Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/June 1899/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


In a study of what constitutes the foundations of zoölogy we know of no one better equipped to discuss the various problems than Professor Brooks.[1] As an original investigator in many groups of invertebrate zoölogy, as a student of animal life in temperate and tropical seas, as a special teacher of embryology and zoölogy for a quarter of a century, and, above all, as a profound student of the philosophical literature of the subject, his equipment is thorough and complete. A fair review of this work would be difficult without voluminous quotations from its pages.

The reader will find here the soundest, healthiest acceptance of the Darwinian theory of natural selection. He penetrates the mists and fogs of philosophical vagaries and follows the dictum of Tyndall, who, in presenting the essentials of a discussion, says, "Not with the vagueness belonging to the emotions, but with the definiteness belonging to the understanding" we are to study these matters. It is fact, fact, fact. The honest "I do not know" inspires the reader with a confidence that obscure points are not to be juggled with. He insists that the principles of science are physical, that a mechanical interpretation of Nature is reasonable and just. Referring to Huxley, he remarks that faith and hope are good things, no doubt, and (quoting from Huxley) "expectation is permissible when belief is not," but experience teaches that expectation or faith of a master is very apt to become belief in the mind of the student," and (again from Huxley) "Science warns us that the assertion which outstrips evidence is not only a blunder but a crime."

In the chapter of Nature and Nurture he brings many potent facts and arguments against the idea of the transmission of acquired traits. Without copious extracts it is impossible to do justice to this masterly presentation of the subject. The chapter abounds in aphorisms, as indeed do other portions of the work; and these alone, if serially collated with their contexts, would make a valuable little handbook for the student of biology. His chapter on Lamarck is equally strong, and the fallacies of Lamarckianisms have never been so clearly shown. "The contrast between what we may call the solicitude of Nature to secure the production of new beings, and the ruthlessness with which they are sacrificed after they have come into existence, is a stumbling-block to the Lamarckian, and the crowning glory of natural selection in that it solves this great enigma of Nature by showing that it is itself an adaptation and a means to an end, for the sacrifice of individuals is the means for perfecting the adjustments of living things to the world around them and for thus increasing the sum of life." "Whole books have been written on the marvelous fitness of the structure, the instincts, and the habits of the worker of the honeybee for its life of active industry—a life in which the male has no share, and from which the female is cut off by her seclusion in the depths of the hive, and by her devotion to her own peculiar duties. While the queen and the drones are well fitted for their own parts in the social organization of the hive, these duties are quite simple, and very different from the duties of the workers; and as these latter do not normally have descendants, and as they never under any circumstances have female descendants, all the workers are the descendants of queens and not of workers.

"Their wonderful and admirable fitness for their own most necessary part in the economy of the hive must, therefore, be inherited from parents who have never been exposed to those conditions to which the workers are adapted; and this adaptation can not be due to the inheritance of the effect of these conditions, nor can we believe that they are inherited from some remote time, when the workers were perfect females or when the queens were also workers; for the sterile workers of allied species differ among themselves, thus proving that they have undergone modification since they became sterile.

"Here we have a most complicated and perfect adjustment of marvelous efficacy to external conditions which are of such a character as to prove that the inheritance of the effect of these conditions has had no part in the production of the adaptation."

His views of bird migration, based on the matter of ovulation and not on food supply, are extremely interesting. He says: "As their eggs are very large and heavy, a high birth rate is incompatible with flight, and the preservation of each species imperatively demands that every egg shall be cared for with increasing solicitude; for while in other animals increased danger to eggs or young may be met and compensated by an increase in the birth rate, the birth rate of birds can not be much increased without a corresponding restriction of the power of flight. Every one knows how quickly birds may be exterminated by the destruction of their eggs or young, and the low birth rate of all birds of powerful flight is a sufficient reason for migration, for at the same time that their fitness for flight limits the birth rate, it permits them to seek nesting places beyond the reach of their enemies."

His critical estimate of Huxley is tersely presented. He says: "His evolution is not a system of philosophy, but part of the system of science. It deals with history—with the phenomenal world—and not with the question what may or may not lie behind it.

"The cultivation of natural science in this historical field and the discovery that the present order of living things, including conscious, thinking, ethical man, has followed after an older and simpler state of Nature, is not 'philosophy' but science. It involves no more belief in the teachings of any system of philosophy than does the knowledge that we are the children of our parents and the parents of our children; but it is what Huxley means by 'evolution.'"

