Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/107

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
95
AIMS, ETC., OF SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT.

Now, let us take an example from the building of bridges and roofs. When an opening is to be spanned over by a material construction, which must bear a certain weight without bending enough to injure itself, there are two forms in which this construction can be made, the arch and the chain. Every part of an arch is compressed or pushed by the other parts; every part of a chain is in a state of tension, or is pulled by the other parts. In many cases these forms are united. A girder consists of two main pieces or booms, of which the upper one acts as an arch and is compressed, while the lower one acts as a chain and is pulled; and this is true even when both the pieces are quite straight. They are enabled to act in this way by being tied together, or braced, as it is called, by cross-pieces, which you must often have seen. Now, suppose that any good, practical engineer makes a bridge or roof upon some approved pattern which has been made before. He designs the size and shape of it to suit the opening which has to be spanned; selects his material according to the locality; assigns the strength which must be given to the several parts of the structure according to the load which it will have to bear. There is a great deal of thought in the making of this design, whose success is predicted by the application of previous experience; it requires technical skill of a very high order; but it is not scientific thought. On the other hand, Mr. Fleeming Jenkin[1] designs a roof consisting of two arches braced together, instead of an arch and a chain braced together; and, although this form is quite different from any known structure, yet before it is built he assigns with accuracy the amount of material that must be put into every part of the structure in order to make it bear the required load, and this prediction may be trusted with perfect security. What is the natural comment on this? Why, that Mr. Fleeming Jenkin is a scientific engineer.

Now, it seems to me that the difference between scientific and merely technical thought, not only in these, but in all other instances which I have considered, is just this: Both of them make use of experience to direct human action; but while technical thought or skill enables a man to deal with the same circumstances that he has met with before, scientific thought enables him to deal with different circumstances that he has never met with before. But how can experience of one thing enable us to deal with another quite different thing? To answer this question we shall have to consider more closely the nature of scientific thought.

Let us take another example. You know that if you make a dot on a piece of paper, and then hold a piece of Iceland spar over it, you will see not one dot but two. A mineralogist, by measuring the angles of a crystal, can tell you whether or no it possesses this property without looking through it. He requires no scientific thought to do that. But Sir William Rowan Hamilton, the late Astronomer-Royal

  1. "On Braced Arches and Suspension Bridges." Edinburgh, Neill, 1870.