Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/521

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

tain the truth, and if he, through either ambition or love of truth, wishes to impress his opinions on the world, he first takes care to have them correct. Above all, he is willing to abstain from having opinions on subjects of which he knows nothing.

It is the province of modern education to form such a mind, while at the same time giving to it enough knowledge to have a broad outlook over the world of science, art, and letters. Time will not permit me to discuss the subject of education in general, and, indeed, I would be transgressing the principles above laid down if I should attempt it. I shall only call attention at this present time to the place of the laboratory in modern education. I have often had a great desire to know the state of mind of the more eminent of mankind before modern science changed the world to its present condition and exercised its influence on all departments of knowledge and speculation. But I have failed to picture to myself clearly such a mind, while, at the same time, the study of human nature, as it exists at present, shows me much that I suppose to be in common with it. As far as I can see, the unscientific mind differs from the scientific in this, that it is willing to accept and make statements of which it has no clear conception to begin with and of whose truth it is not assured. It is an irresponsible state of mind without clearness of conception, where the connection between the thought and its object is of the vaguest description. It is the state of mind where opinions are given and accepted without ever being subjected to rigid tests, and it may have some connection with that state of mind where everything has a personal aspect and we are guided by feelings rather than reason.

When, by education, we attempt to correct these faults, it is necessary that we have some standard of absolute truth; that we bring the mind in direct contact with it, and let it be convinced of its errors again and again. We may state, like the philosophers who lived before Galileo, that large bodies fall faster than small ones, but when we see them strike the ground together we know that our previous opinion was false, and we learn that even the intellect of an Aristotle may be mistaken. Thus we are taught care in the formation of our opinions, and find that the unguided human mind goes astray almost without fail. We must correct it constantly and convince it of error over and over again until it discovers the proper method of reasoning, which will surely accord with the truth in whatever conclusions it may reach. There is, however, danger in this process that the mind may become over-cautious, and thus present a weakness when brought in contact with an unscrupulous person who cares little for truth and a great deal for effect. But if we believe in the maxim that truth will prevail, and consider it the duty of all educated men to aid its progress, the kind of mind which I describe is the proper one to foster by education. Let the student be brought face to face with Nature; let him exercise his reason with respect to the simplest physical phenomenon, and then,