Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/197

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY



SEPTEMBER. 1906



THE VALUE OF SCIENCE[1]
By M. H. POINCARÉ
MEMBER OF THE INSTITUTE OF FRANCE

Introduction

THE search for truth should be the goal of our activities; it is the sole end worthy of them. Doubtless we should first bend our efforts to assuage human suffering, but why? Not to suffer is a negative ideal more surely attained by the annihilation of the world. If we wish more and more to free man from material cares, it is that he may be able to employ the liberty obtained in the study and contemplation of truth.

But sometimes truth frightens us. And in fact we know that it is sometimes deceptive, that it is a phantom never showing itself for a moment except to ceaselessly flee, that it must be pursued further and ever further without ever being attained. Yet to work one must stop, as some Greek, Aristotle or another, has said. We also know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether illusion is not more consoling, yea, even more bracing, for illusion it is which gives confidence. When it shall have vanished, will hope remain and shall we have the courage to achieve? Thus would not the horse harnessed to his treadmill refuse to go, were his eyes not bandaged? And then to seek truth it is necessary to be independent, wholly independent. If on the contrary we wish to act, to be strong, we should be united. This is why many of us fear truth; we consider it a cause of weakness. Yet truth should not be feared, for it alone is beautiful.

When I speak here of truth, assuredly I refer first to scientific

  1. Authorized translation by Professor George Bruce Halsted, Ph.D. Copyright, 190(1, by The Science Press.