Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/April 1897/Scientific Literature

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 50 April 1897  (1897) 
Scientific Literature
 

Scientific Literature.
SPECIAL BOOKS.

The object of the Ancient Ideals of Mr. Henry Osborn Taylor[1] is to present a new historical survey of the mental and spiritual growth of mankind in the light of the recent progress of historical research and the modifications of opinion that have been occasioned thereby. The attempt is made to treat human development from the point of view of the ideals of the different races as these ideals disclose themselves in the art and literature, in the philosophy and religion, and in the conduct and political fortunes of each race. The author has endeavored to preserve a unity of plan in setting forth the part taken by each race in the history, to make clear the nature of the contribution made by each to the stages of growth attained before the Christian era, and to indicate in what respects their contributions became permanent elements of humanity and thus elements of its further — possibilities possibilities which he believes find in Christianity the perfect conditions for their final realization. The life of the peoples, if we comprehend the author's thought correctly, is a striving after ideals, which are never quite reached directly by the strivers; and "the complete story of human progress is the story of ideal conception and of endeavor, and the unfailing realization of ideals in the growth of human beings with ideals uplifted and enlarged." This makes the narrative of the enlargement and upraising of human life; it is a history of the growth of human personality; of the age-long development of the characters of men and women. Accordingly, we have in this book the story of the life and works of eachof the greater ancient nations looking toward something it could not quite attain ; taken up and carried on by some other people, which still fell short of the yet higher aim set before it, and so on. "Egyptian thought was characterized by crass confusion," analyzed nothing, had no clearness or consistency or power to discriminate and classify. Its ethics consequently remained unsystematized precept, and, "with all the picturesque elaborateness of a future life, no thought of spiritual immortality was reached." All its art and literature and religion, as we have them, point to this conclusion. In Babylonia the earliest Sumerian and Accadian peoples were subdued by the stronger but less cultivated Semites, who acquired their civilization and built upon it one distinguished by the strength and practical intelligence of its toil, which was sustained for twenty centuries. Then came the Assyrians, whose ideal was power and who created nothing. The Chinese had a mighty power of industry, with docility to national government, and the faculty of ethical formulation which produced their classics and their distinctive modes of thought. The Aryans of India possessed qualities of mind and spirit out of the reach of all these peoples, with a turn to philosophic thought, and were able to produce the Vedas, the Brahmanic philosophy, and its reaction. Buddhism. Those of Iran developed the ideas of a dual warfare between good and evil, with the final triumph of the good and of life over death, with the "grand and spiritual" conception of the supreme Lord of Good revealing himself to his prophet. The Greeks sought logical consistency, the highest beauty in things physical and mental, to make the most of life in its manifold aspects, and to get the most out of it. The Romans consolidated and exalted the family and the state, built up institutions, systematized the law, and constructed enduring public works, but originated little. The Hebrews held the conception of God, "one living personal, righteous, immediate in his governance of the world he made; and the supplementing thought of man created in his image, bound to obey his will and imitate his ways. The development and the greatening of the Hebrew personality was to lie in the enlargement of the thought of God, and in the endeavor to conform human conduct to his will and ways ever more largely known." Finally came Christianity, including and setting forth the highest and farthest possibilities of life; affording scope for the inclusion of all qualities and capacities of mankind, and for the development of the whole man in the service of God; predicating veritable relations between God and man; and touching and ordering all things in man's daily life.

 

All the world admires an adventurous spirit, and no one to-day holds a higher place in the world's esteem on this account than Fridtiof Nansen. The personality of this young man of thirty-five, who has already accomplished the only crossing of Greenland by a European and has at one leap advanced the farthest north point of arctic explorers by nearly three degrees, could not fail to be of deep interest, and the interest increases the more one knows of him. A fittingly picturesque account of his life and labors has been brought out in a handsome volume by the Messrs. Longmans.[2] His biographers show us clearly that Nansen has always had most strongly developed the Norseman's wild delight in conquering difficulties. As a boy he struggled with cold and ice and with other boys hardy like himself. He spent his money for tools and chemicals when he was expected to yield to the seductions of toys and gingerbread. A hard problem was his delight, whether it was mathematics, the mechanism of a sewing machine, or how to make the longest leap on snowshoes and he never rested till he got to the bottom of it. Then he threw all thought of it to the winds and attacked another. After he had developed a decided taste for science and chosen zoölogy for his specialty, almost his first training in descriptive research was gained in a sealing voyage undertaken by the advice of Prof. Collet. In the seal hunting and bear hunting on the ice he acquired training for his famous feats of exploration and his first decided bent in that direction. After his return he studied first at the Bergen Museum and then at the Zoölogical Station at Naples. There are several contributions in the volume by other hands than those of the principal authors. One of these, by Gustav Retzius, tells what Nansen has done as a biologist, showing that he has performed good service in several directions. The account of the Greenland expedition is prefaced by two chapters giving a general description of the country and of the great ice age which, one may say, still persists there. The authors tell us how he made known his plan to Nordenskiold, Rink, and others, how earnestly he answered all objections, and, after making careful preparations, set out on his dangerous undertaking and brought it to a successful issue. Nansen's home must be an eagle's nest, and his wife a fitting mate to the intrepid explorer, if we are to trust the glimpse of her given by one of the authors, Nordahl Rolfsen. He describes humorously a visit to Mrs. Nansen for the purpose of interviewing her about her husband at the time the rumor was current that Nansen had reached the pole. The interviewer found her gay and severe by turns, but uncommunicative through it all. "Like a figure from the Sagas," he describes her, proud, high-strung, and as strong in her way as her husband. A special historical value is given to the book by the sketch of arctic expeditions from the earliest times, contributed by Aksel Arstal, and the chapter by Prof. H. Mohn summarizing the contributions of Norwegian seamen to arctic geography. A geological description of the New Siberia Islands is contributed by the Baron Edward von Toll. The remaining chapters are devoted to Nansen's plan of his polar expedition, his preparations, and his start. With the main features of these matters the world is now well acquainted, but the details have an absorbing interest, especially when told with the vim and color of our northern authors. The volume is illustrated with many portraits of Nansen, his family and companions, and many views of scenes connected with his doings. There are also three folded maps of northern regions.

