The Contributors' Column
Emilio Lussu, lawyer by profession, saw eight years of service in the Italian Army. In the Great War he earned an almost legendary reputation for courage, serving throughout with the 151st Regiment of Infantry, made up of fellow Sardinians. Wounded again and again, he was decorated with four medals. Once the war was over, Lussu established in Sardinia the so-called Sardinian Party of Action, known to be opposed to the Dictatorship. A Fascist sympathizer shot him as he presided over a meeting, but he recovered, ran for the Chamber of Deputies, was elected and reelected. Obviously, Lussu was not a man to be trifled with, and the Italian Government paid him the compliment of dealing with him on a grand scale. His story, appearing in the Atlantic in two installments, seems to us the most revealing of contemporary Italian documents. Ralph Arthur Reynolds, a San Francisco physician, visited Russia at the invitation of the Soviet Minister of Health. Much of his information regarding Vienna was obtained at first hand during his residence there for eighteen months in 1928 and 1929. ∆ Would that all humanists were as humane as Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., director of the University Art Museum at Princeton!
The death of Dallas Lore Sharp leaves an irreparable gap in the company of Atlantic contributors. It is a privilege to print these impressions of a naturalist in Central America. ∆ For those who like the tang of ‘Eves Apples,’ we recommend Eleanor Risley’s book, The Road to Wildcat, just published. Arthur E. Morgan, President of Antioch College, shows that there is no good end that cannot be perverted. Robert Hillyer is Assistant Professor of English at Harvard and author of seven volumes of poems. Claudia Cranston returns to the Atlantic after an absence of several years. ∆ We conclude this month Kathryne Mary Frick remarkable record of her life and education. Edith L. Neale will move many Ph.D.’s to covert sympathy. Katherine Casey is director of the Fashion and Merchandising Information Division of the Hahn Department Stores, Inc.; Claire Sullivan is a member of the Atlantic staff in charge of publicity.
Few academicians have a longer or more honorable record than Vida D. Scudder, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Wellesley, author of books on such diverse subjects as Socialism, the Arthurian legends, and Saint Catherine of Siena. A devoted Franciscan scholar, she is now engaged on a volume treating of the first hundred years after the death of the Saint, Francis G. Peabody, clergyman, professor, dean, and author, is a venerated figure in Cambridge and Harvard. Leland Hall, after teaching at several American colleges, spent nearly two years in Morocco, making friends equally with natives and French. ∆ The wheel has come full circle when Julian Huxley, prince of biologists and essayists, confronts a black man and gives his blessing to the primitive worship typified by the giant lizard. J. Arthur Thomson is Professor of Natural History in Aberdeen University.
E. L. Bogart, author of ’Our Interest in the Reparation Problem,’ was credited by mistake to the University of California in the April Contributors’ Column. He is Visiting Professor of Economics at Claremont Colleges, Claremont, California.
We ask the forgiveness of Mr. Charles C. Marshall for printing these lines in the authentic tradition of Artemus Ward.
SAN CARLOS, CAL. DEER ATLANTICK, —
Hoo is this heer fellah Marshall whatz bin writin short-witted and long-winded artickles in yore fancy magazeen laitly?
Way out heer in the wild open spaciz ov the West, we onct had a fellah by the saim naim. But he did sumthin gude for hoomanity. He waz honist and waz searchin fur gold ... an he uncovered it. His name has gone down on the brite pagis of histry; a naim that every skool child noz by hart.
But this modern Marshall iz not honist it seams. At least he doesunt uppeer to B. Awl hez tryin two dew is thro mud on won of the greatest blessins that evur graced this heer hemisfere, I allood to the Catholick Church, ov coarse. He is out too find faultz whare thare iz nun. He’ll make no discuveries like hiz naimsaik.
Abowt the onlee good sirvis I cud plan fur his remainin daze is a job on one (won) ov the grate enjineer’s cummishuns . . . I heer refer too (two) thoz things made poplar by Presdint Whoovr. Thay are harmlis as nooduls.
I hoap he doesunt spoil eny more ov yure idishuns.
From the Dean of the Women’s Division, Colby College.
