Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/December 1900/Scientific Literature

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Scientific Literature.

PHOTOGRAPHY OF SOLAR ECLIPSES.

It is often supposed by readers of popular articles on astronomical photography that the introduction of the methods of 'the new astronomy' has done away, once for all, with the difficulties of the old. The photographic plate has taken the place of the observer's eye and the personal equation is supposed to have been abolished. Those who work in astronomical photography are the first to extol the merits of the new methods. But they are fully aware of difficulties peculiar to them which must be treated very much as if they were errors peculiar to an observer. The plate has its own personal equation. It is impossible to overestimate the benefit to eclipse observations, for example, that has resulted from the introduction of photography as a means of registering the forms and details of the solar corona. Yet the photographic plate has serious failings of its own. Some of them have lately been done away with by a device invented by Mr. Charles Burckhalter, Director of the Chabot Observatory, in Oakland, California; and it is the purpose of this paragraph to exhibit the advance made by Mr. Burckhalter's methods.

The solar corona is very bright near the edge of the sun's disc and fades away gradually till at a distance of some 80 to 100 minutes its brilliancy is about the same as that of the sky background. If a photograph is taken with a very short exposure, only the brighter parts of the corona are registered on the plate. The fainter portions do not appear at all. If a photograph is taken with an exposure sufficiently long to record the fainter portions, all the inner regions of the corona are much overexposed, and all detail is lost near the sun's edge. By the ordinary methods, then, the corona, as a whole, cannot be exhibited on any single plate. Each exposure is suitable for registering one region, and only one. The corona must be studied on a series of negatives of varying exposures.

Mr. Burckhalter has devised and tried at two eclipses (the India eclipse of 1898 and the Georgia eclipse of 1900) a simple plan which has worked very well. He uses an ordinary photographic telescope and plate, but in front of the plate he places a rapidly revolving shield or diaphragm, cut to such a shape that different portions of the corona have different exposures. At the Georgia eclipse, for example, one of his negatives was exposed for eight seconds, but it was, at the same time, screened from the light so that the equivalent exposure at the sun's edge was only 4–100 of a second; at 4' from the sun's edge, Os.32; at 8', 0s.80; at 12', 1s.38; at 16', 1s.76; at 24', 2s.40; at 34', 3s.20; at 44', 4s.00; at 64', 5s.60; at 94' and at all greater distances, 8s.00. The resulting negative is extremely fine, and it exhibits the corona as it has never before been seen on a single plate. The bright inner corona and prominences are shown in their true form and brilliancy alongside of the faint polar rays and the delicate masses of the outer coronal extensions. Those who are especially interested should consult Mr. Burckhalter's report (illustrated) in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, No. 75, for October, 1900. The advance over previous work of the same kind is so marked that it is to be hoped that this method will be adopted at the Sumatra eclipse of May, 1901.

 

PSYCHOLOGY AS LITERATURE AND FICTION.

