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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/August 1882/Editor's Table

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 21‎ | August 1882

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
DU BOIS-REYMOND ON EXERCISE.

MAGAZINES are of two kinds: the entertaining kind, which cater to mental laziness, and can be skimmed over without mental effort; and the instructive kind, which contain articles that must be read twice. "The Popular Science Monthly," from the start, has furnished a considerable proportion of articles so weighted with valuable thought as to require concentration of mind and often careful re-perusal to grasp and assimilate their contents. This has provoked frequent protests on the part of our readers, who have complained that we deviate from the magazine-standard of easy reading, and are not true to our title, which promises a magazine adapted to the populace. Yes, but to the improvement of the populace! The "Monthly" was started for no other reason than because the standard of our current magazines was low—too low to reflect the best mental activity of the times. Their aim is to amuse and beguile their readers by calling forth the smallest possible amount of mental reaction. We started because the popular magazines, competing downward, shirked vigorous work, and were false to the demands of an age characterized beyond all others for its intellectual seriousness, and by the magnitude, importance, and practical quality of the questions that are occupying the ablest minds in all countries. These minds can not be followed—these questions can not be understood without effort on the reader's part. This is the price that must be paid for real knowledge. People can not be amused into mental grasp and vigor, they must be exercised into it. We talk of mental progress, mental elevation, mental expansion, but these are attainable only on the condition of mental exertion.

We print, in two parts, another of those articles that have to be re-read to get their full import. It is by Professor Du Bois-Reymond, and is on "Exercise," so that it is at the same time an illustration and an exposition of our subject. It is a most original and instructive statement, and will well repay re-perusal.

One of the inevitable effects of the advancement of science in various directions is the establishment of new connections of thought which are often most striking and significant. What can Darwinism have to do with exercise? Restricting the term Darwinism, as we must do, to natural selection, Du Bois-Reymond shows that they are very closely related. Viewing organic nature mechanically, the series of living beings has been unfolded during unlimited time by adaptation to new conditions, the course of movement being in an ascending scale. "From this point of view, organic nature appears not only as a machine, but also as a self-improving machine." But the law of self-improvement is, that powers and faculties are strengthened and grow by exercise, and are weakened by non-exercise. In the struggle for existence, therefore, those will win and survive in whom exercise has developed superior capacities and resources, while the less exercised and weaker fail and perish. The principle of exercise is thus a kind of motive-power in animal evolution, and, as might be expected, is full of the most important results in the higher spheres of physiological and psychical activity. The predominance of pugilism and athletic sports, which depend upon 11 muscle," have favored the idea that the chief influence and benefit of exercise is upon the muscular system; but Professor Reymond shows that this is an error. An important effect is, of course, produced in the development of the muscles, which is very fully and interestingly traced out; but by far the most important and valuable influence of physical exercise is shown to be upon the nervous centers. "It is easy to show the error of the common view, and demonstrate that such bodily exercises as gymnastics, fencing, swimming, riding, dancing, and skating are much more exercises of the central nervous system, of the brain and spinal marrow. Every action of our body as a motive apparatus depends not less but more upon the proper co-operation of the muscles than upon the force of their contraction. In order to execute a composite motion, like a leap, the muscles must begin to work in the proper order, and the energy of each one of them must increase, halt, and diminish, according to a certain law, so that the result shall be the proper position of the limbs, and the proper velocity of the center of gravity in the proper direction."

But when it is established that the Central nervous system is not only amenable to the law of exercise, but is the chief object of its influence, we then begin to see how the highest mental effects are involved in the question. Improvement by means of exercise and deterioration from non-exercise apply to the gray matter of the brain as well as to the muscles. From this point of view, which is that of the philosophy of human educability, the subject has a comprehensive interest, and we hope our readers will recognize that, in furnishing them articles that imply some effort in their mastery, we are conforming to the only law by which real mental improvement can be secured.

 

 
MORE SIGNS OF THE TIMES.

That there has been going forward within the last few years a rapid liberalization of public opinion on the subjects that are in issue between science and theology, everybody now admits; and, having done what little we could to promote this salutary result, we are naturally interested in all the striking indications of the growth of toleration in quarters where it has been previously but little looked for. We called attention a few months ago to the significance of a declaration made by an eminent English doctor of divinity that the appreciation of Herbert Spencer's system of philosophy is "an education to an age," and we have now to take note of another liberal concession of perhaps greater interest.

