Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 26/December 1884/Popular Miscellany

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 26‎ | December 1884


American Association Addresses.—Professor J. W. Langley's vice-presidential address before the Chemical Section of the American Association was on "Chemical Affinity." lie opened his paper with a review of the various theories that had been proposed to account for chemical action from Hippocrates down, and showed how the term "affinity" has disappeared from the chemical literature of the present day. Three methods of studying the force of affinity have been taken up and followed in parallel courses, which may be designated as the thermal, the electrical, and the method of time or speed. It is deduced from thermo-chemical phenomena that the work of chemical combination is largely influenced by the surrounding conditions of temperature, pressure, and volume, and that the force of affinity is dependent on the conditions exterior to the reacting system which limit the possible amount of change. The electrical method has been followed less actively than the thermal one, and has not led to any particularly definite results. Very little work has been done in the method of time or speed of chemical reaction, in which, however. Professor Langley suggests that the future of chemical research may lie. Chemistry is behind physics, in that it is served by only two fundamental conceptions—mass and volume—while physics is underlain by three—space, mass, time. What would physics be without the notation of velocities? such in a measure is chemistry without taking account of dynamics. Whenever we look outside of chemistry, we find that the lines of the great theories along which progress is making are those of dynamic hypotheses. So it is in biology, in geology, and in physiology, where all observations are made in the light of time-indications; and so it must be in chemistry. "The study of the speed of reaction has but just begun. It is a line of work surrounded with unusual difficulties, but it contains a rich store of promise."

In his address before the Geological and Geographical Section on "The Crystalline Rocks of the Northwest," Professor N. II. Winchell presented some considerations in favor of recognizing and adopting in American geology the Taconic group which was set forth by Dr. Emmons in 1842. Until very recently it has been the practice of geologists to refer every crystalline rock in the Northwest—in Michigan, Wisconsin, and later in Minnesota—to either the Huronian or Laurentian system. A more careful examination has shown that the nomenclature is imperfect, and needs to be amended or supplemented. Omitting the igneous rocks of dikes and overflows, the crystalline rocks underlying the shales and sandstones of the cupriferous formation in the Northwest may be arranged, in descending order, in six groups. The first group consists of granite and gneiss with gabbro, and has been variously regarded by different geologists. Below this is a series of strata that may be designated by the general term mica-schist group. Next is a group of black mica-schists, with carbonaceous and arenaceous black shales, under which is a very thick series of obscure hydromicaceous and greenish magnesian schists, with beds of gray quartzite and clay slates and deposits of hematite iron-ore, terminating with magnetic iron-ore. The fifth group consists of gray quartzite and marble, and rests upon the lowest recognized horizon of granite and syenite, with hornblendic schists. Difficulties rise when it is attempted to find correspondences between these groups and any of the now recognized Eastern formations. Dr. Emmons erred in his first presentation of the Taconic system by extending it geographically too far east, and choosing a name for it which is appropriate only to a part of that eastward exteasion, and for that reason, perhaps, among others, it has fallen out of favor. In Professor Winchell's view, however, his claim, "in all its essential points, remains intact." This consists in the existence of a series of sedimentary deposits, largely metamorphic, below the Potsdam sandstone, and separating the Potsdam from the crystalline rocks known as "primary" in an orderly chronological sequence. His system, going from the top down, comprised a black slate, including a considerable amount of carbonaceous matter; an argillaceous, siliceous, and "talcose" Taconic slate; the "Stockbridge limestone"; graduating downward into "talcose" or magnesian sandstones and slates; a "granular quartz-rock," with slates and becoming in some places a conglomerate with a "chloritic paste"; and the "ancient gneiss" on which the formation rested unconformably. In this several correspondences are found with the definitions of the crystalline rocks of the Northwest. Professor Winchell concludes that Dr. Emmons's Taconic included three of the six groups of the Northwest; that the Huronian of Canada is the equivalent of the lowest of the Taconic groups, and the perfect parallel of only the lowest of the groups in the Northwest that have been designated Huronian; that the uppermost of the groups in the Northwest is local in its existence and exceptional in its characters, and has therefore received a variety of names; and that there are, therefore, confusion and conflict of authority in the application of names to the crystalline rocks of the Northwest.

