Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/473

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469
ASTRONOMICAL SUPERSTITIONS

ASTRONOMICAL SUPERSTITIONS
By JOHN CANDEE DEAN

INDIANAPOLIS, IND.

THE great majority of our superstitions had their birth in attempts to interpret natural phenomena from erroneous ideas which consist of fancies suggested by the imagination. In other words, most superstitions are attempted short cuts to explain phenomena while omitting natural causation. The average man loves superstition, loves the fictitious, both loves and fears the supernatural and is fascinated by the incomprehensible. From the infancy of the human race men have attempted to explain things according to their external appearances, and whatever was strange or vast, especially if it had visible motion, impressed the beholder with the fear of invisible powers. During September, 1908, a score of people called the writer by telephone to ask about a brilliant star that had appeared in the eastern morning sky. They had been informed that it was the star of Bethlehem, which appears only once every 300 years. They generally seemed disappointed when told that it was not the star of Bethlehem, but the planet Venus, which instead of becoming visible only once in 300 years, regularly appears twice in a period of 584 days. On attempting to impart further information it soon became evident that their interest was in the mystery of the star of Bethlehem and not in any facts relating to Venus.

Fashionable society will enthusiastically discuss telepathy, astrology, christian science, psychic force, palmistry, spiritualism, etc., but if one should introduce a subject relating to astronomy or physics, he would be regarded as a pedantic bore. Du Maurier illustrated the indifference of society to science by a drawing in Punch entitled "Science and Music at an Evening Party." The scene was in a large London drawing room. In the foreground was a professor earnestly talking to a gentleman, while at the back of the room all the rest of the company were eagerly crowding around a piano. Chesterfield wrote to his son:

Pocket all your knowledge with your watch and never pull it out in company unless desired; the producing of one unasked, implies that you are weary of the company, and production of the other will make the company weary of you.

While it is true that there is but a small circle of people interested in what is called physical science, yet that science now rules the world and is nearly as despotic as nature herself. Human progress is almost entirely scientific and even our industrial progress is based on applied science.