The Victoria Institute, a vigorous English society of nearly a thousand members, consisting chiefly of lords, bishops, and clergymen, was founded a few years ago for the broad purpose of reconciling orthodox Christianity with the revelations of science. It is a kind of British standing committee on the relations of science and theology, the duty of which is to consider and report on all the alleged cases of their conflict.

It has been long expected that the Institute would take up the question of the religious relations of Spencer's philosophy, and that has now been done. The last report of its proceedings, just published, contains an elaborate paper, attacking this system and claiming to demolish it, which was written by the Rev. W. D. Ground, and its reading was followed by an unusually full discussion of the subject by the members of the Institute. We have no room to reproduce at length either the essay or the comments that were made upon it; but there are certain features of both to which it seems desirable to call attention, because we here get weighty theological confirmation of positions that have long been maintained in the Popular Science Monthly."

We have heard a great deal of Mr. Spencer's materialism. The charge has become stereotyped. It is said that this is a materialistic age; that life is materialistic; that science is materialistic, and that Spencer is the archmaterialist who works the doctrine up into a philosophy for universal gratification. We have always denied the truth of this accusation, and held that it has been made either in ignorance or dishonesty. We have maintained not only that Spencer is explicitly opposed to materialism, but that he has written with great power against it. And we have, moreover, maintained that, in the future emergencies of theological thought which are sure to result from the further progress of science, the value of Spencer's antimaterialistic logic will be better appreciated. All this has been regarded as sufficiently amusing, but how is it now with the experts of the Victoria Institute? The Rev. Mr. Ground says: "The existence and the immateriality of mind is a cardinal doctrine of Mr. Spencer's philosophy. It is one of the last and most certain deliverances of his philosophy that mind and matter both exist, and that between these two there is a chasm which no effort of ours enables us to cross. He exhausts the resources of language to declare that this is the one fact which transcends in absolute certainty every other fact. Somehow, this seems to have escaped the notice of many who have criticised his writings, and he is commonly believed to uphold something like materialism. Greater error, however, there can hardly be. Materialism has never before had such a powerful and uncompromising opponent, and it is hardly probable that it can ever again make head against his attacks. The doctrine of the absolute immateriality of mind is a structural part of his philosophy, and one which is simply invaluable to those who see the spiritual aspect of things."

In the discussion which followed the reading of the paper, there was not a word of protest against this statement. Various things were objected, to, but this avowal, so directly in the teeth of current prejudice, provoked not the slightest criticism. It was, in fact, indorsed by the unanimous approval of Mr. Ground's argument, which was based upon the idea that Spencer is not a materialist, and derived its whole force from this assumption. Mr. Ground makes numerous citations from Spencer which incontestably prove his position; and this portion of his argument may be fairly put against the whole mass of criticism which aims to convict Spencer of mateterialism.

But there was one part of Mr. Ground's essay for which the society was not prepared: his estimate of the character of Spencer's work startled his audience. He began by saying: "The system of philosophy associated with the name of Herbert Spencer has now been nearly twenty years before the philosophical world, and it has slowly made its way until it has won a place in the first rank of such productions. Whatever we may think of it, it is not easy to withhold our intellectual homage. It is the last and probably the greatest attempt ever made to present a true philosophy of the kosmos; it is imbued with the modern scientific spirit; it claims to be strictly in accord with scientific principles; it displays a breadth of generalization and a wealth of energy such as we find only in the greatest works of all time; and it is by many believed to be one of the worthiest triumphs ever achieved by the unaided intellect of man. It is never easy to estimate justly any contemporary work—we stand too near it to see its true proportions—but it seems to not a few that Mr. Spencer may fairly claim a place in the front rank of the intellect of the world. His greatness in this respect must in justice be conceded."

Mr. Ground in closing re-affirmed his high opinion of the import of Spencer's work as follows: "We may, however, allow that, if only he will keep within his proper limits, very much of what he has written will stand in lines of unfading truth and beauty, and he will have the honor of lifting the human intellect to a higher plane of thought and life. He is so great and many sided, and he has contributed such a vast amount of intellectual force, that no one who reverences the mind of man as one of the greatest handiworks of God can honestly refuse him homage. He stands before us of the build of the giants, perhaps of the immortals, and his nature is not yet made up so as to show us what will be his ultimate place—whether amid those who shed kindly benefactions on the race, or those who like evil angels leave behind them a heritage of negation, unbelief, and despair."

