Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/98

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

quite obscure or wholly unknown, while much is very securely established.

The history of science and of its influence on civilization is in some respects the simplest of the departments of history, for it is less complicated by those incalculable forces which, springing from man's passions and personal interests, make up much of the charm and difficulty of general history. Deprived of these psychological elements, the history of science is in fact more nearly a part of the natural history of man; it is concerned with the latest stage of his struggle with the environment, with his cunning and deliberate devices to master it, and with the marvelous structure of theoretical knowledge which he has built up in the process.


Our lives are mainly occupied with the material world, with production and distribution of food and clothing, and the construction of dwellings which shall adequately protect us from the cold, the wind, and the rain. All higher human activities rest upon the successful establishment of these as a foundation. Hence progress, as the word is commonly understood, is most often a step in the control of the environment to the end of better production, construction, and distribution of some commodity. Such progress is not perhaps what the heart of man most ardently desires, but it is, at all events, the one kind about which there can be no doubt.

Many of the most wonderful advances in mastery of the environment are prehistoric, the results of good fortune and gradually widening experience utilized by primitive men of native intelligence. Thus clay is used as the filling for a basket, its baking is accidentally observed, and pottery results; again a log, through a long series of gradual changes and small inventions, becomes transformed into a good boat or canoe.

Sophocles, in a famous chorus of the "Antigone," has celebrated such achievements:

Strophe I.
Many the forms of life,
Wondrous and strange to see,