Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/April 1894/Popular Miscellany

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Spencer-smashing at Washington.—At a meeting of the Washington Society for Philosophical Inquiry held January 23, 1894, the Rev. Dr. Momerie, of London, read a paper on Agnosticism, consisting chiefly of a criticism of Mr. Herbert Spencer and a defense of the current dualistic conception of the soul as the thinking personality or ego considered as distinct from and independent of the body. The paper was discussed by Dr. W. T. Harris and Mr. Lester F. Ward. Mr. Ward's remarks were as follows: While Dr. Momerie was reading his able paper I could not help thinking to what a remarkable degree the views of Herbert Spencer have become the object of philosophical discussion and public attack. To judge from the opposition to him in all directions one would suppose that his entire system of philosophy was unsound and worthless. No book, no philosophic essay, no form of discussion of any question is complete that does not score him at some point. This society since its organization a year ago has been engaged in an almost uninterrupted onslaught upon his doctrines. Dr. E. L. Youmans, who, when living, was the great American disciple of Spencer, used to characterize those who even at that date had begun to inveigh against him by the name of 'Spencer-smashers,' and since his death the business of Spencer-smashing has continued to increase; but, strange as it may seem, notwithstanding all this opposition the great philosopher will not down. I am not myself innocent of the charge of Spencer-smashing, and I thought these remarks would come with a better grace from the fact that I have just published what will probably be considered a somewhat severe criticism of Herbert Spencer's Political Ethics. But I am not unmindful of the astonishing power that he has become in the thought of the world, which renders any utterance of his wherein he is wrong so potent for evil. I recently asked a student of Oxford, here for a few days on his winter vacation, how Spencer was regarded at Oxford, and he told me that although his name was rarely spoken and then only in a whisper, as if, on Pope's theory of vice in general, its very utterance might lead to closer acquaintance, nevertheless Spencer was the unseen but overshadowing presence that surrounded the university and which it was considered necessary perpetually to guard against and drive back. I am not finding fault with the widespread opposition to Spencer. Nothing could be worse than to set up a high priest of opinion and bow down to authority. But I have often been amused to see how simple a matter it is supposed to be to refute his doctrines and overthrow his system. And I am disposed to attribute the solidity of his system, and the wonderful resistance which it offers to this perpetual bombardment, to the high degree in which it rests upon the firm foundations of truth. I am myself disposed to follow him with little deviation all the way until he reaches deductive sociology and ethics, and I leave him here only because I believe that, owing to unfortunate early political preconceptions, he has himself left the clear path which his entire system logically requires him to follow. But I did not rise either to approve or disapprove Spencer's philosophy, but simply to draw attention to the kind of man the world has to deal with when it ventures to antagonize his achievements. He fills no chair in any great university, he bears no title from the English crown, he holds no high post of public honor, he boasts no classical scholarship, he speaks no language but his mother tongue, and yet, by a complete mastery of that tongue, and by the sheer power of vigorous and organized thought applied to an 'encyclopedic' acquaintance with all that is worth knowing in the world, he has forced his way into every department of human thought and action. He has invaded science, art, philosophy, literature, morals, and religion in a way and with an authority that have commanded respect and attention, until to-day the eyes of the whole thinking world are centered upon him. I did not know but that Americans were alone in rendering him this unintended homage, but I have learned to-day that it is also the habit of his own countrymen."

The Land of Kashmir.—Giving an account of his Karakorum expedition, Mr. W. M. Conway said that the actual Kashmir was widely different from the land full of all material delights and scenes of idyllic beauty which poets had described. It might, in truth, be described as a "crumpled Sahara," with rocks and precipitous slopes, stony, naked, devoid of moisture or of shade, a grilling, hopeless, impassable wilderness. The only relief to its absolute desert were the patches of artificial irrigation. In this inhospitable region there were great masses of mountains covered with snow, from which sometimes streams issued which created oases here and there of singular fertility. In them alone was any population to be found. The starting point of the expedition was Gilgit—now an important military outpost, but a few years ago unknown to British travelers. Gilgit is about five thousand feet above sea level and affords an exaggerated example of the climate of these regions. It was almost rainless during the months of May and June and the earlier part of July. He had just received a letter from a British officer stationed at Gilgit who gave him a vivid account of a terrible flood which occurred on July 7th and in the course of five days wrought a positive geological revolution. All the bridges and piers were destroyed, and the engineers had to extemporize a bridge with a span of three hundred and forty-six feet. From this cheerless region he emerged into a land of glaciers and traversed the great Hispar, Baltoro, and Biafro glaciers. These great snowfields resembled—though planned on a much vaster scale—those of the Alps. Besides the snowfields there were great areas of moraine—inhospitable deserts covered with large masses of broken stone. There sprang up from them mountain peaks ranging from twenty thousand to twenty-eight thousand feet. In the Karakorums there were about half a dozen peaks over twenty-four thousand feet. He had himself climbed one of twenty three thousand feet. These mountains were very different from the Alps, and were mostly in the form of gigantic towers of incredible sharpness—a form in marked opposition to the rounded masses which were the prevalent form of the European mountains.

