Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/685

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contradiction to what has been already said respecting the greater laboriousness of general knowledge: but the contrariety is only apparent. To contract an impression of one single individual, after plenty of time given to attend to it, is the easiest supposable mental effort. But such is the multiplicity of things, that we must learn to know and remember vast numbers of individuals; and we soon feel ourselves overpowered by the never-ending demands upon us. We must know many persons, many places, many houses, many natural objects; and our capability of memory is in danger of exhaustion before we have done. Now comes in, however, the discovery of identities, whereby the work is shortened. If a new individual is exactly the same as the old, we are saved the labor of a new impression; if there is a slight difference, we have to learn that difference and no more. In actual experience, the case is that there are numerous agreements in the world, but accompanied with differences; and, while we have the benefit of the agreements, we must take notice of the differences. What makes a general notion difficult is that it represents a large number of objects that, while agreeing in some respects, differ in others. This difficulty is the price that we pay for an enormous saving in intellectual labor.

The overcoming of isolation in the multitude of particulars, by flashes of identity, is the progress of our knowledge in one direction; it is the satisfaction that we express when we say we understand or can account for a thing. Lightning was accounted for when it was identified with the electric spark: besides the exhilarating surprise at the sameness of two facts in their nature so different and remote, men had the further satisfaction of saying that they learned what lightning is. Thus by discoveries of identity we are enabled to explain the world, to assign the causes of things, to dissipate in part the mysteriousness that everywhere surrounds us.

When a discovery of identification is made among particulars hitherto looked upon as diverse, the interest created is all-sufficient to secure our appreciation. This is the alluring side of generalities. The repugnant aspect of them is seen in the technicalities that are invented to hold and express them—general or abstract designations, diagrams, and formulas. When it is proposed to indoctrinate the mind in these things, by themselves, and at a stage when the condensing and explaining power of the identities is as yet unawakened, the whole machinery seems an uncouth jargon. Hence the attempt to afford relief to the faculties by teaching the dry symbols of arithmetic and geometry, through the aid of examples in the concrete, and in all the abstract sciences to afford plenty of particulars to illustrate the generalities. This is good so far; but the real interest that overcomes the dryness arises only when we can apply the generalities in tracing identities, in solving difficulties, and in shortening labor; an effect that comes soonest to those that have already some familiarity with the field where the formulas are applicable. The liking for algebra and for geometry pro-