 

The questions which have been raised by the experimental investigation of automatic movements, recently carried on in France and England, are among the most interesting with which contemporary science has to deal. In this sphere, as in so many others, the naive belief in the essential simplicity and reasonableness of Nature, which in the scientist is the counterpart of the child's faith in the native goodness of grown folk, has suffered a shock. Although at present we can scarcely do more than say that the relation of the human consciousness to the apparently intelligent, purposive movements which the body executes is by no means as simple as we thought, any attempt to discuss the problem from the empirical point of view will be welcomed. With the exception of Mr. F. W. H. Myers's papers and reviews, in the publications of the Society for Psychical Research, and of the series by Prof. W. R. Newbold, which recently appeared in this magazine, no discussion of the matter at all commensurate with its importance has appeared, and Mrs. Baldwin's translation of M. Binet's book[3] will therefore be doubly welcome.

 

M. Binet adopts the conception of double personality — that is, coexistent personalities — and makes use of it consistently for the explanation of all forms of motor automatism, from the most rudimentary twitchings of an anæsthetic hand to the fully developed automatic script which manifests memories, emotions, and desires unknown to the primary self. All alike, he holds, evince the existence of a "little consciousness by the side of a greater a small luminous point by the side of a great focus of light." The precise character of the secondary consciousness he does not try to determine for all cases, recognizing that it probably varies indefinitely; and he agrees with Pierre Janet, as against Myers, in regarding it as essentially a pathological phenomenon. On the whole, he avoids the pitfall of regarding evidence for the existence of dissociated states as in the same sense and to the same degree evidence for the existence of a fully equipped secondary self, but in one curious passage (p. 210) he seems fairly to fall into it.

 

Especially interesting are Chapters VI to VIII, in which M. Binet tries to determine the relation of the subconscious field to the upper self. The evidence which he has collected — the greater part of it, indeed, being based upon tracings taken by himself of the movements of an anæsthetic hand under varying conditions — is of the highest importance, and bears directly upon the relation of the margin to the focus in the normal consciousness. Chapter VIII, on Ideas of Subconscious Origin, gives a brief account of the brilliant series of experiments by which M. Binet proved that in some patients touch stimuli which were not felt by the patient gave rise nevertheless to visual hallucinations representing to some degree the object touched, and in one case at least (page 213) extraordinary subconscious hyperæsthesia seems demonstrated.

 

M. Binet does not treat of the cognate questions involved in the phenomena of normal suggestibility, trance, ecstasy, and hallucination, nor does he endeavor to develop psychological principles of universal application. In conclusion, he points out how unsatisfactory the common notions of association, of unconscious cerebration, and of personality become when viewed in the light of these facts, but, with that exception, he does not show the bearing of the latter upon the more profound problems of mind and brain. Perhaps he feels that the time has not yet come for that; but he marshals the facts with discretion, and if his conceptions are not always as clear as they might be, there are few of us who would wish to cast the first stone at him.

  1. Ancient Ideals: A Stndy of Intellectual and Spiritual Growth from Early Times to the Establishment of Christianity. By Henry Osborn Taylor. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. In two volumes, 8vo. Price, $5.50.
  2. Fridtiof Nansen, 1861-1893. By W.C. Brögger and Nordahl Rolfsen. Translated by William Archer. London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green & Co. Pp. 402, 8vo. Price, $4.
  3. Alterations of Personality. By Alfred Binet. Translated by Helen Green Baldwin, with Notes and an Introduction by J. Mark Baldwin. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 356, 12mo. Price, $1.50.