Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/189

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185
THE EVANESCENCE OF FACTS

of a little different color is noted. Carefully brushing away this mouldering matter, in the center is still found a thin streak of glass. The dust in which was encased this flint-like product of man's ingenuity was once glass too, but the whole has crumbled away to this mere sliver which alone serves to betray the nature of the whole. In this crumbling disintegration we may see an apt illustration of how those facts, yielded by direct observation to the cerebral cortex of primitive man, have ceased to preserve their recognizable outlines. In order to get some idea of what they were, the archeologist must go with the sociologist to the study of those remnants of primitive man still to some extent uncorroded by the pressure of the environment of civilization. Malay magic, the astounding beliefs unearthed by modern travelers, innumerable legends fantastic to the civilized mind, so devoid of point and so obscure of origin as to be not only incomprehensible but even devoid of interest, are the revelations which greet the inquirer. At first without a clue, this is simply a bewildering mass, confusion thrice confounded. Gradually, however, it becomes evident to the student that all this has arisen from the direct observation of an external environment, of an ever-pressing, an ever-intruding nature with which primitive man struggles. His method of the acquisition of facts, however, we find quite similar to that of Cuvier—observation, assertion, suppression of ratiocination, ignorance of logic—the true inductive method.

When Diogenes studied the universe from his tub and bade Alexander stand out of his sunshine, he probably did not realize that Alexander had pushed the forest back and had started the conquest of tropical nature and had given Diogenes time for the study of his umbilicus, given him the leisure for reflection. The savage has it not. So Diogenes and his tribe knew not direct observation and concluded they could get along without it—in spite of the Stagyrite, who was soon to make an abortive attempt to weld the two weapons being forged for man in his future search of the truth. Back and forth these two tendencies of man in his quest surged for thousands of years. Finally man, by availing himself of the invention of the convex glass found in the ruins of prehistoric Nineveh, by perfection in the accuracy of the measurement of the curves and angles studied by Euclid and his predecessors, by throttling those who to preserve their own autonomy had hitherto prevented it, brought about the bursting forth of a flood of external stimuli—new facts pressing on man, intruding on him like the primeval forest did on his primeval ancestor, fairly forcing him into Cuvier's attitude—record facts, never mind what they mean—there is no time for the study of the umbilicus at present.

And so again their evanescence becomes manifest. Crumbling disintegration sets in. Time with its mordant acid and alkalies encrusts the bright new glass. Back and forth vibrate the forces of the micro-