Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/May 1884/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 25 May 1884  (1884) 
Popular Miscellany
 

POPULAR MISCELLANY.

Edward J, Hallock, A.M., Ph.D.—It is with much regret that we have to announce the death, on March 2 2d, of Dr. Hallock, for many years a contributor to this journal. He was born in Peekskill, New York, on the 19th of June, 1845. His early education was in the local schools of his birth-place, ending with the Peekskill Military Academy. In 1865 he entered Columbia College, whence he graduated four years later, receiving the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He was the recipient of the first prize in German, and in 1872 the college also conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts. Soon after graduating he sailed for Germany, and commenced the study of chemistry in the University of Berlin. In 1870 he returned to this country, and was appointed assistant to President Parrish, of Swarthmore College, near Philadelphia. Upon President Parrish's resignation, he too resigned, and, leaving Swarthmore College, was appointed assistant to Professor Joy, occupying the chair of Chemistry in Columbia College. This place he held for several years, acting as professor during Dr. Joy's illness. He went to Germany again in 1877, and was assistant to Professor Hofmann, in Berlin, and received in 1878 the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Heidelberg. Returning then to this country, he was for two years Professor of Chemistry in the Southern Medical College, Atlanta, Georgia. Since 1878 he had been engaged in a large field of scientific work, lecturing in many educational institutions, and acting on the editorial staff of the "Boston Journal of Chemistry" and the "Journal of Applied Chemistry." He was a contributor also to many of the scientific journals of this city. Two laborious chemical indices are his work: one an "Index to the Literature of Titanium," the other an "Index to the Literature of Glucose," the latter prepared, at the request of Dr. C. F. Chandler, for the National Academy of Sciences. Both of these have been published, the latter appearing only a short time before his death. His last piece of literary work was a sketch of his German master in chemistry. Dr. Hofmann, which appeared in the April "Popular Science Monthly."

Dr. Hallock was a man of simple manners, modest to a fault, and with great sincerity and uprightness of character. He carried this trait into all his work. He was an excellent scientific teacher, and aimed at thoroughness as the first object of instruction. He lectured before many popular schools, and his patience was greatly tried by the tendency he constantly encountered on the part of their managers to make the lectures showy and sensational, so as to captivate ignorant patrons and advertise the institution.

 

On the Supposed Discovery of Iron in Prehistoric Mounds.—It has been generally understood that an iron or steel sword was found many years ago by Dr. Hildreth in one of the prehistoric mounds at Marietta, Ohio, and that an iron blade and a plate of cast-iron were found by Mr. Atwater in a mound at Circleville; and these supposed facts have been used to maintain the position that the mound-builders were acquainted with iron, or had intercourse with people who had iron; or that the mounds were erected after the builders came in contact with Europeans, or have been intruded upon since they were built. The discovery, during the past year, of masses of meteoric iron and several ornaments made of it in mounds in the Little Miami Valley has caused Professor F. W. Putnam to review the statements that have been made in relation to the subject. Examining the original statements from which these deductions have been drawn, he finds that the evidence does not show that steel or iron was found. Dr. Hildreth described as among the articles found at Marietta "three large circular bosses, or ornaments for a sword-belt, or a buckler," composed of copper, overlaid with a thick plate of silver. Dr. Atwater found at Circleville a piece of antler, in one end of which a hole had been bored, bound with a band of silver, which he called "the handle either of a small sword or large knife," and distinctly states that "no iron was found, but an oxide remained of similar shape and size." On the same page he speaks of "a plate of iron, which had become an oxide, but, before it was disturbed by the spade, resembled a plate of cast-iron." This oxide, Mr. Putnam says, in the absence of exact evidence, "could be readily accounted for by one familiar with the traces of oxidized copper, iron-colored clay, and traces of oxide of iron, which are often met with in mound explorations." Professor Putnam compares the 'bosses' described by Hildreth with similarly-shaped articles of copper found in mounds in Franklin, Tennessee, and in the Little Miami Valley, which were evidently ear-ornaments, and decides that they were of the same character. Dr. Hildreth also describes "a plate of silver, which appears to have been the upper part of a sword-scabbard; it is six inches in length and two in breadth, and weighs one ounce; it has no ornaments or figures, but has three longitudinal ridges" (there are actually five), "which probably correspond with edges, or ridges, of the sword." This is compared by Professor Putnam with a similar article of copper from Franklin, Tennessee, and another of meteoric iron from the Little Miami, which were evidently not sword-scabbards, though their precise use can only be conjectured. Thus, "not a shadow of a sword can be traced in this connection; the point of the supposed scabbard is a common copper bead; the upper part of the scabbard is an ornament of a particular pattern, of which three others almost identical in shape are known from other mounds; and the 'bosses' or supposed ornaments of a sword- belt are ear-rings." Dr. Hildreth states, however, that a piece of iron-ore was found in his mound, and Professor Putnam regards this statement as of great interest, "now that we know from the discoveries of the past year that the peculiar and malleable qualities of meteoric iron were known to the builders of the group of mounds in the Little Miami Valley." The ear-ornaments, he also observes, "exhibit a degree of skill in working the native metals of copper, silver, and iron, simply by hammering, which is conclusive evidence of the advance made by early American tribes in ornamental art."

