Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/April 1901/Scientific Literature

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Scientific Literature.

KANT AND THE NEBULAR HYPOTHESIS.

Professor Hastie, of Glasgow, has added to his long list of editions and translations a book which he calls 'Kant's Cosmogony' (Macmillan). It forms a substantial addition to our knowledge in two distinct fields. In the first place, on the philosophical side, it throws important light upon some early phases of Kant's thought and upon the problems he was revolving years before he began the critical philosophy. In the second place, it contains a most interesting and, in many respects, valuable apparatus dealing with a chapter in the history of the interaction between scientific investigation and metaphysical speculation. Dr. Hastie's translation of Kant's 'Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens' forms the main central portion of the book. Around this he has grouped other material, making a most convenient collection. His own introduction contains an account of the status of Kant's nebular hypothesis, of its place in the lifework of this thinker, of its relation to other cosmogonies, of its later influence and fortunes, and the like, while he has added appendices affording useful sidelights on the whole discussion. In one of these, Thomas Wright, of Durham, a forgotten English physicist, is conclusively proved to be, so far as our present knowledge goes, the forerunner of Kant and the other writers, to whom we owe the first adumbrations of the view now generally accepted regarding the ultimate nature of the physical universe. A portrait of this worthy is reproduced. Dr. Hastie shows, too, how Kant was a forerunner of Darwin. And in this connection, though not directly, he hints the great difference in standpoint between the static science of the eighteenth, and the dynamic science of the nineteenth, century. "Give me matter and I will build a world out of it. Can we truly claim such a vantage ground in speaking of the least plant or insect? Must we not here stop at the first step, from our ignorance of the real inner constitution of the object? The structure of plants and animals exhibits an adaptation for which the universal and necessary laws of nature are insufficient." So Kant wrote, from the static standpoint. But his own view, all unknown to him, already involved dynamic categories. For its scholarship in the history of thought, for its clear knowledge of the scope and meaning of scientific advance, and for its eminent fairness of spirit, this book is to be strongly commended. The volume is dedicated to Lord Kelvin, as one of the men of science who have done full justice to Kant's attainments in the domain of 'the astronomical view of the universe.'

 

KNOWLEDGE AND BELIEF.

Judging from the author's remarks in his preface, Mr. F. S. Turner's 'Knowledge, Belief and Certitude' (Macmillan) has long been in preparation. As a result the argument is clearly stated, the various points following upon one another consecutively. The book furnishes a typical specimen of English philosophical writing. Indulging in no flights of speculation, the writer keeps firm grasp on what he sees, and so is able to give an account of himself which any intelligent reader can master. In fact, his book commends itself as a serviceable introduction to the problems with which science and philosophy deal. It is divided into two 'Books.' The first considers 'Abstract Knowledge.' Under this head consciousness is distinguished from knowledge; and on analysis, the latter is found to possess three fundamental 'certitudes': self, other selves and the external world. Science comes under review next, and a most interesting and, in the main, sensible, account is given of its nature, as of its self-imposed limitations. This fills about 180 pages. Modern psychology is next brought to book. Here Mr. Turner cannot be said to achieve the same success. He makes certain good points. For example, he proposes the question, 'In what is called physiological psychology, what share of the discoveries belong to psychology proper?' In replying he shows that, ultimately, a very narrow line separates psychology from philosophy—a truth which some recent developments in psychology make patent. We do not think that in his chapter on 'Psychological Analysis' Mr. Turner preserves his customary reserve and balance. This appears plainly in the portion devoted to Wundt, where sympathy with the historical position of this psychologist lacks decidedly. The First Book, which is much the longer, concludes with a review of philosophy. Here the author manages to say some fresh and pertinent things: "Philosophy is necessary monistic. If philosophical speculation leads to dualistic conclusions, these really conduct to the sceptical conclusion—that the problem is insoluble." He infers that philosophy has no better or higher 'Knowledge' than the sciences. In this connection, his treatment of scientific conceptions in philosophy deserves praise. Book Second deals with 'Real Knowledge,' knowledge of 'ends'; concludes with a summary of negative inferences, and a final proof that all knowledge is, ultimately, belief. The work is to be commended as an original expression of its writer's own views and difficulties. Its reception in certain circles of dogmatic philosophy ought to be watched with interest. No scientific man will be disposed to find much fault with its sober methods.

