Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/123

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113
EDITOR'S TABLE.

real knowledge; he may have been busy only with the reflected universe. Not that the thoughts of dead thinkers stored up in books are not part of the universe as well as wind and rain; not that they may not repay study quite as well; they are deposits of the human mind, and by studying them much may be discovered about the human mind, the ways of its operation, the stages of its development. Nor yet that the thoughts of the dead may not be of the greatest help to one who is studying the universe: he may get from them suggestions, theories, which he may put to the test, and thus convert, in some cases, into real knowledge. But there is a third way in which he may treat them which makes books the very antithesis to reality, and the knowledge of books the knowledge of a spurious universe. This is when he contents himself with storing their contents in his mind, and does not attempt to put them to any test, whether from superstitious reverence or from an excessive pleasure in mere language. He may show wonderful ability in thus assimilating books, wonderful retentiveness, wonderful accuracy, wonderful acuteness; nay, if he clearly understands that he is only dealing with opinions, he may do good service in that department, for opinions need collecting and classifying as much as botanical specimens. But one often sees such collectors mistaking opinions for truths, and depending for their views of the universe entirely upon these opinions, which they accept implicitly without testing them. Such men may be said to study, but not to study the universe."

This discrimination is both true and highly significant. Old opinions, old languages, and antiquated learning, are fit subjects of study as a part of archæology, like old buildings, old costumes, old coins, ear-rings, pictures, etc., which are not without a certain historic interest. But from this point of view they are parts of the universe to be explored and explained, like all the rest of it, by scientific methods. This, however, is a widely different thing from setting up old knowledges and thoughts of the dead as systematic and exclusive objects of study, and the sufficient means of mental cultivation. Yet the advocates of education by traditional, unscientific studies habitually slur over this distinction, and, declaring that old languages and old traditional ideas are as much parts of the universe as the rocks and stars, proceed to install them into a separate world in which the great multitude of students are made to pass their whole intellectual lives. It is no exaggeration or mere figure of speech to characterize this realm of antiquated thought and dead language as a spurious universe. No one will deny that the broad and distinctive object of scientific study is the real and present universe of phenomena, fact, and law, which is open to the direct, immediate action of the human mind. The study of it in all its phases, by observation, experiment, analysis, synthesis, and classification, has given rise to a vast body of truths and principles known as scientific knowledge, or modern scientific thought, and by which and through which the actual living universe is to be interpreted and known. Obviously the keys to the knowledge of the real universe are held by science, and it is inevitable that, if scientific knowledge be left out of any educational scheme, the genuine universe is omitted from that scheme. And when this subtraction has been accomplished what remains? An unreal sham, an illusive, discordant representation of things which may now be justly termed a "spurious universe." We say it may now be justly so termed, although, before the true universe was discovered, there could have been no knowledge of its counterfeit. The mass of pre-scientific opinion concerning the world and its contents, the course of Nature, man, life, and society, when taken in relation to what is now