Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/278

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
266
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

Editor's Table.

 
SCIENCE AND THE IDEAL.

WE have had frequent occasion in these columns to refer to the tirades against science indulged in by writers who, because they can not quite make ends meet in their philosophy of the universe, strangely allow themselves to think that science must be at fault. At one moment it is M. Brunetière, at another Tolstoi, at another it is a Harvard professor or a Western school superintendent; but no very long time elapses before we find somebody in very unnecessary trouble, as it seems to us, over the shortcomings of science. The last sufferer to whom our attention has been drawn is Dr. John Beattie Crozier, the author of two able works—Civilization and Progress, and History of Intellectual Development—who has lately written a history of his own intellectual development under the title of My Inner Life. This writer describes the effect upon his mind of a study of Mr. Spencer's Principles of Psychology. "Then it was," he says, "that the ideal within me, struck to the heart, shriveled and collapsed." This sad result was due to the discovery, forced on him by a study of the work in question, that all our mental experiences have equally a material basis, and that from a material point of view or, as we may say, seen from below, one thought or feeling is as much justified as any other. Previously he had considered that "such higher faculties as veneration, benevolence, conscientiousness, and the like, were quite distinct in essential nature from low ones, like revenge, lust, vanity, cowardice, and deceit"; but now "all this was changed, and all the faculties alike, the high and the low, the noble and the base, the heroic and the self-indulgent, lay on a dead level of moral and spiritual equality. . . all alike being but vibrations, vibrations, vibrations, nothing more." Consequently, "the dethroned Ideal fell prone and headlong like a false and usurping spirit; and my mind, bereaved of that which had been its life, settled into a deep and what, for a year or two, threatened to be a permanent intellectual gloom."

It is a great pity that at this critical moment a very simple consideration did not occur to this troubled spirit. When we read the Sermon on the Mount we read "words, words, words"; when we read some horrible piece of profanity or indecency it is again "words, words, words"; when we read the demonstration of a proposition in Euclid it is "words, words, words"; and, again, when we take up Tennyson's In Memoriam we find that its whole tissue is "words, words, words" But would it tend in the least to lessen one's reverence for the Sermon on the Mount to be reminded that it was constructed out of the same verbal elements as the piece of profanity? or would it diminish our admiration for In Memoriam to be told that it was constructed of words just like the dullest piece of prose? If not, then why should one be so terribly disconcerted and depressed to find' that all our mental life finds its basis in vibrations? Or why should the inference be drawn that, because the basis is one, all that reposes on it must also be one in character and meaning? Is our delight in the lily or the rose impaired by the reflection that it springs from the same soil that produces noisome weeds; or do we gaze on the humming bird with less admiration be-