Popular Science Monthly/Volume 63/September 1903/Shorter Articles and Correspondence



The extraordinary shaft, of rock (lava) shown in the illustration now transfixes the newly-constructed cone of Pelée, and towers above it upward of 800 feet, giving to the volcano a height of 5,020 feet, instead of 4,250 (or 4,400) feet, which it had prior to the eruption of May 8, 1902.

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Obelisk of Pelée. (Photograph by Angelo Heilprin, from the crater-rim of Pelée, June 13, 1903 (elevation, 4,100 feet).

This unique structure which, on May 31 of this year, rose still 180 feet higher, is being and has been pushed up bodily, the lava solidifying before leaving the interior of the volcano. During the four days immediately preceding June 17, as determined by M. Guinoiseau, a member of the French Scientific Commission in Martinique, the lift or ascent was nearly 21 feet, but at an earlier day the movement was much more rapid. The obelisk, which measures 300-350 feet across at the base is slightly curved in the direction of Saint Pierre; the eastern face is smooth and grooved, showing well the marks of attrition against the encasing wall of rock which lined its channel of exit. On the west and southwest it is 'cavernous' and slaggy, having the impress of successive eruptions which have blown its parts asunder. On the night of June 12, immediately preceding my ascent, the southwest base was intensely luminous, shining out bright red with the lava that was being forced into it. A few days later, a thin vapor pennant was seen to issue from the absolute apex. Basal eruptions were taking place almost continuously.

Angelo Heilprin.


To the Editor: Permit me to call your attention to an article by Professor N. S. Shaler in the July issue of Harper's Monthly under the caption 'Plant and Animal Intelligence.' This article contains so many glaring inaccuracies and misinterpretations of the views of Huxley, the monistic philosophers and those whom he terms 'men of the extreme Darwinian school' that in the interest of scientific truth—of which your journal has always been such a valuable exponent—some action on your part to correct the evil effect of these errors would be both timely and consistent. Now, I am not posing as a champion of monistic philosophy, but the public should not be misled with respect to what monism really means, nor should the broad-minded Huxley, the enemy of dogma, whether in science or religion, be held responsible for views not only foreign to his beliefs, but incompatible with his habits of thought.

Professor Shaler asserts that Huxley was the originator of the theory of animal automatism. One is tempted to believe that the learned professor has had no time to peruse Huxley's monograph on the subject, but has jumped at the conclusion that the title signifies a belief in that theory in its narrowest sense. The great name of Descartes, the real originator of the theory, is not even mentioned, and Professor Shaler seems to be ignorant of the fact that Huxley's interesting monograph is merely a critical analysis of Descartes's thesis, leading to the inevitable conclusion that the great seventeenth century philosopher's views on the subject were untenable, although in part justified by his marvelously prophetic insight into the truths of modern psychology and physiology.

The following extracts from Huxley's monograph show very clearly his thought on these subjects:

But though I do not think that Descartes' hypothesis can be positively refuted, I am not disposed to accept it. The doctrine of continuity is too well established for it to be permissible to me to suppose that any complex natural phenomenon comes into existence suddenly, and without being preceded by simpler modifications; and very strong arguments would be needed to prove that such complex phenomena as those of consciousness, first make their appearance in man. . . . We know, further, that the lower animals possess, though less developed, that part of the brain which we have every reason to believe to be the organ of consciousness in man; and as, in other cases, function and organ are proportional, so we have a right to conclude it is with the brain; and that the brutes, though they may not possess our intensity of consciousness, and though, from the absence of language, they can have no trains of thoughts, but only trains of feelings, yet have a consciousness which, more or less distinctly, foreshadows our own.

It is true that Huxley, in another part of his essay, offers the postulate that man, and other higher organisms, are conscious automata, but this is very different from believing, as Professor Shaler asserts he did, 'that mind was a peculiarity of man, the lower animals being essentially automata, all their apparent intelligence being due to mere reflex action essentially comparable with mechanical movements such as those of sensitive instruments—with no intelligence whatever in the action.'

Now, while the word automaton, in the literal sense, may be offensive as applied to man, coupled with the word 'conscious' it merely signifies a negation of the doctrine of free will or uncaused action. In other words, Huxley suggests that the state of consciousness preceding any so-called voluntary act is merely a part of the mechanism of that act, and not its cause, the cause being found in immediate external stimuli and molecular conditions, the result of the accumulated effects of more remote external stimuli incident during both individual and ancestral existence, and forming links in a long chain of causation which is finally lost in the infinite and absolute cause of all things.

Professor Shaler laboriously seeks to prove by Huxley's own familiar arguments the analogy between the psychic life of animals and that of man. It is really amusing to find Huxley, the author of 'Man's Place in Nature' and always a believer in the continuity of organic life, credited with doctrines actually subversive of his most cherished theories.

The philosophers of the extreme 'Darwinian' and monistic schools would be astonished and shocked, I am sure, to learn that they have committed philosophical 'hari kari' by regarding an elephant as an automaton. Surely the formation of species by the almost inconceivably slow and gradual process described by Darwin is incompatible with any theory calling for the sudden appearance of conscious man. Such a theory might be held more consistently by De Vries or others who question the validity of Darwin's generalizations and ask us to believe in the sudden 'mutation' of species.

One is loath to believe Professor Shaler serious in his statement that the monists have sought to establish their conception of the universe by exploiting a distinctly dualistic theory. Ernst Haeckel, who may be cited as a type of the extreme monistic school, asserts his belief that consciousness in the true sense of the word is present in all organisms having a centralized nervous system; furthermore, Haeckel invites us to the study of the 'sublime monism of Spinoza,' which, after all, is the very pantheism which Professor Shaler says has never held an important place in occidental philosophy.

It is not a far cry from Spinoza's self-existent universal substance, of which consciousness is only a mode, or Schelling's 'world soul' composed of the union of a positive and negative principle to Spencer's 'unknowable absolute.' In Spinoza and Schelling we have the pantheism of the East purified and shorn of its allegory and imagery. In Spencer we have the essentially modern, scientific arrangement of the data of our consciousness leading to conclusions only faintly adumbrated in the hazy speculations of a priori philosophers.

It has become the fashion lately in certain quarters to disparage the work of that splendid band of truth seekers who created modern science, not only by what they contributed in exact knowledge, but by the inspiration they afforded others and the impetus they gave to rational methods of research and speculation. Doubtless the generalizations of the great evolutionists will be modified by advancing knowledge, but I am confident that far into the future the pathway blazed by these men through the wilderness of ignorance, tradition and error will always be found leading towards truth, though possibly at times through tortuous ways. Hero worship and the weight of authority should not be permitted to stay the march of progress, but the cause of science is not best served by reading into the works of the great men of the past views which they would have been the first to repudiate.

Eug. L. Fisk.
New York.