Scientific Use Of The Imagination
( Originally Published 1916 )
"Lastly, physical investigation, more than anything besides, helps to teach us the actual value and right use of the Imagination—of that wondrous facility, which, left to ramble uncontrolled, leads us astray into a wilderness of perplexities and errors, a land of mists and shadows; but which, properly controlled by experience and reflection, becomes the noblest attribute of man; the source of poetic genius, the instrument of discovery in Science, without the aid of which Newton would never have invented fluxions, nor Davy have decomposed the earths and alkalies, nor would Columbus have found another Continent. "—Address to the Royal Society by its President Sir Benjamin Brodie, Nov. 30, 1869
I CARRIED with me to the Alps this year the burden of this evening's work. Save from memory I had no direct aid upon the mountains; but to spur up the emotions, on which so much depends, as well as to nourish indirectly the intellect and will, I took with me four works, comprising two volumes of poetry, Goethe's "Farbenlehre," and the work on "Logic" recently published by Mr. Alexander Bain. In Goethe, so noble otherwise, I chiefly noticed the self-inflicted hurts of genius, as it broke itself in vain against the philosophy of Newton. Mr. Bain I found, for the most part, learned and practical, shining generally with a dry light, but exhibiting at times a flush of emotional strength, which proved that even logicians share the common fire of humanity. He interested me most when he became the mirror of my own condition. Neither intellectually nor socially is it good for man to be alone, and the sorrows of thought are more patiently borne when we find that they have been experienced by another. From certain passages in his book I could infer that Mr. Bain was no stranger to such sorrows.
Speaking for example of the ebb of intellectual force, which we all from time to time experience, Mr. Bain says: "The uncertainty where to look for the next opening of discovery brings the pain of conflict and the debility of indecision." These words have in them the true ring of personal experience. The action of the investigator is periodic. He grapples with a subject of inquiry, wrestles with it, and exhausts, it may be, both himself and it for the time being. He breathes a space, and then renews the struggle in another field. Now this period of halting between two investigations is not always one of pure re-pose. It is often a period of doubt and discomfort—of gloom and ennui. "The uncertainty where to look for the next opening of discovery brings the pain of conflict and the debility of indecision." It was under such conditions that I had to equip myself for the hour and the ordeal that are now come.
The disciplines of common life are, in great part, exercises in the relations of space, or in the mental grouping of bodies in space; and, by such exercises, the public mind is, to some extent, prepared for the reception of physical conceptions. Assuming this preparation on your part, the wish gradually grew within me to trace, and to enable you to trace, some of the more occult features and operations of Light and Color. I wished, if possible, to take you beyond the boundary of mere observation, into a region where things are intellectually discerned, and to show you there the hidden mechanism of optical action.
But how are those hidden things to be revealed? Philosophers may be right in affirming that we cannot transcend experience: we can, at all events, carry it a long way from its origin. We can magnify, diminish, qualify, and combine experiences, so as to render them fit for pur-poses entirely new. In explaining sensible phenomena, we habitually form mental images of the ultra-sensible. There are Tories even in science who regard Imagination as a faculty to be feared and avoided rather than employed. They have observed its action in weak vessels, and are unduly impressed by its disasters. But they might with equal justice point to exploded boilers as an argument against the use of steam. With accurate experiment and observation to work upon, Imagination becomes the architect of physical theory. Newton's passage from a falling apple to a falling moon was an act of the prepared imagination, without which the "laws of Kepler" could never have been traced to their foundations. Out of the facts of chemistry the constructive imagination of Dalton formed the atomic theory. Davy was richly endowed with the imaginative faculty, while with Faraday its exercise was incessant, preceding, accompanying and guiding all his experiments. His strength and fertility as a discoverer is to be referred in great part to the stimulus of his imagination. Scientific men fight shy of the word because of its ultra-scientific connotations; but the fact is, that, without the exercise of this power, our knowledge of nature would be a mere tabulation of co-existences and sequences. We should still believe in the succession of day and night, of summer and winter; but the conception of Force would vanish from our universe; causal relations would disappear, and with them that science which is now binding the parts of nature to an organic whole.
I should like to illustrate by a few simple instances the use that scientific men have already made of this power of imagination, and to indicate afterward some of the further uses that they are likely to make of it. Let us begin with the rudimentary experiences. Observe the falling of heavy rain-drops into a tranquil pond. Each drop as it strikes the water becomes a ' centre of disturbance, from which a series of ring-ripples expand outward. Gravity and inertia are the agents by which this wave-motion is produced, and a rough experiment will suffice to show that the rate of propagation does not amount to a foot a second. A series of slight mechanical shocks is experienced by a body plunged in the water, as the wave-lets reach it in succession. But a finer motion is at the same time set up and propagated. If the head and ears be immersed in the water, as in an experiment of Franklin's, the tick of the drop is heard. Now, this sonorous impulse is propagated, not at the rate of a foot, but at the rate of 4,700 feet a second. In this case it is not the gravity, but the elasticity of the water that comes into play. Every liquid particle pushed against its neighbor delivers up its motion with extreme rapidity, and the pulse is propagated as a thrill. The incompressibility of water, as illustrated by the famous Florentine experiment, is a measure of its elasticity; and to the possession of this property, in so high a degree, the rapid transmission of a sound-pulse through water is to be ascribed.
But water, as you know, is not necessary to the conduction of sound ; air is its most common vehicle. And you know that when the air possesses the particular density and elasticity corresponding to the temperature of freezing water, the velocity of sound in it is 1,090 feet a second. It is almost exactly one-fourth of the velocity in water; the reason being that though the greater weight of the water tends to diminish the velocity, the enormous molecular elasticity of the liquid far more than atones for the disadvantage due to weight. By various contrivances we can compel the vibrations of the air to declare themselves; we know the length and frequency of the sonorous waves, and we have also obtained great mastery over the various methods by which the air is thrown into vibration. We know the phenomena and laws of vibrating rods, of organ-pipes, strings, membranes, plates, and bells. We can abolish one sound by another. We know the physical meaning of music and noise, of harmony and discord. In short, as regards sound in general, we have a very clear notion of the external physical processes which correspond to our sensations.
