Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/94

This page has been validated.

structure of nature herself. Nature is a great system of things wherein mediately or immediately everything is related to everything else, and the scientific problem is the discovery of these relations. That many of them are so remote that no man could have foreseen them, is not our fault.

It is this remoteness of natural relations that so frequently startles us when discovered, and it is likewise the remoteness of things that justifies every stroke of work on problems the solution of which no man can evaluate in gold or silver. Indeed our usual standards break down completely here, for the measure of science is not in money, but in happiness, and the market value of this is uncertain, since no man, consciously or at least voluntarily, places his own happiness on sale. To ask for the monetary equivalent of the scientific discovery that our bodies are derived from a single cell, is like asking for the price of a friend. Brooks, in a suggestive paper on universities, wrote:

While the benefits which learning confers are its only claims to consideration, these benefits will cease as soon as they are made an end or aim. All men prize the fruit, but. . . the tree will soon be barren if they visit it only at the harvest; they must dig about it and nourish it, and cherish the flowers, and green leaves. The gifts of learning are like health which comes to him who does not seek it, but flies farther and farther from him who would lure it back by physic or indulgence.

If material benefits, however, had been the only products of scientific explanation in his day, Huxley, according to his own confession, would not have been cared greatly to toil in the service of science, but would have enjoyed equally well the less complicated activities connected with quietly chipping his flint ax after the manner of forebears a few thousand years back. He tells us:

The growth of scientific explanation has not only conferred practical benefits on men, but in so doing has effected a revolution in their conception of the universe and of themselves, and has profoundly altered their modes of thinking and their views of right and wrong. I say that natural knowledge, seeking to satisfy natural wants has found the ideas which can alone still spiritual cravings. I say that natural knowledge in desiring to ascertain the laws of comfort, has been driven to discover those of conduct, and to lay the foundations of a new morality.

It is more important, infinitely more important, that I should know and understand the immediate as well as the remote consequences of any action of mine, than it is that I should travel in seventeen hours, in luxury, to New York, and scientific explanation enables me to do both.

It is because we are apt to be so much more impressed by a practical application than by the conditions under which such application is possible, so much more by prominence than by importance, so much more by the gun than by the man behind it, and lastly because science modestly acknowledges her limitations, that she has fallen into ill