature as a student of language employs in declining and conjugating his nouns and verbs—that to make out a mathematical proposition and to construe or parse a sentence are equivalent or identical mental operations. Such an opinion scarcely seems to need serious refutation.

Further on Sylvester says:

We are told that "mathematics is that study which knows nothing of observation, nothing of experiment, nothing of induction, nothing of causation." I think no statement could have been more opposite to the undoubted facts of the case; that mathematical analysis is constantly invoking the aid of new principles, new ideas and new methods, not capable of being defined by any form of words, but springing direct from the inherent powers and activity of the human mind, and from continually renewed introspection of that inner world of thought of which the phenomena are as varied and require as close attention to discern as those of the outer physical world, . . . that it is unceasingly calling forth the faculties of observation and comparison, that one of its principal weapons is induction, that it has frequent recourse to experimental trial and verification, and that it affords a boundless scope for the exercise of the highest efforts of imagination and invention.

Lagrange . . . has expressed emphatically his belief in the importance to the mathematician of the faculty of observation; Gauss has called mathematics a science of the eye . . .; the ever to be lamented Riemann has written a thesis to show that the basis of our conception of space is purely empirical, and our knowledge of its laws the result of observation, that other kinds of space might be conceived to exist subject to laws different from those which govern the actual space in which we are immersed. . . . Most, if not all, of the great ideas of modern mathematics have had their origin in observation. Take, for instance, . . . Sturm's theorem about the roots of equations, which, as he informed me with his own lips, stared him in the face in the midst of some mechanical investigations connected with the motion of compound pendulums.

After citing many other instances, Sylvester says:

I might go on, were it necessary, piling instance upon instance, to prove the paramount importance of the faculty of observation to the progress of mathematical discovery. Were it not unbecoming to dilate on one's personal experience, I could tell a story of almost romantic interest about my own latest researches in a field where Geometry, Algebra, and the Theory of Numbers melt in a surprising manner into one another, . . . which would very strikingly illustrate how much observation, divination, induction, experimental trial, and verification, causation, too (if that means, as I suppose it must, mounting from phenomena to their reasons or causes of being), have to do with the work of the mathematician. In the face of these facts, which every analyst in this room or out of it can vouch for out of his own knowledge and personal experience, how can it be maintained, in the words of Professor Huxley, who, in this instance, is speaking of the sciences as they are in themselves and without any reference to scholastic discipline, that Mathematics "is that study which knows