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I HAVE collected together this series of addresses and articles, written, for the most part, during my five years at the University of Aberdeen, in the hope that, in volume form, they may prove acceptable to the students of the university and those for whom, in the first place, they were written. But I am not without hope that, in these days of stress and change, they may be useful to a wider circle, anxious to explore to the foundations the causes of modern unrest, and to rectify for the future the causes which have led to failure in the past. I have, from the standpoint of an original investigator in physical science, attempted to show how fundamentally and beyond the possibility of escape our knowledge and control of the inanimate world underlies and determines the development of all the potentialities of life. Admittedly, the attempt is a very imperfect one, but scientific investigators too seldom endeavour at all to make known the bearing of their special fields of inquiry upon the general problems of life and belief.
Written at a time when millions of young men were being killed in consequence of the destinies of scientific nations being in the hands of people of archaic mental outlook, no mock deference has been paid to conventional habits of thought. The times seem to call for outspokenness, if one has anything to say, rather than persuasive propagandism and time-serving compromise. It may be recalled that scientific men have, for nearly a century, pointed out the dangers to the nation of the traditional school and university training, disastrous especially in that it embraces even those who are to be its rulers and statesmen.
Naturally, radioactivity and its conclusions as to the immanence and illimitableness of natural energy, still confused in orthodox religions with the Deity, enter largely into the subject-matter, and I have included two articles, giving some more connected account of these advances. The first, “The Evolution of Matter," is intended for the general reader, and the second, “The Conception of the Chemical Element as enlarged by the Study of Radioactive Change,” for students of chemistry, who may desire to acquaint themselves further with these developments.
In a collection of separate and self-contained articles such as this, some repetition is unavoidable, but I have attempted to minimise it. I trust, in so far as I have not been successful, that it may be pardoned in view of the hitherto almost complete neglect by the intellectual world of the theme, for philosophies “of lighter and less solid wood.”
I have included, as an appendix, some articles and reports bearing on certain definite charges which I have made, and which have remained unanswered, of the financial treatment of science by the Carnegie Trustees for the Universities of Scotland, and the University of Aberdeen. These are specific instances of what it would be possible to multiply no doubt indefinitely, and I include them, in the first place, to justify the complaint that something more than mere neglect of science by the British nation is involved, and that, in the educational institutions and government of this country, science has not received, nor is
it likely in the future to receive, the ordinary honourable fair-play supposed to be characteristic of British standards. The dead past might well be left to bury its dead, if there were any sign of a different spirit prevailing in the future. But, with the present spirit still dominant, how can it be expected that modern men will bequeath their wealth to the universities here, as they habitually do in America? Nor is it much use Parliament voting large grants for the purpose of fostering scientific research, or Ministers taking from the taxes increased sums to promote scientific education, until the administration of them is taken out of the hands of those who have proved their unfitness for such a trust in the past.
My acknowledgments are due to the Chemical Society, the British Science Guild, and the editors and publishers of Science Progress, the Aberdeen University Review, and other publications for permission to reprint articles appearing in their pages.
Association, Nov. 1916.