Distribution of Birds.—The question of the distribution of birds was cited by Canon Tristram, President of the Biological Section of the British Association, as a sphere in which the field naturalist can work to great advantage in studying the operation of isolation in the differentiation of species. Taking as typical examples the Sandwich Islands, thousands of miles from the nearest continent, and the Canaries, within sight of the African coast: in the one we may study the expiring relics of an avifauna completely differentiated by isolation; in the other we have opportunity of tracing the incipient stages of the same process. In the Sandwich Islands there is hardly a passerine bird in the indigenous fauna that can be referred to any genus known elsewhere; and it is now recognized that almost every island of the group possesses one or more representatives of each of these peculiar genera. That each of the islands of this group, however small, should possess a flora specifically distinct suggests thoughts of the vast periods occupied in their differentiation. In the Canary Islands the process of differentiation is only partially accomplished. Yet there is hardly a resident species which is not more or less modified, and this modification is still further advanced in the westernmost species than in those nearest to Africa. We have here the effect of changed conditions of life in four hundred years. What might they not have been in four hundred centuries? The avifauna of the Comoro Islands, to take another insular group, seems to stand midway in the differentiating process between those of the Canaries and the Sandwich Islands. The little Christmas Island, an isolated rock two hundred miles south of Java, only twelve miles in length, has been shown by Mr. Lister to produce distinct and peculiar forms of every class of life, vegetable and animal. Though the species are few in number, yet every mammal and land bird is endemic. In the year 1857-'58 the speaker spent many months in the Algerian Sahara, and noticed the remarkable variations in different groups, according to elevation from the sea and the difference of soil and vegetation. The Origin of Species had not then appeared; but on his return his attention was called to the communication of Darwin and Wallace to the Linnæan Society on the tendencies of species to form varieties, and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by means of natural selection. He then wrote, citing these variations as supplying illustrations of Darwin's and Wallace's theory, but suggesting that, instead of the blending of forms being caused by the two races commingling, rather while the generalized forms remain in the center of distribution, we find the more decidedly distinct species at the extremes of the range, caused not by interbreeding, but by differentiation.

Common Sense on the Labor Question.—The clear light of pure common sense is thrown upon some of the features of the labor agitation in the comments of the London Times upon a conference recently held at Westminster Abbey to consider the troubles in the collieries. The friends of the agitators, it hints, might profitably occupy themselves with trying to get some clear idea of the problems they are so eager to attack. "It would be useful if they would employ their leisure in framing a definition of a living wage a little more precise and intelligible than any they have yet vouchsafed. When they have settled what is a living wage for a miner, perhaps they will try to determine what is a fair day's work, or otherwise will kindly explain where the living wage is to come from in the event of the day's work not being worth it. They would also add greatly to their usefulness and avoid some rather ridiculous declamation if they would master the elementary truths that what are called economic laws are not perverted ethical maxims invented by unchristian economists, but simply generalizations of everyday phenomena. People had been buying in the cheapest market for thousands of years before English economists drew out in formal propositions the consequences of that universal tendency." Before men stand up to denounce these laws or "doctrines," as they are oddly called, "they ought to understand what they mean, and might even be expected to show that they are never guilty of the unchristian practice of buying in the cheapest market, and so in their degree keeping down wages. Political economy, if these vehement controversialists could only see it, is nothing but common sense and common observation thrown into a methodical and systematized arrangement. If a man has the materials, he need not trouble himself very much about the system. Let the people who demand a living wage in the name of Christianity just begin with an exact inquisition into their own conduct and its consequences. Are they in the habit of paying two guineas for a hat when they can get one as good for thirty shillings? Do they ever knowingly give forty shillings for a ton of coals when they can get coals as good for thirty-five? Of course they do not. Nobody does, but the execrated law of supply and demand is nothing in the world except the working out in the gross of the general habit of getting the best value for one's money. Every one who imagines that he sees a way to get rid of this unchristian law ought to try his panacea on a small scale with his own income. When he is perfectly certain that he uses nothing without being sure that everybody employed in making it has had a living wage, he will be in a better position for lecturing coal-owners. He will also have begun to see that industrial problems can not be settled by invocation of undefined Christian principles."

