Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/57

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RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS IN PURE SCIENCE

hygiene" and for "investigations in tropical diseases." An institution of pure science, on the other hand, should be one the primary aim of which is to extend the bounds of man's knowledge of nature in a specified field, and to show something of the significance of the new knowledge for the higher life of mankind. To be more definite, an institution of research in biology or in astronomy could justify its existence, in a democratic country like ours, only by making considerable additions to knowledge and then by showing in language comprehensible to the generally hut non-technically educated members of the community, something of the meaning of this knowledge for human beings in both the physical and the spiritual aspects of their natures.[1]

I now mention certain biological discoveries and generalizations which have, as I believe, very great importance to civilized men but which are by no means as widely known as they ought to be and might be, and which can become thus known only through the efforts of professional biologists.

The significance of omne vivum ex vivo (all life from preceding life) not only for philosophic biology, but for the attitude of thoughtful people generally toward the problems of practical living, should be more clearly and firmly grasped than it has been. That the dictum is solely an expression of the summed-up results of technical science and practical experience, that so far it has not encountered the crucial "one exception" and hence ranks with gravitation as one of the best established of nature's laws, and that its unescapable implication is that the succession of living beings in nature was without beginning, that is to say, has come from an infinite past, are matters readily susceptible of popular presentation and may be counted on to greatly interest many people were the subject to be presented by the biologist who himself had fully grasped the problems and clearly seen their significance for human life and conduct.

The generalization, based on an enormous range of observations, that all organisms, including human beings, are subject in all aspects of their natures to the principles of evolution, needs to be and may be far more widely and firmly implanted in popular intelligence than it is; and its bearings on general ideas of progress, social and other, and on popular estimates of perfection and imperfection, are very important.

  1. The soundness of this view is dependent upon the soundness of two assumptions which can not be argued here, but which may be briefly stated: (1) The person of average natural endowment and education in the United States is capable of understanding the most essential things in any scientific discovery that has ever been made or is likely to be made for many years to come. (2) It does "matter" enormously not only to the individuals, but to the nation as a whole, whether or not those who are capable of this much understanding have an opportunity to get it.