In the phenomena of sound, we travel a very little way from downright sensible experience. Still the imagination is to some extent exercised. The bodily eye, for example, cannot see the condensations and rarefactions of the waves of sound. We construct them in thought, and we believe as firmly in their existence as in that of the air itself. But now our experience is to be carried into a new region, where a new use is to be made of it. Having mastered the cause and mechanism of sound, we desire to know the cause and mechanism of light. We wish to ex-tend our inquiries from the auditory to the optic nerve. There is in the human intellect a power of expansion—I might almost call it a power of creation—which is brought into play by the simple brooding upon facts. The legend of the spirit brooding over chaos may have originated in experience of this power. In the case now before us it has manifested itself by transplanting into space, for the pur-poses of light, an adequately modified form of the mechanism of sound. We know intimately whereon the velocity of sound depends. When we lessen the density of the aerial medium, and preserve its elasticity constant, we augment the velocity. When we heighten the elasticity, and keep the density constant, we also augment the velocity. A small density, therefore, and a great elasticity, are the two things necessary to rapid propagation. Now light is known to move with the astounding velocity of 186,000 miles a second. How is such a velocity to be obtained ? By boldly diffusing in space a medium of the requisite tenuity and elasticity.
Let us make such a medium our starting-point, and, endowing it with one or two other necessary qualities, let us handle it in accordance with strict mechanical laws.
Let us then carry our results from the world of theory into the world of sense, and see whether our deductions do not issue in the very phenomena of light which ordinary knowledge and skilled experiment reveal. If in all the multiplied varieties of these phenomena, including those of the most remote and entangled description, this. fundamental conception always brings us face to face with the truth; if no contradiction to our deductions from it be found in external nature, but on all sides agreement and verification; if, moreover, as in the case of Conical Refraction and in other cases, it actually forces upon our attention phenomena which no eye had previously seen, and which no mind had previously imagined—such a conception must, we think, be something more than a mere figment of the scientific fancy. In forming it, that composite and creative power, in which reason and imagination are united, has, we believe, led us into a world not less real than that of the senses, and of which the world of sense itself is the suggestion and, to a great extent, the outcome.
Far be it from me, however, to wish to fix you immovably in this or in any other theoretic conception. With all our belief of it, it will be well to keep the theory of a luminiferous ether plastic and capable of change. You may, moreover, urge that, although the phenomena occur as if the medium existed, the absolute demonstration of its existence is still wanting. Far be it from me to deny to this reasoning such validity as it may fairly claim. Let us endeavor, by means of analogy, to form a fair estimate of its force. You believe that in society you are surrounded by reasonable beings like your-self. You are, perhaps, as firmly convinced of this as of anything. What is your warrant for this conviction? Simply and solely this: your fellow-creatures behave as if they were reasonable; the hypothesis, for it is nothing more, accounts for the facts. To take an eminent example: you believe that our President is a reasonable being. Why? There is no known method of superposition by which any one of us can apply himself intellectually to any other, so as to demonstrate coincidence as regards the possession of reason. If, therefore, you hold our President to be reasonable, it is because he behaves as if he were reasonable. As in the case of the ether, beyond the "as if" you cannot go. Nay, I should not wonder if a close comparison of the data on which both inferences rest caused many respectable persons to conclude that the ether had the best of it.
This universal medium, this light-ether, as it is called, is the vehicle, not the origin, of wave-motion. It receives and transmits, but it does not create. Whence does it derive the motions it conveys? For the most part from luminous bodies. By the motion of a luminous body I do not mean its sensible motion, such as the flicker of a candle, or the shooting out of red prominences from the limb of the sun. I mean an intestine motion of the atoms or molecules of the luminous body. But here a certain reserve is necessary. Many chemists of the present day refuse to speak of atoms and molecules as real things. Their caution leads them to stop short of the clear, sharp, mechanically intelligible atomic theory enunciated by Dalton, or any form of that theory, and to make the doctrine of "multiple proportions" their intellectual bourne. I respect the caution, though I think it is here misplaced. The chemists who recoil from these notions of atoms and molecules accept, without hesitation, the Undulatory Theory of Light. Like you and me, they one and all believe in an ether and its light-producing waves. Let us consider what this belief involves. Bring your imaginations once more into play, and figure a series of sound waves passing through air. Follow them up to their origin, and what do you there find ? A definite, tangible, vibrating body. It may be the vocal chords of a human being, it may be an organ-pipe, or it may be a stretched string. Follow in the same manner a train of ether-waves to their source; remembering at the same time that your ether is matter, dense, elastic, and capable of motions subject to, and determined by, mechanical laws. What then do you expect to find as the source of a series of ether-waves? Ask your imagination if it will accept a vibrating multiple proportion—a numerical ratio in a state of oscillation? I do not think it will. You cannot crown the edifice with this abstraction. The scientific imagination, which is here authoritative, demands, as the origin and cause of a series of ether-waves, a particle of vibrating matter quite as definite, though it may be excessively minute, as that which gives origin to a musical sound. Such a particle we name an atom or a molecule. I think the intellect, when focused so as to give definition without penumbral haze, is sure to realize this image at the last.