Professor Cope chose, as the subject of his address before the Biological Section, catagenesis, or the doctrine of the process of creation by the retrograde metamorphosis of energy, or by the specialization of energy. He began his argument by assuming that the general proposition that life has preceded organization in the order of time may be regarded as established; for it follows necessarily from the fact that the simple forms have as a rule preceded the complex in the order of appearance on the earth. Consciousness is coeval with life and has preceded all action, even such actions, called automatic and reflex, as are now performed in incomplete or complete unconsciousness. They were performed for the first time consciously and of design, but by frequent repetition they became habitual, and consciousness finally disappeared. Life, then, may be defined as energy directed by sensibility, or by a mechanism which has originated under the direction of sensibility. Consciousness is a property of matter, although clearly not of all kinds of matter. It is, then, of course subject to the laws of necessity to which matter and energy conform. The key to many weighty and mysterious phenomena of animal life can be found in the fact that energy can be conscious; but, when energy has become automatic, it is no longer conscious, or is about to become unconscious. In animals, with the development of habit, energy, on the loss of consciousness, undergoes a retrograde metamorphosis, as it does later in the history of organized beings on their death. This loss of consciousness is first succeeded by the so-called involuntary and automatic functions of animals. According to the law of catagenesis, the vegetative and other vital functions of animals and plants are a later product of the retrograde metamorphosis of energy. Yet the conscious animal kingdom is dependent on the unconscious vegetative, and the living vegetative on the dead inorganic kingdom, for nutrition, and consequently for existence. So the animal organism could not have existed prior to the vegetable nor the vegetable to the mineral. The explanation of this paradox is found in the wide application of the "doctrine of the unspecialized," in the light of which creation consists in specialization, or in the specific action of Spencer's general principle of the conversion of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous. The material basis of consciousness must, then, be a generalized substance which does not display the more automatic and the polar forms of energy, and is found in protoplasm. This is manufactured by living plants out of inorganic matter. For the first production of it, the generative energy must have previously existed in some form of matter not protoplasm, the detection of which must be left to future research. Both vegetable and animal kingdoms have been derived from the simplest of beings, some of whose forms may be still among us. The vegetable kingdom consists of organisms which consciousness has abandoned, and which have become automatic, sessile, parasitic, more automatic and degenerate. "The animal line may have originated in this wise: some individual protista, perhaps accidentally, devoured some of their fellows. The easy nutrition which ensued was probably pleasurable, and once enjoyed was repeated, and soon became a habit. The excess of energy thus saved from the laborious process of making protoplasm was available as the vehicle of an extended consciousness. From that day to this, consciousness has abandoned few if any members of the animal kingdom. In many of them it has specialized into more or less mind." If the principles here adopted be true, it is highly probable that all forms of energy have originated in the process of running down or specialization from the primitive energy.

Professor Edward S. Morse, Vice-President of the Anthropological Section, made the existence of "Man in the Tertiaries" the subject of his address. He began by predicating that rational investigation of man's origin had been obstructed by self-created barriers, which had to be ascended and overthrown one after the other. One of these barriers, which was interwoven with theological dogma, was removed some time ago. The next barrier was the one erected by Cuvier, in the idea that man, being highest in development of the animals, must have been latest in origin, and therefore could not have been contemporary with any but present fauna. This was overthrown by the discovery of relics of quaternary man. The discovery of evidences of human existence in tertiary formations has also been discredited by Gaudry and Dawkins, because no species now extant existed then; and Dawkins adds that, if man had been living then, he must have been subjected since to changes commensurate with those which other animals have undergone. The idea has also prevailed that man has been evolved from the higher apes, and that his nearest relatives among those creatures are those which are supposed to have appeared last in the sequence. Evidences of man are, however, found associated with extinct apes, and the gap between the two organisms is by no means closed. The apes are distinctly apes, and the man, though with ape-like features, is still man. The first anthropoid ape appears to have been found in the Middle Eocene, and later still a more generalized form, Oreopithecus, having affinities with anthropoid apes, macaques, and baboons. Side by side with them are to be found chipped flints. The approach of the two groups, man and apes, which seem to have co-existed here, must be sought far back. Man must have existed long before he could have left any marks of his work, "for before the rudest flint was fashioned by him he must have used natural fragments of sticks and stones, and even this faculty must have indicated an advance far beyond that of his progenitors, who had not acquired even the habit of handling weapons—the earliest evidences of man must be sought for in his remains, and not in his works," and here we meet difficulties, for the remains of man, being generally left in situations where they are exposed to decay, disturbance, or removal, are rarely found, even where the remnants of his works are numerous, as in the shell-mounds, caves, and lake villages. Hence, discovery of the remains of primitive man is highly improbable. That man has not changed in his physical characteristics in the same proportion as other animals is explainable by considering that the moment the ancestors of man possessed the power of banding together in communities, and of using weapons, they became capable of rendering inoperative the very influences which were so active in modifying or exterminating their mammalian associates. Cope has shown that the formation of man's feet is more like that of the earlier plantigrade type than that of the later ungulate and carnivorous types, in which the heel is lifted up. Man's structural relations are not only with the higher forms of apes, but also with those of the whole range from the gorilla down, and osteologically even with the halfapes and the lemuroids, which last have been discovered in the Lower Eocene of both continents. If these structural affinities arc established, we must look far beyond and below the present higher apes for the diverging branches of man's ancestry. Another evidence of high antiquity is afforded by the wide dispersion of the points at which the remains of early man have been found. It must have taken an enormous period for a race so low in savagery to have acquired so extensive a range.