 

Unscientific Science-Teaching.—Dr. W. B. Carpenter, in discussing a paper on "Science-Teaching in Elementary Schools," recently read before the London Society of Arts, said that "the facts and conclusions stated in the paper entirely accorded with his own experience; and he also agreed with what Dr. Gladstone had said on the importance of what might be called living knowledge of these subjects, in opposition to dead knowledge. For instance, the use of an air-pump had been referred to: nobody could teach a child the action of a pump or the use of a barometer without explaining the pressure of the air, but that was merely a form of words unless the child had the air exhausted from under his hand, and felt that a considerable force was necessary to withdraw it. From a long experience of examinations, he could entirely indorse what had been said of the cramming system of getting up subjects from books. He had examined in science for the Indian Civil Service, and had often found candidates giving the most excellent descriptions, entirely from memory, out of books, of objects which they did not even know by sight when put before them. That was not scientific knowledge at all, it was merely something committed to memory; the only use of which was that it exercised the memory, but it did not exercise the capacity for observation and reasoning upon observation, which was the special value of scientific teaching. . . . A daughter of the late Robert Chambers, some years ago, took much interest in introducing the teaching of animal physiology into primary schools, and she used to go into one of the schools in the Cowgate, Edinburgh, twice a week, and give lessons in it, and no doubt her teaching was of the most attractive kind; at any rate, the children were so much interested in it that some of the clerical managers of the school were annoyed that the children cared so much more for this subject than for their ordinary lessons. No doubt there was a great deal of teaching about the dimensions of the tabernacle, and the number of fringes on the high-priest's garments, and so on, which the children did not appreciate so much as the animal physiology, and the result was that Miss Chambers was asked to discontinue; but the children held a meeting, and passed resolutions that they would not come to school at all if she were not allowed to go on; and, as she described, the clergy came and requested her to continue her teaching. This was a good illustration of the fact, which all who attended to the subject knew, that science well taught was apprehended by children in a remarkable degree. A very young child apprehended what was put before it intelligently; and, in an older child, reasoning went on concurrently with observation." Dr. Armstrong, who also joined in the discussion, remarked that "schoolmasters might say to men of science: 'You are no doubt right in the main in urging us to teach science, but you have not yet put before us a proper method of teaching science; it is not yet sufficiently developed; there are too few teachers.' And when a schoolmaster asked what book you would recommend him for teaching any particular science, they were compelled to confess that they could not honestly recommend any, for most text-books were tainted, more or less, with the vice which had been alluded to—that they tended rather to teach bare facts than to develop the intellectual faculties. What was wanted was more co-operation on the part of those who understood the subject, not a few people here and there introducing systems of their own. They also wanted instruction as to the meaning of science; the public generally did not know what science meant; and had no idea that the intention was to teach boys and girls to use their eyes and their minds."

 

A Crab-Shell Barometer.—The southernmost province of Chili comprises the Chiloe Islands, on which a remnant of the Araucanian Indians still exists, in a population of whites, Indians, and mixed. There is so much moist and wet weather on these islands that the prognostications are mainly directed to tell the fair weather. The natives use a curious instrument for this purpose, known as the "Barometro Araucano" It is the exuviated or cast-off shell of an Anomuran crab, probably of the genus Lithodes. This dead shell is peculiarly sensitive to atmospheric change. In dry weather it remains nearly white, but with the approach of moisture small red spots appear on the shell, increasing in number and size with the increase of humidity, until the rain comes, when the shell becomes all red, and retains this color throughout the wet season.

