Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/14

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
4
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the soul, which, we are told, never dies, and which, if it exists, is doubtless far removed from the influence of bodily diseases or injuries. Therefore I beg you to understand that what I have to say relates solely to the mind. Your souls are, doubtless, cared for by those whose qualifications for instructing you in their management are greater than any that I can claim.

Now, what is mind? Those of you who have thought much upon the subject will not be surprised when I say that I do not know. There may be others, however, who, though too polite to say so, may think it a piece of impertinence for me to come here to speak of something of the nature of which I am obliged at the very beginning of my discourse to confess my ignorance. But, if they thought thus, they would be doing me great injustice, and it would be easy for me to retaliate by asking them what a piece of wood is. Could they tell? Does any one know? Does any one know what anything is? There are sixty-four elementary bodies of which the earth is composed, but does any one know what a single one of them is? Take one with which you may be presumed to be especially familiar—iron. What is it? You do not know. You can describe it to me. You can point out its properties. You can tell me where it comes from. Yes, and I can do the same with the mind. I can tell you where it comes from, describe its properties, point out its manifestations, and you will recognize mind as clearly as I should recognize the iron, the qualities of which you should portray; but, as to telling you what mind is, I can not do it any more than you can tell me what iron is.

Some of you are students of physics. If you were to present yourselves in the class-room and ask your distinguished professor of that branch of science to tell you what heat, light, electricity, magnetism are, he would be obliged to tell you that he does not know, just as I am forced to tell you that I do not know what mind is. But, though he is ignorant of their essential natures, think of the vast fields of knowledge he is able to open up to you by putting you in possession of what is known of these forces!

Go into the chemical laboratory of your own noble university—in honor of whose founder we are here to-day—and touch the two poles of a galvanic battery. What is it that thrills through your bodies, and perhaps even burns the skin of your fingers; or, even, if the current be strong enough, strikes you dead on the instant? Galvanism. What is galvanism? A force. Yes, and so is light a force, and heat, and gravitation. But, when I am told this, I am just as far from knowing what any one of the forces is as I was before. All that you could do, if I persisted in asking for a fuller explanation, would be to tell me something of the origin and properties of the force in question, and in this way I should obtain some idea of its characteristics, and should be in no danger of mistaking it for any other force. That is what your Professor of Physics does for you.