Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/August 1889/Popular Miscellany


Science-Teaching in Schools.—The report of the Committee of American Naturalists, on a scheme of instruction in natural science to be recommended to the schools, advises that instruction should begin in the lowest grades of the primary schools, and continue through the whole course. It should be chiefly by object-lessons in the lowest grades, but should be more systematic in the high schools; and an elementary, but genuine and practical, acquaintance with one or more departments of natural science should be required for admission to college. The main part of the scientific work should be given in the lower schools to the study of plants and animals; the botanical instruction beginning with such exercises as drawing and describing various forms of leaves, and advancing to flowers of gradually increasing difficulty. In zoölogy, the most familiar animals, and those which the pupils can see alive, should be studied first, then the common, and finally the more obscure forms. The collection of specimens should be encouraged, and the specimens should be made the subject of object-lessons. Human physiology and hygiene being of immense practical importance, their rudiments should be taught in the grammar and even the primary schools. Rudimentary courses in physics and astronomy should be introduced in the highest grades of the grammar school. Physical geography, phænogamic botany, and human physiology should be included in the classical courses in the high school, and required for admission to college.

The Sun-Dance of the Blackfeet.—The most important sacred festival of the Blackfeet Indians is the sun-dance, which is called also by the whites the medicine-dance. The tradition runs that it originated in the thank offering of a woman for the recovery of her sick child; accordingly, it is usually instituted by a woman who has come successfully out of some trial. It is generally held when the wild fruit is ripe, in July or August, in a lodge especially constructed for it, and may continue for seven days. The ceremonies have been described by the Rev. John McLean, who witnessed them at the Blood Indian camp in Alberta Territory, Canada. The sacred fire was burning in the sun-lodge, and was used by the people for lighting their pipes. The fuel was supplied exclusively by young men who had performed some valorous deed, such as stealing horses from a hostile tribe, and thought the duty an honorable one. Two bundles of birch wood brush were placed in the form, of a cross on the sacred pole. A bower of brushwood by the side of the lodge was occupied by the woman who had instituted the ceremony, her husband, and a medicine-man, fasting and praying. Prayers were offered at stated times by virgins. Dramatic representations of heroic adventures were given, and sham fights presented representations of actual battles; these were succeeded by feasts of berries cooked in fat, smoking, and conversation. A young man who had been successful in a horse-stealing expedition came up, in fulfillment of a vow, to make himself a sacrifice to the god. An old medicine-woman cut off one of his fingers, held it up to the sun, and dedicated it to him. Two young men presented themselves to be consecrated for admission to the noble band of warriors. One of them stretched himself upon a blanket on the ground. . An old man made a speech over him relating his brave deeds, each incident of which was received with applause and music. Then four men held him while a fifth made incisions in his breast and back. Wooden skewers were inserted in the breast incisions, and connected by lariats with the sacred pole, while an Indian drum was fastened to the skewer in the back. "The young man went up to the sacred pole, and while his countenance was exceedingly pale and his frame trembling with emotion, threw his arms around it and prayed earnestly for strength to pass successfully through the trying ordeal. His prayer ended, he moved backward until the flesh was fully extended, and, placing a small bone whistle in his mouth, he blew continuously upon it a series of short, sharp sounds, while he threw himself backward and danced until the flesh gave way and he fell. Previous to his tearing himself free from the lariats, he seized the drum with both hands, and with a sudden pull tore the flesh on his back, dashing the drum to the ground amid the applause of the people. As he lay on the ground, the operators examined his wounds, cut off the flesh that was hanging loosely, and the ceremony was at an end."