 

The Swiss Society of Natural Sciences.—The Swiss Society of Natural Sciences held its sixty-sixth annual reunion at Zurich in August, and was attended by men from many countries. The meeting was opened by M. Cramer, Professor of Botany in the University of Zurich, with an address, in which, besides reviewing the progress of the natural sciences, he laid particular stress upon the study of the minute organisms which have recently been brought into prominence. Professor Meyer traced the progress of chemistry under the influence of the ideas of Mendelejeff and L. Mayer, and showed how a classification had become possible of all simple solids under five distinctly separated families. The likenesses on which the classification is based are so strong that the discovery of gallium was foreseen; its density and atomic weight were determined three years before the element was actually separated by the French chemist M. Lecoq de Boisbaudran. Professor Meyer concluded his address by showing how science is indebted to men who think, who found theories on experiments, and then verify the truth of their hypotheses by renewed investigations. Professor Hermann Fol, of the University of Geneva, described his studies on animal individuality, embracing particularly his researches into the origin of double beings, two-headed monsters, and the like. Professor F. A. Forel presented an interesting paper on the variations of temperature of the Swiss lakes, which he has made the subject of several years of study. Professor Suess, of Vienna, read a paper in exposition of the modern theory of the upheaval of mountains. Professor Clausius, of Berne, was elected president of the society.

 

False Knowledge.—Dr. Oliver Marcy, geologist and classicist, and formerly President of the Northwestern University, has some sensible remarks on educational fallacies, in the Chicago "Evening Herald": "There is much wrong education. The human mind is burdened with false knowledge. It comes to us in tradition. It constitutes a large part of our libraries. All the false notions of the ancients stand upon our shelves. False knowledge is forced upon us in the instruction we receive. We are taught that we must go to school to the ancients; that they had the truth, and knew more and were wiser than the people of this age; that in the art of composition, both in prose and in poetry, the moderns are inferior to the men of ancient time; that it is necessary, in order to acquire a good style in English, to study composition in Greek, a language whose structure is wholly unlike that of the English. The Greek mythology is represented as a beautiful blossom of the human intellect, worthy of years of patient study. We are taught that a man educated in the knowledge that existed 300 years before Christ is better educated than a man educated in the knowledge of the nineteenth century. If these are not fallacies, what ground have we for expecting that the human race will have any better mental condition in the future? If these are not fallacies, what has become of the law of progress? One of the most detrimental fallacies imbibed with our education is the notion that words have a potency of meaning in themselves. The truth is, they have only such meanings as we attach to them. They stand for notions already in our minds. When uttered or written they have no power to generate the same notions in other minds as they represent to us, unless the other parties have associated these same notions with the sounds we utter or sets of visible marks similar to those we write. Meaning does not exist in a word by virtue of its root or its history. Roots and word histories are of interest in the study of words as such in philology, but, in the selection of a word to express an idea, the question is not what the word has stood for in the minds of persons long since dead, but what it stands for now in the minds of the living. The new meaning of every word is different from its old meaning, and in some cases the new meaning is directly contrary to that of the old. No one can obtain the new notion from the study of the old word; for instance, the notion which is now represented by the word animal. The Greek anemos stood for wind and for a breath. The Latin anima stood for spirit and life, as then understood. The Latin animal stood for a living being; but no Roman or Latin ever used this word to represent the idea for which the word now stands in the mind of the scientific man, for the modem idea had no existence in those days. The man whose vernacular is the English tongue takes a very indirect route, and makes a very unproductive journey, when he seeks the meaning of the now English word animal through its roots and its history. The present meaning can be obtained only by observing and studying animals themselves in connection with the thoughts and observations of modem investigators. Persons who get into the habit of obtaining their ideas from Latin and Greek roots generally have no disposition to seek knowledge in any other way. They are satisfied with the imperfect notions which they thus obtain from the old words, and forever remain ignorant of the real nature of the things for which the new words stand. Agassiz was so impressed with the fallacy of names that he never permitted his students to know the name of an object of study till they had formed a proper notion of it by a minute study of the object itself. Names to the ignorant convey but very superficial notions. These fallacies are affecting the education, the life, and the thinking of all our people. We should throw them off as we grow in clear thinking, as the growing lobster throws off his shell. There is much confusion of mind produced by words which become fashionable for a time, and are made to carry a great variety of meanings, and frequently no definite meaning. Such a word is 'culture.' Arnold has defined it, and Huxley has lectured on his definition, and Mr. Arnold has lectured in reply. Still, though it is used every day, no one can tell exactly what it means. The common notion attached to it is that of traveling in Europe and looking at picture-galleries. In educational circles the word 'discipline' is thrown at you on all occasions. It is the answer given to all educational inquiries; but its meaning to most minds is not clear. It generally stands for memorizing the rules of Latin prosody and committing the names of the Greek divinities. Another false notion which we absorb with our instruction is that all knowledge comes from books—that knowledge originates in books. The existence of this belief may be denied, because a second thought shows its absurdity; but the fallacy has taken possession of the mind of most students of books and controls their practical life. Knowledge is sought by them in books, and in books alone. The man educated only in books does not know how to find a truth except by means of a book. It is a fallacy to think that the best education is an education to interpret books, and not an education to interpret nature."

