Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 83/October 1913/The Progress of Science

PSM V83 D416 Oliver Joseph Lodge.png

Sir Oliver Lodge.

Principal of the University of Birmingham, president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS BEFORE THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION

Great Britain is able to supply each year for the presidency of its national association for the advancement of science a scientific man of distinction, who can deliver an address in a form interesting to a large audience and likely to attract popular attention. Sir Oliver Lodge, who presided over the Birmingham meeting, was no exception. He is known for his original investigations in experimental physics and at the same time for his wide-reaching speculations. His address combined a statement of recent physical theories, likely to be of interest even to those who can not fully understand them, with some remarks on vitalism and psychical research which are sure to attract wide attention.

Sir Oliver Lodge began his address, which extended to some 20,000 words, by stating that the characteristic of the promising though perturbing period in which we live is rapid progress combined with fundamental scepticism. The subject of his address was "Continuity." He said that the remarkable feature of the present scientific era is the discovery of various kinds of atomism, but he urged that a belief in ultimate continuity is essential to science. The modern tendency is to emphasize the discontinuity or atomic character of everything. Matter has long been atomic and electricity has proved itself to be atomic. The electron is a natural unit of negative electricity, and it may not be long before the unit of positive electricity is also found. Even magnetism is suspected of being atomic and atomic theories of the ether have been invented; biology is said to be becoming atomic through modern ideas on mutation and Mendelian heredity. Sir Oliver Lodge, however, states that he is himself an upholder of ultimate continuity and a firm believer in the ether of space. The ether is a universal connecting medium which binds the universe together and makes it a coherent whole instead of a chaotic collection of independent fragments.

The lecturer then discussed the principle of relativity which had its origin in the famous experiment of two American physicists. Professor Michelson and Professor Morley, concerning the time taken by light to travel to and fro independent of the motion of the earth through space, from which such remarkable conclusions have been deduced by Dr. Einstein and others. Sir Oliver Lodge holds that the dependence of inertia and shape on speed is a genuine discovery, while the principle of relativity seeks to replace these real changes in matter by imaginary changes in time.

There is an emotional appeal in words such as electricity, ether and continuity, and this becomes even greater when we pass to life, free-will and immortality, with which Sir Oliver Lodge deals in the second part of his address. It will be remembered that last year his predecessor in the presidential chair, Professor Shäfer, who is now lecturing in America, defended the mechanistic conception of living bodies. Perhaps a physiologist is more competent than a physicist to decide on which side the weight of the evidence lies, and indeed in the course of his address Sir Oliver Lodge warns us frequently against negative generalizations. In the case of living beings he holds, however, that life introduces an incalculable element. The vagaries of a fire or of a cyclone ought to be

PSM V83 D418 Professor ehrlich and dr hata.png

From a photograph in the Illustrated London News.

Professor Ehrlich and Dr. Hata.

dietable by Laplace 's calculator, given the initial positions, velocities and the law of acceleration of the molecules, but no mathematician could calculate the orbit of the common housefly. A spider in the galvanometer of a physicist would introduce a superphysical cause. Still the speaker did not defend vitalism as an appeal to an undefined cause. A living thing obeys the laws of physics like everything else, but it initiates processes and produces results that without it could not have occurred.

A wide public will doubtless be interested in Sir Oliver Lodge's statement of his conviction that occurrences now regarded as occult, not only can be examined and reduced to order by the methods of science, but that evidence so examined has convinced him that memory and affection are not limited to association with matter and that personality persists after bodily death, that evidence goes to prove that discarnate intelligence may interact with us on the material side and that ultimately we may hope to obtain some understanding of the nature of this larger, perhaps ethereal, existence and of the conditions regulating intercourse across the chasm. The speaker does not repeat the evidence on which he bases his faith, but it certainly has not produced similar conviction on others equally competent to judge.

 

CHEMIOTHERAPY AND DR. PAUL EHRLICH

In his address before the recent London International Medical Congress Dr. Paul Ehrlich, director of the Royal Institute for Experimental Therapy at Frankfort-on-Main, reviewed the problems of chemiotherapy. He said that the governing principle is that parasites are only killed by those materials to which they have a certain relationship, which substances are "parasitotropic." In the parasites and in the various organs of the body there are specific chemioreceptors which energetically attract certain fixation groups "somewhat as a magnet attracts iron." It depends on the relationship between the parasitotropism and the organotropism whether a certain disinfectant can be used as a remedy. The only substances that can be considered therapeutic agents are those of which a fraction of the tolerated dose is sufficient to bring about therapeutic effects.