The Selkirk Mountains and their Glaciers.—The Selkirk Mountains are situated in the southern part of British Columbia, west of the main range of the Rocky Mountains, within the great bend of the Columbia, and are crossed by the Canadian Pacific Railway at the height of 4,313 feet above the sea. As seen from the Columbia between the two ranges, they rise in gentle slopes and tiers of foot-hills richly clad in pine forest, and cleft by far-reaching valleys, while the Rockies, on the other side of the observer, tower up "from almost barren benches of white silt, with a sparse sprinkling of Douglas firs, in great bare precipices of pinkish-white limestone to rugged mountain forms at once." The level of perpetual snow among them is given by the Rev. W. S. Green, who visited them to examine their glaciers, at about seven thousand feet, and the upper limit of the forest at six thousand feet, while the principal peaks rise to between ten and eleven thousand feet. The starting-point of Mr. Green's excursions was the Glacier Hotel station of the railway, in front of the great Illecewaet Glacier, 4,122 feet above the sea. Seeking some commanding point whence a view might be gained of what lay beyond the upper snow-field, the author reached a little peak on the southern shoulder of Mount Sir Donald, six hundred feet below the main summit (10,645 feet): Hence "we had," he says, "one of the most interesting views it is possible to imagine. Now for the first time we saw what the glacier regions of the Selkirks really meant. From the base of the peak we were on, the great snow-field extended for over ten miles. Beyond it to the southward, and away in unending series, far as the eye could reach, rose range after range of snowy peaks with glaciers in the hollows; peaks and glaciers were simply innumerable. Looking westward and northward, a similar prospect presented itself." Of these glaciers, Mr. Green has mapped the Sir Donald, Geikie (four miles long and one thousand yards wide), Deville, Dawson, Van Horne, Asnekan, and Lily. All the glaciers show evidences of shrinking. Measurements made at the foot of the Great Illecewaet Glacier indicated that the ice had moved along twenty feet in thirteen days.

Mental Powers of Criminals.—The bearing of education on the character and reformation of criminals is discussed by Dr. Hamilton D. Way in a paper on the physical and industrial training of that class, which is published by the Industrial Education Association. The author assumes that "it is a mistake to suppose that the criminal is naturally bright. Moral failure and blunted intellect, as a rule, go hand in hand. If bright, it is usually in a narrow line and self-repeating." The criminal's malpractice has its origin in blunted or non developed nervous areas, and is indicative of wrong-headedness. Whatever may be said of the motives or incentives that led to crime, the fact remains that the head of the criminal is wrong. The time has gone by in which to argue that to educate the criminal is to make him a more accomplished and successful scamp. "It is through physical and mental training and their composite labor that the slumbering germs of manhood are fructified, maturing under a firm and unrelaxing discipline." The criminal's mind, "while not diseased, is undeveloped, or it may be abnormally developed in certain directions; the smartness resulting therefrom partaking of low cunning and centering about self. He is deficient in stability and will-power, and incapable of prolonged mental effort and application. His intellect travels in a rut, and fails him in an emergency. His moral nature shares in the imperfections of his physical and mental state." A training is advocated by the author that will awaken the slumbering faculties, and thus set the mind in a normal condition. This training had best not be given by persons connected with the prison, for it might thereby be unpleasantly associated with penal features, but by teachers brought in for the purpose. Dr. Way gives an interesting relation of experiments which he has made with prisoners in accordance with these views, the average results of which are very encouraging.

The Advantages of Insensibility.—An English writer has recently suggested that we are wont to give excessive praise to the faculty of sensibility, while we depreciate its opposite, or the want of it, insensibility. It is clear, he maintains, that almost every shade of insensibility has a side of advantage as well as of disadvantage. The world forgets how very much tender sensibility often interferes with the calm judgment necessary for right action and the cool presence of mind which is essential to effective execution. What shall we say of the surgeon or the nurse who is so sensitive that the sight of suffering disturbs the judgment and makes the hand tremble when a steady hand is most essential to efficient work. It is obvious that, for every purpose of alleviating pain itself, a certain measure of insensibility to sympathetic pain is in the highest degree advantageous, if not necessary. The best nurses are the calmest nurses, and they are very seldom the ones who suffer most at the sight of their patients' suffering; and "one of the great advantages which patients feel on entering a hospital is that their sufferings do not come back reflected from the faces of those around them; that the sympathy they excite is only a mild sympathy, and not one which heightens their own pain. . . . Hardly a sufferer exists who is not the better instead of the worse for seeing that those around him are not overwhelmed by his sufferings—that, so far as he can go out of himself at all, he may get a little relief by entering into the less overshadowed lines around him, and tasting indirectly another's enjoyments."

