Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/November 1874/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.
MATTER AND LIFE.

THE narrow limits of Prof. Tyndall's address, the greatness of the questions it raised, and the diversity of views to which it has given rise, seem to have led to much erroneous interpretation of the document. Many newspapers have charged that the speech is an unprecedented and unwarranted aggression upon ground to which science has no rightful claim, and even the Scientific American describes the position taken by Prof. Tyndall as a "sudden invasion of the neutral territory lying between scientific and religious thought." The passage that has been most constantly quoted and relied upon, to show that Prof. Tyndall has quit his own field and intruded into that which belongs to religion, is where he speaks of "prolonging his vision across the boundary of, the experimental evidence." But it is easy to show that this passage will bear no such construction; that is, what Prof. Tyndall proposes to do is, exactly what all men of science have been about these hundred years. Let us see what he means, which may be the best done by detaching from the address the full statement in which the passage occurs. Prof. Tyndall says: "Two courses, and two only, are possible. Either let us open our doors freely to the conception of creative acts, or, abandoning them, let us radically change our notions of matter. If we look at matter as pictured by Democritus, and as defined for generations in our text-books, the absolute impossibility of any form of life coming out of it would be sufficient to render any other hypothesis preferable; but the definitions of matter given in our text-books were intended to cover its purely physical and mechanical properties. And, taught as we have been to regard these definitions as complete, we naturally and rightly reject the monstrous notion that out of such matter any form of life could possibly arise. But are the definitions complete? Every thing depends on the answer to be given to this question. Trace the line of life backward, and see it approaching more and more to what we call the purely physical condition. We reach at length those organisms which I have compared to drops of oil suspended in a mixture of alcohol-and-water. We reach the protogenes of Haeckel, in which we have 'a type distinguishable from a fragment of albumen only by its finely-granular character.' Can we pause here? We break a magnet, and find two poles in each of its fragments. We continue the process of breaking, but, however small the parts, each carries with it, though enfeebled, the polarity of the whole. And, when we can break no longer, we prolong the intellectual vision to the polar molecules. Are we not urged to do something similar in the case of life? Is there not a temptation to close to some extent with Lucretius, when he affirms that 'Nature is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself, without the meddling of the gods?' or with Bruno, when he declares that Matter is not 'that mere empty capacity which philosophers have pictured her to be, but the universal mother who brings forth all things as the fruit of her own womb?' The questions here raised are inevitable. They are approaching us with accelerated speed, and it is not a matter of indifference whether they are introduced with reverence or irreverence. Abandoning all disguise, the confession that I feel bound to make before you is, that I prolong the vision backward across the boundary of the experimental evidence, and discern, in that matter which we in our ignorance, and notwithstanding our professed reverence for its Creator, have hitherto covered with opprobrium, the promise and potency of every form and quality of life."

Now, what does Prof. Tyndall here mean by prolonging the intellectual vision across the boundary of the experimental evidence? He has defined exactly what he means, and given an example of it in the case of the magnet, whose broken particles exhibit polarity, "and, when we can break no longer, we prolong the intellectual vision to the polar molecules." That is, molecules and atoms are not objects of sense, and therefore of experiment, but can be cognized only by the intellect. Prof. Tyndall must leave experiment before he can reach them, as they lie far beyond and below all possibility of ever being reached by that method; they are objects of inference, hypothetical creations, and belong to the world of thought. But can it be pretended that they do not also belong to science? All modern physics and chemistry have, for their foundation, conceptions of the molecular constitution of matter. Is the establishment of the great division of molecular physics—is the elaboration of that wonderful system of molecular constructions—the "new chemistry"—an illegitimate and unscientific mental procedure? Was the pious Quaker Dalton guilty of breaking the bounds of science and trespassing upon the territory of religion, when he passed the limits of experimental evidence and reconstructed the atomic theory in accordance with the newly-ascertained laws of chemical action? This must have been so if the charge now made against Prof. Tyndall is valid. And if scientific men are not to be allowed to cross the boundaries of experimental evidence, and reason upon the sub-sensible conditions, powers, and constitution of matter, then there is simply an end to science.