Dr. Brooks credits Galton with employing simple terms to express new and abstruse truths, and we trust those who are continually wrestling with the dead languages to pick out new and distracting words to express their conceptions will profit by Galton's method.

The lecture on Natural Selection and the antiquity of life is replete with original and pregnant suggestions based upon the results of his own profound investigations on pelagic life. Here again only ample quotations from his pages would convey an adequate idea of their value and importance. In his chapter on Louis Agassiz and George Berkeley he gives this just tribute to Agassiz:

"The writer was a man of transcendent genius for scientific discovery, with intense earnestness and enthusiasm for the pursuit of truth, and rare eloquence and literary skill. If any man was devoted to the cause of truth and determined to accept it, whatever it might prove to be, that man was Agassiz; for while his impulses were notably devout and reverential, he proved, on many occasions, that he was fearless and independent in the search for truth. It is no disparagement to Buckland and Bell and Chalmers and the other authors of the Bridgewater Treatises to assert that Agassiz far surpassed them all in acquaintance with the methods which lead to success in the interpretation of Nature, and in ability to treat the problems of natural theology from the standpoint of the zoölogist."

He dedicates his book to Bishop Berkeley, and throughout the lectures his references indicate a thorough acquaintance with the writings of this eminent scholar.

Paley's old watch comes in for renewed consideration, and one wonders if the mainspring of this device will ever be broken. His apt references to classical authors indicate wide and judicious reading. The book is overburdened with thought and clear, concise reasoning, and his final advice should be followed when he urges his readers to do double duty by reading the book again.

In the April number (1898) of this magazine we had occasion to review the first two volumes of this work.[2] A perusal of the third volume does not permit us to modify the expressions and criticisms there made. We then said the work is "a compact storehouse of facts, a veritable ethnological museum, and this feature alone renders the book indispensable to American students." The author "shows no evidence of ever having seen the magnificent series of volumes issued by the United States Bureau of Ethnology." "The author in several instances confounds Japan and China." "His treatment of the African races is by far the most exhaustive." These extracts will apply most particularly to the present volume. The negro races of the interior of Africa and those of West Africa, as well as the cultured races of that continent, are exhaustively treated. In that portion treating of the history of the civilization of eastern Asia the Japanese and Chinese are considered together and many mistakes in generalization follow as a result of this confounding. Long before we get to this portion of the work an illustration is given of Japanese agricultural instruments, in which only one plow of the many types in Japan is presented, and this is evidently taken from a model. Not only has he confounded the Japanese with the Chinese, but the southern Malays are brought in when he speaks of the Malay and Japanese love of the cockfight—a practice which is unknown in Japan. He refers to the Japanese latrine as being built over running water, whereas the record of this custom is found only in an ancient Japanese classic of the seventh century. He is in error in stating that the stage is essentially the same in China and Japan. His description of the music of Japan applies to China only. The statements that pearls play a large part in the ornaments of the Japanese, that the fireproof buildings are of stone, that the Japanese tobacco is moistened with opium, that the Japanese street dress is full of color, are all erroneous. His description of the sash worn by men is the description of the woman's sash. He says "the Japanese currency before the change to dollars and cents was like that of the Chinese." Had he consulted Snowden's description of ancient and modern coins, etc., he would have found this correct statement in regard to Japanese coins: "In their shape, composition, and relation to each other they present some striking features which set them apart from every other system of coinage in the world."

The illustrations are badly distributed. Through pages of description of the Japanese and Koreans, in which little is said about the Koreans, are scattered illustrations of the inhabitants of Yeso—the Ainu. The illustration of Japanese table furniture depicts only utensils for smoking and wine-drinking, and some of these are erroneously labeled, as are those of certain Chinese utensils.

We trust that the Asiatic portion of this valuable work will be written over again, and in doing it the author will realize that he is dealing with four or five hundred million people widely separated in language, modes of writing, customs, and manners; that he will consider the Ainu, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thibetan, and Indo-Chinese with the same thoroughness that he has given to the separate groups of the African continent; that he will draw his information from modern sources and collections properly labeled and up to date.

Even with the defects pointed out the work will prove of great value to the American student, as it brings before him the richness of the ethnological museums of Europe.

  1. The Fondations of Zoölogy. A Course of Lectures delivered at Columbia University on the Principles of Science as illustrated by Zoölogy. By William Keith Brooks. Ph. D., LL. D., Professor of Zoölogy at Johns Hopkins University. Pp. 339. The Macmillan Company.
  2. The History of Mankind. By Prof. Friedrlch Ratzal. The Macmillan Company. Vol. III, pp. 599.