Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/223

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219
CONTRIBUTION TO THE THEORY OF SCIENCE
A CONTRIBUTION TO THE THEORY OF SCIENCE[1]

By Professor WILHELM OSTWALD,

UNIVERSITY OF LEIPZIG

ONE of the few points on which the philosophy of to-day is agreed consists in the realization that the only thing that is absolutely certain and beyond doubt for every one is the content of his own consciousness; or rather not so much the content of consciousness in general as merely the content of any given moment.

This momentary content we divide into two great groups which we assign to the inner and to the outer world, respectively. If we call a single content of consciousness of any kind an experience, we refer such experiences to the external world as take place without the participation of our own will and which can not be produced by it alone. Such experiences come to us through the participation of certain parts of our body, the sense-organs; the external world, in other words, is that which reaches our consciousness through the senses.

Conversely, we refer to our internal world all the experiences which come to pass without the immediate help of our sense-apparatus. To this class belong all the experiences which we designate as 'remembering' or 'thinking.' An accurate and complete differentiation of both territories is at present not contemplated because it is not yet necessary. It is a problem which is not capable of being attacked and solved until later. For the present a general orientation in which every man may recognize the familiar facts of his own consciousness is sufficient.

Each and every experience has the property of being unique. None of us doubts that the words of the poet: 'Everything in life repeats itself,' strictly speaking, is the opposite of the truth, and that, as a matter of fact, nothing in life repeats itself. In order, however, to pronounce a judgment of this kind we must be in a position to compare different experiences with one another; and the possibility of doing so depends upon a fundamental phenomenon of our consciousness, 'memory.' By virtue of memory alone, are we able to bring different experiences into relation with one another, and thus make it possible to propound at all the question concerning their likeness or difference. The simpler relations are to be met with among internal experiences. Any given thought, such as twice two are four, I am able to produce in my consciousness as often as I choose; and, in addition to the con-

  1. Address before the Section of Methodology, Congress of Arts and Science, St. Louis, translated by Dr. Carl. L. Alsberg.