With the view of preserving thought continuous throughout this discourse, and of preventing either failure of knowledge or of memory, from causing any rent in our picture, I here propose to run rapidly over a bit of ground which is probably familiar to most of you, but which I am anxious to make familiar to you all. The waves generated in the ether by the swinging atoms of luminous bodies are of different lengths and amplitudes. The amplitude is the width of swing of the individual particles of the waves. In water-waves it is the vertical height of the crest above the trough, while the length of the wave is the horizontal distance between two consecutive crests. The aggregate of waves emitted by the sun may be broadly divided into two classes: the one class competent, the other incompetent, to excite vision. But the light-producing waves differ markedly among them-selves in size, form, and force. The length of the largest of these waves is about twice that of the smallest, but the amplitude of the largest is probably a hundred times that of the smallest. Now the force or energy of the wave, which, expressed with reference to sensation, means the intensity of the light, is proportional to the square of the amplitude. Hence, the amplitude being one-hundredfold, the energy of the largest light-giving waves would be ten-thousandfold that of the smallest. This is not improbable. I use these figures, not with a view to numerical accuracy, but to give you definite ideas of the differences that probably exist among the light-giving waves. And if we take the whole range of solar radiation into account—its non-visual as well as its visual waves—I think it probable that the force, or energy, of the largest wave is more than a million times that of the smallest.
Turned into their equivalents of sensation, the different light-waves produce different colors. Red, for ex-ample, is produced by the largest waves, violet by the smallest, while green is produced by a wave of inter-mediate length and amplitude. On entering from air into a more highly refracting -substance, such as glass or water, or the sulphide of carbon, all the waves are retarded, but the smallest ones most. This furnishes a means of separating the different classes of waves from each other; in other words, of analyzing the light. Sent through a refracting prism, the waves of the sun are turned aside in different degrees from their direct course, the red least, the violet most. They are virtually pulled asunder, and they paint upon a white screen placed to receive them "the solar spectrum." Strictly speaking, the spectrum em-braces an infinity of colors; but the limits of language, and of our powers of distinction, cause it to be divided into seven segments: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. These are the seven primary or prismatic colors.
Separately, or mixed in various proportions, the solar waxes yield all the colors observed in nature and employed in art. Collectively, they give us the impression of whiteness. Pure unsifted solar light is. white; and, if all the wave-constituents of such light be reduced in the same proportion, the light, though diminished in intensity, will still be white. The whiteness of snow with the sun shining upon it is barely tolerable to the eye. The same snow under an overcast firmament is still white. Such a firmament enfeebles the light by reflecting it up-ward; and when we stand above a cloud-field—on an Alpine summit, for instance, or on the top of Snowdon —and see, in the proper direction, the sun shining on the clouds below us, they appear dazzlingly white. Ordinary clouds, in fact, divide the solar light impinging on them into two parts—a reflected part and a transmitted part—ln each of which the proportions of wave-motion which pro-duce the impression of whiteness are sensibly preserved.
It will be understood that the condition of whiteness would fail if all the waves were diminished equally, or by the same absolute quantity. They must be reduced proportionately, instead of equally. If by the act of reflection the waves of red light are split into exact halves, then, to preserve the light white, the waves of yellow, orange, green, and blue, must also be split into exact halves. In short, the reduction must take place, not by absolutely equal quantities, but by equal fractional parts. In white light the preponderance, as regards energy, of the larger over the smaller waves must always be immense. Were the case otherwise, the visual correlative, blue, of the smaller waves would have the upper hand in our sensations.
Not only are the waves of ether reflected by clouds, by solids, and by liquids, but when they pass from light air to dense, or from dense air to light, a portion of the wave-motion is always reflected. Now our atmosphere changes continually in density from top to bottom. It will help our conceptions if we regard it as made up of a series of thin concentric layers, or shells of air, each shell being of the same density throughout, a small and sudden change of density occurring in passing from shell to shell. - Light would be reflected at the limiting surfaces of all these shells, and their action would be practically the same as that of the real atmosphere. And now I would ask your imagination to picture this act of reflection. What must become of the reflected light? The atmospheric layers turn their convex surfaces toward the sun; they are so many convex mirrors of feeble power; and you will immediately perceive that the light regularly reflected from these surfaces cannot reach the earth at all, but is dispersed in space. Light thus reflected cannot, therefore, be the light of the sky.
But, though the sun's light is not reflected in this fashion from the aerial layers to the earth, there is indubitable evidence to show that the light of our firmament is scattered light. Proofs of the most cogent description could be here adduced; but we need only consider that we receive light at the same time from all parts of the hemisphere of heaven. The light of the firmament comes to us across the direction of the solar rays; and even against the direction of the solar rays; and this lateral and opposing rush of wave-motion can only be due to the rebound of the waves from the air itself, or from some-thing suspended in the air. It is also evident that, unlike the action of clouds, the solar light is not reflected by the sky in the proportions which produce white. The sky is blue, which indicates an excess of the shorter waves. In accounting for the color of the sky, the first question suggested by analogy would undoubtedly be, Is not the air blue? The blueness of the air has, in fact, been given as a solution of the blueness of the sky. But how, if the air be blue, can the light of sunrise and sunset, which travels through vast distances of air, be yellow, orange, or even red? The passage of white solar light through a blue medium could by no possibility redden the light. The hypothesis of a blue air is therefore untenable. In fact the agent, whatever it is, which sends us the light of the sky, exercises in so doing a dichroitic action. The light reflected is blue, the light transmitted is orange or red. A marked distinction is thus exhibited between the matter of the sky and that of an ordinary cloud, which exercises no such dichroitic action.