The Highest Meteorological Station in the World.—The highest meteorological station in the world, before a still higher one was established on El Misti, 19,200 feet, was the Charchani station of the Arequipa Observatory, Peru, a branch of the Harvard College Observatory situated on Charchani Mountain, just below the permanent snow line. As described by Prof. A. Lawrence Rotch, it stands at an elevation of 16,650 feet above the sea, near the brink of a plateau, 3,400 feet below the summit of the mountain. From this brink a precipice drops several hundred feet. Near the louvred shelter in which the instruments are kept a stone hut has been erected, where the person who ascends the mountain to care for the instruments can spend the night, if necessary. The ascent of 8,600 feet from the observatory can be made by mule in about eight hours. Though it is intended to have one of the assistants visit the station each four weeks, regular ascents have not been practicable; consequently, during the year the station has been occupied, only portions of ten months' records have been obtained, and unforeseen stoppages of the self-recording instruments have further reduced the number of complete records to eight. The distance in an air line from the station to the observatory is about eleven miles, and such is the transparency of the air that on a large white disk, which has been placed on the edge of the plateau, a black spot, one inch in diameter, can be seen with the thirteen-inch telescope at the observatory. It has not yet been possible to place instruments on the top of the mountain, though that would be desirable. Two attempts have been made, unsuccessfully, to ascend to that point. The comparatively high temperature and small snowfall on the high mountains of Peru offer opportunities for the establishment of loftier meteorological stations than are afforded by any other country, and the establishment of such a summit station by the Harvard Observatory is the crowning of its remarkable series of stations, extending from Mollendo, on the Pacific coast, along the railroad which crosses the desert of La Joye (4,140 feet), reaching the divide at Vincocaya (14,360 feet), and descending the watershed to Puno, on Luke Titicaca (12,540 feet). Another series, differing little in horizontal distance but relatively greatly separated vertically, for which the observatory at Arequipa and the station on El Misti already furnish steps, would make it possible to obtain data of the greatest value for the study of meteorology.

Anthropology at the University of Michigan.—The first work in anthropology at the University of Michigan was begun in the second semester of the college year 1891-'92, with a course in museum laboratory work in American archæology, under the direction of Prof. F. W. Kelsey. The course was attended by two students. Provision was made for the exhibition of the collections in the possession of the institution, and soon had to be added to. It was then found that the university had a much more valuable collection than was at first supposed. Among its most interesting and instructive features were a typical lot of about forty neolithic implements from Denmark; stone and pottery specimens illustrating the archæology of Michigan; potsherds and pottery vessels from the islands at the mouth of the Amazon; ancient Peruvian vessels from Ancon and Pacasmayo; pottery vessels from the East Indies; skulls, including some of the perforated crania described by Henry Gillman, so mounted that they may be examined on all sides and measured without handling; stone hammers or mauls from the ancient copper pits at Isle Royale, Mich.; the De Pue collection of implements from the surface of the immediate neighborhood of the university; and casts from the Smithsonian collections, with descriptions. Several prehistoric village sites have been discovered near Ann Arbor, which, it is hoped, may soon be thoroughly examined. A survey has been made of one of the prehistoric "garden beds" at Kalamazoo. As yet the work of the museum has been chiefly confined to archæology, but it is expected that, as the department develops, other phases of anthropological science will be studied.

The Conditions of Rain-making.—The conditions of successful rain-making, as defined by Prof. A. Macfarlane, of the University of Texas, in the light of Mr. John Aitken's experiments on fogs and dust—not in a small portion of the atmosphere cut off from the rest by means of an air-tight receiver, but on a large scale in the unbounded atmosphere—are: "If the air operated on is at a temperature higher than its temperature of saturation, it must be cooled down to that temperature. Further, when the moisture condenses it gives out latent heat, which tends to arrest the process; this latent heat must be removed. It is not, as some rain-makers have imagined, 'Pull a trigger; Nature will do the rest.' The only trigger-pulling which experiments warrant as possible consists in supplying the necessary fine dust for nuclei, so that condensation may take place without delay when the air is cooled to its temperature of saturation; or in supplying fine dust from such a substance as common salt, which has a chemical affinity for water and may be able to accelerate slightly the falling of a shower. Suppose we take a cubic mile of the air upon which Dyrenfurth operated on the night of Friday, November 25, 1892. The record at the weather office in San Antonio, at 8 p.m., gave the temperature of the air as 72° Fahr., and the dew point as 61° Fahr. To cool down a cubic mile of that air to the dew point would require the abstraction of as much heat as would raise eighty thousand tons of water from the freezing point to the boiling point. To cool it down another eleven degrees would require as much more heat to be abstracted. The amount of water set free would be twenty thousand tons, which, spread over a square mile, would give about 1·4 pound per square foot, or 27/1000 of an inch of rainfall. The amount of latent heat set free by the condensation of that amount of water would raise one hundred thousand tons of water from the freezing point to the boiling point; and it would be necessary to absorb this heat in order that the rain-making might go on. I have supposed the cubic mile of air to be kept constant; if the air operated on is constantly changing, the task becomes one of infinitely greater difficulty." It is hardly necessary to say that Prof. Macfarlane considers the professional rain-makers, the proceedings and pretensions of eight of whom he reviews in his paper, as "no better than the medicine men of the Indians."

