Thinking And Acting
( Originally Published 1921 )
WE have seen that the man who would be efficient should strive to control the external conditions to which, sooner or later, he will inevitably adapt himself. We will assume then that the external conditions have been well planned with reference to efficiency that the stage is set, so to speak. The next step is the organization of effective mental habits, and foremost among these, perhaps, is the subtle process called thinking. Suppose we pause a moment to correct a rather wide-spread error.
Thinking is not a spontaneous process, like breathing. To be sure, ideas come into the mind and are succeeded by others that have some sort of connection with the first. But this is not necessarily thinking in the proper sense. Mere succession of things thought of—even related things —need not be thinking. There are many ways in which things and their ideas may be related. Some of these ways have significant meaning under given conditions, and others have not. Thinking implies seeing real relations, not those that are fanciful or artificial; and these relations must lead somewhere. Some consequence should follow them. This consequence becomes a body of knowledge, perhaps a belief. Thinking also finds the reasons for a belief, if it is well grounded, and, if not, it exposes the insecure foundation.
Evidently, then, mere association of ideas does not constitute thinking. The test is in the kind of associated ideas that we have. Ideas may have no more significance than is disclosed in the prattle of infants. A few illustrations will indicate the frequency of insignificant associations incorrectly dignified as "thoughts."
A "well-read" woman, for example, on hearing some one speak of the barren, degenerating lives of those in the slums, replied: "They should have good books to read, like those of Thackeray and George Eliot." And again, the manager of a large manufacturing plant on being told that the laborers in his mills were dragging out a joyless, hopeless existence, working ten hours a day six days in the week, said: "They don't know how to use their leisure time."
The arguments of political parties, to illustrate failure to think from a different angle, are often insulting to even moderate intelligence; yet they are not resented. A well-chosen slogan is frequently sufficient. But slogans pre-suppose absence of thinking. They are designed to awaken certain ready-made associations in the voters; and they take the place of arguments. Obviously, politicians assume that the public can be fooled long enough to win the election, and the voters accept their judgment. They therefore justify it.
If these illustrations are fairly chosen, and they are of a type sufficiently frequent to be rather commonplace, it is clear that ideas brought into the mind through association may revolve in a very small circle and, consequently, never advance thought. As a matter of fact, thinking is largely controlled by inheritance, tradition, and environment, including early education and social pressure; and it is partly for this reason that experience, as usually accepted, exerts such a dominating influence.
Merely living through a series of events, however, we have found does not give valid experience. Even activity —taking part in the events—does not make experience. Getting experience requires understanding causes and consequences—seeing connection between what precedes and that which follows. Change is meaningless transition unless it is connected with its results. When change is translated into cause and effect it is full of significance. We learn something.
The character of experience—indeed, the very realization of any experience at all—is determined by the proportions in which habits of response, on the one hand, and variability, on the other, enter as constituents into our thought and actions. When response becomes habitual experience is at its minimum. The quantity of experience, again, is measured by the amount of conscious, attentive reaction which is opposed to habits of thought and behavior. So far as situations fail to be adequately met with habits, adaptation tends to become conscious, new, and, to the extent of the failure of habits, inventive and original. With man, at least, any break with mental habits tends/ to be educative.
In the active affairs of life, however, experience usually settles what promises to be the efficient course to pursue. Here, as in other judgments, the test of the value of the decision is the success or failure of the plan in achieving the aims which are sought. Thinking is strictly an intellectual matter and in no sense a moral one. Its value depends wholly upon the accuracy of the process. The thinking of an Arsene Lupin in accomplishing his criminal purposes is as good as that of a Sherlock Holmes in thwarting them. The starting-point from which the thinking proceeds is itself a matter of experience and interpretation. The human being seems to be enclosed in a circle from which he cannot extricate himself. He begins with experience, or with the interpretation and estimate of the views of others which is determined by his experience. This interpretation, again, rests upon personal judgment, "fundamental principles," which will be shared by others in proportion as these people have had similar experiences and have reasoned with like accuracy from the same starting-point. The circle within which one reasons will be large or small according as one's experience has been broad or limited, and in proportion to one's ability to discover meaning in the experiences of others and to reconstruct them in terms of personal experience. Probably some are born with a nervous organization that accepts certain types of "fundamental principles" more readily than do others. Mystics and believers in occult phenomena, for example, we always have with us. In the same way some are born with a brain that responds to music and poetry. But inherited tendencies no more than individual experience establish universally valid principles.
Since the ideas and beliefs with which we start will deflect even subsequently accurate thinking, it is of the utmost importance that they be subjected to the severest scrutiny at the beginning of an attempt to think out a question. From the moment of their acceptance, how-ever, it is a matter of the accuracy of the intellectual operation by which new beliefs grow out of the facts and ideas accepted as a true starting-point.
Throughout this mental growth the interpretation of experience plays a directing role, and it is in just this interpretation that the difference between great and mediocre men lies. There are two classes of discerning men, each important and effective in his way; those who originate and those who, though unable to initiate in any large degree, are yet appreciative of the inventions of others. General George Meade seems to have been of the latter class. He was "not original in devising brilliant plans, but his clear understanding enabled him to discriminate between the plans of others." Meade's success, considered in connection with his lack of inventiveness, reminds one of a remark once made by Oliver Cromwell: "To be a Seeker," he said, "is to be of the best sect next to a) Finder." The willingness and ability to admit in action the value of ideas presented by others reveals an intellectual freedom of no mean worth, even though it may not represent the highest cast of mind; for one evidence of mental inferiority is the fear lest accepting the opinions of others will stamp one as weak. For the same reason, men of small mental calibre in positions of responsibility do not wish to have bigger men than themselves under them. They dread the contrast. One of the proofs of Lincoln's greatness was his willingness to take into his Cabinet men of the largest ability whom he could find, regardless of political affiliations; and he endured criticisms and innuendoes from them which would have cut deeply into the self-esteem of a less able man.
The least effective use of experience is probably exhibited by the literal man who has no sense of proportion, no sense of humor. No two situations are exactly alike, and the efficient man, other things being equal, is the one who can make distinctions between them and discover differences. There are, of course, those who are foredoomed to follow rules, and whatever efficiency these people possess lies in strict adherence to prescribed modes of action. These men cannot interpret experience. They can only follow it. Deviation from rules, of course, always involves risk, but he who never dares achieves nothing. In its best expression life is a great adventure, or rather a continuous series of adventures, and the one who reads the meaning of events with clearest understanding makes discoveries or meets emergencies in ways wholly outside the ken of men of lesser attainments.
Illustrations could easily be drawn from science, but perhaps military achievements afford the most striking instances. In the early period of Napoleon's victorious career, for example, after he had stormed the bridge of Lodi and forced the passage of the river, one of the Austrian generals exclaimed indignantly: "This beardless youth ought to have been beaten over and over again; for who ever saw such tactics ! The blockhead knows nothing of the rules of war. Today he is in our rear, tomorrow on our flank, and the next day, again, on our front. Such gross violations of the established principles of war are insufferable."'
Sherman's march to the sea, to cite another instance of disregarding rules, would have been a stupendous blunder except that it succeeded. He should have been surrounded and his forces cut to pieces, according to the rules of strategy. But nothing of the sort happened. The plan "was forged almost as a dream in that eager and fertile workshop from which dreams came so thickly. But the point is that, conceived as a dream, it worked out with exactly reasoned care, so that in the end success attended almost every step of it. It was no dream to lead a hundred thousand men two hundred miles through a hostile country and bring them out in perfect fighting trim, with a confidence in their commander which had grown with every step they took."