By the scientific use of the imagination we may hope to penetrate this mystery. The cloud takes no note of size on the part of the waves of ether, but reflects them all alike. It exercises no selective action. Now the cause of this may be that the cloud particles are so large, in comparison with the waves of ether, as to reflect them all indifferently. A broad cliff reflects an Atlantic roller as easily as a ripple produced by a seabird's wing; and in the presence of large reflecting surfaces, the existing differences of magnitude among the waves of ether may disappear. But supposing the reflecting particles, instead of being very large, to be very small in comparison with the size of the waves. In this case, instead of the whole wave being fronted and thrown back, a small portion only is shivered off. The great mass of the wave passes over such a particle without reflection. Scatter, then, a handful of such minute foreign particles in our atmosphere, and set imagination to watch their action upon the solar waves. Waves of all sizes impinge upon the particles, and you see at every collision a portion of the impinging wave struck off; all the waves of the spectrum, from the extreme red to the extreme violet, being thus acted upon.
Remembering that the red waves stand to the blue much in the relation of billows to ripples, we have to consider whether those extremely small particles are competent to scatter all the waves in the same proportion. If they be not—and a little reflection will make it clear that they are not—the production of color must be an incident of the scattering. Largeness is a thing of relation; and the smaller the wave, the greater is the relative size of any particle on which the wave impinges, and the greater also the ratio of the portion scattered to the total wave.
A pebble, placed in the way of the ring-ripples produced by heavy raindrops on a tranquil pond, will scatter a large fraction of each ripple, while the fractional part of a larger wave thrown back by the same pebble might be infinitesimal. Now we have already made it clear to our minds that to preserve the solar light white its constituent pro-portions must not be altered; but in the act of division performed by these very small particles the proportions are altered; an undue fraction of the smaller waves is scattered by the particles, and, as a consequence, in the scattered light, blue will be the predominant color. The other colors of the spectrum must, to some extent, be associated with the blue. They are not absent, but deficient. We ought, in fact, to have them all, but in diminishing proportions, from the violet to the red.
We have here presented a case to the imagination, and, assuming the undulatory theory to be a reality, we have, I think, fairly reasoned our way to the conclusion, that were particles, small in comparison to the sizes of the ether waves, sown in our atmosphere, the light scattered by those particles would be exactly such as we observe in our azure skies. When this light is analyzed, all the colors of the spectrum are found, and they are found in the proportions indicated by our conclusion. Blue is not the sole, but it is the predominant color.
Let us now turn our attention to the light which passes unscattered among the particles. How must it be finally affected? By its successive collisions with the particles the white light is more and more robbed of its shorter waves; it therefore loses more and more of its due proportion of blue. The result may be anticipated. The transmitted light, where short distances are involved, will appear yellowish. But as the sun sinks toward the horizon the atmospheric distances increase, and consequently the number of the scattering particles. They abstract in succession the violet, the indigo, the blue, and even disturb the proportions of green. The transmitted light under such circumstances must pass from yellow through orange to red. This also is exactly what we find in nature. Thus, while the reflected light gives us at noon the deep azure of the Alpine skies, the transmitted light gives us at sunset the warm crimson of the Alpine snows. The phenomena certainly occur as if our atmosphere were a medium rendered slightly turbid by the mechanical sus-pension of exceedingly small foreign particles.
Here, as before, we encounter our sceptical "as if." It is one of the parasites of science, ever at hand, and ready to plant itself and sprout, if it can, on the weak points of our philosophy. But a strong constitution defies the parasite, and in our case, as we question the phenomena, probability grows like growing health, until in the end the malady of doubt is completely extirpated. The first question that naturally arises is this: Can small particles be really proved to act in the manner indicated? No doubt of it. Each one of you can submit the question to an experimental test. Water will not dissolve resin, but spirit will dissolve it; and when spirit holding resin in solution is dropped into water, the resin immediately separates in solid particles, which render the water milky. The coarseness of this precipitate depends on the quantity of the dissolved resin. You can cause it to separate either in thick clots or in exceedingly fine particles. Professor Brucke has given us the proportions which produce particles particularly suited to our present purpose. One gram of clean mastic is dissolved in eighty-seven grams of absolute alcohol, and the transparent solution is allowed to drop into a beaker containing clear water, kept briskly stirred. An exceedingly fine precipitate is thus formed, which declares its presence by its action upon light Placing a dark surface behind the beaker, and permitting the light to fall into it from the top or front, the medium is seen to be distinctly blue. It is not perhaps so perfect a blue as may be seen on exceptional days among the Alps, but it is a very fair sky-blue. A trace of soap in water gives a tint of blue. London, and I fear Liver-pool, milk makes an approximation to the same color, through the operation of the same cause; and Helmholtz has irreverently disclosed the fact that the deepest blue eye is simply a turbid medium.
The action of turbid media upon light was illustrated by Goethe, who, though unacquainted with the undulatory theory, was led by his experiments to regard the firmament as an illuminated turbid medium, with the darkness of space behind it. He describes glasses showing a bright yellow by transmitted, and a beautiful blue by reflected, light. - Professor Stokes, who was probably the first to discern the real nature of the action of small particles on the waves of ether,' describes a glass of a similar kind. Capital specimens of such glass are to be found at Salviati's, in St. James's Street. What artists call "chill" is no doubt an effect of this description. Through the action of minute particles, the browns of a picture often present the appearance of the bloom of a plum. By rubbing the varnish with a silk handkerchief optical continuity is established and the chill disappears. Some years ago I witnessed Mr. Hirst experimenting at Zermatt on the turbid water of the Visp. When kept still for a day or so, the grosser matter sank, but the finer particles remained suspended, and gave a distinctly blue tinge to the water. The blueness of certain Alpine lakes has been shown to be in part due to this cause. Professor Roscoe has noticed several striking cases of a similar kind. In a very remarkable paper the late Principal Forbes showed that steam issuing from the safety-valve of a locomotive, when favorably observed, exhibits at a certain stage of its condensation the colors of the sky. It is blue by reflected light, and orange or red by transmitted light. The same effect, as pointed out by Goethe, is to some extent exhibited by peat-smoke. More than ten years ago, I amused myself by observing, on a calm day at Killarney, the straight smoke-columns rising from the cabin-chimneys. It was easy to project the lower portion of a column against a dark pine, and its upper portion against a bright cloud. The smoke in the former case was blue, being seen mainly by reflected light; in the latter case it was reddish, being seen mainly by transmitted light. Such smoke was not in exactly the condition to give us the glow of the Alps, but it was a step in this direction. Brücke's fine precipitate above referred to looks yellowish by transmitted light; but, by duly strengthening the precipitate, you may render the white light of noon as ruby-colored as the sun, when seen through Liverpool smoke, or upon Alpine horizons. I do not, however, point to the gross smoke arising from coal as an illustration of the action of small particles, because such smoke soon absorbs and destroys the waves of blue, instead of sending them to the eyes of the observer.
