Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/574

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE UNDERLYING FACTS OF SCIENCE
By ALFRED SANG

PARIS

SCIENCE originated in the temple; for ages it remained as a mass of detached observations floating in mysticism. The civilization of Greece gave us the broad lines of many of the sciences, but the confinement of knowledge to monasteries, the enslavement of the human mind and the suppression of the wisdom of the ancients during the dark middle ages, deferred the rise of science until within comparatively recent times. From mysticism science has gradually drifted into agnosticism; mysticism cramped the work of the investigator; agnosticism lays no restraint whatever on his mental ambitions. The suspension of judgment on all matters unproven has helped in mighty measure to make theory the indispensable weapon of the scientist in attacking unsolved problems.

 

The Value of Theory

Theory, based on observation, is an accepted factor of inquiry, and the temporary acceptance of a theory serves as a scaffolding in the building up of knowledge; it is necessary to the work of correlating facts and to train the mind for the discovery of new facts. When we find our theories checked and kept within certain definite bounds, we can assume that we have found the measure of our ignorance and that the truth lies somewhere within the compass of these theories. If a theory is not a logical deduction from facts it should be called a hypothesis.

Nothing has created more prejudice, and thereby done more harm to theory as an instrument of progress, than the easy acceptance by the general public of all novel and sensational theories as proven facts if consecrated by the daily newspapers and the magazines. From the husk of the acorn an oak is postulated, although it may be rotten at the core and worthless. But we must theorize because we are built that way. As Tyndall once said:

Man is prone to idealization. He can not accept as final the phenomena of the sensible world, but looks behind that world into another which rules the sensible one.
 

The Limits of Conception

In scientific speculation, it is essential that we lose all sense of proportion, of time and of space. No dimension must appear impos-