Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/525

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advancement of science? Will it be possible for society to repeat in the twentieth century the appalling intellectual blunders of the nineteenth century, or have we entered on a new era in which, whatever other obstacles are pending, we may expect man to stand notably less in his own light as regards science than ever before? To a consideration of these and allied questions I beg your indulgence, even though I may pass over ground well known to most of you, and encroach, perhaps, here and there, on prominences in fields controversial; for it is only by discussion and rediscussion of such questions that we come at last, even among ourselves in scientific societies, to the unity of opinion and the unity of purpose which lead from ideas to their fruitful applications.

From the earliest historic times certainly, if not from the dawn of primitive humanity, down to the present day, the problem of the universe has been the most attractive and the most illusive subject of the attention of thinking men. All systems of philosophy, religion and science are alike in having the solution of this problem for their ultimate object. Many such systems and sub-systems have arisen, flourished and vanished, only to be succeeded by others in the seemingly Sisyphean task. Gradually, however, in the lapse of ages there have accumulated some elements of knowledge which give inklings of partial solutions; though it would appear that the best current opinion of philosophy, religion and science would again agree in the conclusion that we are yet immeasurably distant from a complete solution. Almost equally attractive and interesting, and far more instructive, as it appears to me, in our own time, is the contemplation of the ways in which man has attacked this perennial riddle. It is, indeed, coming to be more and more important for science to know how primitive, barbarous and civilized man has visualized the conditions of, and reached his conclusions with respect to, this problem of the centuries; for it is only by means of a lively knowledge of the baseless hypotheses and the fruitless methods of our predecessors that we can hope to prevent history from repeating itself unfavorably.

Looking back over the interval of two to three thousand years that connects us by more or less authentic records with our distinguished ancestors, we are at once struck by the admirable confidence they had acquired in their ability to solve this grand problem. Not less admirable, also, for their ingenuity and for the earnestness with which they were advanced, are the hypotheses and arguments by which men satisfied themselves of the security of their tenets and theories. Roughly speaking, it would appear that the science of the universe received its initial impulse from earliest man in the hypothesis that the world is composed of two parts; the first and most important part being in fact,