Messrs. Harper & Bros. are responsible for the publication of 'Hypnotism in Mental and Moral Culture,' by John Duncan Quackenbos, an unfortunate volume which may be permitted to speak for and condemn itself. To begin with, the work was written 'in premeditated ignorance of recent works on hypnotism.' Hypnotism is presented as a miraculous panacea. "A recent experiment of the writer's establishes the fact that disequilibration may be adjusted; a congenital cerebral deficiency overcome; a personality crippled by thought inhibition, mental apathy and defective attention transformed into a personality without a blot upon the brain, and so impending insanity shunted—by the use of hypnotic suggestion as an educational agency." "Differences induced by objective education are obliterated; and the fundamental endowments of that finer spiritual organ in which under God we have our highest being—endowments conferred by Deity on all human souls without favor and without stint—dominate the intellectual life. The divine image is supreme in the man, and creative communication on the broadest lines and on the most exalted planes becomes possible. Hypnotic suggestion is but inspiration. Not only does the subject share the latent knowledge, but he borrows as well the mental tone of the operator. His memory becomes preternaturally impressible. The principles of science, of language, of music, of art, are quickly appropriated and permanently retained for post-hypnotic expression through appropriate channels. Confidence in talent is acquired; and embarrassment, confusion, all admission of inferiority, are banished from the objective life—by placing the superior self in control." Among the patients are "several ladies who are making a profession of fiction writing. To these latter were imparted in hypnosis, first, a knowledge of the canons of narration, viz., the law of selection, which limits the story-teller to appropriate characteristic or individual circumstances; the law of succession," and other laws of like flavor. The result: "In the light of instantaneous apprehension, barrenness gives place to richness of association, the earnest thought and honest toil of the old method to a surprising facility, disinclination to select details to zest in appropriating whatever is available. Opportunity and mood are thus made to coincide, and the subject spontaneously conforms to the eternal principles of style. Under the influence of such inspiration, rapid progress has been made in the chosen field of authorship." The art of acting is equally easily accomplished. "The response of the woman's soul to such suggestions with post-hypnotic import is followed by her speedy ascent to the heights of histrionic art, and by subsequent triumphs on the stage through an apprehension of her own deathless power as revealed by the creative communication of her hypnotist. An actress once so inspired is inspired forever." For music the same formula holds. "The automatic mind is gently wooed to the summits of soul life, where it becomes susceptible to inspiration and burns to launch itself, through music as a medium of artistic expression, into the objective world." Moral perfection is likewise achieved. Here is a typical case before treatment: "Philetas M., aged twenty-one, an adept in all kinds of deviltry; a cigarette fiend; an incorrigible liar, unblushingly denying scarce-cold crimes with the proofs of their commission in our very hands, and constantly deceiving his parents with rotten-hearted promises; a borrower of money under false pretences, and an out-and-out thief for whom jail had no terrors; a gambler: a profligate ready to pawn the clothes on his back at the bidding of town-dowdies: a trencher-knight of the subloins of the Tenderloin," etc.; and this is the appearance after taking: "The weaknesses of the past are forgotten, vice loses its attractions, and the inspired soul seeks to make reparation for its shortcomings by an exaggerated loyalty to the spirit of the moral law. The young man who has regarded with contempt a father's advice and a mother's love becomes, after treatment, the incarnation of filial reverence and affection. The liar looks his interlocutor in the face and speaks the truth without regard to consequences. The thief parts with all inclination to appropriate what is not his. The libertine accepts the white life. Human saprophytes that thrive on social rottenness are not wholly destitute of moral chlorophyl." Nor is this all. By the same means, "Habits of thought concentration may be made to take the place of habits of rambling, ability to use grammatical English for uncertainty in syntax, a taste that approves elegance for an inclination to slang." Though potent for good, this panacea refuses to work ill. "Fortunately for the protection of society, the power of suggestion to deprave is providentially limited, while its influence for good is without horizon. A mesmerizee quickly discovers the hypocrite in a suggestionist, and a pure soul will always revolt at the intrusion of a sordid or sensual self and spontaneously repel its advances." That the suggestionist must have unusual gifts to accomplish such vast results seems natural enough. "A practitioner of hypnotism should be a proficient in the physical sciences, in literature, language, belleslettres, art, sociology and theology." "Ignorance in an operator is a disqualifying defect; soul-exalting suggestions are full of atmosphere." Nor is it surprising to learn that the mesmerizee evidences "supranormal perceptive powers, possessed by subliminal selfs, acting at a distance from their physical bodies (a rational explanation of clairvoyance and clairaudience), or of automatic communications between the subliminal selfs of such unconscious mediums and outside personalities not human, who are cognizant of the events described, and are independent of time and space limitations;" and that "human beings are hypnotizable by other human beings, between whom and themselves exists a peculiar sympathy or harmonious relationship known as rapport."

There is no need to continue. If the above citations prevent the spread of false notions regarding the contents and character of the work they will in part have fulfilled their purpose. That the volume contains interesting, possibly valuable observations, may be true; but the general distrust of any results so sensationally presented will deservedly prevent recognition of any sound contribution of fact that may happen to be buried beneath this tinsel and paste. Were it not for the 'premeditated ignorance,' the author might have known of similar observations more soberly presented by other writers; and he might have been induced by a knowledge of the present status of hypnotism to present his own results with more reserve, proportion and scientific acceptability. It is difficult to say whether the author offends most deeply our scientific sensibilities by his extravagant, false and misleading representations, or our aesthetic sense by his grotesque and tactless manner of presentation, or our moral judgment by his disregard of obvious relations and his irrelevant and officious appeal to religious beliefs. On account of its popular tone, such a volume has great power for evil, and the condemnation of author and publisher for such abuse of a popular interest should be expressed in no uncertain terms.

 

'Medicine and the Mind,' translated from the French of Dr. Maurice de Fleury by Stacy B. Collins, M. D., and published by Downey & Co., is the type of work which the scientifically-minded are likely to dismiss as too 'literary,' and the litterateur to disregard as too scientific. Neither disparagement is quite warranted, however natural. If one assumes a proper attitude towards the volume—or perhaps one should say, finds himself in a sympathetic mood for this kind of reading—he may find attraction, suggestiveness and profit in its perusal. But it is distinctly a kind of writing to which the Anglo-Saxon mind is unresponsive; our standards of popular science are totally different in ideal and execution from those of our Gaelic colleagues; and, accordingly, when a book such as Dr. Fleury's leaves its native soil, it comes in contact with forms of critical judgment which it cannot successfully meet. As the author himself almost naively notes, in contrasting French works with those of an English writer, Sir John Lubbock, "With us a philosopher writes books for his own renown. Sir John Lubbock thinks of himself not at all." Dr. Fleury follows the French ideal and produces a chatty volume thoroughly infused with his personal opinions and interests, kaleidoscopic in scope, rather aimless in design, literary in form, and, judged by our own ideals, a very bad exemplar for popular science.