Grant, also, in cutting loose from his base of supplies, as he did in his attack on Vicksburg, disregarded a military principle which no one but a fool, or a genius, would ever think of violating. Lee, to cite a different sort of an illustration, fought the battle of Antietam with a river at his back, an inexcusable violation of the "rules." But he had interpreted events. He knew the man in front of him, and he was certain that if he lost the battle he could extricate himself before McClellan would counterattack with sufficient vigor to bring disaster.
Many of Lee's moves, a recent reviewer says, "would be discredited because of the chances that he took. But he took them with his eyes open. He knew the art of war; knew what the odds against him were, and he was looking for a decision. He could not gain it in any other way." When, for example, Lee divided his forces in the face of the enemy at Chancellorsville and sent Jackson on his famous night-march along the plank road to attack Hooker's flank, he knew that he was violating one of the most elementary rules of strategy. And Falkenhayn has recently repeated this "blunder," with amazing success. At the battle of Hermannstadt, although being attacked heavily in front, Falkenhayn nevertheless detached a considerable force from his right wing and sent it by a wide detour to fall upon the Roumanian rear. This flanking force had to traverse a wild, mountainous country without Jackson's plank road, and this made all the more glaring the violation of the rule that a force must not be divided in the face of the enemy. The only excuse for Falkenhayn's conduct was that it succeeded. The detached force sat down in Red Tower Pass directly astride the Roumanian line of retreat and supplies, and the newly acquired army of the Allies was thrown into hopeless disorder in its mad struggle to escape from the encircling fire of guns.
Violation of rules in the cases of which we have been speaking was not an exhibition of erratic thinking. These military geniuses saw and read the markings of strata of experience lying below the level of prescribed conduct; and what they read suggested actions and plans outside the field of intellectual vision of the less endowed. To know when to disregard rules is distinctive. Suggestions imply a capacity to be influenced, and some minds are impervious to suggestions that are not hammered in by concussion. The intellectually sensitive do not require shocks. The story of Newton and the falling apple is a historical myth but psychologically it is true. Some such story had to be invented because it represents the way in which a great mind acts. Things are continually happening that are loaded with suggestive meanings, but only the intellectually prepared can interpret them. Getting experience is not merely living and acting. It is testing the effect of actions. We do something and then watch the result. But even close observation of the action and consequent reaction may not reveal the meaning of the experience. Many factors are involved which do not readily disclose themselves to the superficially observant person.
Every experience is a scientific experiment reduced to its lowest terms. If we do not plan the conditions of an experience as deliberately as of an experiment, the contributing factors must be isolated quite as carefully, that the part which each plays in the final outcome may be correctly determined. Experience is always prospective. It looks toward the future and furnishes principles of behavior. These principles are rules of action. They must be followed by people of mediocre attainments, and they represent efficiency up to a certain point—to the limit of mechanical efficiency. But to a certain few the trying out and testing of the behavior of men and things, with reference to their response to our actions upon them, yield a flood of suggestions regarding the meaning of the reactions; and these meanings involve the relation between the actions of the person who is seeking experience and the responses—behavior—of the other persons and things which he is trying in some way to influence or control. Interpretation of the way in which things and people be-have when we try to do something to them—to alter them or their actions—and knowledge of the reasons of this behavior—discernment of the relations between our actions and their reactions—is experience. The military geniuses of whom we have spoken saw deeper meanings than rules express, and this was due to their penetrating vision and interpretation of what they saw.
The sagacity of some men is a constant source of amazement to those of moderate mental fertility. Wisdom, however, is not a miraculous product. It comes, just as do the less striking thoughts, through association of ideas. The mind of the genius works in exactly the same way as that of a plodder. The difference is that the genius sees more meanings than others, and he sees them more quickly. Suggestions are fertile with him; but one prerequisite of mental fertility is well-ordered, adequate knowledge. The need of abundant knowledge is evident because it is the source of meanings by which the world's confusion may be interpreted. But this knowledge must be organized so that its variety may not prevent concentration of avail-able portions upon a definite problem. Unorganized knowledge is only wayward information, unfitted for application because incapable of being combined into a single impulse leading toward a definite conclusion. A man cannot be wise on nothing, and no amount of information need make him wise. Malthus' Essay on Population would have left Darwin and Wallace floating on the surface of conventional biological beliefs had they not been loaded with intellectual high explosives.
Yet men of genius are more conservative than is some-times thought. All of their ideas do not flower. They pull up many and throw them away. Kepler is a striking illustration of the mistake in assuming that genius has an unerring method of divining truth. His contributions to our knowledge of the orbits and motions of planetary masses are so fundamental that one might easily think him the possessor of a special method or "faculty" of discovering truth. But he had many "strange views" and fell into numerous errors. All of his ability would have availed him nothing had he not constantly maintained the attitude of the trier, the tester, the experimenter. He failed repeatedly and his hypotheses were often dreams of a wayward moment, but he was relentless in his experimental criticism of them. Experience with him meant experimenting, as it always must if it is to contribute conclusions of value. Who would be willing to assert that Kepler's "chimerical notions" were not, after all, stages in his progress toward truth?
"In all probability the errors of the great mind," says Jevons, "exceed in number those of the less vigorous one. Fertility of imagination and abundance of guesses at truth are among the first requisites of discovery; but the erroneous guesses must be many times as numerous as those which prove well founded. . . . The truest theories involve suppositions which are inconceivable, and no limit can really be placed to the freedom of hypothesis." 1 Faraday, again, in a paper on ray-vibrations says: "I think it likely that I have made many mistakes in the preceding pages, for even to myself my ideas appear only as the shadow of a speculation, or as one of those impressions on the mind which are allowable for a time as guides to thought and research." "The world little knows," continues Faraday, elsewhere, in the same vein, "how many of the thoughts and theories which have passed through the mind of a scientific investigator have been crushed in silence and secrecy by his own severe criticism and adverse examination; that in the most successful instances not a tenth of the suggestions, the hopes, the wishes, the preliminary conclusions, have been realized." And it is the same with those working in the more practical field of invention. Edison, for example, once remarked that he could say without exaggeration that he had constructed three thousand different theories with regard to the electric light, "each of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true." Yet only in two cases did his experiments prove the truth of his theory.
Theories do not reveal their own truth or falsity. The meaning of the facts from which they follow must be understood, and here the critical discrimination and sagacity of the experimenter is tested. Horace G. Hutchinson gives an amusing illustration of the view commonly held that "facts" carry their own light, which illumines them so brightly that their significance is apparent to all.
"Shortly after the publication of the Origin of Species, Mr. Lowe" [the Chancellor of the Exchequer] "and Mr. Busk" [President of the College of Surgeons] "were at High Elms" [visiting Sir John Lubbock]. "On Saturday evening Mrs. Lowe was between young Lubbock and Mr. Busk, and the conversation turned on the great book. Mrs. Lowe asked Mr. Busk `just to explain why one germ should develop into a man and another into a kangaroo. He suggested that she should read the book, and so she took it upstairs. Next day she sat in the drawing-room with it, and finished it about 4.30, shutting it up with a dap and saying: `Well, I don't see much in your Mr. Darwin J after all; if I had had his facts I should have come to the same conclusion myself."'
Since the method by which geniuses solve their problems is the same as that used by the ordinary man in meeting the difficulties of his business or profession, it is worth while to examine the process briefly.
First of all, it should be observed that if everything ran smoothly there would be no thinking. Like everything else, thinking requires a cause, which in this instance is trouble. Doubt, perplexity, uncertainty, an obstacle in the way of what we want to do—all are different names for troubles of one sort or another that interfere with our activities, physical or mental. So long as an automobile is in perfect running order the driver is not concerned with its mechanism. But let it go dead, with seventy-five miles to dinner and the nearest garage, and he is keenly interested in the cause of the trouble.
