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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/October 1889/Editor's Table

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 35‎ | October 1889

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
THE DOMAIN OF SCIENCE.

A FEW months ago one of our contributors had occasion to notice the attacks made upon the scientific tendencies of the age by writers who might have been supposed to be themselves highly qualified representatives of the general scientific movement. In these columns, too, we have ourselves found it necessary, from time to time, to maintain the position that, if all is not well in the world to-day, it is not because we are troubled with too much science, but because we have as yet too little. Science has reduced to tolerable order certain departments of thought and knowledge; but there are whole sections of life that as yet it has barely touched. So long as this is the case, the social body must suffer. Until the true laws of life are discovered, and set in such a light as to command obedience, there must be more or less of confusion, distress, and waste of effort. It is evident, therefore, that the duty which lies at the door of every one capable of grasping the situation is to do all in his power to help science to have its perfect work—its work of social reorganization and regeneration.

Many persons, we are persuaded, fail to understand that science has any application outside of the investigation of physical laws. They think of it as something that has to do with astronomy and geology, with physiology and chemistry, with steam-engines and telegraphs and telephones. They do not think of it as a method of research valid in every department of life, and coextensive with the whole reach of human knowledge. The time has come, however, when the claims of science to be the supreme mistress of thought and action can not be too boldly or earnestly advocated. The spirit of science is a spirit of order; wherever, therefore, there is disorder, science is lacking, or, at least, exercises but imperfect control. We see the perfect control of science in the exactness with which astronomical observations and predictions are made; we see it in the wonderfully accurate determinations of the chemist; we see it in the formulæ of the electrician. When we come to the so-called science of medicine we see real science struggling for the mastery and too often overborne by ancient prejudice and lazy empiricism. When we come to education, we see an enormous parade of technique, but, on the whole, poor results in the way of disciplined intellects and harmonious characters. When we ask how science is applied to the government of individual lives, we find that it is scarcely so applied at all. Some notions of physical hygiene are more or less diffused throughout the community, at least among the more intelligent classes; but how rarely do we discover any clear recognition of the fact that there is such a thing as moral hygiene, the object of which is happiness just as that of physical hygiene is health! To "minister to a mind diseased" is now, as long ago, an almost desperate task, but to prevent the formation of morbid habits of body or mind is, or should be, quite within the scope of the science of to-day. Dr. Maudsley, in his very interesting work on "Body and Will," gives copious illustrations of the gradual progress of moral and intellectual decline through successive generations. Inordinate vanity or selfishness in one generation may mean a decided development of mental or moral insanity in the next. It is consequently of the utmost importance to watch and resist the very beginnings of evil, seeing that it is impossible to say what these may lead to if allowed to gather force. Much may be done by each individual to promote and strengthen his own mental soundness by exercising control over his casual thoughts. "Were anybody," says Dr. Maudsley, "to observe carefully what goes on in his mind during waking, he would perceive that it was the theatre of as many fantastic, grotesque, incoherent thoughts as in dreams. ... Obviously it will depend much on the occupation that each one gives his mind, and on the habits of attention and thought that he has trained it to, how large a part these incoherent vagaries of thought shall play in his waking mind, and in some degree in his dreams also. ... Now, if it be thus possible by good and regular exercise of the higher faculties of mind to gain some mastery over thought in dreams, how much more is it within our power, and shown to be our duty, to obtain and exercise dominion over the vain and evil thoughts, inclinations, and imaginings of the day, and so hinder their luxuriant growth!" In the ordinary conduct of life much that is harmful would disappear if life were once regarded as something that should and must be brought under scientific rules. Feelings, opinions, actions may all be brought to a scientific test—that is, to the test of outward reality—or, in other words, of conformity to our necessary environment. With some people it is enough to say that they feel so and so: their feelings are assumed to be unalterable, and to carry their own justification with them. Such a temper is not far removed from the hysterical, and, if it should assume that unhappy character some day, the result should not be considered surprising. The human being who persistently looks inward rather than outward for guidance, and makes more of his or her subjective impressions than of the teaching of objective facts, is in an unstable and dangerous condition. Again, in the matter of opinions, some persons esteem it a precious privilege to be able to think and believe, as they say, whatever they please. Their opinions they regard as their property, which no one must venture to trespass on. But the true test of opinions, it is needless to say, lies not in conformity to personal inclination, but in their agreement with some established order of things. It is folly to talk of believing whatever we please; if we are rational people at all, we believe as we must. Reason constrains us, and we have really no choice. In regard to actions there is perhaps a more general feeling of responsibility; and yet even here how much we are inclined to trust to hap-hazard! How little we keep before us a rational scheme of life, or steady, uniform principles of action! The very man who would sink in his own estimation if he played a card unscientifically in a game of whist, will play many a card most unscientifically in the much greater game of life. Why? Because, while he believes in a science of whist, he does not believe in a science of life. He studies the laws of whist, but does not study the laws of life. Yet science is prepared to step in and shed a clear light upon every department of human duty. All that science needs as a basis is a fixed order of things. Such a fixed order is discoverable in human nature and its environment. Here are facts, and every fact yields its own lesson. The time, we have no doubt, will come when men will see that life is a network of cause and effect, and that trouble does not spring out of the ground, nor promotion come at haphazard from the east or the west, but that whatever "happens," as the expression is, has its own adequate antecedent. But why should we not hasten the coming of that time by proclaiming—those of us who believe in it—the efficacy of science for the direction of individual and social life?

