Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/April 1901/Discussion and Correspondence



At the time of Princeton's celebration in 1896, one of her loyal alumni undertook to show what Princeton has stood for and stands for. "The name Princeton," he remarked, "is supposed to be synonymous with the stiffest intellectual conservatism." The philosophical temper dominates at Princeton, just as the literary spirit characterizes Harvard. If the question be asked, What the University of Chicago stands for? one may answer without hesitation, for the scientific method!

The scientific cast of mind is ascendent in the halls and laboratories of this new university of the West; or, at least, one may affirm that it is becoming so. It is due in part to the presence of so many specialists who have received their professional training in Germany and have brought back something of the German scholar's aptitude for investigative work.

Even in the Divinity School the influence of the scientific spirit is felt by both teachers and students. In the work of advanced students, as in the departments of physical science, the paramount idea or aim is the acquisition of a method by which truth may be found, and they are characterized by a willingness to go wherever truth may lead them. Theology is not the fixed thing that it was formerly imagined to be. The professed aim of the Department of Systematic Theology is "to reduce to a scientific system, and maintain on scientific principles, the teaching of Scripture in the light of such other sources of theological knowledge as enter into the progressive self-revelation of God to mankind." Mysticism is at a discount in Dr. Northrup's classrooms.

Of scholastic traditions Chicago has none as yet, but it has a certain definite purpose or policy distinct from that of the old college. The University of Chicago stands for another educational ideal.

The old college aimed to give the student a liberal education, as it is called, a wider mental horizon. Intellectual discipline was emphasized. Some good results were attained, for the man who took the four years' course was unquestionably benefited by the process. There were, however, some defects in the system. While the culture of the old college tended to make his thinking more clear-cut and logical, it did not go far enough, in that no postgraduate work was provided. Its alumni went forth into the world and, after three years of professional employment, they received the degree of A. M., without further study or even an examination.

The humanities are not neglected at the new University of Chicago—their disciplinary value is recognized and prized; but at the same time research is emphasized, and advanced students are encouraged and assisted to engage in original investigation. To enlarge the borders of knowledge is the end in view. The way chosen is through specialization. In chemistry, candidates for the much-coveted degree of Ph.D. must take two or three years of laboratory work under the supervision of a university instructor; and the thesis, embodying the results of their researches, 'must be a real contribution to knowledge.' A few sentences describing the work in geology may be quoted:

"The aim of this department is to provide systematic training in geology.... The endeavor is to furnish this training in such a form as to contribute to a liberal education, and at the same time to prepare for professional and investigative work in the science. The cultural purpose predominates in the earlier courses, and the investigative and professional in the later; but both have a place in all and find their realization in a common method of treatment. While it is not expected that more than a small percentage of those who take the earlier courses will have professional or investigative work in view, it is believed that they will derive the largest and most distinctive returns from such shaping of the work. That special mental and moral discipline which is appropriate to the science can be secured only by wrestling with its problems as they actually present themselves to the investigator. A radically different discipline is secured from handling the subject in the simple didactic method. It is believed that those who enter upon any of the courses with an intelligent appreciation of the science as a growing body of truth and a progressive field of intellectual endeavor will desire to come into touch with its working methods and controlling spirit."

In his address before the Baptist Social Union of Chicago, Nov. 5, 1891, Dr. W. R. Harper set forth what might be expected of the new University of Chicago. Much has been accomplished along the lines indicated. Two or three passages in this notable utterance are worth repeating:

"In these days of specialists, the man who has passed through college has, after all, but a smattering of things. Possibly before his course is completed, and certainly at the close of it, he should have a chance to take some special subject and give it the continuous attention of months. Concentration on a given line, before graduation, should be encouraged. . . . The college system, as we all understand it, is not intended primarily to stock the pupil's mind with knowledge, but rather to develop it, to make it able to receive and apply truth from every source; in brief, to open the mind. . . . But it is not sufficient simply to be open to accept truth when it presents itself; to adopt new or modified methods, when they have been suggested by others. A university may not stop with this. Shall you not expect contributions, and these not small ones, to the sum of human knowledge? Shall you not expect a spirit pervading every department of the university life which will lead men from the lowest to the highest department to investigate and to experiment? A deal of truth, known for ages, if it is to exert any influence to-day, must be restated. Such restatement makes it practically new truth, and the contribution of the man who has done this is only less than that of him who first formulated it. Old forms of statement in every line of work have lost their force; they have been worn smooth, till now they are really valueless."