The general point of view is that of a physician who wishes to record for the benefit of other types of professional men, the medical aspect of the large and ever-present problems of civilization. From responsibility in cases of crime, and the methods in use at the Salpêtrière, to an essay on the bad effects of tobacco, and the proper regimen for literary men (illustrated by copious testimonials from men of literary note); and again from disquisitions on the effects of serum and other liquids hypodermically applied and an account of the nervous system, through discussions of mental and physical fatigue and the treatment of indolence and melancholy, to the psychology of love and anger as morbid passions, and the 'physiological analysis of flirtation,'—the volume proceeds at times interestingly, often touching upon new and significant observation, but always aimlessly, selfconsciously and with a strained attempt to introduce novelty and paradox. When the author remarks "who knows but the twentieth century may rewrite Werther in its own way, with figures in the text, as a medical publication," he suggests only a moderate exaggeration of some of his own pages. The scientific point of view and useful scientific writing are not dependent upon diagrams and phrases, but on the natural outcome of fullness of learning, of a fundamental training and a combination of enthusiasm and skill. Dr. Fleury's book affords glimpses of an attractive personality endowed with some of these requisites; but his volume can have little influence upon the English reading public.

Of translations, as of the dead, it is generally best to say nihil nisi bonum. But the imperfections of the present task are all of that totally unnecessary type which makes them particularly aggravating. The foreignness of the presentation is left unmitigated by skillful phrasing; the existence of appropriate technical terms in English is ignored, and minor errors (such as the wrong retranslation of an English work cited by the French author) are numerous.

 

Prof. Flournoy's skillful description of a remarkable case of sub-conscious automatism was noticed in a recent issue of this Monthly. It is in every way worthy of presentation to English readers; and such readers are under obligations to Messrs. Harper & Bros, and the translator for the creditable appearance of the English volume. The translation is fluent and acceptable, and the composition of the book eminently satisfactory. Apart from the general query as to the desirability of placing a volume of this type before the public at large in a form intended to suggest its popular assimilability, the temper of the translator's preface demands a word of comment and of protest. To present this volume as a contribution to the mystical aspect of that composite activity, the results of which are denominated 'Psychical Research,' is a wrong to the author's purposes and (with few exceptions) is antagonistic to his own point of view. To put forward the volume as a contribution to a line of investigation that shall scientifically prove to be 'the preamble of all religions,' that shall demonstrate unsuspected and anomalous mental powers, and all but demonstrate immortality, to claim that for any one skeptically inclined and out of harmony with this point of view 'the book will have no interest'—all this serves to place the entire volume in so misleading and unfortunate a position that it would have been far better, rather than have it thus introduced, to have left the work untranslated. Under its present auspices it will prove to be a useful convenience to many, but a source of misconception and a stumblingblock to many more.

 

EDUCATION.

During the later part of the eighteenth century the conception of education as one phase of the development of the individual was established. There followed attention to the methodological aspect of the subject which resulted in the basing of the method of education upon psychology, instead of upon more or less fantastic analogies with nature. During the latter half of the present century has been established the conception of education as a social process, as one phase of human development. As a result, the historical and social aspects of education are becoming more scientific. There has been no history or historical sketch of education for the English reading public that possessed historic and scientific value until the recent appearance of Prof. Thomas Davidson's 'History of Education.' The author defines education as conscious human evolution and attempts to sketch the history of education in terms of dominant evolutionary thought. Frequently the author is guilty of that generality that has brought much of sociological thought into disrepute. His definition of education is so broad that it would include political and other phases of evolution that are conscious processes so far as the race is concerned. However, the revision of old ideas or the formulation of new ones is certain to provoke disagreement concerning essentials or details. It is the attempt that is significant in this case. It is but an earnest of the future. There is further evidence to this more scientific conception of the history of education. Hitherto the historical aspect of education has not passed beyond the biographical stage. But educational biography is now being written from this broader point of view. The interest is less in the individual and more in his relation to social practices and developing ideas. This attitude is best illustrated in the issues of the 'Great Educator Series,' edited by Prof. Nicholas Murray Butler. The latest issue, 'Comenius and the Beginnings of Educational Reform,' by Will S. Monroe, is well up to the higher standard set by previous issues. Comenius was to education what his contemporaries, Bacon and Descartes, were to science and philosophy. A biographical sketch of Comenius from this point of view, such as Mr. Monroe gives, is a valuable contribution to the literature of the new aspect of education.

 

Dr. L. Viereck publishes in the Educational Review an article narrating how even in the German gymnasium Latin is losing its traditional position. A movement is gaining ground looking toward beginning the study of Latin not in the lowest class of the gymnasium, but only after three years, thus leaving six years for the language. In this case Greek is begun two years later and is confined to the last four years of the course. This plan has the obvious advantage of not requiring boys to decide on their career in life at the age of ten years, but permits students of the 'real' gymnasium and of the traditional gymnasium to carry on the same studies for the first three years. The system, which was first tried in Frankfort in 1892, had a year ago been adopted in twenty-one schools and appears to be favored by the Prussian Government. Other straws showing how the current is setting in Germany are the establishment within a year of a doctorate in applied science and the decision that hereafter the doctor's diploma shall be written in German instead of Latin.