Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/November 1889/Correspondence
THE MENTAL BIAS OF WITNESSES.
Editor Popular Science Monthly:
IN the recent controversy between Prof. Huxley and Dr. Wace, I was struck by the fact that the latter does not seem to have seen that the truth of the gospel narratives is not so much a matter of literary criticism as of psychological criticism. Though M. Renan prove, with stronger arguments than Dr. Wace attributes to him, that the Gospel of St. Mark was written by an eye-witness, the doubt still remains as to whether the eye-witness could be trusted. We all know that even in this age, from which superstition is supposed to have been eliminated, people can not always be trusted to give an exact account of what they have seen; and how much more would this be likely to be true of the imaginative Oriental! "All the vaporing," as Dr. Wace calls it, "about the great critical operation of the present century" in "Robert Elsmere" is in reference to this point, the value of human testimony — not whether such a one wrote at such a time, but just how much he was influenced, when he did write, by his psychological tendencies, and also by the traditions of which he, in common with his fellow-men, was the heir. When we find in the ancient religions of India, Persia, and Egypt exactly the same supernatural elements that we find in the gospel stories, and sometimes even a resemblance in details, such as there is between certain points in the life of Krishna and of Christ, we can not help drawing the conclusion that these supernaturalisms were, in their essence, survivals from older religions, and, in their attachment to the life of Christ, were a proof of the psychological tendencies of the people of that time toward supernaturalism; but that such conclusions should in any way affect the sincerity of Christ himself is perfectly absurd. Dr. Wace thinks that, unless Christ were what he is claimed by orthodox Christians to be, he would be perjuring himself, for example, in the Lord's Prayer, by addressing "our Father," which must show that he was aware of a special connection between God and himself; it neither shows a special connection nor hypocrisy on the part of Christ, but is a most natural form of expression. Even in the hymns of the "Rig-Veda," probably forming the oldest book in the world, men worshiped Dyaus-Pitar (Heaven-Father), so the conception of "our Father who art in heaven" is far older than the time of Christ. Through the unbiased study of comparative religion — a far better way to arrive at the truth than the study of literary criticism — the figure of Christ is made to stand out as the greatest revealer of absolute truth; and the supernatural elements which have been welded into his gracious life, refined of trivialities which attached to them in other religions, are but the attempt of the human mind to clothe in fitting outward symbol the truth which springs from within.
Helen A. Clarke.
WHY NOT "COBBLE-UP" THE HUMAN BODY?
Editor Popular Science Monthly:
The loud trumpeting of Dr. Brown-Séquard's alleged discovery of an "elixir of life" suggests another still more rational and practicable way of securing immortality, accompanied by youth and beauty, which I am amazed that no eminent surgeon has as yet made a bid for fame by proposing. We are all familiar with the brilliant feats of modern surgery in replacing damaged portions of the human body by sound and healthy parts obtained elsewhere. Autoplasty is one of the wide-reaching benefactions of science. Scalped mill-operatives have been furnished with good-as-new chevelures by piecemeal contributions from the heads of accommodating friends. Mangled eyes have been successfully replaced by healthy ones taken from cats and rabbits. For centuries the victims of Oriental despotism have had their noses and ears restored by the skilled "leeches" of India, Turkey, and Persia. So common have become operations for the restoration of noses, eyelids, ears, lips, palates, and tracheal, that each of these has received a distinct name in medical literature. Nor have the surgeons stopped with these external organs, but have boldly invaded the interior of the system; and I think it is on record that one surgeon succeeded in saving his patient's life by patching up his cæcum with the intestines of a sheep.
Why is not this idea capable of indefinite expansion? We all know that, as a rule, men do not break down like the "Wonderful One-Hoss Shay," which
"went to pieces all at once—
All at once, and nothing first—
Just as bubbles when they burst."
Almost invariably they die from the wearing out or lesion of some one organ.
