Manual Falling in Love With Other Essays on More Exact Branches of Science

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If, once more, we say that science is exact prevision, we still fail to establish the supposed difference.

Not only do we find that much of what we call science is not exact, and that some of it, as physiology, can never become exact; but we find further, that many of the previsions constituting the common stock alike of wise and foolish, are exact. That an unsupported body will fall; that a lighted candle will go out when immersed in water; that ice will melt when thrown on the fire—these, and many like predictions relating to the familiar properties of things, have as high a degree of accuracy as predictions are capable of. It is true that the results foreseen are of a very general character; but it is none the less true that they are correct as far as they go: and this is all that is requisite to fulfil the definition.

There is perfect accordance between the anticipated phenomena and the actual ones; and no more than this can be said of the highest achievements of the sciences specially characterized as exact. Seeing thus that the assumed distinction between scientific knowledge and common knowledge cannot be sustained; and yet feeling, as we must, that however impossible it may be to draw a line between them, the two are not practically identical; there arises the question—What is the relationship Edition: current; Page: [ 3 ] between them?

A partial answer to this question may be drawn from the illustrations just given. On reconsidering them, it will be observed that those portions of ordinary knowledge which are identical in character with scientific knowledge, comprehend only such combinations of phenomena as are directly cognizable by the senses, and are of simple, invariable nature. That the smoke from a fire which she is lighting will ascend, and that the fire will presently boil the water placed over it, are previsions which the servant-girl makes equally well with the most learned physicist; but they are previsions concerning phenomena in constant and direct relation—phenomena that follow visibly and immediately after their antecedents—phenomena of which the causation is neither remote nor obscure—phenomena which may be predicted by the simplest possible act of reasoning.

If, now, we pass to the previsions constituting science—that an eclipse of the moon will happen at a specified time; that when a barometer is taken to the top of a mountain of known height, the mercurial column will descend a stated number of inches; that the poles of a galvanic battery immersed in water will give off, the one an inflammable and the other an inflaming gas, in definite ratio—we perceive that the relations involved are not of a kind habitually presented to our senses. They depend, some of them, on special combinations of causes; and in some of them the connexion between antecedents and consequents is established only by an elaborate series of inferences.

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A broad distinction, therefore, between scientific knowledge and common knowledge is its remoteness from perception. If we regard the cases in their most general aspect, we see that the labourer who, on hearing certain notes in the adjacent hedge, can describe the particular form and colours of the bird making them, and the astronomer who, having calculated a transit of Venus, can delineate the black spot entering on the sun's disc, as it will appear through the telescope, at a specified hour, do Edition: current; Page: [ 4 ] essentially the same thing.

Each knows that on fulfilling the requisite conditions, he shall have a preconceived impression—that after a definite series of actions will come a group of sensations of a foreknown kind. The difference, then, is neither in the fundamental character of the mental acts; nor in the correctness of the previsions accomplished by them; but in the complexity of the processes required to achieve the previsions.

Much of our common knowledge is, as far as it goes, precise. Science does not increase its precision. What then does it do? It reduces other knowledge to the same degree of precision.

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That certainty which direct perception gives us respecting coexistences and sequences of the simplest and most accessible kind, science gives us respecting coexistences and sequences, complex in their dependencies, or inaccessible to immediate observation. In brief, regarded from this point of view, science may be called an extension of the perceptions by means of reasoning. On further considering the matter, however, it will perhaps be felt that this definition does not express the whole fact—that inseparable as science may be from common knowledge, and completely as we may fill up the gap between the simplest previsions of the child and the most recondite ones of the physicist, by interposing a series of previsions in which the complexity of reasoning involved is greater and greater, there is yet a difference between the two beyond that above described.

And this is true. But the difference is still not such as enables us to draw the assumed line of demarcation. It is a difference not between common knowledge and scientific knowledge; but between the successive phases of science itself, or knowledge itself—whichever we choose to call it. In its earlier phases science attains only to certainty of foresight; in its later phases it further attains to completeness. We begin by discovering a relation; we end by discovering the relation.