DEAR ATLANTIC, -
Most of us who are deans of women say ‘hurrah’ to the stimulating criticism in Mrs. Lee’s article in the April Atlantic. There is just a lurking fear in my mind lest those who read the article and do not know college women may draw the conclusion that student government is driving students to the dogs at a rapid pace. It is dangerously easy to criticize — though not in Mrs. Lee’s excellent style — any present state of affairs. It will, in turn, be easy and natural for us who are working with college women to criticize Mrs. Lee’s article.
I do not want to criticize — much. I shall just feel ever so much better if I may point out one or two fundamental principles which she seems to have overlooked. I agree that the ideal aim of both education in general and student government in particular is greater liberty. But I believe also that consideration for the wellbeing of others, and the demands of convenience and necessity, must always enter into the ethics of human behavior to an appreciable extent. It may be just as innocent a pleasure to walk after 10 P.M. as before, but the innocence of this pleasure may be offset by the desirability — even the necessity — of a definite closing hour for a college residence. Indeed, the exercise of walking to a railroad station before 8.30 A.M., say, is quite as beneficial as it would be after this hour. But, if one needs to catch an 8.30 train, he must limit his freedom to the extent of taking his walk before
that hour. Some educator has expressed a very good idea in these words: ‘ The educated person learns to do what he does not want to do at the time he does not want to do it.’ And I read recently of a very modern young lady who spoke to an obstreperous ‘ boy friend ’ in words to this effect: ‘You better go get yourself a few inhibitions.’
I should welcome as heartily as Mrs. Lee possibly could the appointing by colleges of commissions made up of qualified undergraduates, faculty members, and specialists in mental hygiene to study the whole subject of regulating the social behavior of students. I should only hope that such commissions would take into consideration possibly the Ten Commandments and most certainly the Golden Rule!
William Gordon Stuart, outspoken dirt farmer, and Jesse Pope, economist critic of the Federal Farm Board, have inspired both sympathy and debate.
BRIDGEHAMPTON, LONG ISLAND, N. Y.
DEAR ATLANTIC, -
The article of William G. Stuart in the March Atlantic, while a forcible presentation of truths much needed by the non-farming public, leaves something to be desired as an economic presentation of the fate of the farmer.
It fails to mention the much greater productiveness of the machine-using mechanic as compared with the average farmer. Within sight of me as I write is a dwelling under construction. It will cost about $12,000. It was begun December 1, and it will be ready for occupancy in about a month. The average number of men at work has been perhaps nine. That means that nine men working four months have produced $12,000, or that one man working one year would produce $4000.
While I have not Mr. Stuart’s article by me, I recall that be stated the gross production of his farm to be about $2300. This was accomplished by himself, at least one hired man, and his two children. Counting the two children as one man, that gives a per capita productiveness of something less than $800 per year. The difference between this and $4000 might account for a difference in return to the respective workers.
Mr. Stuart figures his personal income for one year at about $744, but I failed to note that he included in it either his house rent or board for himself and family. In even a prosperous country town, to say nothing of an industrial city, a good house could hardly be had for less than $50 a month, while board for two adults and two children would amount to at least $150 more. If this be added to $744, it gives an annual income of $3144, which, while not equal to that of his engineer brother or his teacher niece, is probably well up to the average skilled mechanic’s income per year.
Added to this is a certain measure of security. The farmer is the last man to starve, and while there is no occupation which requires a greater active display of all the social and economic virtues to achieve a distinguished success than does farming, there is none other in which a fool can so long keep a roof over him and have food for his table.
Mr. Stuart does well to criticize the inflated wages of some sorts of labor and the extravagance of public expenditure; but his strictures on waterway development would hardly be followed by the Mid-Western farmer whose wheat is borne to overseas markets down the Great Lakes or the Mississippi at a rate much below one all-rail to the sea, and he might recall that, the original Erie Canal which made it economically possible to grow grain more than ten miles west of the Hudson is what gave the Empire State its start toward empire.
The farmer to-day is in the uncomfortable predicament of the sailor or the stagecoach driver of eighty years ago. Farming will not cease any more than transportation has ceased, but new methods will be used and while they are being worked out many innocent and capable people will Suffer cruelly. The future is dark enough, but whether we look at Russia or at Iowa the tendency seems to be toward some form of collective farming with the use of machinery’ to the utmost.
It may be that eventually all land adapted to such farming will be so used and the rest go back to pasture or forest. It is quite certain that under such a system there would be fewer farmers than to-day, yet as much if not more food.
