Popular Science Monthly/Volume 1/October 1872/Editor's Table
|←Sketch of Dr. Carpenter||Popular Science Monthly Volume 1 October 1872 (1872)
THIS distinguished scientific philosopher, it is expected, will soon arrive in this country to give several courses of lectures in the chief Atlantic cities. Many of our people have read and admired his books, and become deeply interested in his themes, and those who can will no doubt gladly avail themselves of this opportunity to witness his beautiful experiments, and listen to his eloquent expositions. Dealing as he does with the various branches of physical science, and the familiar agencies and operations of Nature in their latest philosophical interpretations, his lectures will be of a high order of interest, and arrest the attention of our most thoughtful and intelligent citizens.
The indebtedness of the people of the United States to European thinkers for works of genius and learning in all departments of literature and science is acknowledged, but we owe to Europe another debt for lending us now and then the living use of her great men. "We are thus enabled to know not only what manner of books they write, but what manner of men they are, and to be brought immediately under the vital magnetic influence of their personalities. It was a great gain to American science when Prof. Agassiz left his foreign home and took up his abode in this country. His works would, of course, have produced an important influence, but that would have been as nothing to what he has been able to accomplish by his actual presence with us. Not only in his extensive original investigations by which our knowledge of Nature has been enlarged, and not only by the stimulus which he has given to multitudes of young men in the study of natural history, has he been of great service, but also by his public lectures, in all parts of the country, which have helped to increase the popular appreciation of these subjects.
A generation has now passed away since Dr. Lardner lectured in the principal towns in the United States to large and interested audiences, and the impulse he gave to the public mind in creating an interest upon these topics will produce its salutary effects for years to come. His general field of science was the same as that of Prof. Tyndall, but physics has made a long stride in the last thirty years. New departments of transcendent interest have been wholly created within this period. Dr. Lardner died the same year that Kirchhoff and Bunsen startled the world by the announcement of Spectrum Analysis. This was not only a new and splendid revelation which has thrown a flood of light upon many obscurities of Nature that science had never before dreamed of penetrating, but it was a new and powerful instrument of research of permanent value in the work of future discovery. Moreover, since the time of Lardner, new views of the energies of Nature of a most fundamental character have been arrived at. The doctrine of the correlation and conservation of force—"the highest law in physical science," says Dr. Faraday, "which our faculties permit us to perceive"—has been announced, elucidated, and established within the last generation. Dr. Lardner was too early for this subject; he belonged to the preceding epoch. As Dr. Whewell wrote the history of the science of heat without referring to the discoveries of Rumford in the last century—discoveries which involved a complete revolution in our views of the nature of that agent as well as of dynamic philosophy—so Dr. Lardner went over the ground of physics in his five-years' lectures in this country in complete obliviousness of the new point of view that had even then been assumed by investigators of his own and other countries.
But Prof. Tyndall belongs to the later era: he has done his share in bringing it about, and is among its ablest representatives. Besides his original contributions to the more recent phases of science, by his genius for lucid and eloquent statement he has done perhaps more than any other man to put the new doctrines into popular and attractive form. In his classical volume entitled "Heat as a Mode of Motion," he takes the point of view definitely assumed by Rumford, and has worked out the science of thermotics on a modern basis and in harmony with the later views of the nature of force or energy. As all who have read his works are aware, Tyndall is more than a mere specialist; he is a broad thinker—a philosopher of science. No man is more painstaking or scrupulous in elaborating isolated facts with accuracy, but that does not content him, nor is he satisfied with the narrow theories that have been applied to them; but he strives after those wider and deeper explanations by which diverse phenomena are brought into harmonized relations. The various physical forces are interesting to him in their pure phenomenal workings, but they have a larger interest as clews to the constitution of matter. Physics has two great departments. Molar Physics treats of the movements and mechanical properties of masses, as the revolutions and attractions of the celestial orbs, or the laws of motion in terrestrial bodies. Molecular Physics, on the other hand, deals with the subtler forces of magnetism, heat, light, electricity, and affinity, by which the inner nature of matter is affected and its profoundest changes brought about. It is this division or aspect of physics that has mainly engaged the attention of Prof. Tyndall. His first scientific reputation was made by researches in the field of magnetism, and his original papers upon this subject have recently appeared in an elaborate volume. Glacial phenomena have also been favorite objects of study with him. Involving as they do the molecular mutations of water, through the vaporous, liquid, and solid conditions, on a grand and impressive scale, they afford a fine exemplification of the play of molecular forces of which Prof. Tyndall has availed himself, both to extend our knowledge of the subject and to enlist the interest of the public in some of the most beautiful and wonderful operations of Nature. The first book by which Prof. Tyndall became widely known was his "Glaciers of the Alps." now long out of print; and his latest work, to be immediately published, is on the Forms of "Water," in clouds, rain, rivers, ice, and glaciers. Much of his time during the last dozen years has been devoted to the revision and extension of his early opinions upon these subjects. The courses of lectures which he is to give in this country will be eminently valuable as reflecting the latest views that have been formed in a field of science that has undergone a great change within a recent period. We shall be able to listen to the authentic teachings of a master in science, and one who is, moreover, a master in the art of popular exposition.