These multifarious facts, and numberless others which cannot now be referred to, are explained by reference to the single principle that, where the scattering particles are small in comparison to the ethereal waves, we have in the reflected light a greater proportion of the smaller waves, and in the transmitted light a greater proportion of the larger waves, than existed in the original white light. The consequence, as regards sensation, is that in the one case blue is predominant, and in the other orange or red. Our best microscopes can readily reveal objects not more than - th of an inch in diameter. This is less than the length of a wave of red light. Indeed a first-rate micro-scope would enable us to discern objects not exceeding in diameter the length of the smallest waves of the visible spectrum.' By the microscope, therefore, we can test our particles. If they be as large as the light-waves they will infallibly be seen; and if they be not so seen, it is be-cause they are smaller. Some months ago I placed in the hands of our President a liquid containing Brucke's precipitate. The liquid was milky blue, and Mr. Huxley applied to it his highest microscopic power. He satisfied me that had particles of even 1 1/100000th of an inch in diameter existed in the liquid, they could not have escaped detection. But no particles were seen. Under the microscope the turbid liquid was not to be distinguished from distilled water.'
But we have it in our power to imitate, far more closely than we have hitherto done, the natural conditions of this problem. We can generate, in air, artificial skies, and prove their perfect identity with the natural one, as regards the exhibition of a number of wholly unexpected phenomena. By a continuous process of growth, more-over, we are able to connect sky-matter, if I may use the term, with molecular matter on the one side, and with molar matter, or matter in sensible masses, on the other. In illustration of this, I will take an experiment suggested by some of my own researches, and described by M. Morren of Marseilles at the Exeter meeting of the British Association. Sulphur and oxygen combine to form sulphurous acid gas, two atoms of oxygen and one of sulphur constituting the molecule of sulphurous acid. It has been recently shown that waves of ether issuing from a strong source, such as the sun or the electric light, are competent to shake asunder the atoms of gaseous molecules. A chemist would call this "decomposition" by light; but it behooves us, who are examining the power and function of the imagination, to keep constantly before us the physical images which underlie our terms. Therefore I say, sharply and definitely, that the components of the molecules of sulphurous acid are shaken asunder by the etherwaves. Enclosing sulphurous acid in a suitable vessel, placing it in a dark room, and sending through it a powerful beam of light, we at first see nothing: the vessel containing the gas seems as empty as a vacuum. ' Soon, however, along the track of the beam a beautiful sky-blue color is observed, which is due to light scattered by the liberated particles of sulphur. For a time the blue grows more intense; it then becomes whitish; and ends in a more or less perfect white. When the action is continued long enough, the tube is filled with a dense cloud of sulphur particles, which by the application of proper means may be rendered individually visible.
Here, then, our ether-waves untie the bond of chemical affinity, and liberate a body—sulphur—which at ordinary temperatures is a solid, and which therefore soon becomes an object of the senses. We have first of all the free atoms of sulphur, which are incompetent to stir the retina sensibly with scattered light. But these atoms gradually coalesce and form particles, which grow larger by continual accretion, until after a minute or two they appear as sky-matter. In this condition they are individually invisible; but collectively they send an amount of wave-motion to the retina sufficient to produce the firma-mental blue. The particles continue, or may be caused to continue, in this condition for a considerable time, during which no microscope can cope with them. But they grow slowly larger, and pass by insensible gradations into the state of cloud, when they can no longer elude the armed eye. Thus, without solution of continuity, we start with matter in the atom, and end with matter in the mass; sky-matter being the middle term of the series of transformations.
Instead of sulphurous acid, we might choose a dozen other substances, and produce the same effect with all of them. In the case of some—probably in the case of all—it is possible to preserve matter in the firmamental condition for fifteen or twenty minutes under the continual operation of the light. During these fifteen or twenty minutes the particles constantly grow larger, without ever exceeding the size requisite to the production of the celestial blue. Now when two vessels are placed before us, each containing sky-matter, it is possible to state with great distinctness which vessel contains the largest particles. The eye is very sensitive to differences of light, when, as in our experiments, it is placed in comparative darkness, and the wave-motion thrown against the retina is small. The larger particles declare themselves by the greater whiteness of their scattered light. Call now to mind the observation, or effort at observation, made by our President, when he failed to distinguish the particles of mastic in Brucke's medium, and when you have done this, please follow me. A beam of light is permitted to act upon a certain vapor. In two minutes the azure appears, but at the end of fifteen minutes it has not ceased to be azure. After fifteen minutes its color, and some other phenomena, pronounce it to be a blue of distinctly smaller particles than those sought for in vain by Mr. Huxley. These particles, as already stated, must have been less than 1/100000th of an inch in diameter. And now I want you to consider the following question: Here are particles which have been growing continually for fifteen minutes, and at the end of that time are demonstrably smaller than those which defied the microscope of Mr.