Such talk was not at all palatable to the members of the Victoria Institute, who could not recognize much greatness in a man whom they had just seen so effectually "crushed." The chairman led by observing, "I would rather not have seen so very much admiration for Mr. Herbert Spencer combined with the reasoning of the paper, which proves so successfully that if this 'writer' is indeed a 'gia t,' he is but a giant stuffed with straw." The Rev. Dr. Irons remarked, "I concur fully with the chairman in saying that the estimate formed of Mr. Herbert Spencer was somewhat exaggerated, and yet I have to acknowledge the great admiration I entertain of Spencer's style and acuteness and power of analysis, and I do not think we gain anything by depreciating our opponents." Others followed in a similar strain, and only Professor Griffiths accepted the estimate of Spencer, and took exception to the general argument of the essay. In reviewing and closing the discussion, Mr. Ground admitted that he might have been over-impressed by Spencer's genius, but that it was very easy to commit the opposite mistake. He said: "I feel sure, however, that some in this Institute greatly underrate Mr. Spencer—a mistake which in my judgment would, if not corrected, bring disastrous consequences, but it is possible that I may have gone to the opposite extreme. In reading his philosophy, I am distinctly conscious that vaster thoughts are before me than when reading Shakespeare. Shakespeare one can take up any time as the companion of an idle hour, and the amount of mental stimulation he gives is relatively trifling. Not so is it with Spencer. It is only when the eye is keenest, the will strongest, the nervous force most abundant, that you can be sure of following him. The first (Shakespeare) carries you through the gentle undulations of an English county, and his highest elevations are hardly so much as Snowdon or Helvellyn, but Spencer carries you up the awful Alpine ranges, where the spaces of thought over which the eye roves are incomparably vaster, and where the exertion demanded is far greater. Spencer has a certain Miltonic grandeur. I could name places in his philosophy where views are given us of creation, in which, if we add the spiritual conceptions of which I spoke, the idea presented rises, to my mind, in extent, sublimity, and overpowering greatness above everything I have yet met with in all uninspired literature. To grasp his system is like standing in the Sistine Chapel and bearing the full weight of the conceptions of Michael Angelo. While this fact explains the fascination that Spencer exerts over many, it also shows us the great danger either cf letting his system continue, as it no doubt is, the reigning philosophy of the world, or of depreciating it below its just value."

 

 
THE SLOW PROGRESS OF IDEAS.

In his recent excellent report to Columbia College, Dr. Barnard says, in discussing the policy of universities, "Newton stands perhaps without a peer in the scientific annals of all time, yet the astronomy of Ptolemy continued to be taught in Newton's own university of Cambridge for a century after the publication of the 'Principia' had created astronomical science anew." This is an excellent illustration of the power of habit and tradition in education. In further discussing "Education as a Science" in the same report, President Barnard quotes the following statement of the Rev. Mr. Quick, the Cambridge lecturer, on the history and philosophy of teaching: "I take it that Jacotot taught more emphatically than any one three great pedagogic truths: first, that a good teacher exercises the searching rather than the receiving faculties of the learner's mind; second, that all fresh knowledge should be connected with what the learner knew before; and, third, that a thorough knowledge of anything is an almost inexhaustible source of power. However, if his principles were right, there must have been some grave defect in the application of them, or his system, which at first met with immense success, would not so speedily have lost its ground." To this President Barnard adds, "The grave defect in the application consisted obviously in his pushing the first principle to an extravagant and unreasonable excess, and in leaving the pupil too entirely helpless."

We suspect that the reason why those golden truths of Jacotot have not been more generally accepted and practiced, and why his system perished with him, was deeper than is here indicated. Badly applied they no doubt were, but it is more significant that they were prematurely thoroughgoing, and involved the cutting up of an old system, root and branch. If it took a hundred years for the magnates of Cambridge University to recognize the demonstrated truths of the "Principia," how much longer will it take to introduce something like a law of gravitation into education? It is hurrying things if a great new principle gets well accepted in a century and intelligently applied in another century, and Jacotot's experiment is but half a century old. Science is making progress, but it moves precious slow in old educational establishments. Loading the memory with Greek and Latin seems still to be the leading business of Columbia College; while Dr. Barnard tells us that; "zoology, botany, physiology, and biology are all unrepresented in our scheme of instruction." As a further illustration of the slowness of collegiate improvement and reform, it may be mentioned that, while Columbia College has a strong corps of teachers for drilling in the dead languages, it has no adequate provision for discipline in the correct and elegant use of the living language in which the intellectual life-work of all the students is to be carried on. Dr. Barnard laments that there is no sufficient provision "to practice the learner in the proper use of language," and urges the Board of Trustees to repair this and the other omissions referred to. From all of which we infer that, although knowledge goes slow, Columbia College goes slower.