The recognition of trouble, however, either in something that we are trying to do or in finding the explanation of a problem is only the incentive to thinking. The cause of the difficulty must be understood before a remedy or a solution can be found, and here we have the second factor in thinking. In certain respects this is the most difficult part of the reasoning process, because most events are exceedingly complex, and the associated incidental factors are so intertwined with the essential elements that it is not easy to separate the essential from the accidental. Science has a way of meeting this perplexity. Experiments are arranged in which one possible cause after another is eliminated, and others, perhaps, exaggerated. In this way, by the process of elimination, the cause of a phenomenon is ascertained.
Certain peculiarities of electricity, for example, must have. been observed in ancient times, in lightning, in the aurora borealis, in loadstone, and in certain other sub-stances. In some of these cases the activity was too in-tense and rapid. In others it was too feeble and obscure. Machines and experiments were needed to produce a continuous supply of electricity of such an intensity as would make it possible to see and test what actually happened. From early times, also, it has been noticed that the tides vary with the phases of the moon. Some connection between these phenomena was assumed, but there was no accurate knowledge of the relation until Newton announced the law of gravitation. Mere observation is likely to be misleading. It would never have shown, for example, that air may exist as a liquid and as a solid.
In many matters, however, as in business and social problems, experimentation is not easy, and frequently it is impossible. Yet these questions are no less complex and involved than the scientific problems to which we have referred. In the former as well as in the latter the difficulty or obstruction in the way of successful progress in thought and action must be located and defined. The ledger does not show the profits which the business conditions lead one to expect. What is the explanation? Is the cause to be found in the internal organization, or lack of organization, or should it be sought among the sales-men? The cause and remedy of political corruption, to cite another instance, has long been a matter of controversy. The ramifications of this disease of the body politic are so extensive that many other social disturbances spring from it. As this is being written there are indications that we are soon to try a tremendously big experiment—the elimination of the saloons. Whatever one's ideas may be regarding "personal liberty" and "legislating men good," it must be admitted that this is the scientific method of locating the cause of the trouble.
This experiment of dispensing with saloons illustrates what is usually called the third step in reasoning—suggestions for remedying the difficulty. As a matter of fact, this is not the usual order of the factors in the process of thinking. Suggestions commonly arise before the difficulty is defined. The wise man, however, suspends judgment, delays acting on suggestions, until the cause of the trouble has been located. Unfortunately, however, wise men are rare, and consequently suggestions are acted upon hastily and impulsively before the difficulty has been carefully diagnosed and the cause located. It is the trial-and-error method on the animal level—the hit-or-miss method. Yet it is not the way of men who have realized on their ability. Napoleon, for example, once said: "If I appear to be always ready to reply to everything, it is because, before under-taking anything, I have meditated for a long time—I have foreseen what might happen. It is not a spirit which suddenly reveals to me what I have to say or do in a circumstance unexpected by others—it is reflection, meditation." ' Evidently Napoleon measures up well to the type of which H. G. Wells was thinking, when he made Mr. Britling say: "Will there ever be a man whose thoughts are quick and his acts slow?"
One of the most charming illustrations of suspended judgment and sensitiveness to suggestion—ability to discover meaning in commonplace events—is the means by which James Bradley explained the apparent movements of the stars about which he had long been puzzled. "One day when Bradley was out sailing he happened to remark that every time the boat was laid on a different tack the vane at the top of the boat's mast shifted a little, as if there had been a slight change in the direction of the wind. After he had noticed this three or four times he made a remark to the sailors to the effect that it was very strange the wind should always happen to change just at the moment when the boat was going about. The sailors, however, said there had been no change in the wind, but that the alteration in the vane was due to the fact that the boat's course had been altered. In fact, the position of the vane was determined both by the course of the boat and the direction of the wind, and if either of these were altered there would be a corresponding change in the direction of the vane. This meant, of course, that the observer in the boat which was moving along would feel the wind coming from a point different from that in which the wind appeared to be blowing when the boat was at rest, or when it was sailing in some different direction. Bradley's sagacity saw in this observation the clew to the difficulty which had so long troubled him. He argued that as light can only travel with a certain speed, it may in a measure be regarded like the wind, which he noticed in the boat. If the. observer were at rest, that is to say, if the earth were a stationary object, the direction in which the light actually does come would be different from that in which it appears to come when the earth is in motion. . . . Provided with this suggestion, he explained the apparent movements of the stars by the principle known as the `aberration of light.' This incident in the life of Bradley is comparable in every way to the mythical story of Newton and the apple, which scientists have been so eager to deny lest it remove some of the gloss from scientific thinking. As a matter of fact, reasoning about scientific problems is the same as that which is concerned with the day's work. Discovering the essential element in a bit of experience, and seeing its meaning in relation to the more important questions that trouble one, is thinking.
Failure to suspend judgment until the essential factors are discovered, and to persevere in the investigation until they are found, is the explanation of many blunders in business and in social reform. Ninety per cent of the business ventures are said to be failures, and this is the chief cause. Suspended judgment is not a popular state of mind. Men like to decide and act. An unsettled state of mind is not pleasant.
The habit of suspending judgment, therefore, is not easily acquired, and there is always a strong tendency to interpret facts so as to make them fit and justify our beliefs.
Before Kepler's day, for example, planets were assumed to move in circles. If one were found that did not conform to this "law," it was made to agree by saying that the circle in which the planet moved described an-other circle. Tycho, again, vigorously opposed the Copernican theory, and, by the irony of human psychology, Kepler used Tycho's own observations to add to the proof of the new idea which the master observer had so stoutly denied. And the facts which Owen had patiently collected, to cite another instance, and so serenely interpreted in support of his erroneous belief, were utilized by Darwin in his epoch-making generalization regarding the origin of species. "We all believe many things which we have no good ground for believing," Bertrand Russell has said,' "because, subconsciously, our nature craves certain kinds of action which these beliefs would render reasonable if they were true."
When Fulton presented his plans of a submarine boat to the British Government—to continue our illustrations of the tendency to hold to fixed opinions—the ministry appointed a commission of five men to examine the matter. So unwilling, however, were the members of the commission to suspend judgment and investigate—so sure were, they of the worthlessness of Fulton's invention—that, after many weeks of delay, they gave an adverse report without even asking Fulton to explain his plans and without having any account before them of the tests and experiments which he made. The submarine boat referred to in the report was large enough to carry eight men with provisions for twenty days. While under water a reservoir supplied the eight men with air for eight hours; and Fulton himself with three companions had remained under water for one hour.
We are accustomed to say that such things happened a long time ago, and to think that they could not occur now, but a very recent event comparable in all essential respects to the Fulton incident is the treatment which Langley received while working on the aeroplane. The first achievements of the "flying-machine" brought fulsome praise—as success usually does—and a government grant of fifty thousand dollars was easily obtained for the continuance of the experiments. Then difficulties appeared, chiefly with the engine, since the automobile industry had not yet forced its perfection. The preliminary grant was soon exhausted and more money could not easily be obtained to carry on the ludicrous experiments of a science crank. The unscientific editors of science notes in newspapers began to jeer, and "Langley's Folly" was the joke of small-calibered congressmen. Langley's vindication came, however, in the spring of 1914, when Glenn Curtis wiped the dust from the exhibit of insanity and made the "Folly" fly. We now know that Langley discovered the essential principle of aeroplanes, and with a little more financial aid he would have made the United States Government, instead of private individuals, the ruler of the air. And his death was hastened by a broken heart because of the ridicule heaped upon him. Now that he is gone, his name is enrolled among the memories of the throng who gave their lives to science and died unappreciated.