It is also quite possible that such a system would eventually ruin the land; if so, the mechanistic industrial civilization would collapse, as it will sooner or later, although in a way not now much expected. Until agriculture is adjusted to our machine age, or until the machine is wrecked, farmers, unless exceptionally situated and exceptionally able, are going to have a hard time. Meanwhile some real help might be given them through a revision of systems of taxation which would place the greater burdens on the capitalist and the highly paid industrial worker because they are the ones who produce to-day the greatest wealth.
Very truly yours,
ERNEST S. CLOWES
THE PRESS CLUB, CHICAGO
DEAR ATLANTIC, -
There is one especially good feature in the Atlantic — age does not wither, nor custom stale. It is like the sea itself, yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow (and salty).
I come back to the March number, and I beg to register my emphatic endorsement (if that is not too presumptuous) of Mr. Pope’s ‘Challenge to the Federal Farm Board.’ It is a word of wisdom, timely said. The Farm Board, the farm bureaus, and the banks, would be wise if they directed their energies to a well-ordered plan of curtailment.
Do not overload the stomach, do not overload the camel, do not overload the airplane, do not overload the market. That way danger lies. Produce according to the demand, no more. The old Attic rule — enough, but not too much — applies to-day, and to manufacturer and farmer alike.
But what shall the small farmer do, he asks. Go slow, diversify, cooperate, farm for subsistence, not for an artificially fostered demand. Cash and carry — no begging. The world is sick — have patience and wait for it to recover.
What to do with your cat.
DECATUR, GEORGIA DEAR ATLANTIC, —
In the March issue of the Atlantic Monthly I read with a great deal of interest the article by Professor George Herbert Palmer, ‘On Growing Old.’
In the summer of 1897 I was a young bride living in Dorchester, Massachusetts. On a Saturday afternoon my husband and I made a call on a friend, a maiden lady of perhaps some forty summers, and found her in the busy preparation of closing her home for the summer. All was ready for the train trip — except the disposal of Tommie the cat. We found our friend more or less upset as to how she could get the twenty pounds of Tommie over to Cambridge on the street cars (it was before the days of automobiles).
After an offer of assistance by my husband, it was finally decided that we should take charge of Tommie and deposit him Sunday morning in Cambridge at the ‘summer home for cats,’ at 11 Quincy Street. We put the beautiful gray kitty in a covered basket and started for our home; arriving, we decided to let him have full range of the cellar. He was frightened at his more or less bumpy ride and ran up behind the furnace and refused to eat or come out, but the next morning the man of the family crawled behind the furnace and brought him out. Tommie was usually of a very mild disposition, but he showed a decided dislike to the idea of getting back into the basket. However, with the combined efforts of three people we fastened the top and went on our way to Cambridge. Our friend had given us a postcard from the Boston Transcript which read: ‘In answer to your inquiry will say that at 11 Quincy St., Cambridge, you will find a home for your cat during the summer months.’
We got off the car at Harvard Square, and it was easy to find Quincy Street, so with renewed energy we walked a block and stood for a few minutes in front of a very dignified home with ‘ 11 Quincy St.’ on the gate. My husband put his basket down, took out the card and reread the address. This was undoubtedly the place, but my companion said, ‘There must be some mistake. This looks like the home of a Harvard professor. Suppose we go back and ask that policeman if he knows of a cat home.’ So, lifting his burden (it was a burden by now), we walked back to the Square.
In the words of my husband, ‘If you want to feel foolish and ill at ease, ask a policeman if he knows of a boarding place in Cambridge where they keep cats for the summer.’ Policeman (smiling broadly): ‘A boardin’ place for cats? In Cambridge? Well, I thought I knew somethin’ about me own town, but if there is a boardin’ place for cats, it’s the first I ever heard of it.’
My husband handed him the postal card and explained, ‘Read this card from the Transcript — that’s all I know about it. This cat belongs to a friend and I want to find some place to leave him.’
‘Well, that’s 11 Quincy Street up that hill. It’s Professor Palmer’s home. Maybe he has gone ter boardin’ cats — you never know what them professors will do next. All you can do is to go up there and ask him.’