That science lays claim to the region of politics is evident from what has been said, but that it is conspicuously absent from that region is evident from—the newspapers. So long as we understand by politics merely a scramble for office, so long will there be a very slight and indirect relation between political action and the general welfare; but it rests with an intelligent community to bring its politics up to a higher plane of a constant striving after social and economic harmonies and the realization of justice in all human relations. We are only able on this occasion to glance at one or two points of our subject; we think, however, that the lesson we would impress is sufficiently obvious. Science is not merely a thing of machinery and apparatus; it is not confined to the measurement of material forces or the explanation of physical phenomena. It is a method for the observation and co-ordination of facts and the forecasting of results; and wherever facts are to be found there Science is prepared to establish her kingdom. The unwise flout her pretensions, preferring the worship of Chance and Caprice; but the wise will range themselves on her side and strive to set up her peaceful reign, the benefits of which they know will extend to all, and increase from age to age.

 

 
THE TORONTO MEETING OF THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION.

For the third time in its history the American Association this year peacefully invaded Canada, with hearty repetition of former hospitalities at the hands of Northern friends—indeed, hospitalities were so abounding as to encroach a little upon the serious work of the meeting. Receptions, official and social, followed one another in quick succession, and excursions were organized to Niagara Falls, Muskoka, and the Sudbury mines. The local committee is to be congratulated on its appointment of Prof. Charles Carpmael as chairman; he is Director of the Toronto Observatory, and the weather during the week was therefore delightful. Canada is proving very attractive of late years as a meeting-place for American scientific organizations; its latitudes are a guarantee for comfort in vacation months, and its new railroads have developed immense tracts of the highest scientific, economic, and scenic interest. It promotes international amity that Americans and Canadians at work in the same fields of research should gather in the same rallying centers, and, as a consequence, form the friendships of men having aims in common. In crossing the border an American finds himself amid differences, social and political, sufficiently marked to make his visit instructive—differences, nevertheless, not so pronounced that he can persuade himself to regard Canadians as a foreign people.

Prof T. C. Mendenhall, Superintendent of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, was the presiding officer at the Toronto meeting. His ability and tact won him golden opinions on all hands. The addresses of the vice-presidents of the Association to their various sections were excellent—with one exception, which does not call for more specific mention. Prof. George L. Goodale, of Harvard, chairman of the Biological Section, delivered an address on protoplasm, treating his theme chiefly from the standpoint of vegetable histology and physiology—the field of science in which he is the leading American authority. General Garrick Mallery, of the Bureau of Ethnology, Washington, chairman of the Anthropological Section, made Israelite and Indian the subject of his address. He showed their parallelism in planes of culture, in methods of government, social observances, and religious faith. General Mallery's address will be presented in "The Popular Science Monthly" at an early date. Prof. H. S. Carhart, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as chairman, of the Physical Section, gave a lucid presentation of theories of electricity. Describing the experiments of Prof. Hertz, of Carlsruhe, and other investigators, he declared it certain that all radiant energy is transmitted as electromagnetic waves in luminiferous ether. In the Chemical Section, Prof. W, L. Dudley, of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, chose amalgams as his subject. His treatment was clear and suggestive, but of necessity technical. Mr. R. S. Woodward, mathematician to the United States Geological Survey, Washington, presided over the section of Mathematics and Astronomy. His address on mathematical theories of the earth was a successful endeavor to make clear to hearers, scientific and unscientific, the history of a theme usually wrapped up in the rigid mummy-cloths of mathematical formulæ.