 

MALARIA IN ITALY.

A translation by Dr. Eyre of Professor Celli's interesting book upon 'Malaria'[1] has recently appeared and is most timely. The treatise admirably illustrates the revolution that has been recently wrought in the theories of the epidemiology and prophylaxis of the disease. Professor Celli not only describes the parasites causing the various kinds of malaria afflicting vertebrate animals, but also considers with great fulness the general causes of predisposition to malaria and the various methods that have been suggested for preventing the access of malaria germs to the human organism. The fact that the mosquito has been proved guilty of inoculating human beings with this terrible disease has revealed many opportunities for public sanitation. Not the least interesting part of Professor Celli's book is the portion dealing with the economic and social aspects of malaria in Italy. The great influence of the disease upon the welfare of the Italian people has never been more strikingly portrayed. The mean mortality from malaria in Italy is about 15,000 per year, and it is said that from 1877 to the end of 1897 more than 300,000 cases of malaria occurred in the army alone. A specially interesting section deals with the relation of rice fields to the particular kind of mosquito responsible for malarial infection. It is shown that the rice fields, with their clear and slowly running waters and their typical swamp vegetation, afford peculiarly favorable localities for the breeding of Anopheles, the malaria-bearing mosquito, and that the cultivation of rice has done much to render malaria endemic in certain regions. The author discusses very frankly certain social conditions that expose unduly a large class of the population to malaria. The pictures of the huts in which the peasants of the Campagna live (pp. 174-6) are a striking witness to the truth of his strictures. Taking the book as a whole, it can be fairly claimed that the latest researches upon malaria and the conclusions to which they lead are presented in a clear and popular fashion, and will be found both interesting and intelligible by the general reader, albeit the translation stumbles not a little.

 

BOTANY.

The Botanische Centralblatt has hitherto been published in two series, in which were included original articles and reviews without classification. Chiefly as a result of the representations of a committee of the Society for Plant Physiology and Morphology, this journal announces that, beginning with 1901, the main series will contain only reviews and notices of new literature, while all original articles will be relegated to the 'Beihefte,' each to be subscribed for separately. In order to secure more adequate notice of American papers, two associate editors from America will be added to the staff, and similar arrangements will probably be made in England and other countries. The committee entrusted with the details of arrangement and selection of the American editors consists of Drs. W. G. Farlow, W. F. Ganong, D. T. MacDougal, William Trelease and D. H. Campbell. This action on the part of the Centralblatt implies a most notable advance toward securing a better bibliography of botanical literature.

 

The completion of 'Die Naturlichen Pflanzenfamilien,' under the editorship of Dr. A. Engler, of the Berlin Botanic Garden, is followed by the announcement that he will undertake the management of a second great systematic work, 'Das Pflanzenreich,' which will consist of a series of monographs of the flora of the world. All the important literature dealing with the taxonomy, distribution, organography, anatomy, morphology of the flower and history of development will be cited at the head of the monograph of each family. General matter will be written in German, but all technical descriptions will be in Latin. Synonyms will be cited in chronological order. More than thirty of the collaborators have already taken up the work of preparation and agreed upon rules of nomenclature. The more recently established families will be fully illustrated. This great work will be produced under the auspices of the Prussian Academy of Sciences by the aid of the Department of Education of Prussia. Monographs upon the banana family (Musaceae), by Dr. Karl Schumann; the screw pines (Pandanaceae), by Dr. O. Warburg, and the cat-tail family (Typhaceae) and burreeds(Sparganiaceae), by Dr. P. Graebner, have already appeared. It is to be said that an examination of these papers does not carry out the promise of the prospectus in the matter of rigidity of rules of citation.

