GENTLEMEN: I propose in two lectures to bring to your notice a subject which, in very many respects, is one of great and increasing interest.
The physiological facts which I shall demonstrate and discuss, as they occur in various animals, are remarkably surprising. They will afford us opportunities for making deductions which are interesting in their historical relations, and they will also serve to demonstrate to us how man, uneducated in natural science, is deficient in judgment when he comes to view unfamiliar incidents of Nature. They will show us that such a man examines natural phenomena in a way which is certain to deceive him, by convincing him that he has observed events which in reality never occurred.
The obstinacy and lack of discernment which he thus brings to bear on his investigations are truly astonishing; and it is not surprising, therefore, that the intelligent inquirer into the operations of Nature should place little reliance on the testimony of highly-honorable persons whose minds are untrained to the work they have undertaken. Even when such persons are possessed of great culture— even perhaps in natural science—but are not infused with that spirit of exact investigation so necessary to the discovery of truth in Nature, we are justified in regarding their statements with hesitation and suspicion. Often, very often, we are obliged to listen to relations of unusual or dubious natural events, and cannot avoid feeling irritated at the assertions—which the speaker regards as putting an end to all argument—"I was there. I saw it all with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears. What I report is actually true!"
The relator has really been present; he has seen and heard every thing of which he speaks; he is in real earnest, and he tells the truth; and yet what he reports has never taken place, and the real investigator of Nature is perfectly right in disregarding his testimony, while, at the same time, his truthfulness is not questioned.
This may strike you as paradoxical. It is so, however, only in appearance, for the discrepancy disappears when we come to make the discovery that it is the perception of the observer which is at fault, and that the eyes and ears have been correct, so far as their functions were concerned. The circumstance is what I call an event viewed unequally.
- These lectures were delivered by Professor Czermak (pronounced Tshermak) in the private physiological laboratory of the University of Leipsic, on the 24th and 25th of January, 1873.