Among the more noteworthy contributions to the various sections we may mention, in Section A, the paper of Prof. J. E. Eastman, of the Washington Observatory, on stellar distances. He argued that no relation exists between the magnitudes, distances, and proper motions of stars. Prof. Charles Carpmael made a plea for numbering the hours of the day from one to twenty-four, abolishing the necessity for writing a. m. and p. m. The plan has been adopted by the Canadian Pacific Railway on its Western and Pacific divisions. In accordance with Prof. Carpmael's suggestion, the Association memorialized the Governments of the United States and Canada, of the various States of the Union, and provinces of the Dominion. Much interest was developed in the exhibition of the Hastings achromatic objective, one of the notable gifts of mathematical and mechanical science to astronomy. It promotes accuracy of definition twenty-three per cent, and eliminates spherical aberration. In Section B, Prof. Thomas Gray, of the Rose Polytechnic Institute, Terre Haute, gave an experimental demonstration of methods of electrical measurement. Dr. George F. Barker, of the University of Pennsylvania, reviewed recent improvements in electrical storage batteries. He showed the immense advance in efficiency gained in the newest batteries based on the Planté model. In Section C, Mr. Charles E. Monroe, of Newport, E. I., gave the results of investigation into the explosiveness of celluloids. He had found the opaque variety insensitive to a shock of detonation at ordinary temperatures, while translucent celluloids were readily exploded by this means. Mr. O. Chanute, of Chicago, who has made the subject a specialty, gave an account of the best methods for preserving timber. After discussing the question of weights and measures. Section C passed a resolution urging colleges of pharmacy and medicine to adopt the metric system. Before Section E, the Society of American Geologists held a session, at which Prof. James D. Dana, of Yale, took occasion, in the light of new geological discoveries, to revise certain of his former teachings respecting areas of continental progress. Among his suggestions in nomenclature was that Ontarian be substituted for Silurian in local geological phraseology. In Section E, Rev. H. C. Hovey, of Bridgeport, Conn., described the newly explored pits of remarkable depth in the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky; the whole series of pits being connected by a magnificent hall several hundred feet in length. Mr. E. T. Hill, of the State Geological Survey of Texas, read several excellent papers on the general features of Texan geology, on the Eagle Flats of the mountainous region of Texas, the ancient volcanoes and Staked Plains of the State. In Section F a good many papers of value were read—all, however, technical in character. Prof. C. V. Riley, entomologist to the United States Department of Agriculture at Washington, contributed a paper on the best methods of subduing injurious insects by intentional importation of their natural enemies. Much interest was developed in Toronto in entomology through the large attendance of entomologists from all sections of the country. An Entomological Club was formed, and Washington is to be its first meeting-place, but no date for meeting was named at Toronto. Mr. T. J. Burrill, of Champaign, Ill., read an interesting paper on the fermentation of ensilage. Section H was more than usually strong this year—the leading officers of the Bureau of Ethnology being present in force. The antiquity of man was discussed from opposed points of view by Mr. W. J. McGee, of Washington, and Dr. C. C. Abbott, of Trenton, N. J. Mr. W. H. Holmes, of Washington, contributed an interesting paper on the evolution of ornament, as illustrated in the ceramic and textile art of the North American Indians. Mr. W. J. Hoffman, also of Washington, described the secret societies of the Ojibwas, which enjoy as elaborate a ritual of initiation, and as sharply defined gradations of rank, as any modern order among the pale-faces. Rev. Dr. Bryce, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, depicted the Winnipeg mound region, the most northerly district where mounds have been discovered on the North American continent.

In Section I, Mrs. N. S. Kedzie read a sensible, thorough-going paper on scientific cookery. Prof. A. G. Warner's paper on luxury was an able and discriminating discussion of the difficult question. How much of income may be justly expended on luxuries? Prof. B. E. Fernow, the chief of the Forestry Division, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, made a strong plea for the extension of governmental control to forests, irrigation, water-courses, and the like. His ground was that in these matters individual interests are often opposed to the general good, and that the state alone can represent national interests with comprehensiveness and continuity. At Prof. Fernow's suggestion the Association passed a resolution recommending to Congress an early and earnest consideration of a sound forestry policy.

While the press and people of Toronto promoted the success of the meeting by hearty and intelligent co-operation in its work, by cordial and multiplied hospitalities, the question naturally occurs, What did the Association do for Toronto in presenting science in such wise as to interest and instruct popular audiences? The first public lecture was delivered by Mr. C. K. Gilbert, Assistant Director United States Geological Survey, on the geology of Niagara River; it was both appropriate and timely, coming as it did on the eve of an excursion to the great cataract. Dr. H. Carrington Bolton gave the second lecture, an admirable illustrated account of a recent visit to Mount Sinai. Interest, however, was of course centered in the address of the retiring president, Major J. W. Powell, chief of the United States Geological Survey. In his unavoidable absence, the address was read for him. Its topic was the evolution of music, from dance to symphony. We regret to say that it disappointed the vast audience which had assembled to hear it. Major Powell has made important fields of exploration and research his own; had he chosen a theme which could have been illuminated by his special knowledge, we feel certain that he could not only have interested but charmed the thousands whom his fame drew together in Toronto. Section I, the Section of Economics and Statistics, affords, in a larger measure than any other, an opportunity for the presentation of questions having popular interest, and eliciting instructive discussion. An increased recognition of this fact at the hands of the Council of the Association seems to be desirable.

The next meeting of the Association is to be held in Indianapolis, and is to commence August 20th. Its officers will be Prof. George L. Goodale, Cambridge, Mass., president. Its vice-presidents: Section A, S. C. Chandler, Cambridge, Mass.; B, Cleveland Abbe, Washington; C, K. B. Warder, Washington; D. James E. Denton, Hoboken, N.J.; E, John C. Branner, Little Rock, Ark.; F, O. S. Minot, Boston, Mass.; H, Frank Baker, Washington; I, Richards Dodge, Washington.