Our first achievement is to foretell the kind Edition: current; Page: [ 5 ] of phenomenon which will occur under specified conditions; our last achievement is to foretell not only the kind but the amount. Or, to reduce the proposition to its most definite form—undeveloped science is qualitative prevision; developed science is quantitative prevision. This will at once be perceived to express the remaining distinction between the lower and the higher stages of positive knowledge.

The prediction that a piece of lead will take more force to lift it than a piece of wood of equal size, exhibits certainty, but not completeness, of foresight. The kind of effect in which the one body will exceed the other is foreseen; but not the amount by which it will exceed. There is qualitative prevision only. On the other hand, the predictions that at a stated time two particular planets will be in conjunction; that by means of a lever having arms in a given ratio, a known force will raise just so many pounds; that to decompose a given quantity of sulphate of iron by carbonate of soda will require so many grains—these predictions show foreknowledge, not only of the nature of the effects to be produced, but of the magnitude, either of the effects themselves, of the agencies producing them, or of the distance in time or space at which they will be produced.

There is both qualitative prevision and quantitative prevision.

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And this is the unexpressed difference which leads us to consider certain orders of knowledge as especially scientific when contrasted with knowledge in general. Are the phenomena measurable? Space is measurable: hence Geometry. Force and space are measurable: hence Statics.

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Time, force, and space are measurable: hence Dynamics. The invention of the barometer enabled men to extend the principles of mechanics to the atmosphere; and Aerostatics existed. When a thermometer was devised there arose a science of heat, which was before impossible.

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Of such external agents as we have found no measures but our sensations Edition: current; Page: [ 6 ] we have no sciences. We have no science of smells; nor have we one of tastes. We have a science of the relations of sounds differing in pitch, because we have discovered a way to measure these relations; but we have no science of sounds in respect to their loudness or their timbre , because we have got no measures of loudness and timbre.

Obviously it is this reduction of the sensible phenomena it presents, to relations of magnitude, which gives to any division of knowledge its specially scientific character. Originally men's knowledge of weights and forces was like their present knowledge of smells and tastes—a knowledge not extending beyond that given by the unaided sensations; and it remained so until weighing instruments and dynamometers were invented.

Before there were hour-glasses and clepsydras, most phenomena could be estimated as to their durations and intervals, with no greater precision than degrees of hardness can be estimated by the fingers. Until a thermometric scale was contrived, men's judgments respecting relative amounts of heat stood on the same footing with their present judgments respecting relative amounts of sound. And as in these initial stages, with no aids to observation, only the roughest comparisons of cases could be made, and only the most marked differences perceived, it resulted that only the most simple laws of dependence could be ascertained—only those laws which, being uncomplicated with others, and not disturbed in their manifestations, required no niceties of observation to disentangle them.

Whence it appears not only that in proportion as knowledge becomes quantitative do its previsions become complete as well as certain, but that until its assumption of a quantitative character it is necessarily confined to the most elementary relations. Moreover it is to be remarked that while, on the one hand, we can discover the laws of the greater part of phenomena only by investigating them quantitatively; on the other hand we can extend the range of our quantitative Edition: current; Page: [ 7 ] previsions only as fast as we detect the laws of the results we predict.

For clearly the ability to specify the magnitude of a result inaccessible to direct measurement, implies knowledge of its mode of dependence on something which can be measured—implies that we know the particular fact dealt with to be an instance of some more general fact. Thus the extent to which our quantitative previsions have been carried in any direction, indicates the depth to which our knowledge reaches in that direction. And here, as another aspect of the same fact, it may be observed that as we pass from qualitative to quantitative prevision, we pass from inductive science to deductive science.

