Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 40.djvu/676

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656
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.


Chemical Dictionary, Basil Valentine's Triumphal Car of Antimony, Stahl's Phlogistic Chemistry — thousands of essays and treatises in Göttling's and Gehlen's periodicals, the works of Kirwan, Cavendish, etc.

I am quite sure that this manner of reading was of no particular use so far as acquisition of exact knowledge is concerned, but it developed in me the faculty, which is peculiar to chemists more than to other natural philosophers, of thinking in terms of phenomena; it is not very easy to give a clear idea of phenomena to any one who can not recall in his imagination a mental picture of what he sees and hears, like the poet and artist for example. Most closely akin is the peculiar power of the musician, who, while composing, thinks in tones which are as much connected by laws as the logically arranged conceptions in a conclusion or series of conclusions. There is in the chemist a form of thought by which all ideas become visible to the mind as the strains of an imagined piece of music. This form of thought is developed in Faraday in the highest degree, whence it arises that to one who is not acquainted with this method of thinking, his scientific works seem barren and dry, and merely a series of researches strung together, while his oral discourse, when he teaches or explains, is intellectual, elegant, and of wonderful clearness.

The faculty of thinking in phenomena can only be cultivated if the mind is constantly trained, and this was effected in my case by my endeavoring to perform, so far as my means would allow me, all the experiments whose description I read in the books. These means were very limited, and hence it arose that, in order to satisfy my inclination, I repeated such experiments as I was able to make a countless number of times, until I ceased to see anything new in the process, or till I knew thoroughly every aspect of the phenomenon which presented itself. The natural consequence of this was the development of a memory of the sense, that is to say of the sight, a clear perception of the resemblances or differences of things or of phenomena, which afterward stood me in good stead.

One will easily understand this if one imagines, for instance, a white or colored precipitate which is produced by mixing two liquids; it is formed either at once or after some time, it is cloudy or of a curdy or gelatinous character, sandy or crystalline, dull or bright, it deposits easily or slowly, etc.; or if it is colored it has a certain tint. Among the countless white precipitates each has something peculiar to itself; and when one has experience in this sort of appearances, whatever one sees during an investigation at once awakens the remembrance of what one has seen. The following example will make clear what I mean by sight or eye memory: During our joint research on uric acid, Wöhler one