So, with greater effort than ever on our part, and a dissatisfied cry from Tommie, the basket was lifted and in a few minutes we again stood in front of the dignified home. My husband has a good deal of nerve, but he was getting weakkneed on this occasion. Finally he said, ‘Well, I am going in and ask if this is the place.’ So bravely he walked in, his bride by his side, and rang the bell (the pull bell of the ’90’,s). The maid appeared, and said, ‘What is it? Finally and faintly the question came: ‘Is this II Quincy Street — the place where you keep cats for the summer? ’ Not an unkind, but a sympathetic smile came over her face, and she said with Swedish accent: ‘Dis is Mrs. Alice Freeman Palmer’s residence and she does not keep no cats here — you is in de wrong place.’
Evidently we were. But — just as we were about to give up, a lovely lady of the ’90’s appeared at the door. We told her our story, showed her the card. She most graciously invited us into a wonderful library, and made us feel at home. We had met a friend. The lid of the basket was lifted, and Tommie stepped quietly out and purred his way into the heart of his new mistress, Mrs. Tahnadge. She made this explanation: ‘This is Professor and Mrs. Palmer’s home, but they are traveling abroad. Mrs. Palmer is my sister and I am staying in her home while she is away. Some smart young reporter on the Transcript has given you this address, evidently intending it as a joke, for it is a well-known fact that Mrs. Palmer dislikes cats and will not have one on the place. But, as I am here alone, it will be company for me to have this beautiful animal. I will keep him and when your friend returns she may put in my missionary box whatever she intended to pay for Tommie’s upkeep.’ The kitty curled up on a Persian prayer rug, and we left feeling that this world is full of ‘friendly folk.’ The missionaries were aided in their efforts, our friend was made happy, and Mrs. Talmadge will never know how grateful to her William and Alice Alden were — and are.
ALICE S. ALDEN
From the Assistant Curator, North American Archæology, of the Field Museum of Chicago: —
DEAR ATLANTIC, -
I have just read with much interest Professor Huxley’s article, ‘Climate and Human History,’ which appeared in the April Atlantic.
Every anthropologist would probably agree with the author’s initial statement that ‘climate and geology between them decide where the raw materials of human industry are to be found, where manufactures cun be established . . .’ but I believe that most of us would not subscribe to the statement that ‘climate decides where the main springs of human energy shall be released.’ So far as anyone can judge, inventions and additions to culture have been made in many kinds of climate. The Mayas of Central America developed a high civilization in a damp, warm climate, while much of the Egyptian culture flourished in an arid region. Human energy has been released in diverse places and apparently quite independently of climate. In other words, climate (or environment) furnishes the ‘brick and mortar’ for culture, as Lowie says, but does not stipulate the plan or the manner in which materials shall be used.
It is difficult to believe that the ‘hereditary makeup’ of a race ‘must be altered’ if a race is to pass from one mode of life to another. The Navajo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico were, until fairly recently, a nomadic people. To-day the Navajos have taken successfully to sheep raising, a quite different mode of life — and yet I believe no hereditary alteration has taken place. If Mr. Huxley’s premise be correct, the human race must have altered its ‘hereditary makeup’ many times since Pithecanthropus erectus.
May I also point out that the American continent was probably first settled about 10,000 years ago (to estimate it conservatively) and that there is no evidence that it ever received any ‘dose of civilization’ from the old world, and certainly not so late as 3000 B.C.? A close study of aboriginal America will convince anyone that man probably arrived here with a minimum of culture (the bow and arrow or the spear thrower; the dog, fire, and the ability to chip stone), and that agriculture, architecture, writing, and so forth, are entirely autochthonous.
It might be of interest to note that the first flourishing period of Maya civilization did not, in all probability, take place in Yucatan, as Mr. Huxley implies, but in what is now called Guatemala or Honduras; moreover, there is every reason to believe that the jungle was just as dense and difficult to keep at bay then as it is now. In other words, the Maya civilization probably originated and developed in a region unaffected by ‘cyclonic storms,’ where the jungle and climate have remained unaltered for thousands of years.
Very sincerely yours,
PAUL S. MARTIN
We value the opportunity to print the following letter on a subject to which all must respond.
CHICAGO HEIGHTS, ILL.
DEAR ATLANTIC, -
It was as much with delight as with surprise, when I opened the Atlantic for January, that I encountered the article, ‘How Death May Feel,’ in the Contributors’ Club. To explain my delight I need but say that I am a chronic invalid, and have, during the five turbulent years of my illness, experienced on many occasions that same feeling of profound pleasure.
