Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/277

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273
POINCARÉ AND THE FRENCH ACADEMY

Sciences, you have been called into the majority of the scientific societies of two hemispheres; you have received all the honors that a legitimate ambition could crave. Your name, going out beyond the narrow circle where your work can be appreciated, has become illustrious and added to a nation's glory, and this fame you owe only to yourself; it is the gift of no one, you have followed no master, you belong to no school, you are yourself—and that is enough.

Similarly, when you undertake a criticism of science, you make it a personal matter, and without adopting any tradition, without bowing to any formula, you walk on in your independence and because you choose to. You run indeed, and so fast, with such bounds, that in order to follow you it is necessary to leap ditches and fill in gaps; but you are built so. Original in mathematics, you remain so in this branch of philosophy; you apply to it, at the same time, a highly-developed interest in psychology, a rare aptitude for observing physiological phenomena in your own person, and that mathematical habit which organizes precision and with refined subtlety binds arguments together with chains that seem impossible to break. Restrained by nothing which you place confidence in or accept a priori, you build up your doubt against official science and sound its nothingness. So your work is double: in mathematics you erect to scientific truth a temple accessible only to the few initiates; and with your philosophic artillery you hurl into the air the chapels about which throng the crowds of rationalists and freethinkers who by a common school certificate have acquired the right to believe in nothing which is not proved to them, to celebrate the mysteries of a pretended religion of science. Ah, sir, what havoc you are making in these demonstrations! Nothing would survive the rudeness of the blows you are dealing if you did not stop from time to time to banter your victims, or if^ seized with a sort of remorse, you did not amuse yourself by gluing together again the members you have broken. The axioms which seemed established by the wisdom of the ages are no longer more than definitions when you have passed; the laws become hypotheses; and at the same time that you prove the essential role of these hypotheses, you show their merely temporary utility—you make it evident that these definitions are convenient but ephemeral. What remains? Nothing, or little more than nothing, and the most precious idols of primary religion go to join the dead stars in the depopulated heavens.

Does this mean, sir, that you doubt science more than truth? Neither the one nor the other; but the latter gives way constantly before the advance of the former, and, as man proceeds one step farther, the space he must cross withdraws before him; beyond the steppe whose extent his eye embraces, others await him, and still others, for he only is assured of reaching the end who stopped with the rudiments—and learned them by heart. . . .