Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/725

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

portance of the history of institutions, their changes to meet, new want?, and their inevitable fall, although, perhaps, by a process of slow decay, upon failure to adapt themselves to new requirements. He says: "There is probably no better test of the political genius of a nation than the power which it possesses of adapting old institutions to new wants." Next he considers the value of a Study of the great revolutions, discussing the two theories extant as to their causes and possible avoidance. "My oven view of this question," he says, "is that although there are certain streams of tendency, though there is a certain steady and orderly evolution that it is impossible in the long run to resist, yet individual action and even mere accident have borne a very great part in modifying the direction of history." Having characterized history as one of the best schools for that kind of reasoning which is most useful in practical life, teaching men to weigh conflicting probabilities, to estimate degrees of evidence, to form a sound judgment of the value of authorities, Mr. Lecky concludes by observing that its most precious lessons are moral ones. It expands the range of our vision and teaches us, in judging the true interests of nations, to look beyond the immediate future. A perusal of this little book will well repay the general reader and be especially valuable to those engaged in the study or teaching of history.

The Interpretation of Nature. By Nathaniel S. Shaler, Professor of Geology in Harvard University. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Pp. 305. Price, $1.25.

However widely apart the theologian and naturalist may be at the present moment, the time is not far distant, according to Prof. Shaler, when they may stand upon common ground. In the next century science may even people the unknown with powers justly inferred from their manifestations. There will be no longer a natural and a supernatural realm, but one universe "through which the spirit of man ranges with ever-increasing freedom."

We may trace the evolution of scientific inquiry to the germ of curiosity evinced by the lower animals. The early races of men attributed the control of Nature to spirits like themselves. These were gradually endowed with greater powers until the idea of a hierarchy of gods was reached, and among the more intellectual nations this culminated in monotheism. Theologic explanations, however, could not satisfy the interrogative impulse possessed by the Aryan race, and especially by the Greeks. The want of scientific interest shown by the Romans is ascribed by the author to a different racial inheritance, and the long period of unquestioning quiet is not charged to the soporific influence of Church authority so much as to a religious bent derived from Semitic ancestors. With the revival of learning came the resurrection of inquiry, and to the system of Aristotle the moderns added the method of verification by experiment.

The naturalist is generally too apt to look upon the course of Nature as invariable, since he knows that any physical state is the resultant of previous conditions, and that the quantities of force and matter are unalterable. There are, however, phenomena which can not be predicted, the outcome of revolutionary changes that transcend experience. The crises at which these occur are termed critical points, and are typified by the point at which an orbit passes from the parabolic to the hyperbolic form. Similar results follow alterations in temperature and the manifestation of latent inheritances.

In considering the march of the generations it is seen that the psychic progress of man is unparalleled by anything in the evolution of species. The generations are also bound together by vast stores of experience and knowledge, which the human race accumulates and transmits in various ways to the young, so that great advance is made possible.

Man owes his moral development to the exercise of altruistic motives—sympathy with his kind, with animals, with God and Nature. We can follow these to lowly beginnings, but can not account for their growth by any theory of selection. The determinative influences are hidden, "unless we assume a law of moral advance."

As to the immortality of the soul, "it is easier to suppose that an individual mind can be perpetuated after death in a natural manner than to explain the phenomena of inheritance." The naturalist thus finds that, in