Hence the need, not only of specialists and laboratories, but of an endowed University Press for the publication of books and periodicals. This want has been supplied by the admirably edited journals of the University, which contain articles summing up the results of studies and experiments pursued in numerous lines of intellectual activity. Usually the head professor of the department is the editor, aided by his associates and by eminent scholars in other universities of America and Europe. It is not necessary to dwell on the merits of the 'Botanical Gazette,' the 'Journal of Geology,' the 'Journal of Political Economy' and the other monthlies and quarterlies issued from the University of Chicago Press. The value of this series is appreciated, and their success is a credit to American scholarship.

The keynote of the university spirit is devotion to the cause of truth for its own sake. This mental attitude was well described in Professor Chamberlin's convocation address (April 1, 1893) on 'The Mission of the Scientific Spirit':

"Simple observation is incapable of disentangling intricate phenomena and of discriminating with precision the several agencies and their varying results. Even when it discerns the agencies, the complexity of the combination baffles all efforts to evaluate the measure and degree of participation. In the varying degrees of participation of causes lies the greatest peril to safe conclusions. "But by the devices of experimentation, each factor may be disentangled from its complex associations and made to reveal itself in its simple and naked reality. Experimentation, by its creative processes, opens a new world of observation; a world devised and controlled solely for the disentanglement of truth. The new potency thus added to observation and induction gave birth to modern science. By its aid the mass of crude facts previously gathered were purified and perfected and increased by manifold additions. Upon this relatively pure, solid truth a trustworthy superstructure was built by the inductive method But even the inductive method, potential as it is, would have fallen short of trustworthy results, were it not furnished with facts verified by searching experimental tests."

The investigator must be a lover not only of the truth, but of 'the pure and exact truth.' Hence the necessity for the scientific method, which may be defined in brief as a process for the purification of truth from error. A fuller statement is given by Sir William Turner in his address before the British Association in 1900:

"Scientific method consists, therefore, in close observation, frequently repeated so as to eliminate the possibility of' erroneous seeing; in experiments checked and controlled in every direction in which fallacies might arise; in continuous reflection on the appearances and phenomena observed, and in logically reasoning out their meaning and the conclusions to be drawn from them.

The scientific method, then, is something more than diligence and accuracy. It is not suddenly acquired. It has been a slow growth in the race—a growth to which Aristotle, Euclid, Bacon, Galileo, Newton, Kant, Darwin and many others contributed. And it is a slow growth in the individual. Some persons of intellectual tastes never acquire it. The Oriental mind is weak in this direction. It is claimed that Americans have less of the scientific spirit than the Germans. The work of the old college did not tend to develop the scientific habit of mind in the student. Said Professor Remsen, in his convocation address (Oct. 2, 1894) on 'The Chemical Laboratory':

"If the experience of twenty-one years in teaching in college and university in this country is worth anything, your speaker, who has during that time had to deal with many students from all parts of the country, is justified in asserting that the minds of students who enter college are very far from being scientific, and the same can be said of most of them fresh from the colleges. By a scientific mind is meant one that tends to deal with questions objectively, to judge things on their merits, and that does not tend to prejudge every question by the aid of ideas formed independently of the things themselves."

Since the scientific spirit is not quickly and easily acquired, means are provided to foster its development. The laboratory is the especial place for experimentation in pure science. In other fields data must be sought elsewhere. In sociology it is the world of men and women. The student who tried working behind a counter in a big department store made a sociological experiment where she might learn by experience and observation the condition of clerks and cash-girls as she could not in the class-room.

The aim of the scholarly investigator is to reach results that can be expressed in some tangible shape or tabulated form, and his conclusions must be accompanied by the evidence on which they rest. There is too much of assumption in the thinking of the average student.