It would seem from the treatment of the men whom we have named, and who are typical of a long list of those who offered something new, as though the incident reported of an Italian town during the Middle Ages were representative of human experience: "The citizens of a certain town—Siena seems to be meant—had once an officer in their service who had freed them from foreign aggression; daily they took counsel how to recompense him, and concluded that no reward in their power was great enough not even if they made him lord of their city. At last one of them arose and said: `Let us kill him, and then worship him as our patron saint.' And so they did." 1 Evidently, a recent writer in the Atlantic Monthly was right when he said that "Dead radicals are honored, not because they were radicals, but because they are dead."
"The undisciplined mind," says Dewey, speaking of suspended judgment, "is averse to suspense and intellectual hesitation; it is prone to assertion. It likes things undisturbed, settled, and treats them as such without due warrant. Familiarity, common repute, and congeniality to desire are readily made measuring rods of truth. Ignorance gives way to opinionated and current error—a greater foe to learning than ignorance itself. . . . Our predilection for premature acceptance and assertion, our aversion to suspended judgment, are signs that we tend naturally to shortcut the process of testing. We are satisfied with superficial and immediate short-visioned applications. If these work with moderate satisfactoriness, we are content to suppose that our assumptions have been confirmed." Yet delay, pending inquiry and investigation, is the scientific method, and it is the only dependable plan of action. It is the essence of critical thinking. Following this plan, the managers of one of the most successful chains of restaurants in large cities are said never to decide upon a new location without having the people who pass proposed locations counted at noon and evening for a number of days. In this way one source of error is eliminated, and the business problem then resolves itself into furnishing as good a meal for the money as is offered by other restaurants in the vicinity.
Usually problems are not so simple as this business question, and the suggestions looking toward their solution must come through the use of a trained and controlled imagination; and in this connection some reflections of Faraday are interesting. He could not rid himself of the conviction that gravity is connected with other forces of nature. "Gravity—" he said, "surely this force must be capable of an experimental relation to electricity, magnet-ism, and the other forces, so as to bind it up with them in reciprocal action and equivalent effect." He was convinced that as two bodies approach one another, electricity is developed in each. Then, in a moment of hesitation and doubt, if not discouragement, he wrote in his laboratory notes: "All this is a dream. Still, examine it by a few experiments. Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature; and in such things as these, experiment is the best test of such consistency." So he continued his efforts to ascertain the facts, but many difficult and tedious experiments yielded nothing conclusive. At this point, feeling that he had done all that he could without time for reflection, he wrote: "Here end my experiments for the present. The results are negative; they do not shake my strong feeling of the existence of a relation between gravity and electricity, though they give no proof that such a relation exists."
Ten years later he returned to these experiments, having been working upon other problems during the meantime. "Let us encourage ourselves by a little more imagination prior to experiment," he wrote in his notes as a sort of personal censor. "And then he reflects upon the infinity of actions in nature, in which the mutual relations of electricity- and gravity would come into play; he pictures to himself the planets and the comets charging themselves as they approach the sun; cascades, rain, rising vapor, circulating currents of the atmosphere, the fumes of a volcano, the smoke in a chimney, become so many electrical machines; for a moment his reveries have the vividness of fact, and he sums up rapidly the consequences of his great but imaginary theory; an entirely new mode of exciting heat or electricity, an entirely new relation of the natural forces, an analysis of gravitation, and a justification of the conservation of force." 1 Then, perhaps in a moment of exultation, he wrote: "I think we must have been dull and blind not to have suspected some such results." But he did not allow his imagination to run rampant. "Let the imagination go, guarding it by judgment and principle, holding it in and directing it by experiment." When all was done and experiments had been cleverly contrived to eliminate the influence of the earth's magnetism by devices that only his consummate skill could suggest, the results were inconclusive. "The experiments," he wrote at the end, "were well made, but the results are negative. I cannot, however, accept them as final.
Faraday's reflections during this period of experimentation have been quoted at some length, because it is doubtful whether a better illustration of the correct method of thinking can be found—clear recognition of the difficulty, accurate definition of the problem, getting the facts, suggestions—the free but guided play of the imagination, with its resulting hypothesis—suspended judgment, and constant attempt at verification or refutation. And there is no other method of thinking, whether it be in science or in the affairs of everyday life.
Faraday's scientific imagination, keenly sensitive to the meaning of his observations, guessed more accurately than the methods of experimentation in his day could demonstrate; for, to take a wide leap in time, Professor Nipher, of Washington University, has just proved that a relation does exist between gravitation and electrical action. The results of his experiments "seem to indicate clearly that gravitational attraction between masses of matter depends upon their electrical potential due to electrical charges upon them.'" It has long been known that it is impossible to account for the motion of Venus and Mercury by Newton's law. Arbitrary terms, the meaning of which no one understood, had to be introduced into the equation, and Professor Nipher's work shows that what has been called the Newton gravitation constant is not a constant. Its value depends upon the electrical condition o. the bodies.
Returning to the method of thinking, the productive, creative imagination is the mind playing around facts; and the "little more imagination" with which Faraday thought "to encourage" himself, "prior to experiment" was his way of expressing his search for a hypothesis which would stand the test of facts and account for the scientific difficulties which he had discovered. Kepler's discovery, again, that the orbits of the planets are ellipses was a brilliant guess, but his guess was based on facts—observations —accumulated by Tycho. Upon these facts his imagination played, and to the end of his life he was ignorant of any reason why planets should move in such curves.
The way in which a trained imagination uses facts to discover truths is shown in Halley's study of comets. He learned that a comet had been observed at intervals of seventy-five or seventysix years, and his disciplined imagination leaped to the conclusion that comets are not chance visitors to the solar system, portending disaster, as had previously been thought. These several visitors, he said, are one and the same comet. So he proceeded to prophesy, but always on the basis of facts. The disturbance caused by the attraction of planets had to be computed. The result of these disturbing influences is that the comet does not describe the simple ellipse that it would if the sun were the only controlling force. Taking all known influences into consideration, Halley found that his comet should reappear at the close of the year 1758 or the beginning of 1759. On Christmas day, 1758, his hypothesis was verified by the reappearance of the expected comet, which passed through its nearest point to the sun in March, 1759. It will be recalled by many that this comet visited us again in 1910, amazingly near schedule time, considering its long journey and the number of alluring attractions that it encountered in its course. It missed the predicted time by two and sevententh days.
To be sure, matters of every-day life cannot be subjected to the same rigorous examination as can scientific questions, but the methods and precautions are the same. The difference lies rather in the exactness of the method as it may be applied in the laboratory. Perhaps, after all, it is the mental attitude that counts most. Conviction that mere observation is not likely to discover the meaning of a complex situation, ability to hold the judgment in suspense until the matter has been fully investigated, will go far toward reducing errors of opinion and decision.
Let us now consider some of the obstacles to correct thinking which arise out of the fact that thinkers are human beings with the characteristics that have come to them through the process of evolution. We have seen that the first thing to do in defining a problem after recognizing the difficulty is to find out the facts. It has already been shown by illustrative examples that hypotheses—the assumed cause of something that has happened—to be worth anything must rest upon facts; but the sin of hasty conclusions is so common in the thinking of everyday life that the matter deserves further consideration.
When King Charles asked the Royal Society to explain the curious "observation" that a live fish placed in a bucket of water does not increase the weight of the bucket and its contents, the members of the Royal Society wisely began by investigating the question of fact. Again, when the objectors to the Copernican theory said that if the earth were moving, a stone dropped from the top of a high tower would be left behind, just as is the case with a stone dropped from the masthead of a moving ship, the Copernicans should first have tested the latter part of the statement of fact; and had they used proper precautions in the experiment they would have shown that, barring the effect of air-currents, the statement is untrue. As regards the first part of the objection, it may be asking too much to have expected at that time the rigorous care and accurate measurements which would have been needed to demonstrate experimentally, as Benzenberg did later, that a stone dropped into a deep well is actually deflected slightly toward the east.