A Theory of Volcanic Action.—Mr. J. Logan Lobley explained in the British Association last year a theory of the causes of volcanic action which he had reached while keeping in view forty-two leading and controlling facts. His conclusions are, that the primary cause of the formation of lava is the internal heat of the globe inducing chemical action in subterranean regions when the materials and conditions are both favorable; that since the fusion-point of solids is raised by extreme pressure, the conditions for chemical action may be changed by the removal of vertical pressure or its relief by lateral or tangential pressure; that certain substances are fusible at low or moderate temperatures, and that thus at very moderate depths chemical action may be locally commenced that will extend until sufficient heat is produced to effect rock-fusion; that the cause of the ejection of lava from its source, and of its rise in the volcanic tube, is the increase of bulk consequent upon the change from the solid to the fluid state, aided by the formation of potentially gaseous compounds by chemical reactions among the original materials of the magma; that the ascent of the lava in the volcanic tube may be affected by the weight of the atmosphere and by lunar attractive influence; that the explosive effects of volcanic eruptions are altogether secondary, and are due to the access of sea and land water to fissures, by percolation through cool rocks, up which lava is ascending; that this water, when converted into steam, opens, by its expansive power, rents that admit large flows of sea-water to the lava, occasioning the formation of vents and the greater explosive phenomena of eruptions. The formation of the actual surface volcano and the determination of its position are therefore due to the sea, near which volcanoes are almost always situated. Emissions of lava without explosive effects are from volcanic tubes to which large flows of water have not obtained admittance; and, on the other hand, purely explosive eruptions, without lava-flows, are caused by water reaching lava which fails to rise to the surface of the earth.

Fire-proof Houses in Buenos Ayres.—They build fire-proof houses in Buenos Ayres and Montevideo without thinking of it, and while using all the wood they can afford to; and they use neither iron nor the arch. Trees are scarce in the neighborhood, and timber has to be brought down from the upper waters in hard woods. Being dear, a little of it is made to go as far as possible. The floors and the roofs are supported by joists of hard wood, as among us; across these are laid flat rails of the same, and the spaces between these are bridged over by thin bricks thirteen inches and a half long, with their ends resting on the rails; another layer of bricks is then laid with lime, and generally on this a layer of flat tiles. The doors and windows have no boxes, but simply frames, which are set up when the walls are going up, and built in. There is no lathing, or wainscot, or skirting of the bottom of the walls. A house thus built can not be burned.

Glass-Blowing by Machinery.—A system for glass-blowing by machinery, under which mouth-blowing is dispensed with, has been devised by Mr. Howard M. Ashley. In the machine, the molten metal is delivered into a receptacle called a parison, which holds just enough metal to form a bottle. At the bottom of the receptacle is a collar mold, which forms the ring around the mouth. The central portion of the mold—which may be described as a punch within a punch, from the method in which it works up into the molten glass to make the collar—is hollow, and is connected with a reservoir of compressed air. After the collar is molded, the mold is turned upside down, a little air being at the same time admitted. The metal begins to elongate gradually by gravity, and its fall is regulated. When it has attained the required length, the bloom is inclosed within the two halves of the mold, and the bottom of the mold is also placed in position. At the same moment the air is fully turned on, and the bottle is blown out to the full shape of the mold. The result is a complete bottle of the same thickness of glass throughout, and of perfect form and accuracy in every part. A pair of these machines, with one youth and three boys to serve them, are competent to turn out an average of one hundred and twenty bottles per minute per machine. The capacity of the system is greatly increased in the repeating-machine, which is quadrupled, and operates in a continuous cycle, as follows: while the first bottle is being automatically discharged, the second bottle is being finished, the third one is being punched, and the fourth is being cast—that is, the metal is being filled into the mold by the "gatherer," or server of molten metal.

Do Squirrels play 'Possum?—In a paper on the intelligence of squirrels, with special reference to feigning, communicated to the Royal Society of Canada, Dr. T. Wesley Mills gives two cases of the behavior called feigning, by chickarees or red squirrels, and then proceeds to discuss several views advanced in explanation of this habit. Feigning death has been observed in many different genera of insects, in snakes, fishes, numerous birds, crustaceans, and several mammals. In the case of insects, Preyer would ascribe the so-called shamming death wholly to cataplexy (hypnotism), which Dr. Mills deems highly probable. Couch would explain certain behavior of wolves, foxes, and some other animals, usually set down to deliberate feigning, also by an effect analogous to cataplexy. He thinks their senses are stupefied by surprise, terror, etc., so that they are unable to escape. Dr. Clarke adds to this explanation the idea that the quiet of animals when restrained, in many cases is due to an intelligent perception that struggle is useless. Dr. Mills is convinced that Romanes in discussing this subject has imported difficulties into it which are not in the nature of the case present. First, is it at all essential to "feigning" either death or injury that an animal should have, as Romanes supposes, the abstract idea of death at all? It is to be remembered that in these cases the animal simply remains as quiet and as passive as possible, which is in accord with all an animal's experiences as to escape from danger by any form of concealment. A great part of the whole difficulty has probably arisen from the use of the expression "feigning death." What is assumed is inactivity and passivity, more or less complete. This, of course, bears a certain degree of resemblance to death itself. In regard to the behavior of his red squirrels, Dr. Mills is inclined to think that "by inherited instinct, as well as by all those life experiences which had taught them that quiet and concealment of their usual activities were associated with escape from threatened evils, these little animals were naturally led, under the unwonted circumstances of their confinement, to disguise in an extraordinary degree their real condition, and even to imitate an unusual and unreal one." He has reason to believe also that the hypnotic element may play a part in the apparent feigning of death by squirrels. "It thus becomes manifest," he continues, "how varied and also how complex these cases of so-called feigning may be. The subject is all the more interesting, because it shows that there is much that is common in the psychic life of human beings and that of the lower animals. It places the study of their habits and intelligence on a higher plane, and furnishes new motives for extending our inquiries and attempting to give unity to our conception of nature in this as in other domains."

