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THE SCIENTIFIC PIONEER
will be plenty of covetous hands itching for its life in the hope of immediate and instant gain.
What passes for science with most people is the application of new knowledge to useful purposes. The instinct of self-preservation and of pecuniary gain are powerful guarantees that these will not be neglected. But before you can apply knowledge you must discover it, and this primal discovery has been and must be almost entirely the work of the comparatively few, working without thought or expectation of gain for the love of truth and unhampered by any pecuniary or practical considerations.
We arrive at this paradox, the truth of which is established by the whole history of science, that though you may foster in a general way the discovery of new knowledge, as distinct from the application of these discoveries to utilitarian ends, you cannot command the discovery of any new
in of science is not that of the technologist or engineer. He sets forth into an unknown land not to discover anything definite, anything of use
use to anyone, but to discover what there is in the unknown to be discovered, however apparently commonplace and unimportant it may seem. The grander the discovery, the more trivial and utterly useless it often appears at first sight. The commonest and most ordinary phenomena, to which the eyes of humanity have become so accustomed as to be hardly consciously aware of, frequently furnish the greatest amount of new knowledge.
In a new country, before the rush of gold-seekers, of lumbermen, or of farmers, must come the pioneer. He cannot command gold or timber or arable land, he finds simply what there is to be found. The new countries of the world are rapidly filling, and
in a short time hardly one will remain to be explored or exploited. But there is a realm of inexhaustible extent, which actually grows larger with every step taken forward in its exploration. It is the realm of ignorance beyond the world of knowledge and completely surrounding it. As the known world expands, the boundaries between the known and the unknown lengthen, jumping-off places for the pioneer into the unknown become more and more numerous, and the pace of progress increases and ever must increase. This world of ignorance is the El Dorado of the future, limitless and inexhaustible so long as the spirit of divine curiosity to know haunts the earth.
To be the first human being to make a discovery of incalculable and, possibly, never-ending consequence to humanity, is in itself no mean reward for an investigator, without honour, glory and power being added. The million others, who never make discoveries, can never know the mental exaltation and satisfaction, far above the worth of rubies, that the discoverer in any walk of life experiences. Nevertheless, if science is to be of practical benefit to the million and the means of raising the universal standard of life, it is a simple business proposition to make sure that the scientific investigator is provided with the means necessary for the pursuit of his proper work. The harvest is great but the workers are few, and, hitherto, they have been recruited mainly from among those who have possessed, in addition to the requisite enthusiasm and knowledge, private means of support sufficing for their everyday needs. For in pure scientific research, as distinct from applied science, there is, apart from its costliness altogether, not even the means of earning a bare subsistence.
THE CREATION OF KNOWLEDGE
A parallel to the normal attitude of the world towards science and its application, respectively, may be found in its attitude towards the musical performer and the musical composer. The musical world will go wild with enthusiasm over the perfect rendering of any of its favourite compositions, and will shower upon the skilled artists wealth and honour. But the man who created the music, an infinitely rarer kind of genius, probably had difficulty in obtaining a bare livelihood by his art, and would have just as much difficulty, if he lived now, as he would have had in past times.
Science in the capacity of the creator of knowledge is esteemed as little by the world as creative work in art, literature or music. Not that it is not appreciated in theory, but the appreciation so lags behind the accomplishment that the creator has ample time to die of starvation. Yet this is the science from which fundamentally all the benefits of modern civilisation are derived. This is the science that has made it possible for us to-day to afford to wage war on a thousand-fold more extravagant scale than ever before in history. This is the science that is to pay the bill if it can be paid without a general depression in the standard of living below the level of decency for the many, and which alone, after the unparalleled waste of the past two years, given fair play, can hope to keep the wolf from the door. If one judged from history solely, bad times must follow the present orgy as night follows day. The only question is whether science, which in the past century is estimated to have increased the wealth of the world a thousand-fold, will not also make each million of debt now incurred bear no more heavily than each thousand did upon our unsophisticated ancestors.
It is low ground to plead for fair play to science. It is the ground of the hymn.
“O Lord, we know that all we give
I suppose most of my hearers, like myself, have outgrown many of their rooted convictions of two years ago many times. Great changes have come over all of us, and greater will come, perhaps, when the full tide of our manhood, who have sacrificed all they had and sunk their individual interests and aspirations in the general social weal, returns. The particular faith in me that has undergone eclipse at the moment is a faith in democracy, and if an aristocracy of intelligence were practical, I am afraid I should vote for it.
The one problem that it seems to me has not been solved by this democracy, if it is a democracy, is that of finding each man his proper life-work and then letting him do it; and, until it is solved, the complex organism that the modern State is, must remain a heterogeneous collection of individuals rather than a community. Perhaps it is that two of a trade seldom agree, but I have never been wildly enthusiastic of German science. I admire it, of course, as much as any, but what I mean is that I never have believed that, compared with that of the rest of the scientific world, it was at all pre-eminent. Germany is not a democracy, and I have no love for her political system. But it is indisputable that Germany uses her people to infinitely better advantage than we do, and that there is in the State a power of finding, for the infinitely complex and varied needs of a modern nation, the infinitely complex and varied individuals necessary each for their particular job.
Here we delight in racing cart-horses and leaving Derby winners to haul coal.
DEMOCRACY AND GENIUS
As regards the most important and fundamental things of life-such as, to mention only as illustrations, the number of people that can be supported in a given country in a given standard of comfort and affluence, the amount of food the country can grow or buy, whether it can outpour from its superabundance into the less fertile and more necessitous countries of the earth, or whether it remains a malaria-haunted or fever-stricken jungle, ruled by the mosquito-the 999,999 out of the million have no direct say whatever. It little matters whether they are an absolute monarchy like Russia, a republic like France or the United States, or, to come to this country, whether they are ruled by an aristocracy of blood, an aristocracy of wealth, or the loudest of cheap presses. These questions are settled otherwise in the laboratory by men, sometimes, as in the case of malaria and yellow fever, with the special problem to be solved before them, more often impelled by a divine curiosity and the desire to know and understand Nature for her own sake and the sake of truth, and without any care whether or not all the labour and thought they expend in the search will or will not be repaid in increased good to the community.
Now, willing enough as I.am to subscribe to the doctrine that every one born into the world may be a potential Faraday, a potential Newton, or a potential Pasteur, I am absolutely certain that the 999,999 out of the million are in fact nothing of the kind and never could be, even if they had the laboratory resources of the whole world put at their disposal, and Faraday, Newton and Pasteur reincarnated to serve as their professors.
What applies in science applies everywhere. The creative element is not the only element, but it is the pace-maker of progress and civilisation. For