To cite an instance from daily life of the importance of getting facts, the war has forced business men to face certain problems that existed for them before the war but which they did not see until compelled to do so by having their supply of raw material cut off. In despair, they turned to the men who know—to the scientists in those fields; and then, to their amazement, they learned not only that this raw material is available, either in the United States or in some near-by neutral country, but, in addition, that the commodity from the new source is not only as good or better but also cheaper than that which they had previously imported from a greater distance. They did not have the facts. Before the necessity was forced upon them the manufacturers did not believe that uncommercial scientists could give business men advice. It is an-other illustration of the psychological principle of conservatism and habit-the tendency to minimum effort.
Interpreting facts, however, is much harder than collecting them. Indeed, the question of whether there are any facts worth getting, whether everything bearing on the matter is not already known, is one test of mental acumen. Only to the intelligent do problems present themselves. To the simple everything is simple. An environment may be rich in its possibilities for experience, yet yield nothing. It requires more than paying ore to produce gold. Many a prospector has failed to read the signs. In thinking, this mental blindness is caused by inability to see a problem. Facts do not exist for those to whom they have no significance; and when facts have no meaning there is no problem. It is said that we interpret new ideas by means of what we already know; and this is so true that the new is often accepted only to an extent that does not disturb the old ideas. Finding it necessary to retreat man makes a "strategic withdrawal," and then deceives himself by producing mental smoke that obscures the issue. This is one way—not uncommon—of interpreting the new in the light of the old.
When Torricelli, for example, discredited the Aristotelian dictum that nature abhors a vacuum, by showing that water would rise more than thirty-three feet in a pump, and mercury only about thirty inches in a glass tube, his opponents did not abandon their discredited belief. They modified it sufficiently to take in the facts observed by Torricelli. Nature, they said, abhors a vacuum up to a certain point but no further: Analogous cases are observed today in such expressions as "Socialism is good up to a certain point"; and, again, "A man's will is governed and determined by law to a certain point, and then freedom of choice occurs." Those who use this last bromide are forced to admit the application of the law of causality "up to a certain point" in order to find a fulcrum for their moral lever. If the will were wholly unresponsive to causes, Sunday-schools, social settlements, and all attempts to improve children and adults by bettering their environment would be useless, because the moral ideas and habits could not be depended upon to influence action. Such a will would be anarchistic. Consequently, some effect must be admitted. But, as with the Aristotelians in the controversy with Torricelli and the pump, the admission must not go so far as to jeopardize the original belief.
This unwillingness to discard a cherished belief springs in part from a strong human impulse to estimate the truth of new ideas by the system of thoughts which one has accepted in large measure unconsciously. A ready-made classification of ideas preserves consistency by forbidding change. With such a classification all that is necessary is to fit it on to the new discovery, and then no violence is done to the harmony of one's system of thoughts. So, when fossils were first found they were explained, among other ways, as models made by the Creator before he had fully decided upon the best form in which to create the, various animals.
When anaesthetics were discovered, to illustrate further, a storm of protest arose against their use. Again the stock ideas prevailed. Pain was God-given, it was said, and any attempt to alleviate it was an effort to thwart his will. But a Scotch physician, Doctor James Simpson, who knew something about psychology as well as medicine, after long and bitter opposition, brought the startling innovation into harmony with the prevailing system of ideas by writing a pamphlet in which he said: "My opponents forget the twenty-first verse of the second chapter of Genesis. It is the record of the first surgical operation ever performed, and that text proves that the Maker of the universe, before he took the rib from Adam's side for the creation of Eve, caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam." This recognition of the way in which the human, mind acts won the day for anaesthetics.
From one point of view facts may be roughly divided into two classes: First, those which have a purely objective aspect, i. e., those unattended by personal bias, as facts of electricity and gravitation today; and, second, those that oppose opinions and beliefs held dear. Interpretation of the first is difficult because of the many intricate relations and connections.
Difficult, however, as it is to interpret facts which are unattended by personal bias, it is much harder, indeed, all but impossible, to understand those which oppose our cherished convictions. The mind of man is like a poorly made mirror. It distorts the facts that it reflects. Opinions and beliefs are true because we have long been surrounded by them. They are the views of "our set." "The vast majority of persons of our race," Francis Galton once said,' " have a natural tendency to shrink from the responsibility of standing and acting alone; they exalt the vox populi, even when they know it to be the utterance of a mob of nobodies, into the vox Dei, and they are willing slaves to tradition, authority, and custom. The intellectual deficiencies corresponding to these moral flaws are shown by the rareness of force and original thought as compared with the frequency and readiness with which men accept the opinions of those in authority as binding on their judgment. . . . Fickleness of national character is principally due to the several members of the nation exercising no independent judgment, but allowing themselves to be led hither and thither by the successive journalists, orators, and sentimentalists who happen for the time to have the chance of directing them." One does not need to go beyond one's own circle of acquaintances for illustrative examples; and this gregarious thinking, which seeks to maintain views rather than to ascertain the truth, produces adventitious tendencies that throw an illuminating side-light upon several phases of human behavior.
It has long been known, for example, that any statement, however meaningless, acquires significance if repeated often enough. So it is with ideas. They appear true by long association with them. Then, of course, they are vigorously maintained. It is indeed a curious fact of human psychology that the more unanswerable the arguments the more prone the vanquished is to deny them. "So long as an element of doubt is admissible," says Gotch in his review of the scientific method, "an opponent will suffer the inference to be drawn without a violent outburst; but when the inference is logically certain and the opponent is forced to admit his error or stultify himself, he may, it is true, maintain a magnanimous silence, but generally he fails to do so; he becomes greatly perturbed, and denies everything, even the most demonstrable facts. There is no greater incentive to unreasonable anger than the conviction that our position has been shown to be erroneous, and that in our inmost souls we are fully conscious of its hopeless character."
One of the striking effects of fixed opinions is that they prevent us not merely from accepting arguments in opposition, but also from understanding these opposing arguments—and this is far more serious. We cannot follow a line of reasoning which is antagonistic to a strong emotional prejudice. Cuvier, unable to see the meaning of fossils, and Owen laboriously gathering arguments for Darwin without understanding them, are illustrations. When Sumner, to illustrate further, was asked whether he had ever looked at the other side of slavery, he replied "There is no other side." Yet we all know today that the South believed there was an economic side, recognition of which might have saved the losses and horrors of the Civil War.
If we ask for the cause of fixed opinions we come upon an interesting characteristic of human psychology which largely determines the course of thoughts and actions. The related experiences of an individual become organized into a system of ideas that decide his outlook and opinions in matters upon which the experiences have any bearing. These systems of thought have been called mental complexes. Enthusiasts display them in their hobbies, and here they are often valuable because they afford relief from the strain of work. Enthusiasm for golf is an illustration. The golf complex makes everything relating to the game interesting and the player's thoughts are easily turned in that direction. But, besides rendering the service of relief from work, mental complexes are the cause of blind adhesion to parties and "bias" toward all questions to which the systems of thought apply. Usually more or less emotion is intermingled in these complexes, and when they are emotionally saturated they become sentiments. Then the all but irresistible control of the complex is as unassailable as adamant.