Anomalies in Weight.—The anomalies in weight at different points on the surface of the earth, which have been recognized for a considerable time, have been attributed to corresponding anomalies in the figure of the earth; to the insufficiency of the formulas for reduction to sea-level; to the unequal distribution of masses; or to inexact observation. A study of the subject by the French commander Defforges, which included forty-one observations at twenty-five stations of different latitudes and elevations, shows that weight is distributed very unequally over the globe; that Clairaut's law, true as a whole, is nearly always marked by notable anomalies; that weight, on the shores of different seas, presents feeble anomalies, constant, and consequently characteristic, on the same shore; that a considerable excess of weight prevails in islands; that the rule is inverse on the continents, and the deficiency seems to increase in proportion to the altitude and the distance from the sea; that anomalies in weight, positive in Spitzbergen, Scotland, and Corsica, become negative in continental France and Algeria; that continental anomalies increase with the altitude and the distance from the sea; that anomalies in weight can not be attributed to anomalies in the shape of the earth, and the explanation of the irregularities must be asked of geology; and that these results are confirmed by comparing Anglo-Indian and French measurements.

Relations of Floras and Geological Formations.—It is generally recognized that certain floras and certain geological formations go together; and the plants are spoken of as characteristic of the formation. One of the best recognized of these characteristic floras is that of the pine barrens of New Jersey, which was observed several years ago to extend northward into Staten Island and Long Island. In these places the flora growing upon the cretaceous and that growing upon the drift are so distinct that the fact could hardly fail to attract the attention even of the superficial observer. More recently many characteristic species of this pine-barren flora have been recognized as growing in southern Rhode Island, on Block Island, near New Bedford, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket, and even as far north as Canada. The question arises. How did it spread to the places in New England where it is now found? It is a southern flora, and is characteristically American. Its course of migration was from the south, either by way of the mainland through New York and Connecticut, or else across the salt water from Long Island. The subject has been studied in the light of the geology and topography by Mr. Arthur Hollick, who concludes that there was during a considerable period of time a continuous strip of land, except for the river outlets, "all the way from New Jersey to Massachusetts, separated from the mainland by a body of water occupying the trough scooped out by the glacier, which, in its present depressed and widened condition, we now call Long Island Sound, but which was then a fresh-water lake or broad river." Afterward the land underwent oscillations in level, in the course of which the glacial moraine was eaten away in places by the sea, and the present series of islands and shoals was formed.

Morals and the Nervous System.—One case of agreement between the practical wisdom of the Bible and the results arrived at by modern science was recently made the basis of a sermon by Rev. G. R. Dodson, of Alameda, Cal. Mr. Dodson described the passage of a current of nervous energy through some portion of the nervous system as being a part of every action of thinking or willing. When we think about doing something, for instance, there is a comparatively faint excitation of the nervous system; a stronger impulse causes the act to be done. Thought and feeling are thus actions which do not get beyond the limits of our own bodies. "How this re-enforces," says Mr. Dodson, "the teaching of Jesus, that not the overt act alone constitutes the crime, but that the sin is committed when the desire is cherished in the heart! Indeed, the desire is the action incomplete, restrained within the limits of the body. In I John, iii, 15, it is said, 'He that hateth his brother is a murderer.' This is physiologically true; hate is murder on the way. Lust is adultery begun." Another important relation between morals and the nervous system is that repetition makes any action easier. The nerve currents meet with considerable resistance at first, but, by repeatedly going over the same paths, they "hew out" and "widen" the ways, so to speak, until they become fines of small resistance and the actions become easy. From the close connection between thinking about an action and directing the body in the performance of it, there comes a surprising result. To be ever thinking of doing anything is to be always beginning to do it. The continual use of the nervous system in thinking of some evil deed is really practicing the deed itself—is making more pervious to the nerve currents the nerve paths which would be used in the performance of the action. Thus it is that some time, when off guard, the temptation (the physiological stimulus) comes, a surplus of nervous energy is discharged along these lines of least resistance, and the deed is done. In this way many young people, who were supposed to be the models of moral perfection, have, to their own surprise as well as that of their friends, suddenly fallen. In such cases the evil desire, which had before been kept within the limits of the body, is simply continued and completed in the outward world. With what force come to us the words, "Blessed are the pure in heart"! and, again, "Whatsoever things are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, whatever is praiseworthy and virtuous, think on these things." Physiological psychology gives the strongest emphasis to these old moral precepts. Nerve paths used constantly in true thinking and noble sentiment become the lines of least resistance, while those for ignoble thought and feeling become like unused, neglected roads—difficult to travel. It thus becomes constitutionally easy to live nobly, and organically difficult to do wrong. In the second place, when evil thoughts are aroused they are at once automatically negatived (inhibited) by good impulses, and without any action of the will there is an instinctive recoil from the evil suggestion.