Huxley—What must have been the size of these particles at the beginning of their growth? What notion can you form of the magnitude of such particles? The distances of stellar space give us simply a bewildering sense of vastness, without leaving any distinct impression on the mind; and the magnitudes with which we have here to do bewilder us equally in the opposite direction. We are dealing with infinitesimals, compared with which the test objects of the microscope are literally immense.
Small in mass, the vastness in point of number of the particles of our sky may be inferred from the continuity of its light. It is not in broken patches, nor at scattered points, that the heavenly azure is revealed. To the observer on the summit of Mont Blanc, the blue is as uniform and coherent as if it formed the surface of the most close-grained solid. A marble dome would not exhibit a stricter continuity. And Mr. Glaisher will inform you, that if our hypothetical shell were lifted to twice the height of Mont Blanc above the earth's surface, we should still have the azure overhead. By day this light quenches the stars; even by moonlight it is able to exclude from vision all stars between the fifth and the eleventh magnitude. It may be likened to a noise, and the feebler stellar radiance to a whisper drowned by the noise.
What is the nature of the particles which shed this light? The celebrated De la Rive ascribes the haze of the Alps in fine weather to floating organic germs. Now the possible existence of germs in such profusion has been held up as an absurdity. It has been affirmed that they would darken the air, and on the assumed impossibility of their existence in the requisite numbers, without invasion of the solar light, an apparently powerful argument has been based by believers in spontaneous generation. Similar arguments have been used by the opponents of the germ theory of epidemic disease, who have triumphantly challenged an appeal to the microscope and the chemist's balance to decide the question. Such arguments, however, are founded on a defective acquaintance with the powers and properties of matter. Without committing myself in the least to De la Rive's notion, to the doctrine of spontaneous generation, or to the germ theory of disease, I would simply draw attention to the demonstrable fact that, in the atmosphere we have particles which defy both the microscope and the balance, which do not darken the air, and which exist, nevertheless, in multitudes sufficient to reduce to insignificance the Israelitish hyperbole regarding the sands upon the seashore.
The varying judgments of men on these and other questions may perhaps be, to some extent, accounted for by that doctrine of Relativity which plays so important a part in philosophy. This doctrine affirms that the impressions made upon us by any circumstance, or combination of circumstances, depend upon our previous state. Two travellers upon the same height, the one having ascended to it from the plain, the other having descended to it from a higher elevation, will be differently affected by the scene around them. To the one nature is expanding, to the other it is contracting, and impressions which have two such different antecedent states are sure to differ. In our scientific judgments the law of relativity may also play an important part. To two men, one educated in - the school of the senses, having mainly occupied himself with observation; the other educated in the school of imagination as well, and exercised in the conceptions of atoms and molecules to which we have so frequently referred, a bit of matter, say 1/50000th of an inch in diameter, will present itself differently. The one descends to it from his molar heights, the other climbs to it from his molecular lowlands. To the one it appears small, to the other large. So, also, as regards the appreciation of the most minute forms of life revealed by the microscope. To one of the men these naturally appear conterminous with the ultimate particles of matter; there is but a step from the atom to the organism. The other discerns numberless organic gradations between both. Compared with his atoms, the smallest vibrios and bacteria of the microscopic field are as behemoth and leviathan. The law of relativity may to some extent explain the different attitudes of two such persons with regard to the question of spontaneous generation. An amount of evidence which satisfies the one entirely fails to satisfy the other; and while to the one the last bold defence and startling expansion of the doctrine by Dr. Bastian will appear perfectly conclusive, to the other it will present itself as merely imposing a labor of demolition on subsequent investigators.'
Let me say here that many of our physiological observers appear to form a very inadequate estimate of the distance which separates the microscopic from the molecular limit, and that, as a consequence, they sometimes employ a phraseology calculated to mislead. When, for example, the contents of a cell are described as perfectly homogeneous or as absolutely structureless, because the microscope fails to discover any structure; or when two structures are pronounced to be without difference, be-cause the microscope can discover none, then, I think, the microscope begins to play a mischievous part. A little consideration will make it plain that the microscope can have no voice in the question of germ structure. Distilled water is more perfectly homogeneous than any possible organic germ. What is it that causes the liquid to cease contracting at 39° Fahr., and to expand until it freezes? We have here a structural process of which the microscope can take no note, nor is it likely to do so by any conceivable extension of its powers. Place distilled water in the field of an electro-magnet, and bring a microscope to bear upon it. Will any change be observed when the magnet is excited? Absolutely none; and still profound and complex changes have occurred. First of all, the particles of water have been rendered diamagnetically polar; and secondly, in virtue of the structure impressed upon it by the magnetic whirl of its molecules, the liquid twists a ray of light in a fashion perfectly determinate both as to quantity and direction.
Have the diamond, the amethyst, and the countless other crystals formed in the laboratories of nature and of man no structure? Assuredly they have; but what can the microscope make of it? Nothing. It cannot be too distinctly borne in mind that between the microscopic limit, and the true molecular limit, there is room for infinite permutations and combinations. It is in this region that the poles of the atoms are arranged, that tendency is given to their powers, so that when these poles and powers have free action, proper stimulus, and a suitable environment, they determine, first the germ, and afterward the complete organism. This first marshalling of the atoms, on which all subsequent action depends, baffles a keener power than that of the microscope. When duly pondered, the complexity of the problem raises the doubt, not of the power of our instrument, for that is nil, but whether we ourselves possess the intellectual elements which will ever enable us to grapple with the ultimate structural energies of nature.'