These mental complexes determine the course of thoughts and forbid logical thinking. Evidence is not weighed impartially. They are the more disastrous to accurate reasoning because the individual is not aware that he has them. The belief that men generally know why they hold certain opinions is erroneous. The mental bias settles the line that thoughts shall take. Thinking is often a rearrangement of our prejudices. Man, however, craves consistency, so the usual procedure is first to come to an opinion, and then to find "reasons" for holding it. We make believe that we may believe. Gladstone, according to Frederick York Powell, is a good illustration. Speaking of his "pig controversy" with Huxley, Mr. Powell said: "Gladstone was never really honest with his own mind. He meant to be honest, but . . . he was a terrific self-deceiver." '
Mental complexes--organized systems of thoughts—we must have. We cannot escape them and perhaps it is best that we should not. But efficient thinking requires that they be kept clear of emotional obscurity. If one were to ask oneself for the reasons for one's opinions, in a large majority of cases it would be impossible to find a convincing answer. Mental complexes unconsciously acquired and colored by personal emotions have established the belief. Yet to estimate the worth of arguments it is necessary that they be viewed objectively. Thoughts should be kept free from confusing alliances with self-interests and desires—free to move upon one another and make new combinations. And, above all, a man must know that he has these organized systems of thoughts, many of which are suffused with emotions. He who believes himself free from them is hopeless as a thinker.
Since, as we have said, the mind demands at least superficial consistency, and since no one is wholly good or wholly bad, two opposing systems of ideas are commonly held apart and not allowed to conflict. Illustrations are more common than one could wish. It is a familiar fact, for instance, that people who would indignantly deny that they are dishonest will rob the government, railroads, or stockholders; but they would not swindle individuals. Office-holders and politicians who accept graft in the form of "favors" belong to this group; and the recent case of an American woman "of high moral ideals," who had done heroic, self-sacrificing work among the wounded soldiers of France, swindling the government in custom duties on her return to this country is a pathetic instance which can be duplicated many times during the year from the daily press. Perhaps the most conspicuous example of the present day is that of those business men who give generously to the poor and to the service of the nation, yet take advantage of war conditions to rob the people collectively by hoarding and overcharging. Preventing collision between conflicting ideas keeps the mind at peace, but thinking is negligible in such placid states. Viewing questions from different sides so as to see their meaning and their relation to other problems, if done ingenuously, is likely to produce some mental perturbation, but the rearrangement of ideas that follows the agitation is quite certain to clarify the judgment.
Sometimes the inability to see the "other side" assumes a humorous aspect. When, for instance, after a long friendship, politics estranged Felton and Sumner, the latter wrote: "In anguish I mourn your altered regard for me; but, more than my personal loss, I mourn the unhappy condition of your mind and character." 1 And Carlyle, opposed to evolution, once said of Darwin: "A good sort of man is this Darwin, and well meaning, but with very little intellect."
Here, again, we come upon another characteristic of human nature, illustrative of fixed opinions, and that is that prejudices grip us unawares, and we go on serenely in the happy belief that we think out questions and settle them by the reasonableness of the arguments. We have observed, however, that man does not think as much as he fancies he does. Prejudice is a habit of thought, and a habit of thought, as we shall see later, is a physiological matter—the tendency of nerve impulses to follow old, well-worn paths. Habits are physical conditions, like the tendency of a book to open to the place to which we frequently turn, and it is quite as difficult for man to break an established habit in himself as it is to change the habit of the book. We grow into most of our ideas wholly unconsciously. This is because we always hear them uttered by the people who mingle in "our set."
Our environment is full of problematic relations inadequately solved because they are not understood. And they are not understood because of the prejudices of our mental complexes. The relation between capital and labor is an illustration. Many men are not even aware of the existence of some of these problems. Habits of thought and action usually embrace the range of behavior so completely as to leave the narrowest margin for variation, and then only in matters of detail which have no significance for progress. The result is that progress, both in the individual and in the race, is a series of blunders, each subsequent act being directed chiefly at mitigating the mistakes of earlier ones. This is the animal method of trial and error, with apparently little more conscious mental prevision of the probable outcome of acts than is found in the lower animals. If this statement seems too strong let the reader study the history of the conservation of our natural resources, the granting of city franchises, the control of public-service companies, or of corporations of a semipublic character. The pension system has not yet reached the stage of correcting past errors. It still continues a colossal blunder.
The resistance to clear thinking by fixed opinions and habits of thought raises the question of their cause. We have already mentioned one—the environment in which we live, the influence of early education and social pressure. But there is another, and that is the subtle effect of phrases.
Man deals largely in phrases—in word formulas. If we hear a phrase often enough we come to think we see meaning in it, however senseless it may be. This tendency to accept vague phrases is utilized by politicians, and not infrequently it is the reason for the success of a party at the election. Party slogans, to which we have already referred, by no means exhaust the list of ingenious political thought-controllers; and advertising experts who can coin phrases are in great demand. This method of directing thought into prescribed channels and damming it up by appealing to human emotions and prejudices is so effective as to constitute at times a social menace. Illustrations of phrases with carrying power, such as "the rights of man," "personal liberty," the "big cinch," and the "medical trust," might be continued almost indefinitely. They all beg the question, but they beg it convincingly. To accomplish their purpose the phrases must be suggestive, but they must also be vague enough to enable different people to put their own interpretation into them. Acceptance of such word formulas promotes and perpetuates prejudices by obscuring the content, or lack of con-tent; of the phrases. The habit of not examining critically the phrases that we hear and use cultivates loose methods of thinking.
Arnold Bennett's Clayhanger contains an excellent illustration of the effect of a word. Speaking of the candidacy of Mr. Bradlaugh for the House of Commons, one of his characters says: "It was not easy—at any rate it was not easy in the Five Towns—for a timid man in reply to the question, `Are you in favor of a professed Free Thinker sitting in the House of Commons?' to reply, `Yes, I am.' There was something shameless in that word `professed,'" continues Mr. Bennett. "If the Free Thinker had been ashamed of his free-thinking, if he had sought to conceal his meaning in phrases—the implication was that the case might not have been so bad."
Phrases cleverly worded to appeal to moral sentiments, and to feign an open-mindedness which their writers do not have, illustrate this power of empty words to cajole the human mind into placid assent in the conviction that it is thinking. The form of a statement with carrying power varies, of course, at different periods. We do not, as formerly, say, for instance, that Job's distemper was smallpox, and that he was probably inoculated by the devil, nor do we assert that the practice of vaccination is "flying in the face of Providence" and endeavoring to baffle a "divine judgment," but we still hear that vaccine is poison, and the influence of this word is still further strengthened by the addition of the disagreeable phrase "putrescent matter." The fact that the prejudice against vaccination continues in spite of the evidence in its sup-port shows the mystic power of a vague, unanalyzed word and phrase to stifle thought. The titles of a few pamphlets against animal experimentation which the writer has recently received are worth quoting as additional evidence of the subtle effect of language in narcotizing reason.
You will observe that, as was the case with "putrescent matter," the words used in these titles are disagreeable words—words that at once stir our indignation and so arouse prejudice against the acts which the writers are opposing. This is good psychology, but bad ethics. The following are some of the titles. Shall Science Do Murder?; Confessions of a Vivisector; Anesthetics the Greatest Curse to Vivisectible Animals; Awful Vivisection of Horses; The Reality of Human Vivisection.
Naturally, any subject of study that instigates murder, or group of men who commit the crime, must be bad, and confessions always carry with them the idea of sin. And further, the vicious depravity of those who indulge in the "awful vivisection of horses" and in "human vivisection," goes without saying. The success of such titles is an excellent illustration of the convincing power of words.
The last of these pamphlets to which I wish to call attention carries the psychologically effective title :.Is Christian Mercy a Cruel, Mocking Delusion? This pamphlet asks: "Can the church allow this deadly moral venom, distilled by vivisectors in their laboratories of scientific research, to poison the spiritual atmosphere of the souls Christ died to save?"