General John Eaton, Vice-President of the Section of Economic Science and Statistics, spoke on the value of "Scientific Methods and Scientific Knowledge in Common Affairs." There is no good reason, he said, why scientific men should neglect to apply scientific methods to the economy and statistics of every-day life. It is unfortunate that scientific men aspire so exclusively to original research. We need men to couple love of science with love of mankind. Is not benefit to mankind the real measure of the good that is in science? The scientific method of communicating truth recognizes the fact that man's powers are shaped, and too often the bulk of his knowledge is acquired, in early life. Hence its fundamental rule must be simplicity in the use of language, and in the presentation of each truth in the concrete. Adopted in the whole domain of scholastic instruction, it would bring new votaries to science, and a better taste for all kinds of literature would result. The progress of the race is tending toward a gathering up, for man's daily use, of all the lessons of Nature, and to their application for the prevention of disorders and the anticipation of the need of measures for cure. As balance-sheets are studied in business, so are questions of finance, of taxation, and public expenditure. Great operations demand and have their collections of statistics and their vast accumulations ready as communications to economic science. But the correlation of all these and their actual results have not yet been reached. Nevertheless, money sees the profits of this wisdom, and is more ready to pay for it.


The French Association.—The thirteenth meeting of the French Association for the Advancement of the Sciences was opened at Blois, September 3d. The capital fund of the Association was reported to amount to $100,000, and $1,500 had been applied to scientific researches. The President, M. Bouquet de la Grye, made the opening address, on the subject of the "Progress of Hydrography in France." He suggested that variations in the level of the sea might exist in consequence of differences in the saltness of the water producing variations in density, and of differences in temperature. The level of the Mediterranean should be lower than that of the ocean, because its water is more dense. An increase of temperature in the German Ocean would flood the coasts, and make Paris a seaport. Dr. Grimaux delivered a memorial address on the academicians who had died during the year. Mr. Bouley presented a paper on M. Pasteur's recent investigations. The Marquis de Rochambeau spoke on the archæological treasures of the Vôndome. A formal visitation was made by the members of the Association as a body to the statue of Denis Papin, who was a native of Blois, a wreath was placed at its feet. M. Tresca made the memorial address, and claimed for Papin the distinction of having been the inventor of the first steam-engine. Excursions were made to various places of interest, among them the strata of Thenay, where Abbé Bourgeois thinks he has discovered relics of tertiary man, and the Celtic caverns of Troô.


