Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/205

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INSTRUMENTS AND METHODS OF RESEARCH

and many of you, doubtless, were this an experience meeting, could easily occupy the balance of the evening in delightful recollections of what each has found best to stimulate him to renewed intellectual activity; and I dare say that many of you would unite with me in declaring that membership in this society has been one of the most helpful and stimulating influences.

We really have much to be proud of in the history and membership of the Philosophical Society of Washington. I should, indeed consider myself remiss in the duties imposed upon me by the subject selected did I not refer at least to the eminent part this society, through its members, has taken in bringing about the wonderful appreciation of scientific work and scientific methods we are to-day witnessing in our country. There have been several notable addresses by past presidents that might advantageously have been reviewed in connection with our topic. But we lack the time.

I cannot refrain, however, from quoting once more from Henry's address, already referred to, which I hope you may be induced to read in its entirety:

Man is a sympathetic being, and no incentive to mental exertion is more powerful than that which springs from a desire for the approbation of his fellowmen; besides this, frequent interchange of ideas and appreciative encouragement are almost essential to the successful prosecution of labors requiring profound thought and continued mental exertion. . . .

It is an essential feature of a scientific society that every communication presented to it should be subject to free critical discussion. Such discussion not only enlivens the proceedings, but is generally instructive, frequently eliciting facts which, though insignificant when isolated, when brought together mutually illustrate each other and lead ultimately to important conclusions.

 

Conclusion

My address began with statements revealing the necessity of keeping our minds ever open and free for the careful weighing and the unbiased reception of the facts observed and discovered. Throughout I have attempted to lay chief stress upon the mental and human elements involved in the topic. I can not do better in closing than to quote you a sentence from a letter[1] which the great mathematical physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, wrote to Herbert Spencer on a subject of controversy in the latter's "First Principles," viz.:

It is very seldom that any man who tries to form a system can prevent his system from forming around him, and closing him in before he is forty. Hence the wisdom of putting in some ingredient to check crystallization and keep the system in a colloidal condition.

Let our watchword therefore be: ever to keep our systems—our theories—in a colloidal condition!


  1. "Life and Letters of Herbert Spencer," by David Duncan, Vol. II., p. 163.