In more senses than one Mr. Darwin has drawn heavily upon the scientific tolerance of his age. He has drawn heavily upon time in his development of species, and he has drawn adventurously upon matter in his theory of pangenesis. According to this theory, a germ, already microscopic, is a world of minor germs. Not only is the organism as a whole wrapped up in the germ, but every organ of the organism has there its special seed. This, I say, is an adventurous draft on the power of matter to divide itself and distribute its forces. But, unless we are perfectly sure that he is overstepping the bounds of reason, that he is unwittingly sinning against observed fact or demonstrated law—for a mind like that of Darwin can never sin wittingly against either fact or law—we ought, I think, to be cautious in limiting his intellectual horizon. If there be the least doubt in the matter, it ought to be given in favor of the freedom of such a mind. To it a vast possibility is in itself a dynamic power, though the possibility may never be drawn upon. It gives me pleasure to think that the facts and reasonings of this discourse tend rather toward the justification of Mr. Darwin, than toward his condemnation; for they seem to show the perfect competence of matter and force, as regards divisibility and distribution, to bear the heaviest strain that he has hitherto imposed upon them.
In the case of Mr. Darwin, observation, imagination, and reason combined have run back with wonderful sagacity and success over a certain length of the line of biological succession. Guided by analogy, in his "Origin of Species" he placed at the root of life a primordial germ, from which he conceived the amazing variety of the organisms now upon the earth's surface might be deduced. If this hypothesis were even true, it would not be final. The human mind would infallibly look behind the germ, and however hopeless the attempt, would inquire into the history of its genesis. In this dim twilight of conjecture the searcher welcomes every gleam, and seeks to augment his light by indirect incidences. He studies the methods of nature in the ages and the worlds within his reach, in order to shape the course of speculation in antecedent ages and worlds. And though the certainty possessed by experimental inquiry is here shut out, we are not left entirely without guidance. From the examination of the solar system, Kant and Laplace came to the conclusion that its various bodies once formed parts of the same undislocated mass; that matter in a nebulous form preceded matter in its present form; that as the ages rolled away, heat was wasted, condensation followed, planets were detached; and that finally the chief portion of the hot cloud reached, by self-compression, the magnitude and density of our sun. The earth itself offers evidence of a fiery origin; and in our day the hypothesis of Kant and Laplace receives the independent countenance of spectrum analysis, which proves the same substances to be common to the earth and sun.
Accepting some such view of the construction of our system as probable, a desire immediately arises to connect the present life of our planet with the past. We wish to know something of our remotest ancestry. On its first detachment from the central mass, life, as we understand it, could not have been present on the earth. How, then, did it come there? The thing to be encouraged here is a reverent freedom—a freedom preceded by the hard discipline which checks licentiousness in specula. tion—while the thing to be repressed, both in science and out of it, is dogmatism. And here I am in the hands of the meeting—willing to end, but ready to go on. I have no right to intrude upon you, unasked, the unformed notions which are floating like clouds, or gathering to more solid consistency, in the modern speculative scientific mind. But if you wish me to speak plainly, honestly, and undisputatiously, I am willing to do so. On the present occasion ____
You are ordained to call, and I to come.
Well, your answer is given, and I obey your call.
Two or three years ago, in an ancient London college, I listened to a discussion at the end of a lecture by a very remarkable man. Three or four hundred clergymen were present at the lecture. The orator began with the civilization of Egypt in the time of Joseph; pointing out the very perfect organization of the kingdom, and the possession of chariots, in one of which Joseph rode, as proving a long antecedent period of civilization. He then passed on to the mud of the Nile, its rate of augmentation, its present thickness, and the remains of human handiwork found therein; thence to the rocks which bound the Nile valley, and which teem with organic remains. Thus in his own clear way he caused the idea of the world's age to expand itself indefinitely before the minds of his audience, and he contrasted this with the age usually assigned to the world. During his discourse he seemed to be swimming against a stream, he manifestly thought that he was opposing a general conviction. He expected resistance in the subsequent discussion; so did I. But it was all a mistake; there was no adverse current, no opposing conviction, no resistance; merely here and there a half-humorous but unsuccessful attempt to entangle him in his talk. The meeting agreed with all that had been said regarding the antiquity of the earth and of its life. They had, in-deed, known it all long ago, and they rallied the lecturer for coming among them with so stale a story. It was quite plain that this large body of clergymen, who were, I should say, to be ranked among the finest samples of their class, had entirely given up the ancient landmarks, and transported the conception of life's origin to an indefinitely distant past.
This leads us to the gist of our present inquiry, which is this: Does life belong to what we call matter, or is it an independent principle inserted into matter at some suitable epoch—say when the physical conditions became such as to permit of the development of life? Let us put the question with the reverence due to a faith and culture in which we all were cradled, and which are the undeniable historic antecedents of our present enlightenment. I say, let us put the question reverently, but let us also put it clearly and definitely. There are the strongest grounds for believing that during a certain period of its history the earth was not, nor was it fit to be, the theatre of life. Whether this was ever a nebulous period, or merely a molten period, does not signify much; and if we revert to the nebulous condition, it is because the probabilities are really on its side. Our question is this: Did creative energy pause until the nebulous matter had condensed, until the earth had been detached, until the solar fire had so far withdrawn from the earth's vicinity as to permit a crust to gather round the planet? Did it wait until the air was isolated; until the seas were formed; until evaporation, condensation, and the descent of rain had begun; until the eroding forces of the atmosphere had weathered and decomposed the molten rocks so as to form soils; until the sun's rays had become so tempered by distance, and by waste, as to be chemically fit for the decompositions necessary to vegetable life? Having waited through these eons until the proper conditions had set in, did it send the fiat forth, "Let there be Life!"? These questions define a hypothesis not without its difficulties, but the dignity of which in relation to the world's knowledge was demonstrated by the nobleness of the men whom it sustained.
