Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/188

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

as much by discusssion as by direct observation, but there seems to be a smell of heresy about this. At least the phenomenon is familiar. The cash-register method of Cuvier, whereby facts were supposed to be recorded but not discussed, presents some flaws in its title of supremacy. Possibly this is because there is really some incompleteness in application. The interposition of the function of the cerebral cortex seems to a certain extent unavoidable. In so far then we are, even with Cuvier's classical conception, obliged to accept some modification. "Das Ding an sich" is essentially a figment of the reasoning faculties of the German mind, and the attempt to grasp it in the interest of pure science has always been somewhat of a failure.

In musing over these old notes then, I am led far astray in an attempt to explain just why the old facts do not present that alluring aspect to me which they once did. True in the words of the poet I may well question:

Are they still such as once they were?
Or is the dreary change in me?

Indubitably the "warped and broken board" of the poet's simile does not take the painter's dye as it did when fresh sawed from the mill. The chill of age we know brings the carping criticism to the front which the blush of youth hides behind its inexperience, but I never heard that wisdom was the latter's handmaiden rather than the servant of the former. Nevertheless, it is well to compare the inspiration of the recent revelation with that of the discovery of the old knowledge and the force of the suggestions I have shadowed forth in my musings will not appear entirely negligible.

What then becomes of the old facts? Peripheral stimuli, transmitted from without through the organs of special sense and interpreted by the cortical gray matter of the brain, have eventuated not only in records carved on stone and scratched on brass, but they have left their still more lasting impress on the social inheritance of countless generations of men—evidently from far beyond the period when historical records began to be preserved for us. The peripheral stimuli, direct observation, with as little interposition of gray matter, illuminated with as little of the heaven-bestowed light as possible, were the origin of these beliefs—these facts—just as are the red rods we see by the help of convex glasses which we now call tubercle bacilli.

The archeologists tell us that time plays curious pranks with the most resistant and stubborn materials. For many years the old story of the Phœnician sailors' discovery of glass beneath their camp fire on the sea sands of the shore was an attractive one, but evidently the manufacture of glass goes far back of the time when the Phœnicians were masters of the sea. In some of the material dug out of the soil, once pressed beneath the feet of men of the most remote antiquity, a streak