But this is not all. Prof. Tyndall claims that there is a great deal more, in this mysterious and unfathomable something which we call matter, than has been hitherto allowed; he sees in it "the promise and potency of every form and quality of life." Much horror has been expressed at this statement, but the expressions seem to us quite gratuitous. We should like to know what form or quality of life there is, that is not manifested in matter, and is not, therefore, to be ranked among its potentialities. All living things are material things; all organized creatures are constituted of material elements; and, throughout the scale of life, vital, chemical, and physical powers are correlated in inextricable complication, and displayed through a substratum of ponderable constituents. Of the sixty-odd chemical elements, four are chiefly concerned in the maintenance of life; they constitute the mass of all living things, and have long been classified as organogens—generators of organization. The mutations of these elements involve the cycles of life. Earth, sea, and air, are filled with myriads of vital forms, and through countless millions of years the earth has swarmed with them, while whole rocky systems are made up of their material remnants. When the microscope was invented, and the frontiers of old observation were crossed, a new world of life was discovered; and, as the powers of the instrument were improved, minuter creatures were disclosed, grade after grade, until organisms were found not the millionth of an inch in diameter. Those who deny spontaneous generation, or that living beings are directly engendered out of matter, are only able to do so by prolonging their vision beyond the sensible evidence, and assuming that Nature is pervaded by infinitely tenuous, inscrutable, though still material life-germs. But, whatever the processes by which Nature breaks into this multitudinous life, it is undoubtedly done through an inflexible system of law. There is no irregularity, caprice, or miracle, about it; it is a phase of the established order of things, and vital effects can no more be dissociated from the properties and powers of matter than can chemical or physical effects. How far it is possible to unravel the mysteries of life is not the question; how erroneous may be existing theories upon the subject is not now the question. Hypothetical views in relation to it may be false, and the problem itself may be insoluble; but, whether this be so or not, or how far the solution is possible, it is for science alone to determine. Certainly it is not for those who have ever disdained the study of matter to tell us what it can do and what it cannot do, and how far science is to be permitted to go in exploring it. Those who revile matter, and invent insulting epithets to be applied to those who study it, and who consign to execration one of its devoted students for expressing a more exalted sense of its wonderful offices, are evidently not well prepared to instruct us upon the subject. The theologians are now freely using the harmonies and adaptations of Nature as proofs of wisdom and design on the part of the Creator. But to whom are they indebted for a knowledge of this evidence? To the scientists who have disclosed this order, harmony, and adaptation, by the study of matter. The domain which theology of old allotted to the devil, science has rescued to the service of religion by the revelation of its marvelous powers and capacities; why, then, condemn the scientist if, pushing on his investigation yet further, he claims to discern yet higher potencies and possibilities in this divine material of which the universe is constituted?

 

 
MINERAL-COLLECTING.

In accordance with the wishes of many mineral-collectors, who regard the practice in vogue among mineralogists, of exchanging the minerals of their own for those of other localities by a system of barter, as in many respects unsatisfactory and unproductive, Prof. Leeds, of the Stevens Institute, has proposed in a printed circular, a copy of which has been placed in our hands, to discontinue this time-honored custom, and to inaugurate a system of purchase. In accordance with a plan stated in an article entitled "State Geological Surveys," in The Popular Science Monthly of June, 1873, he has collected the minerals occurring within the province in which the institution with which he is connected is located. Quarrymen have been kept constantly employed in blasting for a number of months past, and several thousand specimens have been obtained, all of which have been paid for at the prices usual for this description of labor. It is evident that finely-crystallized minerals collected in this way can be exchanged in the ordinary fashion of barter, only at pecuniary loss in most cases, and nearly always with some measure of dissatisfaction to one or the other party in the transaction. Those who have been most generous and fair in their exchanges have been those who have suffered most. Instead of bartering, the circular announces that prices sufficient to cover the expenses of collecting have been placed upon the specimens, and they are to be sold. The money received from their sale will be devoted to the purchase of specimens for the institute collection, and minerals sent as exchanges must be priced by the senders, and paid for on the same principles as regulate the purchase of chemicals, apparatus, or any other commercial article. For explanatory circulars, catalogues, etc., address Prof. A. R. Leeds, Stevens Institute, Hoboken, New Jersey.