I am nineteen years old. In the winter of 1944-25, influenza, for the second time in my life, laid me low, this time playing havoc with the valves of my heart — finishing the job it had commenced six years earlier — and relegating me to the bed I have occupied since.
In the summer of 1925, with a pulse that must have been fifty or less and barely perceptible, I faced what seemed to be almost certain death. Having no pain whatsoever and being entirely rational so far as my faculties were concerned (throughout my long illness I’ve never been delirious), I was free to contemplate what, for all practical purposes, were to be my last moments on earth. Contemplate I did. And to my utter astonishment I found my experience a pleasant one. Not only pleasant, but enticing: I wanted more of this supreme happiness I was feeling; I craved a clearer and deeper draught of this bliss.
To describe my exact feelings would be impossible. At times it might have been called a gradual assimilation by the universe — a slow but sure entrance into something more vast — a constant diminishing of the individual. Then again it seemed as though I were being wafted ‘gently o’er a perfumed sea.’
After several days of intermittent flashes of these unearthly pleasures, I gradually lost all hold on them; and with the subsequent regainiug of full consciousness — consciousness of material, earthly things — a feeling of shame came over me: shame because I had felt no regret at the prospect of leaving my loved ones. Yet, on later analyzing my experience, I came to the conclusion that there was no occasion for shame. I was n’t to be judged in connection with the things of this earth, because at the time I was less of this earth than of another — another sweeter and happier earth: the place from which I had come, and to which, as a natural course, I was returning.
If, in relating my one particular experience, I have created the impression that the approach to death is always pleasant, let me hereby correct it. Most of my approaches to the next world are, by the very nature of my disease, the most horrible things imaginable. In these instances there is no sweet, steady contemplation of a paradise beyond; no ‘gliding in of cosmic relaxation.’ There is no relaxation. But, while there is no steady contemplation, there are times when, despite the wild insanity of my sufferings, I manage to grasp a little of what I feel — and know — lies just beyondOn this score I have written a poem which will express my feelings better than I could in prose.
Mine has never been a morbid, melancholy yearning for death. Indeed, so long as I am in no great pain it could not even be called a yearning. So far as I am concerned I much prefer regaining my health and remaining here on earth awhile, for the simple reason that a quiet anticipation has in it the germ of its own realization. But, for me, conditions do not indicate a long tenure here on earth. And, since they don’t, I have voluntarily renounced such imaginary claims to worldly happiness as I may have had for the more complete and sustaining happiness to be found in anticipation of the beauties of the world beyond.
Enchanted by their depth and glowing haze;
Aware that here lies dim before my gaze
An object half attained in mortal sleep.
My soul, by illness racked, implores the deep,
Seeing beyond its foam a painless sleep.
But, faith! I cannot break my earthly ties!
My yearning grows with each increasing pain.
I stumble — gasp and fall, but, oh! ’t is plain
A something holds me from that foaming tide.
I’ve caught a glimpse, but managed nothing more —
I’ve sighted peace beyond this earthly shore,
But cannot sail: there floats no barque for me.
What is the Atlantic?
It was the last question on the mid-year test in American Literature. And let it be said at once that the making of examinations is an art in itself. Fifteen years in the classroom have left me rather disillusioned in regard to a number of things connected with American education, but making out examination questions always acts as a spur to my lagging spirit. It challenges inventiveness.
On this particular test, after covering the field of American letters from the New England group to H. L. Mencken, I was using the well-known expedient of compressing a review of the entire field in one question by asking the victims to identify a list of totally unrelated proper names, persons, places, or titles, all of which had been at least mentioned in the course of the year’s work. Sort of an ‘Ask me another’ game with ten points out of one hundred as the stakes.
One of the units of work done during the term had been a study of the Essay as a literary form, and in the course of this part of the work I had frequently made use of the Atlantic as collateral reading. With this in mind, and as a test of memory and observation, I wound up my list of names to be identified with ‘Atlantic Monthly.’
Would you be interested in the answers from representative high-school seniors? I append a few, quoted word for word.
‘The Atlantic Monthly is the first collection of prose and poetry of which Holmes is responsible.’ (See Halleck, on Holmes.)
‘A magazine of literary importance.’ (Neat, not gaudy.)