In our present number will be found the addresses of the presidents of the two scientific associations held in August, the one in Dubuque, Iowa, and the other in Brighton, England. They are entitled to consideration from the positions of their respective authors, the weight and dignity of the bodies addressed, and the interest of the topics discussed. The presidency of these bodies is held as an eminent honor among men of science, to be filled but once in a lifetime, and then by gentlemen of the highest scientific ability. These addresses are read with interest throughout the scientific world, and they naturally call forth the best exertion that their authors are capable of making. In the present case the speakers have taken up the subjects to which their lives have been devoted, and upon which they are prepared to discourse with authority. This, however, is more especially the case with Prof. Gray. An accomplished botanist, who is, moreover, much of a philosopher, and can work at causes and effects in Nature as well as at identifying and labelling specimens, he has grappled with the profoundest question in his own domain, the origin, descent, and modifications of vegetable forms on this continent, and has handled it with a clearness, originality, and richness of illustration, which cannot fail to increase his already high reputation. Dr. Carpenter has won his best fame in the field of physiology, although cultivating successfully various branches of natural history. As is shown in the biographical notice which we publish, he has paid special attention to the physiology of the nervous system, and has worked out a mental philosophy on the basis of cerebral physiology. One of the doctrines to winch he has paid much attention, and which he claims to have developed and extended so as to make it his own, was set forth by him in the lecture which we published last month, on the "Unconscious Action of the Brain." But while Dr. Carpenter has been an assiduous student of mind from this point of view, and is entitled to speak with authority upon the questions it involves, in the present address he has gone quite beyond this subject, and plunged into the utmost intricacies of metaphysics. His address contains much that is instructive in regard to the methods of science in interpreting Nature; and in addition to this he makes a vigorous attack on the new philosophical school that has lately grown up into strength within the circles of science. His argument is generally regarded as a protest and a reaction against recent and as many think mischievous scientific tendencies.
It is curious to note the course of thought for the past few years, in these two Associations, dedicated to the "advancement" of ideas, as that course is evinced by the leanings of the presidential speeches. Those of the American presidents have been cautious and timid, and they seem to have hesitated about committing themselves to "advanced" views. Prof. Gray is the first who has ventured officially to avow Darwinian doctrines. On the other hand, the later presidents of the British Association, Grove, Hooker, and Huxley, have been representatives of these doctrines. This year, however, the tendencies in both bodies would seem to be reversed—the American president breaking away from the conservatism of his predecessors, and the British president putting on the breaks to check the radical movement in his own body.
