Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/October 1887/Correspondence

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: President White, in "New Battles of Science," shows up the reactionary influence of the Christian writers in the middle ages on the knowledge of Nature, beginning with Cosmas Indicopleustes and ending with Albertus Magnus—their denial of the earth's spherical shape, their bringing rain from beyond the firmament, etc., all on the strength of Scripture. Now, 1 am proud to say that my brethren, the Jewish scholars of the middle ages, did nothing to push science backward, but took it up cheerfully where the Greeks had left it. The two leading philosophic works of middle-age Judaism, both written in Southern Spain, and in the Arabic tongue, are the "Moreh Nebochim" ("Teacher of the Perplexed") of Maimonides, strongly rationalising, and therefore ill received by many, and the "Cozari" (feigned conversations with a "Chazar," khan, converted to Judaism), of the great Jewish hymn-writer, Jehuda Hallevi, published in a. d. 1140, thoroughly orthodox. He rejects the metaphysics of Aristotle and of Epicurus, but recognizes what Greece has achieved in physics. Speaking of the Sabbath (Part II, § 20), he assumes for the three Eastern Continents an extent of twelve hours, or 180° in longitude, and a like extent for the ocean, which Columbus had not yet parted in two; he puts Jerusalem midway between Tsin (China) and westernmost Africa, and tells us that when the Sabbath begins there on Friday evening at six it is midnight in China, and still Friday noon in the extreme West. Not exact, according to our lights, but up to all the light of his own time. Elsewhere lie boasts of the astronomic learning of Rabbi Samuel, an early Talmudic writer, and shows that he and his friends studied the stars only for the purposes of the calendar, new moons, and equinoxes, not with any view to horoscopes. He states with pride that, in the rules for killing and examining beasts for food, the Talmud shows more knowledge of the anatomy of the lungs than can be found in Galen. He also claims that long experience had proved the Jewish measurement of the synodic month and tropical year to be more correct than the numbers given by Ptolemy. He finds no occasion to speak of the origins of rains and thunder-storms; but the absurd notion that rain comes from beyond the firmament could never occur to any of the Old Testament writers, who lived on the narrow strip between the Great Sea and the Syrian Desert, and got their rain with the west wind and their dry heat with the dreaded east wind (kadim), nor to any one who read their books in the Hebrew text. The "Cozari" proves that in the darkest ages our race kept its mind unclouded.

The opinion that thunder-storms are the work of the devil or of evil spirits could not grow up among a people who were taught from their childhood to greet lightnings or falling-stars with the benediction, "Blessed be thou, Lord, who doth the work of creation!" and to welcome thunder with the kindred formula, "Blessed be thou, Lord, of whose strength and of whose might the world is full!"

Lewis N. Dembitz.
Louisville, Kentucky, July 11, 1887.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: A few months ago you published in the pages of the "Monthly" an article on hats as a cause of baldness, which has been extensively quoted and has attracted much attention. I have delayed writing to you on the subject until I had leisure to look up an article written by my father, the late Dr. Austin Flint, nearly thirty-five years ago. I send an extract from this article which appeared as an editorial in the "Buffalo Medical Journal," March, 1853, No. 10, page 651, and was entitled "Hats and Baldness":"... The most characteristic trait of the hat is the tightness with which it encircles the head. Herein consists, in our opinion, its agency in the loss of hair. The stove-pipe hat must needs encircle the head tightly, in order to be secure in its position in spite of wind and other disturbing forces. To appreciate the degree of compression, one has only to note the indentation on the forehead after a tightly-fitting hat has been worn for some time. Everybody knows how commonly this is to be observed. The head is, in fact, pretty firmly ligated while the hat is worn. Now, what must be the effect of this on the circulation? Plainly, the effect is to interrupt the circulation in the scalp above the circle on which the compression is made. It is precisely like tying a cord around the head, sufficiently to diminish, if not stop, for the time, the flow of blood through the temporal and other arteries by which the blood is distributed to the superior portion of the scalp. The hair-follicles, as is well known, are very vascular. Their functions require this vascularity, and an adequate, constant supply of oxygenated blood. If this supply be diminished, the growth and nutrition of the hairs are proportionally affected; and, finally, the pulp inclosed in the follicle withers and dies, as does any other part when deprived of the pabulum vitas. This effect occurs on the crown, because interruption of the circulation in arteries is always felt most in the parts to which the terminal branches are distributed.

"Such is our explanation of the fact that baldness is so frequently observed in the young and middle-aged men of the present generation. The remedy is to repudiate the present fashion of hats. Let some inventive genius devise a substitute for the unseemly, as well as hair-destructive, article which is now the mode, and we are firmly convinced that toupees will become objects of curiosity rather than utility, and the bald pate will again be venerated as the distinguishing trait of old age.". . .

Austin Flint, M. D.
No. 14 West Thirty-Third Street,
New York City, August 25, 1887.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: In an article on "Modern Over-Education" in the July number of "The Popular Science Monthly," taken from "Land and Water," the writer says, "The Latin word educo, from which our English word is derived, means simply to draw out or to train."

It will be remembered that there are two words in the Latin, spelled alike, but with somewhat different meaning: the one ēdŭco, educere, meaning "to lead forth," "to draw out," etc., from which we get educe and eduction; the other, ēduco, educare, meaning "to bring up a child physically or mentally," "to rear," "to educate," also "to nourish," "support," etc. It is from the latter, of course, that we get our word "education," from which it will appear that the idea originally conveyed by it was not simply that of leading or drawing forth, but of rearing, nourishing, and the like. It seems to me well to bear in mind that the educator must see to it that the minds placed under his care need nourishment, as well as the drawing forth or training of the faculties, if they are to be properly developed and strengthened. In other words, there must be wholesome food for mind as well as for body, besides the necessary exercise or gymnastics.

Mere exercitation, independently of what is presented to the attention, can scarcely be expected to accomplish the best results.

I have ventured to send you this note because I have reason to believe that quite a number mistake the true etymology of our word "education," and that there is something to be gained by a proper consideration of its true origin.

Very respectfully yours,
L. L. Holladay.
Hampden Sidney, Virginia, July 9, 1887.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: I had not intended to reply to any further communication of Miss Gardener's, but as in her letter, published in your September issue, she accuses me of a willful deception, it seems necessary that I should again address you.

In my paper on "Brain-Forcing in Childhood" I stated that the human head does not grow after the seventh year, and that the hat that is worn at that age can be worn just as well at thirty. For this statement Miss Gardener, in her first communication, called me to an account, and I in my answer admitted, as I thought frankly, that I had made a mistake, and that I should have said brain instead of head. She now, in her last letter, endeavors to make it appear that I had asserted that, by a slip of the pen or by some other inadvertence, I had said head when I meant brain.

My language admits of no such interpretation except from one anxious to misinterpret. I made a mistake. I thought the fact was as I had stated it, and when I found out my error, and that it is the brain and not the head that does not grow after the age of seven, I made the proper correction. In all the points necessary to my argument I was right, for the hair, skin, muscles, etc., of the head can not be regarded, even by Miss Gardener, as contributing to intelligence.

Miss Gardener's attack is a quibble altogether unworthy of her. She might properly have censured me for my thoughtlessness or ignorance, but that is all. I have never been ashamed to confess my mistakes, and to allow my adversaries to get whatever comfort from them they can extract, and she is welcome to make the most of my error in this matter.

As to the point in question, it is scarcely to be supposed that, knowing that Miss Gardener was in possession of my whole statement, I should have endeavored to deceive either her or the public in the matter.

William A. Hammond.

[Want of space compels the termination of this correspondence with the present letter.—Editor.]