‘The Atlantic Monthly is a time-honored literary magazine which has remained throughout antiquity as a symbol of the literary progress of the ages.’ (Do you need a publicity man?)
‘The Atlantic Monthly was a periodical or paper.’ (Note that was.)
‘A book in the library.’ (Thank heaven!)
‘A monthly magazine published in Atlanta.’ (The war is over, but the scars remain!)
And now, Mr. Editor, read this last one and smile, I dare you!
‘The Atlantic Monthly is a very old literary magazine with a corresponding editor.’
Faithfully, for all your faults,
W. H. MCCREARY
Scientists have enjoyed the agreeable position of dispensing power and order, destroying superstition, promulgating laws of nature, and spreading light everywhere. Now some of them are beginning to taste the opposite pleasure of dispensing confusion, of discovering that what they took for light was really darkness visible, of presiding brilliantly over new-found paradoxes and eccentricities in the constitution of things.
Contrast. J. Arthur Thomson’s admirable and optimistic article in the present Atlantic with such a work as A. S. Eddington’s The Nature of the Physical World. No excuse is needed for mentioning Eddington’s famous book, for it is hard to say whether it has been more widely and delightedly read or more widely and delightedly cribbed. Certainly no one ought to miss the experience of reading it, and if his business leads him to write articles, deliver lectures, or preach sermons, he will sooner or later find himself cribbing it.
Professor Thomson deliberately limits himself to those transforming discoveries which have actually come home to the popular imagination. Consequently time and space in his article have not been turned into a ‘four dimensional continuum,’ nor has the atom become, as another eminent authority describes it, ‘a string of events that take place where it is n’t.’ Professor Thomson can still display to the full effect that wonderful operative knowledge of the conditions of man’s life by which science has indeed transformed both those conditions and man’s imaginative picture of them. He can write truthfully, ‘Gone is the old sense of bewildering confusion. . . . Every year discloses some new orderliness in the universe.’
Eddington, on the other hand, writes of all those most sophisticated and paradoxical discoveries that lie on the outermost fringe of advancing physics. A reader, putting down his hook, might well exclaim: ‘Gone is the old sense of orderliness. Each year discloses some fresh confusion in the universe. We used to think that the rules of nature were becoming always more plain. Now it seems a question whether nature has any rules. The laws by which an eclipse is predicted are only summaries of how swarms of particles behave on the average. When it comes to dealing with a single particle, its conduct is so unpredictable that the very principle of causation is difficult to maintain in the face of it. Instead of thinking of a force of gravity as binding suns and planets together in happy and proportional respect for each other, we must think of complicated mathematical laws of curvature as governing, or at least describing, the motions of material bodies. But matter itself, like the Cheshire cat, has faded from view, leaving a hollow and mocking grin. The strangest thing of all is that this empty grin seems to suggest and support all manner of mathematical laws and formulæ such as might really describe a world of matter if it were actually there, although a very paradoxical world indeed. Confusion has complimented our age by waiting until it arrived to make her masterpiece.’
Look on these two pictures, the counterfeit presentment of two worlds, or of a common world seen so differently as to look double. There is no need to choose either as exclusively right. One clue to the divergence might be expressed by saying that Thomson writes of science as knowledge, while Eddington writes of science as thought. Eddington is a scientist driven into philosophy by the increasing complexity of scientific study. No piece of knowledge is so self-sustaining that it cannot be shown to inhere in a world of uncertainty, an infinite penumbra of ignorance. Yet it remains perfectly good knowledge in an operative sense; it will build a bridge or cure a disease, and yet contain cosmic vistas of doubt and speculation. We know of a bacteriologist who, in the course of his researches on the ills that flesh is heir to, gives injections to fleas and allows them to feed twice daily on his immunized arm. The knowledge comprised in this is wonderful; but if one were to track the fleas or the biologist down to ultimate elements, one would come sooner or later to the theory of atoms, and find what appear to be not only incompatible but positively mythological definitions in the field. The control of nature seems to be in no way injured either because they are incompatible or because they are mythological.