It has been said that "the one factor which has made the German university what it is to-day is its docent system." The docent system cannot be transplanted to our soil the same as it is in Germany. The conditions are different here. It is a factor, however, to be counted upon to foster scientific investigation among us.

Much, too, may be expected of the fellowship plan. It serves a useful purpose in affording exceptional opportunities to men possessed of the love of science and displaying proficiency in laboratory methods. The presence of a large body of fellows and scholars tends to raise the standard of intellectual work in general to a high grade of excellence. The offer of a substantial stipend is not without effect in stimulating effort. The fellowship is also in the nature of a stepping-stone to an instructorship—an inducement calculated to arouse the desire to excel.

Besides this incentive is another—that of environment, of association with an inspiring teacher and the companionship of skilled workers. "While it is true," says Professor Nef, "to a great extent that the power of scientific investigation is inborn and not acquired, it is also certain that a proper atmosphere must exist for its development. It requires inspiration and example to kindle into flame the spark which may exist in men beginning their life-work."

The influences of departmental clubs, with their learned papers and discussions, is a factor making for critical scholarship. Another agency that promotes the acquisition of the scientific method is the Seminar. As it is only a recent growth in American universities, a fuller description of it is needed.

The professed aim of the Seminar is 'initiation into the methods of research.' To the scientist life presents itself as a series of problems, and these problems are to be grappled with and solved. The right way of attacking these problems the graduate student learns in the Seminar by contact with trained workers. He must get a first-hand acquaintance with his subject, whether literary, historical or scientific, by going to the sources. He must learn from instructors the recognized tests and principles of investigation and then apply them. He must learn to suspend judgment until full information is obtained.

Under the Seminar system the members meet once a week for a two-hours' session, usually Monday afternoons. The student works largely by himself, spending weeks or months gathering material for a report, which is subjected to criticism by other members of the Seminar and by the professor in charge. Thus he learns what defective work is. While patience and industry are necessary for the production of a satisfactory report, it is not enough 'to lead laborious days.' The subject must be treated in a scholarly manner; and, if possible, some new light thrown on it and old errors corrected.

The Latin Seminar may be taken as an illustration—The Comparative Syntax of the Greek and Latin Verb, under Professor Hale. The aim and plan of procedure are thus outlined for the autumn, winter and spring quarters of 1899-1900, two hours a week:

"The principal object of the Seminar will be the study of unsettled problems in the syntax of the Latin verb. In necessary connection with this object, however, a considerable amount of study will be given to the syntax of the Greek verb as it appears in the earliest Greek literature. "Owing to the advanced character and difficulty of syntactical problems, the independent work of the members of the Seminar will not begin until after preliminary lectures and discussions have made clear the general attitudes and methods of various schools of workers in syntax in the past and present, and the fundamental principles that must now be recognized as properly governing investigation. Several books of Homer and plays of Plautus will next be read, with reference solely to the syntax of the verb. An analysis will then be made by each member of the Seminar of the treatment of the syntax of the verb in one of the more important grammars or treatises, after which he will devote himself to a special problem, or group of problems. A considerable amount of reading in the literature will be expected for the systematic and exhaustive collection of evidence in a definite field. Reports of the results of work upon special problems and of reading for the collection of materials will be presented from time to time at meetings of the Seminar."

So to produce scholarly workers in the various fields of learning is the function of the University—to train specialists, to make critics in the higher sense, to furnish investigators who will enter fresh fields and give the world the fruits of their researches. It is for this kind of work that the University of Chicago stands—not merely to impart what is already known, but to seek and find new knowledge. This is the province of a university as conceived by President Harper. It is a high ideal that he holds up: "The true university is the center of thought on every problem connected with human life and work, and the first obligation resting upon the individual members which compose it is that of research and investigation."

Eugene Parsons.


Dr. H. S. Pritchett published in the November number of the Popular Science Monthly his estimate of the future population of the United States, based upon the past rates of increase. He found a comparatively simple equation which represented the census enumerations very closely, and, applying that to the future, he finds that the rate of increase, which was 32 per cent, per decade in 1790 and 24 in 1880, will be 13 in 1990, but will not have sunk to less than 3 for another thousand years and will not be zero for an indefinite time. He does not seem to have taken into consideration the density of population and what we might call the saturation point, or the maximum population which can be fed. A population far below its saturation point will increase rapidly, but when it saturates the land there is no increase, and as we approach our saturation point our rate will rapidly diminish to zero.

