Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/173

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163
SPECULATIVE SCIENCE.

stupid arrogance of dogmatism, which it is the special function of science to repress, has some of its most vulgar representatives in the ranks of those who claim to be, not only votaries of science, but its chosen protagonists and defenders.

Some years ago Fechner, in the first edition of his "Atomenlehre," printed an answer he had made to some one who objected to the theories of the physicists about atoms, ethers, forces, and so on. It was something like this: "I have a handful of coins. You are not pleased with the effigy and inscription, and advise me to throw them away; yet you offer me nothing to replace them but an empty purse." If that speech had been made to me, I should have met it with this reply: "The mischief is that your coins are spurious; they are base metal. Nevertheless, they may serve a good purpose as mere counters or tokens, provided you never lose sight of the fact that they are nothing more. But experience teaches that you do constantly lose sight of that fact, and in a short time insist dogmatically that the coins are of unquestionable intrinsic value. And, having found out that you can manufacture any amount of them at little expense, you do what all inflationists and debasers of the currency are in the habit of doing: you flood the market with stuff which must inevitably bring ruin upon the very man whom you have ensnared into the belief that he can never have enough of it, viz., the laborer who is employed in the hard work of producing the material out of which science is to be constructed. So, if you are unable to procure genuine theoretical specie to represent the scientific wealth you are intent on accumulating, and at the same time are unwilling to restrain your propensities for manufacturing spurious coin and palming it off on yourself and others as sterling cash, you had better carry your facts about in baskets or bags, and resort to the ancient clumsy method of barter."

I will not weary the reader by drawing upon the rich store-house of theoretical chemistry for further illustration of the manner in which provisional and tentative hypotheses are paraded as absolute finalities, and results of experimental research are obscured instead of being irradiated by theoretical conceits. I will content myself with a single further reference to a very recent and very remarkable exemplification of the proneness of the very ablest men of science to multiply entities and confound modes of physical interaction or forms of intellectual apprehension with indestructible things.

In the scientific journal, "Nature," for May 26, 1881 (vol. xxiv, p. 78), there is a communication from Professor Silvanus P. Thompson, containing an extract from the preface to his then forthcoming book "Elementary Lessons in Electricity and Magnetism," in which he says:

The theory of electricity adopted throughout is, that electricity, whatever its nature, is one, not two; that electricity, whatever it may prove to be, is not matter and is not energy; that it resembles both matter and energy in one respect, however, in that it can neither be created nor destroyed.