Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/387

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371
EDITOR'S TABLE.
EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

OBSERVATION IN EDUCATION.

AN excellent article in the Tribune urges the need of more and better-educated observers to carry on the work of science. Prof. Agassiz is quoted as urging the establishment, in San Francisco, of a college for the training of skilled scientific observers. It is stated that the Signal-Service Bureau is engaged in training a large number of students in the use of instruments of observation, with a view to taking charge of signal-stations for the promotion of meteorological science. We publish an able and interesting paper on the claims of physical laboratories, in connection with institutions of learning, which shall afford the necessary opportunity of training in physical observation. Of the importance of this work the writer in the Tribune observes: "We think the day is coming when it will be generally recognized that careful scientific observation is the most valuable labor performed in the world." And regarding its delicacy and difficulty, he further observes:

"Of the nicety of observation which science requires, it is difficult to convey to the uninitiated any idea. A man who has never before looked through a telescope would not probably be able to see Biela's comet, upon whose vagaries hang so much speculation, if he gazed through any of the instruments by which the observations on it have been obtained. The best microscopists, in approaching the more difficult class of investigations, prepare their physical systems by fasting and rest, so that even their skilled eyesight may give a purer service. Already men are training themselves in certain specialties of observation, with reference to the few minutes of work they expect to perform, two years hence, at the transit of Venus."

Now all this is most true. Excepting that higher intellectual work by which, from the facts of observation, laws are arrived at, so that general principles can be substituted for ever-accumulating details, there is no labor performed in the world so valuable as that of careful scientific observation, and it is also true that its difficulty equals its importance.

But there is a vital consideration connected with the subject, which the writer seems to have overlooked: it is that the capacity of educated observation is just as necessary for people generally as for men of science. Facts bear the same relation to principles, in common life, that they do in the higher departments of technical science. The question is, at last, simply one of evidence: what is fact, and what is not fact? Imperfect observations vitiate reasoning, and lead to erroneous conclusions in the workshop, on the farm, in the counting-room, the church, and the legislative ball, just as much as in the laboratory or the observatory. The objects are different; the mental procedure is the same. But that which is a universal necessity should be provided for by universal means, and systematic training in observation should therefore be a recognized part of our common education. Even for purposes of the higher science, this truth is not to be neglected; for you can no more make first-class observers out of young men who first take up the business in college, than you can make first-class musicians by beginning with adults. Skill in doing the most important work in the world is not to be so cheaply and readily acquired. For the sake of science itself, training in observation should begin in childhood, and become an early mental habit. There are native aptitudes here as in all other departments of intellectual exertion; and only by beginning with the young can