Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/184

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180
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE EVANESCENCE OF FACTS
By Dr. JONATHAN WRIGHT
DIRECTOR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE LABORATORIES OF THE POST-GRADUATE MEDICAL SCHOOL AND HOSPITAL

IN looking over some old portfolios, I have lately dragged to light elaborate notes which relate and discuss various facts set forth by the laboratories of this and other lands. Yellow with age, but vivid with the interest and bursting with the importance with which the scientific environment of the day invested them for me, they have set me musing on the vanity of human interests, especially the vanity of scientific interests. I remember the sonorous periods which reverberate from university platforms, the mottoes flaunted on the title page of many a scientific journal, "To the solid ground of nature trusts the mind which builds for aye." The pride, the pomp and circumstance of war burn in a feeble flame when compared with the assurance which fills the bosom and exudes at the lips of the man of science when he contemplates the firmness of the pedestal upon which he stands, the rock of ages, the steel concrete foundation against which dash in vain the skepticism of the scoffer and the voluble waves of theory and ratiocination.

For is not this substructure the product of the unerring interpretation of vision, hearing, of smell and taste and feeling? Vision aided by spherical glasses, aberrations of light and obscurity of outline corrected by the proper means, sound amplified by vibrating plates and confined by hollow conduits, smell — well, there is some doubt about smell — it is a recessive — however, the solidity of the ground of nature as betrayed by the senses, that is, most of them, is such a contrast to the airy superstructure built by deductive reasoning and by the imagination, unrefined by submission to the crucial test of experiment, that it is not worth while to dwell on the fallaciousness of the senses.

However, to go back to my old notes, yellow with age, musty with the dust of the intervening years, like the moths and insects from Faust's old coat when Mephistopheles shook them out, they may sing:

Willkommen! Willkommen!

  Du alter Patron,
Wir schweben und summen
  Und kennen dich schon.

But I recognize them only as a particularly uninteresting and lousy lot of lowly organisms. I am not at all tempted to utilize them as foundation stones for the imposing edifice I was secretly longing to build when