Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/462

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458
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

MENTAL INHERITANCE[1]
By Dr. MADISON BENTLEY

CORNELL UNIVERSITY

OUR chapter of Sigma Xi has recently invited to its membership some two score persons who have shown themselves to be possessed of such talents and aspirations as the society honors and rewards. Of these new members many have finished their preparatory studies, and are entering upon the independent work of science. It is therefore suitable upon this occasion that we should consider some one of those qualities that distinguish the person who is engaged in the scholarly pursuit of knowledge. The quality which I have selected is the possession of temporal or historical perspective; and I propose to use, by way of illustration, the subject of mental inheritance.

Nothing is easier than to exalt beyond its due the present moment. The present is so vivid, so impressive, so intimate, so important for action, as to compel attention; and current means of communication succeed so well in bringing distant lands and deeds within our field of vision that the whole world contributes to the fascination of the passing scene. We all realize this fascination, however much we may set our faces against the vulgar homage paid to the latest mode, the most recent invention, or the last political experiment. We realize it, and, if we are wise, we perceive that the philistine passion for being "up-to-date" (as the street-phrase has it) contains an element of great value—the element of enthusiasm. Scholarly work demands enthusiasm, and every epoch of science has, and, I suppose, will have, its sanctions and its rewards for enthusiastic endeavor. In this regard our own time certainly is not wanting. At a period when the constitution of matter and its elementary forms have, by the discovery of new facts, been brought to the focus of attention; when the development of living forms through their various stages of growth is observed by methods undreamed of by the earlier historians of nature; when the study of evolution has advanced to the stage of analysis and experiment; when the earth is revealing significant traces of primitive man and his works; when psychology proposes new methods for the study of thought and action and for a comparison of the human with the animal mind; when, finally, philosophy rests less upon the authority of great names and systems than upon the immediate data of experience, no ardent novitiate in science can complain that fate has thrown him upon an age of

  1. An address delivered before the Cornell Chapter of Sigma Xi, June 9, 1909.