Science while purely inductive is purely qualitative; when inaccurately quantitative it usually consists of part induction, part deduction; and it becomes accurately quantitative only when wholly deductive. We do not mean that the deductive and the quantitative are coextensive; for there is manifestly much deduction that is qualitative only. We mean that all quantitative prevision is reached deductively; and that induction can achieve only qualitative prevision. Still, however, it must not be supposed that these distinctions enable us to separate ordinary knowledge from science; much as they seem to do so.

While they show in what consists the broad contrast between the extreme forms of the two, they yet lead us to recognize their essential identity, and once more prove the difference to be one of degree only. For, on the one hand, much of our common knowledge is to some extent quantitative; seeing that the amount of the foreseen result is known within certain wide limits. And, on the other hand, the highest quantitative prevision does not reach the exact truth, but only a near approach to it.

Without clocks the savage knows that the day is longer in the summer than in the winter; without scales he knows that stone is heavier than flesh; that is, he can foresee respecting certain results that their amounts will exceed these, and be less than those Edition: current; Page: [ 8 ] —he knows about what they will be. And, with his most delicate instruments and most elaborate calculations, all that the man of science can do, is to reduce the difference between the foreseen and the actual results to an unimportant quantity.

Moreover, it must be borne in mind not only that all the sciences are qualitative in their first stages,—not only that some of them, as Chemistry, have but lately reached the quantitative stage—but that the most advanced sciences have attained to their present power of determining quantities not present to the senses, or not directly measurable, by a slow process of improvement extending through thousands of years.

So that science and the knowledge of the uncultured are alike in the nature of their previsions, widely as they differ in range; they possess a common imperfection, though this is immensely greater in the last than in the first; and the transition from the one to the other has been through a series of steps by which the imperfection has been rendered continually less, and the range continually wider. These facts, that science and ordinary knowledge are allied in nature, and that the one is but a perfected and extended form of the other, must necessarily underlie the whole theory of science, its progress, and the relations of its parts to each other.

There must be incompleteness in any history of the sciences, which, leaving out of view the first steps of their genesis, commences with them only when they assume definite forms. There must be grave defects, if not a general untruth, in a philosophy of the sciences considered in their interdependence and development, which neglects the inquiry how they came to be distinct sciences, and how they were severally evolved out of the chaos of primitive ideas.

Not only a direct consideration of the matter, but all analogy, goes to show that in the earlier and simpler stages must be sought the key to all subsequent intricacies. The time was when the anatomy and physiology of the human being were studied Edition: current; Page: [ 9 ] by themselves—when the adult man was analyzed and the relations of parts and of functions investigated, without reference either to the relations exhibited in the embryo or to the homologous relations existing in other creatures.

Now, however, it has become manifest that no true conceptions are possible under such conditions. Anatomists and physiologists find that the real natures of organs and tissues can be ascertained only by tracing their early evolution; and that the affinities between existing genera can be satisfactorily made out only by examining the fossil genera to which they are akin. Well, is it not clear that the like must be true concerning all things that undergo development?

Is not science a growth? Has not science, too, its embryology? And must not the neglect of its embryology lead to a misunderstanding of the principles of its evolution and of its existing organization? We may expect to find their generalizations essentially artificial; and we shall not be deceived.

Some illustrations of this may here be fitly introduced, by way of preliminary to a brief sketch of the genesis of science from the point of view indicated. And we cannot more readily find such illustrations than by glancing at a few of the various classifications of the sciences that have from time to time been proposed. To consider all of them would take too much space: we must content ourselves with some of the latest.

Falling in Love; With Other Essays on More Exact Branches of Science

Commencing with those which may be soonest disposed of, let us notice, first, the arrangement propounded by Oken. An abstract of it runs thus:—.

Part I. He explains that Mathesis is the doctrine of the whole; Pneumatogeny being the doctrine of immaterial totalities, and Hylogeny that of material totalities. Part II. The first of these are the heavenly bodies comprehended by Cosmogeny. These divide into elements. The earth element divides into minerals— Mineralogy.