|THE METHODS OF THE EARTH-SCIENCES.|
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO.
IT is my assigned task to review the methods of the earth-sciences. The technical processes of the constituent sciences are peculiar to each and are inappropriate subjects for discussion before this composite assemblage; but the fundamental methods of intellectual procedure are essentially common to all the earth-sciences, and to these the address will confine itself.
That which passes under the name earth-science is not all science in the strict sense of the term. Not a little consists of generalizations from incomplete data, of inferences hung on chains of uncertain logic, of interpretations not beyond question, of hypotheses not fully verified and of speculation none too substantial. A part of the mass is true science, a part is philosophy, as I would use the term, a part is speculation, and a part is yet unorganized material. However, I like to think of the aggregate, not as an amorphous mixture of science, philosophy and speculation, but as a rather definite aggregation of these, not unlike that of the earth itself. The great mass of our subject material may be regarded as a lithosphere of solid facts. Around this gathers an atmosphere of philosophy, rather dense near the contact zone, but thinning away into tenuous speculation in the outer regions. For myself, I like to think of the nucleus as solid and firm throughout, not as a thin fractured crust floating on a fiery liquid of plutonian suggestiveness. I like to think of the philosophic and speculative atmosphere as no mere gas-zone of forty-five miles' depth, as of old, but as an envelope of intense kinetic life, in the denser zone, where the logical molecules touch one another with marvelous frequency, and where there is frictional contact with the solid but rather inert lithosphere. In the outer tenuous zone, the molecular flights are freer and the excursions are without assignable limits. I believe an appropriate atmosphere of philosophy is as necessary to the wholesome intellectual life of our sciences as is the earth's physical atmosphere to the life of the planet. None the less, it must ever be our endeavor to reduce speculation to philosophy, and philosophy to science. For the perpetuation of the necessary philosophic atmosphere, we may safely trust to the evolution of new problems concurrently with the solution of the old.
But granting the importance of the philosophic element, we doubt-
- An address at the International Congress of Arts and Science, St. Louis, September, 1904.