Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

RUMINANT PHILOSOPHY

75

physical aspects of the present struggle. Hitherto, Nature destroyed merely such men as got in the way, by chance and without any design, vindictive or benevolent. But now, for the first time on such a universal scale, Nature is organised to the uttermost by man with the design of destroying man, and there can be no question of her powers of accomplishing the work to which she has been put. Philosophies that have come down to us from the day of the wooden horse of Troy are not capable of dealing with such a new fact.

In the experimental philosophy of science the raw material is not man, but the ascertained facts of external nature so far as these can be discovered and established. The mill is still the human mind, but the raw material is external to and independent of the mind. That this is so is evidenced by no dialectical argument, but by the state of the world to-day and the progress it has made in the last hundred years, since the new philosophy reached its general and consistent fruition. Errors are still possible, as the mind still enters into the conclusion. But the mind is not now trying to lead, to dream dreams or to see visions, but “to give up every preconceived notion and to follow humbly wherever and to whatsoever abysses Nature leads," as Huxley said. The consensus arrived at when a number of minds, so striving, reach by different roads the same result in their pursuit of natural knowledge, is unique. The Oriental mind, as the Japanese and Hindu students of science have shown, meet on common ground with the American and European mind in the pursuit of natural science. Science is the only aspect of Truth that is universal and independent of the barriers that divide East from West and people of one religion from those of another. The mind is no longer dealing with its own unverifiable impressions. Nature is in the witness-box and experiment is the interrogating counsel. Provided the counsel is skilful and Nature communicative, the jury honest, receptive and free from preconceived opinion, the decision is true not merely to the canons of human reasoning, but true also to external reality. The verdicts of the humanistic and scientific philosophies differ from one another, as the rule rather than the exception, as much as did the Pythagorean and Copernican solar systems, when external reality is involved, and, after all, how often is it not? Just so far as the raw material is not concerned with man at all, directly, and in direct ratio to the extent that it is not concerned with life at all, other than the purely mechanistic and physico-chemical aspect of the vital process, a new world opens out independent of and hardly dreamt of by the older philosophy.

Mr A. J. Balfour, in his Glasgow Gifford lectures, has done good service by pointing out how, time and again, in the science of the inanimate universe, among some of the more fundamental theories, that particular theory which, as the subsequent history of science has shown, is destined to survive, has appealed irresistibly, and in the teeth of apparent evidence to the contrary, to the human mind as correct, generations or centuries before anything like a rigid or even satisfying proof was forthcoming. It is to be hoped that this may do something to stimulate interest among scientific men in a subject which has been distasteful ever since Bishop Berkeley made the impressive discovery that if you do not put the world of external reality to begin with into the mental mill, you may go on turning it for ever | without it coming out.

In certain spheres, which daily and hourly are enlarging themselves to embrace more and more of our daily life, and to be fraught with

A GLACIAL EPOCH ENDING

77

weighty consequences to man, in departments where hitherto the humanistic philosophies have been supreme, the old intuitions have melted away in the light of science like snow in the light of the sun. In these spheres the world is, as it were, emerging from beneath an accumulation of perennial snow, which descended lightly, graciously and imperceptibly enough, but is now compacted into unyielding fetters, melting, it is true, but how reluctantly! Granted there may be heights above the snow-line which the rays of the sun can only beautify and render the more dazzlingly white, granted there may be deep valleys penetrating down to the common level to which the direct rays of the sun can never find access, the kiss of science is on all the fields wherein men labour and earn their bread, and it is only a matter of time before the frozen grip of the past relaxes for ever. An exuberance as of the Alpine meadows in spring will alternate with the desolation wrought by the avalanche, as the new influence unbuttresses the old polities and brings them roaring down. As the geologist of to-day will show you the scars that the surface of the earth still bears from the time when the glacial epoch relaxed its grip, so the conflict now fairly joined between the old and the new will not end without leaving scars as enduring and effecting changes as great.

The suddenness of the change would in any case have created a condition of things dangerous to live through. But it has been rendered immeasurably more dangerous and incalculable in this country by the attempt that has been made to put the youth of the nation into cold storage, to foster a love for a régime that is ending, never to return, to sow in the cradles of the future a secret contempt for and distrust of science and its methods, ineradicable save by death and impotent

M

save for evil. The great function of death is to rejuvenate the world perennially, and to keep it in tune with a changing environment. Our wise men have tried to defeat it by drilling the oncoming generations in the dead languages and humanistic philosophies and religions of their forefathers, and the transitional period ahead promises to be most uncomfortable in this country.

But it has now been borne in on the consciousness of the most reactionary that for the State to leave science to the tender mercies of its priests and humanists is to ask for extermination. Our boasted moral superiority over our enemies can only make us deserve victory. Science alone can achieve it on the battlefield, and safeguard it subsequently. We may pray for rain, but as a shrewd clergyman once remarked, “What is the use of praying for rain with the wind in the east ?”

Hitherto the war has been represented as originating in mistaken ideas of Right, but it equally is due to mediæval ideas of Might. The professors of history and politics and the military publicists of Germany, who revived and made palatable the ancient doctrine of “Might is Right,” intoxicated, no doubt, by the new weapons and inventions of science, regarded them from the childish standpoint of the savage. These old ideas cannot coexist with science. If they involved merely the destruction of those who held them it would be just, but they jeopardise the whole race.

If the task of altering the character of a nation's education is, like afforestation, slow in its fruition, when accomplished it resembles rather the processes of geology in its initiation. Chemistry emerged as a science from being the handmaid to medicine 250 years ago, but in the Scottish universities its recognition, as a separate subject of

EDUCATION AND RELIGION

79

education, apart from medical education, belongs almost wholly to the present century. Time was when learning and religion were synonymous, and culture and scholarship were the exclusive pursuit of the religious orders, who alone could read. The emancipation of learning from religion occurred with the Renaissance, but the two are still confused in the education of the school. I visited this summer a small place in Aberdeenshire, too small to be deemed worthy of a post office, a telegraph or telephone, but boasting two schools, a Roman Catholic and a Protestant school. It reminded one of the lines from lolanthe

“For every child that's born into this world alive

Is either a little Liberal or a little Conservative." Happy is the nation that has already settled such questions as this. It is idle to cry peace where there is no peace.

Between the spirit of science which welcomes criticism and knows no finality in its beliefs, or authority to impose them, and the spirit of the old creeds which, to survive, must entwine themselves with the immature intelligences of children, in the name of and in the place of education, there can be nothing in common and no real reconciliation.

I now wish to consider one or two of the barriers to the proper growth and development of science in this university. On the educational side the traditions are all in favour of breadth or shallowness as against narrowness or depth, according to which point of view you take. My own view is that education, whether in the classics, mathematics or in science, must be deep before it can be broad. To a man who has plumbed the depths of a single subject the whole world takes on a new meaning. He sees causes at work where another sees only confused effects. His education is only beginning

« AnteriorContinuar »