To those who have read Eddington or other recent writers on science, and who may have been led to believe that they really have a notion of the Quantum Theory or of Einstein’s principle of gravitation, and that up-to-date science consists of nothing but such paradoxes, Professor Thomson’s article should be salutary. No one can say how stable the new conceptions of physics will prove. Indeed, industry does not throw away outworn machines faster than science throws away outworn ideas. The universe will not long be allowed to remain as eccentric as it is at the moment. Yet the really ‘new world of science’ in which the public is interested is Eddington’s world of confusion rather than Thomson’s world of order. True enough, the public has not grasped the discoveries of Einstein, but it is interested in them. A moving picture giving simple illustrations of the theory of relativity (some of them of questionable logic) has already made the rounds of several cities. Professor Thomson himself has acknowledged by a hint here and there the influence of the newest physical discoveries. He writes that the principle of conservation of energy requires ‘saving clauses to-day.’ ‘How many real laws of nature man has discovered as yet,’ he admits, ‘is a very difficult question.’
The new world of science will not long be a world of confusion, but it may remain always a world of skepticism. Time was when new worlds were discoveries in space — new continents in the Western Hemisphere or at the poles, new planets or new laws in the sky. Presently new worlds were discovered within the compass of a hair or a finger nail — the atom in matter, the cell in the body, the bacillus in the scale of life. As each new world came into view, it brought with it a fresh load of abstract thought, until now our new worlds are fast becoming pure discoveries in mind. The fact that prompts them remains hidden away in outer or inner depths; it is a faint blush on a photographic plate, or a form of life so infinitesimal that its existence is only known because it passes through a filter and infects other living tissue. All that we receive immediately is the report of some new mathematical abstraction, possessed of wonderful powers for those who can use them, or some new concept to add to our already bewildering store. A new world is a new way of thinking.
It is becoming increasingly evident that each of the successive scientific ways of thinking must be regarded with ultimate skepticism. The new worlds with which science presents us are partly worlds of actuality and partly worlds of imagination. Readers of Eddington will thank him for making clear how difficult and dubious it is to discriminate between the two elements, or to frame an intelligible connection between them. Each new scientific fashion of thought gives new control over operations and functions that can be measured and directed; but of the remote hidden universe it gives no final picture or ultimate means of apprehension. We cannot escape believing that thought is in touch somehow with actuality when it gives the power of control over the conditions of life; but what the link between them is grows more obscure as it is pursued to deeper levels. At the same time it grows correspondingly plain that a scheme of thought that aids in the control of the world may later turn out to contain a good deal of fantasy. True and entire faith must tramp long roads in this world in search of an honest lodging, although it may lie down in a fool’s paradise anywhere.
Yet faith at the present moment is better off than it has been for a considerable period past. Skepticism may prove a more lasting refuge for it than the great ages of religion have done. Faith, for a great many men, appeared to find an established footing in science in its materialistic heyday; now what seemed a firm bottom of knowledge has sunk into the deeper quagmire of things. Having temporarily misplaced matter, science is not for the moment materialistic. Men do not seem on this account to be flocking back toward religion. Rather the way seems to lie clear before the world toward an age that will hold all general schemes of thought in ultimate skepticism. There are many reasons why a world of human beings should look forward to such an age cheerfully. Faith divides men; skepticism makes them one. Skepticism softens conflicts, promotes an eye for realities, tends toward peace. It civilizes passions and reduces the barbarity of ambition. The immediate human sphere of action and knowledge receives a new dignity when science carries its inquiries into the unhuman structure of the world so far that it passes the limits of certainty. A physicist studying the behavior of infinitesimal particles may be led to question the idea of cause. A wise man, reflecting on experience, will know that the movements of his life are not unrelated to choices and conditions that other men have observed and recorded before him. The science of intelligent human observation is very difficult, relative, and variable, yet it is also true anti profound. Its masters — the poets, the dramatists, and those historians and philosophers who have also not disdained literature — are still the highest guides of man’s advancing spirit. Compared with them, psychologists are children patronizing their teachers.
Finally, an age of skepticism cannot exclude the possibility of faith, how rich or definite does not yet appear. Skepticism must regard even itself without an excess of conviction. It cannot deny all knowledge, nor can it deny that cultivated and inspired imagination may have its just part in framing as much of the truth as may be known. The age of which we write so hopefully should give a new opportunity to the exhaustless powers of art and poetry. Theirs are the vehicles that best embody the truth of human knowledge and aspiration, and the only vehicles of this kind that are not injured by ultimate disbelief.
THE OFFICE ICONOCLAST