 

 
PROFESSOR CAIRNES ON WOMAN SUFFRAGE.

Goldwin Smith's article upon this subject, which was reproduced in the August Monthly, has been replied to in Macmillan's Magazine, where it first appeared, by J. E. Cairnes, the distinguished Professor of Political Economy in University College, London. The article, though a spirited polemic, contributes but little to the radical question, and in our opinion by no means satisfactorily answers Prof. Smith's objections; while we are far from thinking that Mr. Smith himself went to the root of the subject in giving the reasons of his positions. He is of opinion that the extension of political suffrage to the female sex would prove destructive to free institutions, which Prof. Cairnes thinks a groundless and absurd apprehension. But this grave question we believe cannot be determined without going deeper into the subject than either of these writers has done. If the natures of women are the same as those of men, then their enfranchisement might be expected to produce but little change in the course of political affairs; but if women are profoundly different in mental and emotional constitution from men, then the entrance of this new element into the political sphere, by which the voters would be more than doubled, would certainly alter the composition of political forces and the direction of political movement. It is worthy of remark, in passing, that the leading advocates of woman suffrage, while affirming the equality of the sexes and the essential identity of the masculine and feminine mind, nevertheless urge the policy of female enfranchisement on the ground of the numerous new results that would follow, and which would be widely different from those now realized.

There are but two ways of ascertaining what these consequences would be: first, by making the experiment on a national scale and for a lengthened period, because, in the absence of revolution, changes in social and civil types proceed slowly. The second method of ascertaining the consequences of female enfranchisement, and the only practicable method, is, to infer them from the nature of political institutions on one hand, and from the female character on the other. We are here confronted with three scientific problems. We have to consider the natural constitution of society, and find out what are the laws of social change, and the conditions under which social development has thus far taken place. This subject is deeper than politics, which deals with conventional arrangements, and what we may call the superficies of society; and goes down to those relations that underlie all political forms, and pertain to the essential unfolding of humanity. We have also to consider woman in the light of biological science—that is, the physiological nature, modifications, and limitations of her sex; and we have again to study her mental and emotional traits as determined by her biological constitution and maternal experience. These we hold to be the fundamental problems of the woman question, which must be elucidated before there can be any sufficient data for intelligent action; and, until they are more fully elucidated than at present, all action will be but blind and hap-hazard experiments, and far more likely to produce evil than good.

We publish that portion of Prof. Cairnes's article—the most important part—in which he deals with the relation of woman suffrage to the family; but the argument is unsatisfactory. The "element of weakness in the family, as things now stand," he says, is the "want of sufficient subjects of common interest between man and woman;" certainly a most astounding averment. Man and woman in the family mean husband and wife, father and mother, growing children, home-education, the formation of character and the outer social relations that spring from the family circle. The home, by its very constitution, is at the same time the centre of the tenderest and strongest emotions, and the place where all the faculties of the intellect may be brought into the fullest exercise. From the most trivial questions of the ordering of the household, up to the ever-impending contingencies of life and death, there is occasion for sleepless solicitude, unremitting thought, and extensive knowledge. There is room for the play of the aesthetic faculties and a cultivated taste; there is need of light from various sciences; there is demand for a cautious logic; there is required a direct knowledge of things, as well as of book information, and also a training in practical household concerns. All these are constant and pressing subjects in which both father and mother should be interested and instructed, upon which the very destiny of the family depends. And yet Prof. Cairnes tells us that the present element of weakness in the family is the want of sufficient subjects of common interest! He is mistaken; there are subjects enough of mutual concern, but the element of weakness is that they are neglected. He would elevate and strengthen the family by having the women go into politics; we are quite clear that this is not the way the family is to be elevated and improved. Prof. Cairnes's remedy is no remedy at all, and would rather be a fatal hindrance. The general effect would be to preoccupy the female mind with public instead of private and domestic interests; and to divert attention from those home questions which are in fact a thousand times more important to the community than the issues of partisan strife.

