Popular Science Monthly/Volume 59/July 1901/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


Dr. H. Carrington Bolton is one of the few Americans acquainted with the history of science, and his little volume on the evolution of the thermometer (The Chemical Publishing Company) represents a type of publication too rare in this country. The scientific information is correct throughout and is based on first hand knowledge, while at the same time the contents are sufficiently interesting to be read by any one. It is probably not generally known that the thermometer was invented by Galileo. When we remember that we owe to this one man not only the foundations of physical science, but also in large measure the pendulum, the compass, the telescope and the microscope, it may lead to a certain amount of modesty in our appreciation of modern inventions. Galileo, probably in 1595, invented the open air thermoscope; he determined the relative temperature at different places and at different seasons of the year and made experiments on freezing mixtures. In 1611 Sanctorius applied Galileo's instrument to the diagnosis of fevers. Ferdinand II. of Tuscany, to whom we owe the famous 'Accademia del Cimento,' first sealed the glass, making the instrument independent of atmospheric pressure. Many improvements were gradually made especially in the endeavor to find fixed points on a definite scale, the freezing point of water being first used by Robert Hooke in 1664. Of the three thermometers still in use, Fahrenheit's thermometer was invented in 1709, Réaumur's instrument in 1730 and the scale of Celsius in 1742. None of these thermometers, however, are now used in the form in which they were originally devised, and Dr. Bolton calls attention to the somewhat curious fact that the instrument constructed by the German, Fahrenheit, is used almost exclusively by English speaking peoples; that invented by the Frenchman, Reaumur, is used chiefly in the north of Europe, while that of the Swede, Celsius, is used in the French speaking countries. Dr. Bolton does not attempt to compare the usefulness of the three scales. The centigrade scale is, of course, the most logical, but, as sometimes happens in this world, it is not quite certain that it is the most convenient. When the scale of temperature between freezing and boiling water is divided into one hundred parts, the degrees seem to be somewhat too large for use in daily life, whereas if it were divided into one thousand parts they would be obviously too small. It is possible, however, that this is Anglo-Saxon prejudice, and that the centigrade degree measures temperature with sufficient accuracy for ordinary purposes, while its decimal subdivision must certainly be used hereafter for scientific work. Dr. Bolton's book is so small that it seems a pity that he did not add a chapter on the exact thermometric methods of the nineteenth century.


Professor E. B. Titchener, of Cornell University, has given us our first adequate laboratory manual of experimental psychology and has thus marked an epoch in the development of a science. Experiment in psychology, like much else, goes back to Aristotle, and has never since been entirely lacking. The great philosophers—Descartes, Hobbs, Kant and the rest—advanced psychology as well as the other sciences. When the separate sciences developed, some part of psychology was taken with them, and the physicist, the physiologist and the zoologist made experiments and researches which are now claimed by psychology. In the meanwhile philosophy continued to care for psychology—we have, for example, in England Locke, Berkeley and Hume, and in Germany Herbart—but sometimes without sufficient attention to observation and experiment. Then about fifty years ago, in the hands of those who cared both for philosophy and science—Lotze, Fechner, Helmholtz, Wundt and others—psychology took definite shape as a natural and experimental science. Wundt's 'Physiologische Psychologie,' published in 1874, was the first comprehensive handbook. James's 'Principles of Psychology,' published in 1890, is equally important and more readable. Apart from numerous good text-books and treatises in various languages, we had the first laboratory manual in Sanford's 'Course in Experimental Psychology' (1894), but this only treated the senses which had already been pretty well worked over by physicists and physiologists. Now in Titchener's 'Experimental Psychology: a Manual of Laboratory Practice'—the work is published by the Macmillans—we have the first complete laboratory course in psychology. It is a large work: Volume I, which has alone been issued, includes two parts treating qualitative experiments, one intended for the student (xviii + 214 pp.) and the other for the instructor (xxxiii+456 pp.). Two further volumes, treating quantitative experiments, are promised. The experiments are described in chapters entitled: Visual sensation, Auditory sensation, Cutaneous sensation. Gustatory sensation. Olfactory sensation, Organic sensation. The affective qualities, Attention and action, Visual space perception. Auditory perception, Tactual space perception. Ideational type and the association of ideas, Appendices.

Detailed comment and criticism must be relegated to the special journals. There is no question but that the work will greatly forward the teaching of experimental psychology and is invaluable to the teacher and advanced student. There will be difference of opinion as to how far the book can be put to advantage in the hands of students beginning laboratory work in psychology, and the question can only be settled by actual trial. There is naturally less agreement as to what experiments should be made and what methods should be used than in the ease of sciences, such as chemistry and physics, where natural selection has long been at work. But Professor Titchener has laid the foundation on which future workers must build.