Discussions at the Electrical Conference.—An Electrical Conference sat in Philadelphia, in connection with the Electrical Exhibition, during the second week in September, and was attended by about one hundred and seventy-five American and foreign delegates. Professor Simon Newcomb opened the session with an address of welcome, after which the President of the Conference, Professor Henry A. Rowland, presented in his official address the subjects of the interdependence of applied and pure science, some of the questions still open in electrical science, and the need of more careful training in the theory of electricity in technical schools. The meetings of the Conference were continued, with discussions of the best methods of extending our knowledge of atmospheric electricity and earth-currents, and any possible relation that may exist between them and the weather, by Professor Abbe; the question of the establishment of a Bureau of Physical Standards, under the supervision of the Government, by Professor Snyder and other members of the Conference; the theory of the dynamo-electric machine, by Professor Rowland, with remarks by Professor Fitzgerald, of Dublin, and Professor Silvanus P. Thompson; the electrical transmission of energy, by Professor Nipher, of Washington University, St. Louis; storage-batteries, by Mr. W. H. Preece and Professor Dewar; and long-distance telephony. On the last subject Mr. T. D. Lockwood mentioned earth-currents, atmospheric electricity, imperfect contacts, and leakage from other lines, together with electro-static and electro-dynamic induction, as causes of the noises on telephone lines. Long lines are more subject to these troubles than short ones, and north and south lines than east and west ones. Sometimes one end of the lino will be noisy and the other end quiet, as between Chicago and Milwaukee, where it is quiet at the Chicago end and noisy at Milwaukee. Lines subject to nearly uniform leakage are more quiet than well-insulated lines, lines near the sea than inland ones, and lines of small wire than lines of large wire. Many of the sources of disturbance may be got rid of by providing a metallic return-circuit, hung parallel to the first circuit and similarly to it. When a long air-line ends in a short underground cable, the person at the end of the cable can make himself heard, while the person at the end of the long line can not. Captain O. E. Michaelis recommended the study of iron, copper, brass, etc.—the metals used in structures—by electrical or magnetic methods—with a view to finding means of discovering defects and weaknesses. On the electrical protection of houses, Professor Rowland spoke well of the conductors enveloping the house as if they were a cage: thus, it is well to have the rods run down the four corners of the house and across the angles of the roof, joining at the top, so as to form the skeleton of the cage. Additional rods may also be run down the sides of the house. The rods must be well grounded, otherwise they will be worse than useless. Twisted rods are not recommended. Small rods, bearing points, should rise from the main rods at different points on the roof.


The Association of Official Chemists.—An Association of Official Chemists of the United States was organized during the meeting of the American Association. Chemists of the Department of Agriculture, State agricultural societies, and boards of official control, are eligible to membership in the Association, and each of the organizations thus represented is entitled to one vote on all matters on which the society may ballot, while other chemists are invited to attend the meetings and take part in the discussions, without having the right to vote. Three standing committees were appointed—on the determination of phosphoric acid, nitrogen, and potash—who will distribute samples for comparative work, and report the results at the annual or at special meetings. The following officers of the Association were elected: President, Professor S. W, Johnson, of Connecticut; Vice-President, Professor H. C. White, of Georgia; Secretary and Treasurer, Dr. C. W. Dabney, Jr., of North Carolina. Dr. E. H. Jenkins, of Connecticut, and Dr. H. W. Wiley, of Washington, were constituted the Executive Committee. The annual meeting of the Association is to be held on the first Tuesday in September.


The Esquimaux and the Cave-Men.—Professor Boyd Dawkins presented before the British Association the considerations in favor of his theory that the Esquimaux are the survivors of the prehistoric "cave-dwellers." Everywhere the Esquimaux are found, he said, along the Arctic coasts of Greenland and America, and into Asia, they are a receding race. Mr. Dall has shown that they formerly dwelt on the west coast of America far south of their present abode, and the speaker has found evidence of their former presence south of their habitat in Asia. They present the appearance of being a distinct race. To find other men like them we have to go back to geologic times, to the cave-men, with whom they show several points of resemblance. Both dressed in skins and wore long gloves, were hunters and fishermen, showed considerable artistic taste and skill, and used implements of stone and bone. The Esquimaux do not bury their dead, and there are many reasons for believing that the cave-men did not. Other speakers questioned the force of Professor Dawkins's arguments. They held that the human remains found with the cave-dwellers' relics, which Professor Dawkins regarded as intrusive, were genuine, and that they represented a different physical structure from that of the Esquimaux; that other traits, insisted upon as common, were not peculiar to these two peoples alone; and that the reason the Esquimaux do not bury their dead is simply because the conditions of the climate do not often allow it. Lieutenant P. H. Ray gave reasons for believing that the Esquimaux had occupied the far north of America from a remote period. Snow-goggles, like those now in use, have been dug up twenty-eight feet below the surface of the ground. Mr. Ray believed the Esquimaux to be a people of the ice, living from extreme antiquity along the ice-border, and following it as it advanced or receded. He considered them distinct from the Indians in physical traits and in character, as well as in language. They were naturally a peaceful people, very superstitious, but without a distinct religion, and without the conception of a future existence. They did not bury their dead because the climate rendered it usually impossible, but merely conveyed the corpse to a distance from the village, and left it to be devoured by the dogs. That, they said, was the end of man. But they had ideas about a superior Being, who had created men and airmails, and believed in an evil spirit.