The expression, "this deadly moral venom," is bad enough to convert any one to the doctrine of antivivisection, and hence, if one has no respect for truthfulness or for the English language, its psychology is unimpeachable; but when, in addition, we learn that this "moral venom" is "distilled by vivisectors in their laboratories of scientific research to poison the spiritual atmosphere of the souls Christ died to save," surely, we must conclude that no dungeon or torture is adequate punishment for the distillers !
The soporific effect of such phrases upon thought is a national menace to-day when animal experimentation is needed to investigate the medical and surgical problems of the new methods of warfare. While our young men on the battlefront of Europe are dying from new and obscure diseases, antivivisectionists are striving to stifle the investigations which must be made to combat successfully the new conditions and save the lives of our soldier boys. "Shock," "trench fever," "trench foot," "trench heart," "trench nephritis," and "shell shock" have never been met before, and each new poisonous gas requires separate experimentation upon the lower animals that its effect and cure may be discovered.
We have said that understanding the problem and getting the facts are the beginning of thinking. This method is also the best antidote for mental numbness produced by phrases. Let us therefore examine some of the facts that show what animal research has accomplished. If these facts prove that human life has been conserved and suffering relieved by animal experimentation, then the problem is simplified and resolves itself into the question whether men and women, and boys and girls are more important than dogs, rabbits, guinea-pigs, and monkeys.
Besides showing the importance of facts, this reduction of a complex problem to a simpler one by eliminating unessentials illustrates a method of clarifying thought. All of the knowledge to which we shall briefly refer has been obtained by experimenting upon the lower animals, and could have been gained in no other way.
The mortality from wounds of the stomach during the Civil War has been estimated as high as 99 per cent. Today "no complications ought to occur, save in exceptional cases." Doctor Keyes reports' a recovery after twenty-two gunshot perforations of the bowels. And this change would have been impossible without antiseptics discovered by experiments on the lower animals. Surgery of the chest, also, has been revolutionized. And as for surgery of the heart and arteries, a wholly new chapter has been opened. Suture of blood-vessels, end to end, as done today through the skill gained by experiments on lower animals, not only avoids the clot that in earlier attempts obstructed the flow of blood, but, in addition, this same method permits the transfusion of blood, an operation altogether impossible until many experimental trials and failures upon the lower animals finally achieved success.
Tumors and abscesses inside the skull can now be located and frequently, in the one case removed, and in the other drained and cured. Tissues can be transplanted and made to grow, and, as is well known, with the skin this is now a simple operation. Serums have been discovered for epidemic cerebrospinal meningitis, tuberculosis, diphtheria, lockjaw, and typhoid fever. In the United States, before the use of the antitoxin over 120 out of each 100,000 inhabitants died yearly from diphtheria. Today the death-rate is about 27 in the same number of inhabitants, and some of these could doubtless be saved were the serum discovered by animal experimentation used in time. Lockjaw is now almost unknown because of the use of its antitoxin.
As for typhoid fever, it afflicted nearly one-fifth of the entire army of the Spanish-American War. "It caused over 86 per cent of the entire mortality of that war," and the surgeon-general's report for 1916 says that the mortality from this disease during that year was three-tenths of one per cent for the entire army, regulars and national guard. Typhoid has ceased to be a scourge to the army; and this change has been brought about by animal experimentation.
We have dealt at some length with the evidence for the value of animal experimentation to show the array of facts available for those who are interested in thinking this question out rather than in justifying a settled belief. Yet we have only scratched the surface of the proof.' And the cry of opposition is not stilled. Even so clever a thinker in some matters as Agnes Repplier cannot avoid a rhetorical fling at this form of experimentation' The explanation of the opposition of intelligent men and women is that frequently the emotions overbalance the intellect, and for such people facts have no meaning. They cannot understand and interpret facts because the emotional resistance dulls their critical judgment.
Another effect of this emotional debauchery, aside from its extinction of thinking, is its moral influence upon those who indulge in the spree. It is not uncommon for anti-vivisectionists, for example, in quoting from the writings of experimenters, to omit the portions that would deny the statements and conclusions which the antivivisectionists wish to give. And, again, the following by Mary Alden Hopkins, taken from Four Lights, the organ perhaps of the People's Council of America, since they sent it to the writer, illustrates in another way the same mental and moral obliquity. "Accustom your children gradually to the sight of blood," the paragraph begins, presumably representing the view of those who believe that war is ever justifiable. "And for yourself learn to kill a little every day. One sweet woman is accustomed to ask herself searchingly each night, `Whom have I killed today?' and to fall asleep resolving to kill more on the morrow." Could there be a more charming case of moral perversity than is shown by this characterization of those who believe in fighting to preserve democracy? And what chance have thoughts-thoughts that lead to a valid conclusion—in this emotional vortex ? A hopeless argument destroys the moral perspective.
Another source of error in much of our reasoning is man's inclination to decide the worth of ideas by the con-sequences which he thinks will ensue. We picture direful results and condemn the idea. Voltaire, for example, was so fearful lest the discovery of fossil fishes in the Alps would support the Biblical account of the deluge that he at once seized upon the first (and most ridiculous) explanation which could be offered, i. e., that they were the re-mains of fishes brought there by pilgrims.
Two things may be said about judging ideas by their results: First, that the consequences which we fear may not follow, and second, that if they do they may not be as bad as we anticipate. Imagine what the men of the feudal period would have said had the plan been proposed of intrusting the protection of their estates and lives to a body of paid public servants, i.e., policemen. This judging by consequences was the chief reason for the opposition to evolution. It was predicted that it would destroy religion and morality. The battles which were waged around Darwin's Origin of Species are among the fiercest and least intelligent in the long, cruel warfare against prejudice. So far, as evolution is concerned, the war has been fought and won, and the result is a higher conception of religion and morality. Josh Billings, in his quaint way, expressed his opinion about those who are so sure of the disasters that will follow the acceptance of new ideas when he said: "'Tain't what men don't know that makes trouble in the world; it's what they know for sartan that ain't so."
It is doubtful whether prejudices diminish in number with the advance of civilization. They simply vary in kind, and this is one of our mental handicaps. Man thinks that he is progressing merely because he has thrown aside some ideas which were in vogue fifty years ago. It is easy to see prejudice in the thoughts and beliefs of earlier periods because they stand out in contrast with the background of modern knowledge; but the prejudice in beliefs which are fashionable to-day is not so easily detected. It is like our judgment of the oddity of clothes. We see the faults of the crinoline, especially, for instance, when we think of the wearer in connection with our crowded street-cars, but it should relieve us of at least a modicum of conceit when we reflect upon the probable remarks on present styles fifty years hence. And the same may be said of ideas and beliefs.
The opposition to current social, industrial, ethical, and political innovations seems almost axiomatic because the prevailing ideas appear so self-evident. Besides, as has been said, we like to feel that questions are settled. Some-times we fear that doubt will give the appearance of vacillation. So we classify ideas under headings, and when our opinion is asked we need only refer to our mental card catalogue of right and wrong, anarchistic and socialistic acts or opinions, and the question is decided. We are like those who tie up clothing in bundles and untie these later only to take out a lot of antiquated goods. The difference is that we ourselves do not see that our ideas are out of date. Only those who have resisted the desire to preserve the old are aware of that. One of the sad facts in human psychology is that man grows old mentally long before his years warrant his antiquity.