We do not know what our saturation point is under the present conditions of food production; but we produce far more than is needed for our twenty people per square mile. Nor can we estimate our future saturation point, for no one can presume to predict what science will enable us to do in the way of food production, other than what, by present methods, can be forced from the soil. We can only estimate our limit, basing it upon the known densities in countries which have always been populated to their limit.

The saturation point rises with civilization just as the saturation point of air for water rises with the temperature. Cultivated land is said to produce 1,600 times as much food as an equal area of hunting land. Denmark, for instance, could support but 500 paleolithic people, and when their culture rose to the level of the present Patagonians, 1,000 could exist, and 1,500 of those on the level of the natives of Hudson's Bay. In the pastoral stage each family requires 2,000 acres, and France could not support 50,000 of such people. For centuries after the Norman conquest the whole of Europe could not support 100 millions, or about 25 per square mile, while now there are 81.

When civilization is arrested, the saturation point remains stationary. China, for instance, is said to have had 400 millions for many centuries. When food can be imported and paid for by manufactured goods, the population can go beyond the saturation point. Great Britain, for instance, is said to import one-third of her food, and her 300 people per mile is supersaturation. When the countries from which she buys food are populated to the point that they have no surplus for sale, her population must decrease to the number she can feed, which is now 200 per mile. Should her factories fail through foreign competition, so that she cannot buy, she will also decrease in population, just as Ireland has done since the beginning of the last century, when England destroyed Irish industries to strengthen her own. English supersaturation is limited only by her power to buy and import.

America was saturated by savages in pre-Columbian times, and they were constantly at war for more room; but the land has always been far from saturation for civilized whites. Though we now export enough food for a large population, we cannot produce very much more, for all the useful land is now taken up. Fully 60 per cent, of the desert lands west of the 100th degree of longitude will never have water on it, and that alone will forever prevent us being as densely populated as Europe. Perhaps we can now support fully 125 millions, or 34 per mile, a point which Dr. Pritchett calculates we shall reach in 1925, at our present rate. By that time we shall have farms on 10 or 15 per cent, of the arid lands, the limit of possible irrigation, and perhaps then we can support 200 millions, the calculated population for 1950; but it is difficult to see how we can feed 500 millions, our calculated numbers a little over a century hence, for that would be a density of about 125 per mile—far greater than Europe.

It is also difficult to see how science is to produce food indefinitely, for the real basis of food production is the soil and vegetation, such as the changing of cellulose into starches and sugars. The possible limit is the amount of the sun's energy we can capture through vegetation. The calculated population of a thousand years hence, 41 billions, or 11,000 per mile, is not at present conceivable.

There is a law of population, that its increase depends upon its density, irrespective of the birth rate; hence at the saturation point the death rate must equal the birth rate, as at present in China, where the large birth rate is compensated by frightful destruction of life, awful pestilences, famines, universal infanticide and judicial executions for every felony. Our civilization will never tolerate such mortality, nor can the surplus migrate, as it has been doing from Europe for four hundred years. Yet we need have no fear of future famines and pestilence due to overcrowding and so necessary in India and China, for the solution of the problem will come of its own accord in a natural limitation of the size of families by prevention of conception or some other means, a process already begun, as many have already pointed out. The average number of children in English families is already less than four. By the time we have reached our maximum growth it is quite likely that the number of children in American families will be less than three, or just enough to compensate for unavoidable deaths and still keep the population stationary. The deliberations of the Malthusian societies may appear very absurd, but they are merely discussing things which are sure to come about naturally and not artificially.

Thus Dr. Pritchett's estimates of our future population of 11,000 per square mile, being based upon the rates of increase in a country far below its saturation point, it seems that a better formula could have been obtained by taking the increases in European countries which probably have been saturated since the glacial times and supersaturated ever since they became maritime powers and could import food. Thus England had 51/2 millions in 1650, and only 61/2 millions in 1750, and less than 9 millions in 1800; since then, through food importations due to commerce, her rate of increase has been about 13 per cent, per decade. Our rate, as above stated, was 32 per cent, in 1800, 24 per cent, in 1880, and the time it will be 13 may be long before 1990, and it is quite likely to be zero within a century or two.