 

Solar Storms and Sun-Spots.—Whatever may be said in the matter of terrestrial weather-prediction, astronomers have learned to foretell with considerable correctness the occurrence of the mighty solar storms which produce what are called sun-spots; that is, they can tell what years will be characterized by many sun-storms and what years by few, for ten or twelve years in advance. The great sun-spots which were seen in the later months of 1882 were predicted at least twelve years before; and astronomy is far better assured that in the years 1898 and 1894 there will be many sun-spots than meteorologists are that any given month in the future of the present year will be of the normal character. But though the periodicity of the spots seems to be established, the reason of it is still wholly unknown. We have learned, from the observations of Professor Langley and the story told by the spectroscope, that so much of the light of the body of the sun is absorbed by its atmosphere that its color is changed from the real bluish violet to the yellowish white that we see; that the vapors in that atmosphere are largely metallic, and the rains on the sun are rains of metallic drops; that its storms rage over regions as large as the whole surface of the earth, and travel with a velocity compared with which the swiftest atmospheric movements on the earth are as rest; and that its constant emission of light and heat represents the equivalent of a consumption of fuel so far beyond what man can conceive that figures can give no idea of it. A connection seems to be fairly established between solar storms and magnetic disturbances on the earth. Yet there are storms, revealed by the protuberances on the edge of the solar disk, that are not felt on the earth; but this is because they rage on a part of the sun not turned toward the earth, and spend their effects in other portions of space. Whenever the face of the sun turned toward the earth has shown evidence of perturbation, our planet has responded quickly enough—quite as quickly as it responds to the rays of solar light. It seems clear, also, that the temperature of the earth as a whole is affected by the absence or presence of many spots on the sun's surface. But that there is any connection between the rain and wind cycles, the periods of famine and financial crisis, the recurrence of disasters and shipwrecks, bad vine-years, etc., as some have assumed to infer, has not yet been established; and the observations on these points are so contradictory as to have no value.

 

Microbes in Bricks.—Director Parize, of the agricultural station at Morlaix, France, has discovered that the crumbling of soft bricks and other earthen articles, which has been ascribed wholly to the action of moisture, is largely promoted, if it is not caused, by the growth of microbes. His attention was called to the fact in examining some which had grown upon a brick partition in a close, moist place, when he remarked some swellings or blisters in the plaster, from which a fine, red dust escaped when it was broken. Nothing but the brick- dust could be seen with the ordinary magnifier, but the application of a microscope of five hundred diameters revealed hosts of living microscopic organisms. Among them were micrococci, one-celled algæ and their spores, amibes, and ciliæ, moving with extreme rapidity, and some of the organisms in the process of budding. Deductions and lessons of considerable value and of quite wide extension may follow from this discovery.

 

Prevention of Floods in Mountain-Valleys,—Herr Carl Sonklar, of Innsbruck, has published a paper on the means of preventing the floods to which the valleys of the Tyrolese Alps are subject. The remedy he proposes consists chiefly in the restoration and preservation of the forests that formerly clothed the mountains; and he suggests a set of very minute regulations and practical measures to promote that end, which, as well as all that is done about the forests, by private owners as well as by the public and the communes, are to be closely watched by the Government. To the plantation and cultivation of trees he would add barriers or dams across the ravines, to detain the water of the freshets temporarily so that the washed-down mineral matter and gravel shall settle there and not be carried into the cultivated valleys below.

 

Storage-Batteries in Electric Lighting.—The composing-room of the Aberdeen (Scotland) "Journal" is lighted with perfect satisfaction by means of incandescent lamps supplied by accumulators. The electricity is stored by one of the engines used for the printing machinery during the intervals between issuing the different editions of the daily paper; and the accumulators, so charged, keep the lamps burning brightly all night, without needing to be replenished. Illumination through accumulators is wholly free from the unsteadiness which is complained of in using lights directly dependent on machinery, and is free from the risk of a sudden excess in the current destroying the carbon-filament of the lamp. The accumulators recommend themselves more-over, as possessing "the enormous advantage of only yielding up the quantity of electricity actually consumed by the lamps alight at the moment, whereas, when the lighting is done directly from a dynamo, if part of the lamps are put out, an equivalent resistance must be inserted in order to prevent the breakage of the remaining lamps."