Illustrations of man's failure to think have been drawn largely from science because it would seem as though here if anywhere open-mindedness might be expected. Yet we have not found it so. In emotional questions, such as industrial problems that affect our business interests, and religion which draws its inspiration from our deepest instincts, the path of truth is strewn with the debris of personal interests and tradition. It is here even more than in science that we need to-day above all things, as Alice Freeman Palmer once said, "The influence of men and women of generous nature, of hospitality to new ideas; in short, of social imagination."
The mental attitude is often the deciding factor in thinking. There are those who revel riotously in the obscure. They want to believe in "new thought," "metaphysical healing," clairvoyance, second sight, animal magnetism, etc., and so they readily find evidence. Proof of what we wish to believe is easily obtained. Obscurity sounds like concealed wisdom to the credulous. The literature of the occult is loaded with meaningless phrases which the devotee believes will yield thought if only he can break through the outer crust and absorb the nectar of truth. About fifty men and women from one of the largest cities in the country recently took a course in "Where Dwells the I Am," under the direction of the high priest of the cult. I quote a sentence from one of the books that answers this question.
"Through involution we are carried back to the nativity or primary life through material form, which is the first expression of love through earth form or upon this earth plane." These men and women were studying this drivel in the belief that its profundity obscured the meaning, and that the significance would be clear if they would but repeat it times enough. And they were right, at least so far as seeming to see meaning in it is concerned.
It is characteristic of the human mind to be attracted and impressed by the unusual or sensational, and to fail to notice events that are daily occurrences. Now, it is true that exceptional instances have played a tremendously important role in the progress of science. There is nothing mysterious about routine events. The myriads of stars in apparently fixed relative positions and visible every night had less popular and scientific interest in the Middle Ages than two brilliant stars that suddenly shot into view and almost as quickly disappeared. One of these, indeed, started Tycho Brahe in his remarkable observations and investigations. But when the scientist is attracted by the unusual his interest quickly centres in its relation to the more common. The brilliant temporary star observed by Tycho Brahe interested him only as it suggested problems about the stars which had previously attracted little attention. If it were an exception to the usual, then the usual was not understood. A law of nature can have no exceptions. Consequently, the scientist investigates the uncommon that he may understand the common.
The public, however, is attracted by the unusual for quite a different reason. Like the scientist, they assume uniformity and consistency, but they attain it by predicating some new force or cause as an explanation. A man's dog does remarkable things—much more remarkable than the accomplishments of your dog or mine—but these exceptional actions are easily explained. His dog reasons. Quite likely yours does not. At any rate, he is altogether willing to grant you that it does not; but his does. There is no attempt to carry uniformity beyond his own pet. In the same way believers in thought-transference or in the prophetic value of dreams will narrate wonderful cases which have come within their own experience. No attempt is made to bring these exceptional cases into conformity with matters of common experience. It is sufficient that a name be given to explain them. Examination would frequently show that they were not even exceptions in any other sense than that they had attracted an exceptional degree of attention. A "psychic," for instance, informed the writer some time since that she had a premonition that her brother in Mexico was in trouble. Now, it so happened that at that time the continuous revolution was in progress in Mexico and everybody there was in trouble. A little reflection will convince the reader that if the merest fraction of his premonitions had come true he would be a raving maniac.
There are various reasons for making the exceptional the standard. The unusual attracts our attention not always because it is striking and sensational, but some-times because of its effect upon us. "It always rains when I do not take my umbrella" is almost proverbial. As a matter of fact, if one were to record the days when one carried an umbrella or failed to do so, with a note for each day regarding rain, the statement would be found to be incorrect. The occasions on which I am caught in the rain without an umbrella are impressed upon me because I spoil a new hat, or I am seriously irritated by the rain in some other way. On the other hand, the days when I do not take my umbrella and it remains pleasant leave no impression. They are forgotten because nothing happened that forced me to think the two facts together.
In the case of the umbrella, thinking is obstructed be-cause we forget the favorable and remember the unfavorable, but in another class of events the reverse is true. There is no contradiction here, however, since in both cases the reason for remembering the things that confuse thinking is the impression made, which in the case of the umbrella was caused by irritation and in the other by pleasure and hope. An illustration of the latter is quacks and prophets who thrive on the psychological effect of occasional successes among numerous failures. Clairvoyants arrested in Chicago said on the witness stand that clients came in such numbers that they could not manufacture prophecies fast enough to meet the demand. "Menmark when they hit and never mark when they miss," Bacon said; and it is true of the hits and misses of others when the hits coincide with our wishes. But it was a wise old Greek who, when shown the votive offerings to Neptune of those who had been saved from shipwreck, cried: "But where are the offerings of those who never returned?"
The 1917 mayoralty campaign in New York City, to illustrate from another angle, has proved again what has been observed repeatedly, that only the unusual—sensational—in municipal administration attracts the attention of voters. The public is indifferent to the quality of government unless intolerable scandals are disclosed. They are interested in turning rascals out, but not much concerned with retaining good officials. Good government is uneventful. Nothing strikingly unusual happens. So the attention relaxes. Probably Mitchel's administration was the best that New York has ever had, but there was nothing extraordinarily impressive to compel the attention to note its quality. Hence, reasoning, on the basis of the results produced, was defective.
The tendency to fix the attention on the unusual reaches widely into events because, in some way or other, many of them affect our weal and woe; and in attending to two events, one of which follows the other, man, as we have seen, is prone to assume the operation of a force to bring about the conjunction. This, of course, vitiates his thinking. The connection supposed by many to exist between the phases of the moon and the sowing of crops is an instance. A more common illustration today is the belief in some relation between the phases of the moon and rain. "It will not rain until we have a change of the moon" is a frequent statement. The truth in this probably lies in the fact that people do not begin to talk much about the weather until the condition is somewhat threatening. By that time rain is due, and in localities in which the prospect of rain is sufficient to warrant its discussion the chances are pretty good that it will come within, say, a week. By that time the moon has changed and the connection between the two events is settled to the satisfaction of those who are looking for that sort of cause.
Thinking, then, briefly to survey the field, requires that, first of all, the trouble be located and defined. In intellectual matters this usually means a clear statement of the problem to be investigated. It must be freed from all unessential accretions—isolated from the incidental factors associated with it. These accidental adhesions confuse the issue and derange thinking. After the problem has been clearly stated we are ready to get the facts. Everything bearing on the difficulty should be ascertained. Darwin's method indicates the numberless facts, days, and years sometimes needed.
"When on board H. M. S. Beagle as naturalist," he says,' "I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home it occurred to me, in 1837, that some-thing might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years' work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions which then seemed to me probable; from that period to the present day" 1859 "I have steadily pursued the same object."
Not until facts have been accumulated and ordered are suggestions that are worth while likely to appear. Knowledge gives the raw material for solving problems, but in addition to knowledge there must be a sensitive, open mind anxious to see things as they are, instead of as we should wish them to be. While Newcomen was working on the engine which bears his name he noticed that the piston gave several strokes in unusually rapid succession. On searching for the cause he found that a hole in the piston let the cold water pass into the cylinder and thus caused a rapid vacuum. A thought suddenly flashed into Newcomen's mind, and internal condensation by means of a jet was the result.
Naturally, Newcomen had no emotional bias, but many questions, especially those of a social and industrial nature, cut deeply into our personal interests and desires. We therefore stress unduly certain factors and ignore others. Partly for this reason thinking is diverted into wrong channels and, at times, it is completely blocked. Again, man, for reasons lying far back in his past, tends to assume certain relations between events It is, therefore, necessary to be continually on guard against diverting and perverting influences upon the course of thought; for only by the utmost watchfulness can a problem be kept clear of unessential and human factors., And we should never forget that "Cultivation," as Sauel Butler has said, "will breed in any man a certainty of the uncertainty of his most assured convictions."