Editor Popular Science Monthly:
Sir: I was both surprised and humiliated to find on my return from Bering Sea, a few days ago, a large correspondence from persons who had taken the "Sympsychograph" seriously. I had not the slightest idea that any one capable of "reading bound books" would be deceived by the meaningless phrases in that bit of burlesque. I intended it as a piece of gentle satire on the "wizards" and "impressionists" who follow in the wake of scientific work which attracts attention, and who pour their vagaries into the long ears of the daily newspaper.
The important element of one's belief arises from the way in which that belief is formed. No one was capable of understanding my story who did not at once see the incongruity of it. One might as well believe in Mahatmas and Odic forces as in cathode radiation or evolution if he does not have any clear ideas or a clear conception of the basis on which generalizations rest. One writer speaks of the article in question as a hoax upon an innocent public; but a public which has swallowed the alleged experiments of Inglis Rogers and other impressionists as scientific truth, and does not see any difference between the methods of these persons and the methods of Röntgen and Helmholtz, is not an innocent public. A vast amount of suffering In our society arises from the fact that men are ready to follow any notion in medicine, in politics, or in social reform, no matter how absurd, if it contains an element of mystery, or if it proposes to make life a little easier for men incapable of clear thinking.
I had a serious moral in the fable, and this, at the risk of trying to explain a joke, I shall give.
The methods ascribed to the "Astral Camera Club" are those which never have yielded and never can yield any results to science. Scientific investigators are not "wizards," their discoveries are not presaged by uncanny feelings nor green darkness, nor is there anything "occult" about their ways of working. They are simply men of unusual persistence and steady common sense. Everything easy was found out long ago, and additions to knowledge can only come from mastery of past achievements and mathematical accuracy in the registration of small details. The progress of science is not marked by surprises and contradictions. The result of scientific inquiry comes as a surprise only to those ignorant of the steps in investigation which leads up to it.
The discovery that the peculiar rays called "X" by Röntgen could be made to cast shadows on a sensitized plate does not imply that thought can be photographed. One might sooner expect to photograph the songs of birds than "the cat's idea of man."
The great power which exact knowledge gives adds nothing to the probability of the mythology of our own or other times. The "power of mind over matter" is not a form of hysterics. It depends on exact knowledge of the nature of material things. It is no occult influence showing itself in neurotic "adepts" by uncanny lights, under "astral" conditions. It is greatest by daylight, with sane men, with whom science is simply enlightened "common sense."
David Starr Jordan.
Palo Alto, Cal., October 10, 1896.
Editor Popular Science Monthly:
Sir: In his interesting and valuable contribution to the literature of vivisection, in the October number of your periodical. Prof. Hodge makes one or two statements which are decidedly erroneous, and which I beg you will permit me to correct. Quoting from an article of my own on the same subject, published over twelve years ago in Lippincott's, he states that "a recent writer has actually cited mortality statistics to prove the futility of vivisection." This deduction is wholly incorrect. The very book from which he quotes, again and again affirms the use of vivisection. Exaggerated claims of potency, such as were rife when this article was written, some fourteen years ago, may certainly be challenged, without being carelessly translated into affirmation of "futility"; just as one may believe in experiments regarding aërial navigation without looking forward to lunar voyages.
With the gratuitous imputation of "unfairness" in the selection of statistics I am more seriously concerned, for no charge more vitally affects the character of scientific work. Prof. Hodge admits, as he is forced to do, that "the figures do show that in England, since 1850, certain organic diseases have been on the increase, despite the slight advance in our knowledge of them." Well, that also is my own conclusion. Such facts as these "afford the strongest possible argument for the side of research." Again I agree with your learned contributor, although I should give the word "research"