Dr. Barnard desires to have the ladies patronize his institution, but they may well reply: "Not yet, dear doctor; you are too far behind the age. We appreciate the honor, and the society of the gentlemen would not be unpleasant; but it is a very important question whether the culture you are prepared to give us is the best calculated to qualify us for that sphere of life to which most of us are destined. We have all read that Agesilaus, King of Sparta, upon being asked what things he thought most proper for girls to learn, answered, 'Those which they ought to practice when they come to be women.' Does your education answer to that test? Is a college in which physiology and biology are unrepresented, and which offers no instruction in anthropology—the science of human nature—the proper place to educate young women for the duties of motherhood, the nurture of children, and the intelligent practical administration of home affairs? We can not see that you have what we most want, and we are afraid if we came you would so fill our heads with everything we don't want that we should be worse off than if we were not educated at all. Go on with the excellent work of modernizing your curriculum, and, when you have made it to better represent the present state of knowledge, it will be time to talk to us about buying it."

This is encouraging. We had supposed that the ladies were crazy to get into the college anyhow, without the slightest regard to what they found there—in fact, wanted to get in merely because they had been kept out; accordingly, as this is not so, we rejoice.

 

 
COLLEGE GOVERNMENT.

We last year had the pleasure of commending the new departure of Amherst College in the matter of government. It consisted in an open repudiation of the old and still prevailing system of paternal control which so naturally engenders conflict and promotes excesses on the part of the students. As we before remarked, young men can only be educated in manhood by being practiced in its liberty and responsibility. The home government of childhood and early youth is necessarily paternal, watchful, care-taking, often too much so for the development of self-reliant character; but when boys become young men they have the right to substitute self-restraint for external restraint as the governing law of conduct. And especially when they go to college, where the scheme of studies assumes mental maturity, where the new social forces are so active, and the new temptations so strong, they should be thrown upon their honor, and pledged to self-control at the outset and without reserve. It is gratifying to observe that the second year's experience at Amherst proves the practicability and the superiority of the self-governing method. A correspondent of the "New York Evening Post" remarks:

It has been a year of unusually satisfactory progress. Professor W. S. Tyler, who was graduated in 1830, and has been connected with the college ever since, says that it has been the most healthy and satisfactory year for the college that he has ever known. More and better work has been done in the studies, and there has never been a year of such perfect discipline. It is the new system of government, now at the end of its second year of practical working, which is given the credit of the improvement. In brief, the system is this: The relation of faculty and students is regarded as that of two parties to a contract. The student wishes to study, and contracts to follow the rules of the college. The faculty contract to give the instruction. If a student breaks his contract by disorderly conduct or by committing any of the irregular acts so common in colleges against public peace, he is held to have broken his contract, and ipso facto his connection with the college ceases. He has broken his word, and a rupture of the contract by one party releases the other. No vote of expulsion is passed. There is no writing home to parents. No member of the faculty is expected to act the spy. The single act of the student settles the whole thing. All this is now perfectly understood. When the system was introduced its first enforcement was particularly severe, and the students did not fully comprehend the situation. For that once only, after a full reparation for the wrong, the offenders were restored to their standing, and there has been no relaxation of the rule since. It was believed that the past year would be particularly trying, because the novelty would be worn off, and the permanent value of President Seelye's theory would be tested. Besides this change, there came with it a total abolition of the old ranking system, and so the test this year has been particularly severe. It is of high interest, therefore, that every one of the faculty, and, so far as is known, every one of the students, is heartily in favor of the new system. Not a single disorder has occurred in college during the year. Even the freshmen, to burn their celebration bonfire, did not steal any one's fence, nor tear down any one's barn, but bought their materials and had an honest fire on the campus. A spirit of manliness and self-reliance has become prevalent to a degree which was utterly unknown when the students were under the parental system, and were inclined to regard the faculty as their natural enemies. About a fortnight ago the faculty made a thorough investigation into the scholarship in all departments, in order to compare the efficiency of the course now with what it was under the old method of discipline and working. It was found that the new way is better than the old by far, and that the scholarship of the students is better than formerly. This is not attributed to any higher average in the general ability of the young men, but solely to the stimulus which comes from the college atmosphere.