 

The noble discontent of the science teacher in the schools with the textbooks in botany is calling out a constant stream of elementary texts, the latest of which is by Prof. L. H. Bailey (The Macmillan Company). The subject is taken up in three main sections, dealing with the general anatomy, growth and reproduction, relations to environment and minute structure. Much useful horticultural practise is brought before the young student, but the text is decidedly sketchy in many places, and the book can hardly be said to place proper stress upon exact morphology, although with all Professor Bailey's books it will prove interesting reading to the beginner in botany. In the matter of introducing incidental and immaterial illustrations, much might be said in the way of adverse criticism.

 

TRAVEL AND EXPLORATION.

The Ascent of Mt. St. Elias by H. R. H. Luigi, Duke of the Abruzzi, a work published by the Stokes Company, of New York, records the accomplishment of a feat in mountain climbing which is well worth the handsome and profusely illustrated volume brought out in March last year. As a book, it is almost a masterpiece of the bookmaker's art. The appendices are the most valuable portion of the book, and future travelers in such regions will do well to consult the valuable hints of the chapter upon equipment. Mr. W. D. Wilcox, already a favorite authority upon 'Our Switzerland,' has really given us a continuation of his former work in 'The Rockies of Canada,' published by the Putnams of New York. He treats this wonderful mountain region from the standpoint of the enthusiast, having spent many seasons in the acquisition of his experience. It is easy to see that he is more of a 'mountain lover' than a sportsman, in spite of his creditable accounts of the hunting and fishing to be found in this part of terra incognita. Some space is also given to the character of the Indians. It is almost a pity that he has adopted the 'diary' style, as it detracts somewhat from the literary character of the work.

 

The past year has been productive of many volumes bearing upon the East and its problems. The most helpful of these works, two volumes which should be read together, are 'China's Open Door,' by Hon. R. Wildman, and 'The Crisis in China,' by a group of authors, most of them well known. The first volume is the most readable account of the dreary history of China that we have had up to the present time. The bright introduction by the Hon. Charles Denby is a very fitting opening chapter to the volume. It is published by Lothrop, of Boston. The other volume was issued by the Harpers, and discusses the vexed problems of China from various points of view; some of them, curiously enough, having been answered by the disposing power of events, others showing a helpful insight, which it is a pity the 'powers' did not follow. Another volume on America in the East, by W. E. Griffis, published by Barnes & Co., of New York, consists of a delightful series of 'Fourth of July' orations gathered into book form, mainly from the 'Outlook.' From the author's standpoint, Americans have apparently left little for any one else to do in China, Japan and Korea. The last chapters are the best because the most serious. We should remember that while the world moves largely through the influence of enthusiasts, we shall not conquer in the East as much by arms, as by brains and virtue. Still another work published or rather republished by Barnes & Co. is written by an able naval officer, Engineer John D. Ford. Its pleasant accounts of his visits to various portions of the Asiatic coast are well worth the new edition which is brought down to date by a sketch of the Battle of Manila.

 

A valuable book on the Colombian and Venezuelan republics, prepared by our minister and envoy to these countries, Hon. W. L. Scruggs, is timely, because of its practical hints, its comprehensive study of physical conditions and its descriptions of the magnificent mountain scenery and the luxuriant tropical life. The book will be more attractive to the real student than to the popular reader. Another volume of a different character, rather more of a journalistic effort, on the broader subject of South America, is published by F. G. Carpenter. It is a collection of letters, first published in newspapers and then gathered in more permanent form. The book is a pleasant companion, even if the sketches are somewhat superficial, as is apt to be the case with the traveler away from his authorities. The frontispiece is in rather bad taste, as it is a composition picture of the 'Pretty Girls of Chile.' The volume is printed by the Saalfield Co., of Akron, Ohio.

  1. Longmans, Green & Co.