Modern scientific thought is called upon to decide between this hypothesis and another; and public thought generally will afterward be called upon to do the same. But, however the convictions of individuals here and there may be influenced, the process must be slow and secular which commends the hypothesis of Natural Evolution to the public mind. For what are the core and essence of this hypothesis? Strip it naked, and you stand face to face with the notion that not alone the more ignoble forms of animalcular or animal life, not alone the nobler forms of the horse and lion, not alone the exquisite and wonderful mechanism of the human body, but that the human mind itself—emotion, intellect, will, and all their phenomena—were once latent in a fiery cloud. Surely the mere statement of such a notion is more than a refutation. But the hypothesis would probably go even further than this. Many who hold it would probably assent to the position that, at the present moment, all our philosophy, all our poetry, all our science, and all our art—Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, and Raphael—are potential in the fires of the sun. We long to learn something of our origin. If the Evolution hypothesis be correct, even this unsatisfied yearning must have come to us across the ages which separate the primeval mist from the consciousness of to-day. I do not think that any holder of the Evolution hypothesis would say that I overstate or overstrain it in any way. I merely strip it of all vagueness, and bring before you, unclothed and unvarnished, the notions by which it must stand or fall.
Surely these notions represent an absurdity too monstrous to be entertained by any sane mind. But why are such notions absurd, and why should sanity reject them? The law of Relativity, of which we have previously spoken, may find its application here. These Evolution notions are absurd, monstrous, and fit only for the intellectual gibbet, in relation to the ideas concerning matter which were drilled into us when young. Spirit and mat-ter have ever been presented to us in the rudest contrast, the one as all-noble, the other as all-vile. But is this correct? Upon the answer to this question all depends. Supposing that, instead of having the foregoing antithesis of spirit and matter presented to our youthful minds, we had been taught to regard them as equally worthy, and equally wonderful; to consider them, in fact, as two opposite faces of the self-same mystery. Supposing that in youth we had been impregnated with the notion of the poet Goethe, instead of the notion of the poet Young, and taught to look upon matter, not as "brute matter," but as the "living garment of God"; do you not think that under these altered circumstances the law of Relativity might have had an outcome different from its present one? Is it not probable that our repugnance to the idea of primeval union between spirit and matter might be consider-ably abated? Without this total revolution of the notions now prevalent, the Evolution hypothesis must stand condemned; but in many profoundly thoughtful minds such a revolution has already taken place. They degrade neither member of the mysterious duality referred to; but they exalt one of them from its abasement, and repeal the divorce hitherto existing between them. In sub-stance, if not in words, their position as regards the relation of spirit and matter is: "What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."
You have been thus led to the outer rim of speculative science, for beyond the nebulæ scientific thought has never hitherto ventured. I have tried to state that which I considered ought, in fairness, to be outspoken. I neither think this Evolution hypothesis is to be flouted away contemptuously, nor that it ought to be denounced as wicked. It is to be brought before the bar of disciplined reason, and there justified or condemned. Let us hearken to those who wisely support it, and to those who wisely oppose it; and let us tolerate those, whose name is legion, who try foolishly to do either of these things. The only thing out of place in the discussion is dogmatism on either side. Fear not the Evolution hypothesis. Steady your-selves, in its presence, upon that faith in the ultimate triumph of truth which was expressed by old Gamaliel when he said: "If it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; if it be of man, it will come to naught." Under the fierce light of scientific inquiry, it is sure to be dissipated if it possess not a core of truth. Trust me, its existence as a hypothesis is quite compatible with the simultaneous existence of all those virtues to which the term "Christian" has been applied. It does not solve—it does not profess to solve—the ultimate mystery of this universe. It leaves, in fact, that mystery untouched. For, granting the nebula and its potential life, the question, whence they came, would still remain to baffle and bewilder us. At bottom, the hypothesis does nothing more than "trans-port the conception of life's origin to an indefinitely distant past."
Those who hold the doctrine of Evolution are by no means ignorant of the uncertainty of their data, and they only yield to it a provisional assent. They regard the nebular hypothesis as probable, and, in the utter absence of any evidence to prove the act illegal, they extend the method of nature from the present into the past. Here the observed uniformity of nature is their only guide. Within the long range of physical inquiry, they have never discerned in nature the insertion of caprice. Throughout this range, the laws of physical and intellectual continuity have run side by side. Having thus determined the elements of their curve in a world of observation and experiment, they prolong that curve into an antecedent world, and accept as probable the unbroken sequence of development from the nebula to the present time. You never hear the really philosophical defenders of the doctrine of Uniformity speaking of impossibilities in nature. They never say, what they are constantly charged with saying, that it is impossible for-the Builder of the universe to alter His work. Their business is not with the possible, but the actual—not with a world which might be, but with a world that is. This they explore with a courage not unmixed with reverence, and according to methods which, like the quality of a tree, are tested by their fruits. They have but one desire—to know the truth. They have but one fear—to believe a lie. And if they know the strength of science, and rely upon it with unswerving trust, they also know the limits beyond which science ceases to be strong. They best know that questions offer themselves to thought, which science, as now prosecuted, has not even the tendency to solve. They have as little fellowship with the atheist who says there is no God, as with the theist who professes to know the mind of God. "Two things," said Immanuel Kant, "fill me with awe: the starry heavens, and the sense of moral responsibility in man." And in his hours of health and strength and sanity, when the stroke of action has ceased, and the pause of reflection has set in, the scientific investigator finds himself overshadowed by the same awe. Breaking contact with the hampering details of earth, it associates him with a Power which gives fulness and tone to his existence, but which he can neither analyze nor comprehend.
There is one God supreme over all gods, diviner than mortals, Whose form is not like unto man's, and as unlike his nature; But vain mortals imagine that gods like themselves are begotten, With human sensations and voice and corporeal members; So, if oxen or lions had hands and could work in man's fashion, And trace out with chisel or brush their conception of Godhead, Then would horses depict gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, Each kind the divine with its own form and nature endowing.