Our country will never contain more people than it can feed, and the struggle for existence or the stress of life will not be a particle more severe than now. Since the first paleolithic man appeared on the scene, Europe has supported as many men as she could and has thus been at the saturation point, ever on the verge of over-population, needing famines, wars of expansion and other forms of deaths, so that there has always been the same struggle for existence we see now, and that struggle can never be more severe than it has always been there. The course of civilization would even justify a prediction that life will be made easier, so that posterity may pity us as we pity our savage ancestors in their terrible struggle for existence.

Chas. E. Woodruff, U. S. A.
Fort Riley, Kan., Jan. 30, 1901.


To the Editor: I have been much interested in Havelock Ellis's 'Study of British Genius,' for the reason that his conclusions are so nearly paralleled by a study of a like character for several of the continental countries reported by me in the latest number of the 'Conservative Review.' Mr. Ellis says, among other things: "When we survey the field of investigation I have here briefly summarized, the most striking fact we encounter is the extraordinary extent to which British men and women of genius have been produced by the highest and smallest social classes, and the minute part which has been played by the 'teeming masses' in building up British civilization. In the article above referred to it is shown that 'The nobility, the office-holding class and the liberal professions in no community form so much as a tenth part of the population, yet from this small minority seventy-eight per cent, of the primates of Italian and German literature, eighty per cent, of Spanish and sixty-nine per cent, of English were descended.' The fecundity of the different parts of French territory, like that of Great Britain, has been very unequal. "If we examine the nativity of French writers according to their geographical distribution. . . we find that the northern and eastern parts have been most prolific. (Is this the result of the comparatively large Teutonic intermixture?) Taking France by Provinces, Ile de France heads the list with 1,572 names out of a total of 5,617. Next in order comes Normandy with 413 names. The adjacent districts of Picardy and Artois furnish 373; Provence gives us a register of 295 names; Lorraine, 240; Touraine, Anjou and Maine, 207. All others fall below 200. Except in a general way, it cannot be known what relation these figures bear to the total population, as no census of France was taken until comparatively recent times. If we make an estimate on the present basis of inhabitants, the relation of the districts will be somewhat changed. Ile de France will still stand at the head, but the second place will be taken by French Switzerland, the third by Provence and the fourth by the Orleannais."

The religious milieu is a factor of very considerable importance. "It is well known that among French writers in all departments Geneva has produced a much larger proportion than would be expected from the number of its inhabitants. For more than four centuries it has been a Protestant city, while the rest of French territory has been for the most part Roman Catholic. It is worthy of remark, too, that in Germany, including by this designation its territory linguistically and not politically, the Catholic portions of Bavaria and Austria have given birth to a relatively small number of persons who are entitled to the highest rank in letters. It has already been shown that, in the product of men of science, the religion of a country seems to play an important part. We are justified in drawing the same inference in regard to literature."

One more quotation that bears on the preponderating influence of what may be called centers of civilization, and I have done: "Of fifty-five eminent Italian literati, twenty-three were born in large cities, and most of the remainder in small municipalities, though, strange to say, not one had Rome as his birthplace. Of the fifty Spaniards who are generally regarded as holding the highest rank in the literature of Spain, sixteen were born in Madrid, and a large proportion of the remainder in cities of the first rank, several of which contain universities. The coryphei of German literature seem at first sight to make an exception to the conclusions that naturally spring from the above stated facts. The great writers are quite evenly distributed over what now constitutes the empire and Switzerland. Three large cities are the birthplace of three great writers each; two. of two each; while the rest have produced but one each. This calculation embraces about thirty who stand confessedly at the head: yet if we increase the number the results are not widely different. Here again the importance of the environment is strikingly made prominent. During the last five centuries Germany has had a large number of capitals, many of which the reigning monarcha tried with more or less success to make centers of art and literature."

Chas. W. Super.
Athens, O.