This sounds rather obvious, and in fact Dr. Ehrlich, like Mr. Edison, appears to have accomplished his remarkable results by somewhat empirical methods. This procedure he defends in his address, saying at the outset that the important factors in experimental chemiotherapy are patience, skill, luck and money, and in conclusion: "Considering the enormous number of chemical combinations which must be taken into consideration in the struggle with disease, it will always be a caprice of chance or fortune or of intuition that decides which investigator gets into his hands the substances which turn out to be the best for fighting the disease."

Whether by chance or by intuition, by luck or by genius, Dr. Ehrlich, with the assistance of Dr. Hata and other fellow-workers in his Frankfort laboratory, in salvarsan, or "606," and neosalvarsan, or "914," has discovered drugs with remarkable therapeutic effects. Salvarsan is an arsenical compound with the formula . Its effects on the spirochaetes of syphilis are well known, it having already been used in perhaps a million cases in all parts of the world. Cures are sometimes effected by a single injection in the first stages of the disease. It is not so well known that even more striking results have been attained with relapsing fever, the fever immediately subsiding after the injection of salvarsan, and the patients being cured by one injection. The very rare cases of recurrence are also readily curable. Dr. Ehrlich states that it is possible by one single injection of salvarsan to cure framboesia (yaws), which is caused by spirochaetes and is a scourge of the tropics, to cure it completely except in rare cases where unimportant relapses occur. Thus in Surinam a hospital in which over three hundred patients with framboesia were constantly under treatment was closed and turned to other uses after the introduction of the salvarsan treatment, as one single injection sufficed to cure the disease, and all the patients but two could be discharged.

In the concluding paragraph of his address Dr. Ehrlich said:

The efforts of chemiotherapentics must be directed as far as possible to fill up the gaps left in our defences, more especially to bring healing to diseases in which the natural powers of the organism are insufficient. And I believe that now definite and sure foundations have been laid for the scientific principles and the method of chemiotherapeutics, the way is visible before us—a way not always easy but yet practicable. In the diseases due to protozoa and spirilla extraordinarily favorable results have already been gained, as I have shown. There are many valuable indications that in a series of other diseases—small-pox, scarlatina, typhus exanthematicus, perhaps also yellow fever, and, above all, the infectious diseases caused by invisible germs—the prospects of success are brightening. But in contradistinction to the protozoan disorders the ordinary or common bacterial diseases (diseases due to the streptococcus and staphylococcus, B. coli, typhoid and dysentery, and above all tuberculosis) will not be vanquished without a hard struggle. Nevertheless. I look forward with full confidence to this development also, and, without being set down as an optimist, will put forward the view that in the next five years we shall have advances of the highest importance to record in this field of research.
 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We record with regret the death of Dr. Tempest Anderson, of York, England, known for his publications on earthquakes and volcanoes, and of Dr. Hermann Credner, professor of geology at Leipzig, and director of the Geological Survey of Saxony.

Professor William Bateson, director of the John Innes Horticultural Institute, has been elected president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for the meeting to be held next year in Australia.—At the meeting of the section of tropical medicine and hygiene of the recent International Medical Congress, Sir Patrick Manson was presented with a gold plaque. It bears his portrait and on the other side an allegorical group representing science triumphing over disease in a tropical landscape.—In honor of Professor John Milne and to continue his work in seismology, it is proposed to collect a fund for endowment. His seismological observatory will probably be moved from the Isle of Wight to Oxford.

The Permanent International Eugenics Committee, which met in Paris on August 4, decided to hold the next International Congress in New York during September, 1915. Major Leonard Darwin presided, Mrs. Gotto acted as secretary, and the following countries were represented: England (Dr. Edgar Schuster), America (Dr. F. A. Woods), France (M. Lucien March), Germany (Professor A. Ploetz), Italy (Professor C. Gini), Denmark (Dr. S. Hansen), Norway (Dr. J. A. Mjöen).