The Bronze Buddha of Nara.—The old bronze images in Japan are remarkable alike for their enormous proportions, the method of their construction, and the excellent character of the alloy composing them. The largest and most remarkable of them is at Nara, some miles eastward of Kioto, which was erected about a. d. 1100. It is fifty-three feet six inches high and more than twenty-eight feet broad across the shoulders. On its head are 966 curls; and the image is surrounded by a glory or halo seventy-eight feet in diameter, on which sixteen images, each eight feet long, are cast. Two smaller images, each twenty-five feet high, stand in front of the larger one. The total weight of metal in the main figure is about 450 tons, and this is said to consist of gold, 500 pounds; tin, 16,287 pounds; mercury, 1,954 pounds; and copper, 986,080 pounds. The large images are not cast in single pieces, but are built up of numerous small pieces of irregular shape, which are cemented together by a substance of unknown composition, that takes on the same tarnish as the bronze.

Forestry in the Cape Colony.—Fa care was taken of the forests of the Cape Colony until 1880, when many valuable tracts had been nearly destroyed. Measures were taken in that year for their future preservation, and the Count de Vaeselot, who had had a large experience in French forestry, was appointed forest superintendent. He divided the forests into districts and these into sections, in which the felling should proceed so that the regrowth of the first section should be given time to develop into mature trees before the axe should be used there again. By this system the entire shutting up of any forest for a time is done away with. The period for the "revolution" of felling is fixed at forty years. The forests severally are watched over by a staff of foresters and inspectors, under whose supervision all cutting goes on, and who attend to the raising and planting of young trees. The Government has established large tracts of plantations and nurseries from which the forests and private holders are supplied; has begun a reafforestation of Table Mountain; and has instituted an "arbor day," which is observed with great enthusiasm.

The "Heaps of Joy" of Saint-Pilon.—Tourists have often noticed little heaps of stones on the higher peaks of Mont Sainte-Baume, Provence. They are called castellets, or little castles, and are either composed of several stones forming a sort of rude pyramid, or of one large stone inserted in a fissure of the rocky soil. They are most frequent in the vicinity of the Oratory of Saint-Pilon, where they are found at an elevation of nearly one thousand feet. Dr. B. Féraud has learned that they are also locally called moulons de joye (heaps of joy), and that, besides being intended to testify to the successful ascent of pilgrims to the summit of Saint-Pilon, they were frequently designed to propitiate St. Magdalen, to whom prayers are made on the spot for approval of the special maiden whom the worshiper may desire to marry. In the latter case the mound is visited by the builder at the end of a year, and if he finds the stones undisturbed, he considers that the saint approves of his choice; but if the heap is broken up, it is generally regarded as a decisive barrier against the intended marriage. In this superstition Dr. Féraud sees a survival of the ancient usage of erecting stone monuments, such as altars, pillars, menhirs, etc., to commemorate some important personal event.