Now, anatomists tell us that we have not a muscle, nerve, or organ which is not duplicated in some one of the lower animals. This being the case, what is to prevent the skillful surgeon, when he finds that one of his patient's viscera—cranial, thoracic, or abdominal—has become incapable of performing its functions, on account of wearing out or weakness, from removing it, and substituting a brand-new one from some healthy and high-bred animal?
For example, instead of using the pancreatic juice of the lower animals, as Dr. Brown-Sequard proposes, why not transplant the organ which produces it, and thus insure the patient a never-failing supply of the digestive fluid produced on the spot? When a man's pancreas becomes debilitated from years of unremitting toil with fried pork and mince-pies, and goes on a strike, threatening stoppage of all other bodily functions and death, why not skillfully excise it, and put in its place, say, the pancreas of a goat or a pig? The wound heals by first intention; the man's digestion recovers the tone of his boyhood days; the food his wife cooks tastes as well as "the things mother used to make"; existence again becomes sweet music, and he takes a new lease of life, until some other organ breaks down, which can be similarly replaced.
So, on the simple plan of the old lady who made a pair of stockings last a lifetime by knitting on new feet one year and new legs the next, men can readily attain the age of Methuselah, with no other drawbacks than periodic recoveries from surgical operations, which will be no worse than their customary "spells of fever," "attacks of indigestion," "nervous prostration," "malarial poisoning," and the like.
I have endeavored to treat this important subject with proper scientific gravity. I anticipate, however, the ghoulish glee of the professional humorist, who will gloat over the prospect of prominent citizens being alluded to as "well-repaired" instead of "well-preserved" men, and who will give the overworked stove-pipe, mother-in-law, and front gate a rest, in order to exploit the funny possibilities of a mature gentleman who has been patched up until he has the digestive apparatus of a goat, the vocal and respiratory machinery of a donkey, and a cranial cavity filled with the ganglia of a sheep or an intelligent Newfoundland dog.
I anticipate also the moral and scriptural objections of a part of the clergy, as to the effect upon the soul of this incorporation with the beasts of the field.
But all great ideas must encounter this sort of thing, and so mine must perforce endure it.
|Washington, D. C.|
Editor Popular /Science Monthly:
In Mr. Philpott's able essay on "The Origin of Property," in the "Monthly" for September, he quotes Prof. Leslie's notable remarks on the true meaning of the word "property." While there may have been others who have also called attention to the same point, I can not refrain from specially referring Mr. Philpott and your readers to Volume II of the works of the late Thomas Hill Green, a thinker whose acute and lucid discussion of fundamental political notions has received singularly inadequate notice. He frequently touches bottom ground with a firmness characteristic of no other political writer known to me, and in this instance he phrases with especial felicity (Vol. II, "Principles of Political Obligation," pp. 517 'et seq.) the idea upheld by Mr. Philpott and Prof. Leslie: "Two questions are apt to be mixed up which ought to be kept distinct. One is the question how men came to appropriate; the other, the question how the idea of right has come to be associated with their appropriations. ... One condition of the existence of property, then, is appropriation. But another condition must be fulfilled in order to constitute property. This is the recognition by others of a man's appropriations as something which they will treat as his, not theirs, and the guarantee to him of his appropriations by means of that recognition ... (p. 522). To say that it is a 'law of nature' that a man should have a property in the work of his hands, is no more than saying that that on which a man has imposed his labor is recognized by others as something which should be his, just as he is recognized by them as one that should be his own master. ... It is only within a society, as a relation between its members, that there can be such a thing as a right, and the right to free life rests on the common will of society. Just as the recognized interest of a society constitutes for each member of it the right to free life, so it constitutes the right to the instruments of such life, and thus through the medium, first of custom, then of law, securing them to each." This is Prof. Leslie's thought in amplified form, and it may be of interest to Mr. Philpott to note the passage.
John H. Wigmore.
Cambridge, Mass., September14, 1889.