Bacteriology and Public Health.—In connection with the relation between bacteriology and public health, Prof. Frankland referred, in the discussion in the British Association, to investigations by himself and others on the purification of drinking waters by subsidence, filtration, and precipitation. He pointed out that great misconception prevailed as to the real value of water analyses, the object of which was to show whether a water was liable to become a source of danger at any time, and not whether it was actually dangerous at a particular moment. Recent methods had, however, made it possible to detect the special bacteria of typhoid and cholera when present in a drinking water. Contrary to the common belief, bacteria could retain their vitality in ordinary water for weeks, while the spores were not destroyed for months; but different species varied in this respect. Sewage was best treated by intermittent filtration through soil. This process removed the bacteria more rapidly and completely than it removed dissolved organic matter. Later investigations had confirmed the early observations of Downes and Blount on the susceptibility of bacteria to the action of light, and it appeared that the well-known disinfecting power of the sun's rays was due to the fact that they actually destroyed bacteria and their spores, the rate of destruction depending on the nature of the organism and the condition in which it was placed.

Coal Dust and Explosions.—In a paper on Explosions in Coal Mines, Prof. H. B. Dixon said that the statement that explosions do not travel through damp parts of a mine has been confirmed, and that it is practicable to localize and isolate explosions by always keeping certain sections of the mine damp. Recent experiments by Mr. Hall and by an Austrian committee agree with some earlier experiments in showing that different coal dusts vary enormously m their degree of inflammability, and that mixtures of some dusts with air are violently explosive if ignited by means of a large flame. The great variation in the properties of coal dusts probably accounts for the difference between the reports from different districts. Whether it is true that coal dust and air alone are explosive, or that the presence of small quantities of fire damp is essential, must be shown by further investigations on the nature of the dust from different mines, the degree of danger attaching to the use of different explosives, and the efficiency of various methods of laying the dust in mines.

Education and "Short Cuts to Utopia."—The question whether the general education of the masses is on the whole a good thing is under discussion in the English papers. A writer in one of them attributes to it "that wonderful readiness to believe in short cuts to Utopia" which is one of the marked and unmistakable features of our day. The Spectator disputes this, and cites the evidence of history as being all the other way. "The most desperate attempt ever made to realize heaven on earth by a short cut was made by the followers of John of Leyden, who were for the most part as devoid of what is now called education as the beasts of the field. There never was such a dream of the short cut to Utopia as was dreamed at the beginning of the French Revolution; and the agents of that revolution were for the most part peasants and artisans entirely innocent of book learning, who, even in Paris, were accustomed to have their wild newspapers read to them; ... it was before her people were educated that Prussia conceded the agrarian law on which her state has ever since been organized, and which her people certainly regarded as their short cut to happiness. On the other hand, the effect of John Knox's system of education in Scotland has been to make the country north of the Tweed for two hundred years singularly averse to social dreams; while the Prussians, educated for seventy years—two clear generations—have been the gravest and most sensible and self-sacrificing people of the continent. We question if, even in England, the people are half as dreamy as they were in 1830, when they were profoundly ignorant, or if the French working class, socialist as it is, is half as confident of Utopia as it was forty-five years ago. The American school system, which extends everywhere, has produced a race whose special characteristic is sense so hard that they bear the most provoking evidence of the tendency of wealth to accumulate in few hands without interfering, and shoot down the uneducated foreigners who form the strength of their anarchist party with a decision which, at all events, is far removed from dreaminess."