Yet Dr. Carpenter has neither arrayed himself against the doctrine of "Darwinism," nor is his scientific orthodoxy by any means above suspicion. He was among the first to assert and elaborate the great doctrine of the correlation of physical and vital forces, and, in the fifth edition of his "Principles of Physiology," he carried out the argument by including the mental forces in the correlated group. This doctrine was denounced as heretical and dangerous by Dr. Barnard, in his address before the American Association at Chicago, and, if we remember rightly, so great was the scare in England at the position taken by Carpenter, which was reprobated as rank materialism, that a paper had to be circulated, and eminent names obtained, certifying that it was all right, and that Dr. Carpenter was quite sound and safe in his views. As regards the present address, its main point involves the explicit acceptance of the view currently designated as "Darwinian."
The metaphysical conflict into which the doctor has thrown himself has reference to the mode of origin of our ideas. One school affirms that they are not a part of the order of Nature, that is, they do not come into existence by natural processes of growth and development. They are held to be intuitive, and formed directly by the Creator in a supernatural or extranatural sphere. The opposite school maintains that ideas are not a part of the preconstituted original furniture of our minds, but grow and arise by experience in the regular order of Nature. Thus the intuitional hypothesis and the experience hypothesis are antagonist doctrines. Dr. Carpenter here proposes a compromise by calling in the principle of hereditary influence, or the power of habit to originate intuitive ideas in the course of generations. But, strange to say, Dr. Carpenter puts forth this view as his own, without recognizing that it is an old and fundamental doctrine of Herbert Spencer. It will surprise many that, upon so conspicuous and important an occasion, a theory of such undoubted moment in philosophy could have been put forth by Dr. Carpenter without the scrupulous recognition of its true authorship. Mr. Spencer's doctrine, long maintained, and fully elaborated in his system of Synthetic Philosophy, is that intuitions originate by slowly-organized experiences in the race, which are confirmed and accumulated through hereditary transmission as a part of the working of the great principle of Evolution. Dr. Carpenter indorses this view, and cites Mr. Mill as having recently given his Adhesion to it, and his position is therefore substantially the same as that of Prof. Gray and the developmental school. But, in common with many others who hold to this theory, he strongly urges that it does not exclude the conception of efficient causation or of a supreme cause by which Nature is controlled, and, like Dr. Gray, he takes broad issue with the atheists. His view is summed up in the following closing passage of the address: "The science of modern times, however, has taken a more special direction. Fixing its attention exclusively on the order of Nature, it has separated itself wholly from theology, whose function it is to seek after its cause. In this, science is fully justified, alike by the entire independence of its objects, and by the historical fact that it has been continually hampered and impeded in its search for the truth as it is in Nature, by the restraints which theologians have attempted to impose upon its inquiries. But when science, passing beyond its own limits, assumes to take the place of theology, and sets up its own conception of the order of Nature as a sufficient account of its cause, it is invading a province of thought to which it has no claim, and not unreasonably provokes the hostility of those who ought to be its best friends. For, while the deep-seated instincts of humanity and the profoundest researches of philosophy alike point to mind as the one and only source of power, it is the high prerogative of science to demonstrate the unity of the power which is operating through the limitless extent and variety of the universe, and to trace its continuity through the vast series of ages that have been occupied in its evolution."
Since the foregoing remarks were put in type, we have heard again from the other side, and find that Dr. Carpenter's error has received prompt and thorough correction. The Daily Telegraph closed a long editorial on Dr. Carpenter's address with a reference to the doctrine of modification of mental faculties through organized and transmitted experiences, and said: "It certainly is a striking theory, and for that reason the speaker might have been expected to avoid the pretence of treating it as if it were originally his own. The honor of opening up this new line of speculation belongs to Mr. Herbert Spencer more than to any other man, and yet not a word of recognition was paid to that eminent thinker. If we are to accept the doctrine, let us begin to practise justice on all occasions, so that posterity may have all the advantage, and that future presidents may display an instinctive equity in their addresses."
This called out the following from Dr. Carpenter:
|Your obedient servant,|
|WILLIAM B. CARPENTER.|
|British Association, Brighton, August 16th.|
Whereupon the President is again corrected by Mr. Spencer himself:
|Athenaeum Club, August 18th.|
- "This doctrine was first explicitly put forth by Mr. Herbert Spencer, in whose philosophies, treatises it will be found most ably developed."