 

 
THE RIGHTS OF ORIGINALITY.

To fair-minded readers, apology will be unnecessary for the very considerable space that we devote this month to the relation of Herbert Spencer to the doctrine of Evolution: the misconceptions that have prevailed, regarding Mr. Spencer's relation to this great doctrine, make such a statement as this indispensable in the interest of justice. Much of the misunderstanding and erroneous representation is undoubtedly due to the general ignorance of a subject which has recently attained unexpected prominence, and has to be discussed by many who are not well informed about it. For example, in an able and liberal article on Prof. Tyndall's late address, in Harper's Weekly, Mr. Darwin is declared to be "the most famous expounder of Evolution." This is so far from being true, that Mr. Darwin has never even attempted any such thing. He has devoted his life to special and important researches, which bear upon the principle of organic development; but his writings, though rich in biological contributions to the question, do not contain any thing like a full or comprehensive exposition of the subject. Whole tracts of the inquiry they do not touch; the general evidence of the truth of Evolution they do not give; nor do they subject the problem to that rigorous analysis into its ultimate elements and factors which scientific investigation requires. Mr. Darwin has shown with great learning how the principle of natural selection gives rise to diversities of organic species; but natural selection is no more Evolution than a fusee is a watch, or a throttle-valve a steam-engine; and Harper's Weekly might as well send its readers to a treatise on Arches to get a knowledge of Architecture as to Mr. Darwin's writings to get a knowledge of Evolution. Perhaps no living man is better acquainted with what Mr. Darwin has done than Prof. Huxley; but, in a lecture before the Royal Institution of Great Britain, he said: "The only complete and systematic statement of the doctrine" (Evolution) "with which I am acquainted, is that contained in Mr. Herbert Spencer's 'System of Philosophy,' a work which should be carefully studied by all who desire to know whither scientific thought is tending." It is to correct errors like this, which are wide-spread and do serious injustice to Mr. Spencer, that we have thought it necessary to go carefully into the subject, and furnish the evidence on which Mr. Spencer's claims to originality are founded.

 

 
PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE CHEMICAL CENTENNIAL.

It was fitting that, at the Priestley centennial of the discovery of oxygen gas, two of the grandest achievements of modern science should have been called into requisition, to make the event known far beyond the circle of those who participated in the occasion. The telegraph reported the doings to all the contemporary world who cared about them, and the photograph preserved many of its interesting features pictorially, for the benefit of future generations. It was the general wish of those present that photographs should be made of the house which Dr. Priestley built and in which he died, and of the collections of his scientific apparatus. We are happy to see that this desire has been complied with, and a series of pictures taken, which represent the objects of chief interest in the celebration. No. I. is a group of chemists, representing 72 figures of the scientific men who attended the centennial meeting; No. II. Dr. Priestley's residence, showing the house and laboratory; No. III. Copy of a rare old engraving, showing the fury of the mob which destroyed Priestley's house in Birmingham; No. IV. Priestley's chemical apparatus; No. V. His electrical apparatus; No. VI. His physical apparatus. These three groups are from the Loan Exhibition. No. VII. Interior view of the Loan Exhibition; No. VIII. Head-stone of Priestley's grave. These photographs are mounted on eight by ten Bristol board, price 50 cents each, or $3.50 for. the set of eight. They may be ordered from Louis H. Laudy, School of Mines, Columbia College, New York.