Sign-Talk in New Guinea.—An exploration was made some months ago by Mr. Theodore F. Bevan of the Philp and Queen's Jubilee Rivers, hitherto unknown affluents of the Gulf of Papua, in southern New Guinea. In the course of his voyages the traveler met several bands of natives who had apparently never before seen white men, intercourse with whom brought out some curious characteristics and capacities of the sign-language. At Attack Point, on the Aird River, the progress of the party was opposed by some sixty nude Papuans, who, after a little hesitation, bore down upon them, "alternately splashing the water into the air and beating time with their paddles against the sides of their canoes, also shooting volleys of arrows at us. . . . This attack was decided in our favor, without any bloodshed, by a judicious use of the steam-whistle and a few shots fired wide and high." The savages were painted, decorated with feather head-dresses in addition to other ornaments, and wore white groin-shells to partly conceal their nudity. At Tunui, on Philp River, the natives dressed their persons and canoes in green boughs in manifestation of their friendly feelings, and were responded to by the whites with dumb motions and words likely to be recognized by them. The next step from this side was to bind a slip of Turkey-red cloth, a piece of sharpened hoop iron, and one or two trifles upon a wooden batten, and let it drift down-stream. "One native, bolder than the rest, paddled after this parcel, and, after cautious inspection, appropriated it, and donned the red cloth as a covering for his frizzly hair. On another visit from the natives, one was horrified at seeing salt beef in a cask, and another was terrified at seeing his own ugly reflection in a mirror. They had become tired of the white men by this time, and signified it by waving their arms down-stream. "One very old and wrinkled man rubbed his nose and pinched the tip of it, and rubbed the pit of his stomach. Another signified by signs the act of cutting off the head and arms, using the words 'oorar' and 'badinar.'" With a tribe called Kiwa Pori, in the delta of the Queen's Jubilee River, one of the signs was to hide their lowered heads in their hands and then to draw their hands down ever cheeks, mouth, chin, neck, breast, and abdomen. These men were of unusually fine stature, and dark bronze in color; but, though with well nourished and muscular frames, "their retreating foreheads and heavy eyebrows gave them a sinister expression." One tribe always spoke the name of the sun in a whisper, with finger pointing upward and averted gaze. In a deserted hut, which exceeded the others of the village in size, was found fixed up in front a "taboo," consisting of a painted mask resting on a large circular wisp of sago-palm fiber and rattan, with pendent streamers of the same fibrous material; while half-way down the floor of the hut were bones of fishes and small deer suspended from streamers. All of the new tribes wore nose-pencils, distended the lobes of their ears, and smoked sun-dried tobacco by means of bamboo tubes. The canoes of all the tribes were dug-outs, with either a bank of mud or a small boy squatting in the prow and opposing his back to the incoming water. Some of them were very large. In one, twenty-nine men stood up to paddle.

Polishing Telescopic Objectives.—The shaping and grinding of telescopic objective lenses are operations requiring great care and delicacy in execution. In polishing, softer powders and softer tool-surfaces must be used than in grinding. Of all the substances that have been used for the face of the polisher, pitch, or the natural bituminous deposit from Archangel, which was first employed by Sir Isaac Newton, is, according to Mr. Howard Grubb, still the best. It has the important qualities of perfect inelasticity and a property of subsidence. Cloth can not give a perfect surface, because it is apt to round off the edges of the pits left by the grinding-powder, and to polish their bottoms as well as the real surface of the lens. Pitch wears away the surface evenly, and does not take hold of the pit-bottoms till the whole is ground down to a level with them. Although pitch, by boiling, can be made so hard that an impression can not be made on it with the finger-nail without splitting it in pieces, it will, even in this condition, if laid on an uneven surface, in time subside and take the form of whatever it is resting upon. This property, by virtue of which it may be considered technically a liquid, is taken advantage of in the manipulation of the polishing process to produce a surface exactly even and true. It appears to be peculiar to pitch, some of the resins, and ice; although it has been observed, in a vastly inferior degree, in some metals. It is a curious circumstance that the same quality which in ice allows gradual creeping and subsidence, and the consequent formation of glaciers, should in pitch help us to produce accurate optical surfaces.

Italian Butter.—The Italians do not excel in the manufacture of butter. It is produced considerably only in four districts, of which Lombardy furnishes the best, usually through the market of Milan. The butters of Reggio and the Tyrol are used for mixtures, and those of Æmilia and Sorrento are unimportant in quantity. In the rest of the country, oil, fat of American origin, or substitutes are used for daily wants. According to the French consul at Milan, the principal obstacle to the development of the trade in pure butter is the increasing use of these substitutes, and artificial butters, which are imported from America, France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands. "The demand for butters in Europe, South America, Australia, India, Japan, and even China, has become so important that, in presence of the insufficiency of the natural product, it became necessary to manufacture an analogous substance, so that in Holland and Denmark, the principal countries producing pure butter, the artificial butter industry was undertaken without fear of prejudicing the pure article. It was not long before Italy followed the example of these two countries, but the first attempts were not fortunate." Italian margarine butter costs from forty to forty-five per cent less than pure butter, and is more easily handled.