Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/531

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

MARCH, 1875.


 

THE GENESIS OF SUPERSTITIONS.[1]
By HERBERT SPENCER.

COMPREHENSION of the thoughts generated in the primitive man by his converse with the surrounding world can be had only by looking at the surrounding world from his stand-point. The accumulated knowledge and the mental habits slowly acquired during education must be suppressed, and we must divest ourselves of conceptions which, partly by inheritance and partly by individual culture, have been rendered necessary. None can do this completely, and few can do it even partially.

It needs but to observe what unfit methods are adopted by educators, to be convinced that even among the disciplined the power to frame thoughts which are widely unlike their own is extremely small. When we see the juvenile mind plied with generalities while it has yet none of the concrete facts to which they refer—when we see mathematics introduced under the purely rational form, instead of under that empirical form with which it should be commenced by the child, as it was commenced by the race—when we see a subject so abstract as grammar put among the first instead of among the last, and see it taught analytically instead of synthetically; we have ample evidence of the prevailing inability to conceive the ideas of undeveloped minds. And, if, though they have been children themselves, men find it hard to rethink the thoughts of the child, still harder must they find it to rethink the thoughts of the savage. To keep out automorphic interpretations is beyond our power. To look at things with the eyes of absolute ignorance, and observe how their attributes and actions originally grouped themselves in the mind, imply a self-suppression that is impracticable.

Nevertheless, we must here do our best to conceive the surrounding world as it appeared to the primitive man, that we may be able

  1. From author's advance sheets of the "Principles of Sociology," Part II., chapter viii. "Primitive Ideas."