Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/352

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

highest places of knowledge. That was not Bacon's notion of it: he perceived clearly enough that a man does not see with his eye, but through it; that seeing in the sense of observation is impossible unless there be behind the eye the intelligence to interpret what is presented to it. The simplest act of perception is indeed more than a mere matter of sense; it is an actual induction or inference in which an important element is contributed by the mind; you cannot look at an ox or an ass, and know either of them to be what it is, without making an induction—can't see, in fact, until you are trained to see. Scientific observation and experimentation—and experiment is only observation aided by artificial means—may be carried on to the last hour of your lives without any result of the least value if you have not a mind trained to interpret. Of what use is it to torture Nature by strange experiments if you don't understand her language? You might sacrifice a hundred dogs or cats in cruel experiments, and be not a whit wiser at the end of your awful labors. Nature does not vouchsafe an answer to a scientific inquiry unless the intelligent question be put, and the precise experiment made, as Bacon insisted, ad intentionem ejus quod quœritur;[1] and it is impossible to put the definite question, or to make the precise experiment, unless there be a prudently-formed hypothesis in the mind—that is to say, an hypothesis based upon previous careful training in observation of Nature's processes and sound reflection upon them. The mind must be informed by patient and sympathetic intercourse with Nature; it is enabled then to make new adjustments by means of the knowledge which it has gained through past adjustments—to frame a new and true theory applicable to new experiences by reason of being stored with sound theories derived from past experiences. We shall do well, then, not to be too much intimidated by what is sometimes said or written in praise of mere observation of so-called facts, and in dispraise of theory, or imagine that any facts can be truly observed, or any science prosecuted with success, unless the well-trained mind cooperates with the senses. As I have said elsewhere, "That some declaim so virulently against theory is as though the eunuch should declaim against lechery; it is the chastity of impotence." Happy is the observer who, when he sets to work, has a good theory in his mind. The mischief is when men theorize who have not been trained in habits of accurate observation, or, I might go a step further and say, who have not inherited from father or grandfather in the foundations of their nature the lines of veracity of observation and thought on which to develop; for when one notices how persons of a certain eager temperament go on discovering facts which are no facts, and, notwithstanding that they are brayed in the mortar of an annihilating criticism, are not in the least benefited by the discipline, one cannot help feeling that the observer, like the poet, is born, not made.

  1. With special reference to the point under investigation.