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MICHAEL FARADAY, the son of a blacksmith in Newington Butts, was born September 24, 1791. At the age of 13, after such rudimentary instruction as the father's limited means could secure, he was apprenticed to a bookbinder and stationer, when in looking through the volumes sent to be bound, the boy's attention was attracted, among other subjects, to Electricity, and to apply his knowledge he converted a medicine phial to the purposes of a Leyden jar, and thus began his experiments in a field of science. in which he afterwards won his brightest laurels. His bias to science gave him an aversion to trade, when being presented with a ticket by Mr. Dance to the four closing lectures of Prof. Davy (not then Sir Humphrey), in his course for 1812, in the Royal Institution. These lectures decided his career. Writing out his notes, he forwarded them with a letter to the lecturer, setting forth his desire to continue his studies in that direction. An encouraging answer was returned, which was followed soon after by the tender of the position of assistant in his laboratory. In the year following he accompanied the professor to Paris, Montpelleir, Genoa, Rome, and Naples, at all of which places he met men of science, and saw new experiments made in the best laboratories of Europe. On his return, in 1815, he applied himself diligently to the work of the laboratory, where he continued as a subordinate and assistant till 1826, when he became Lecturer on Chemistry in the Chair established by Mr. Fuller. In 1821 he obtained new views of electro-magnetism and electro-chemistry, which he followed out for a series of years, and on the results of these researches his fame principally rests. In 1823 he was elected corresponding member of the Académie des Sciences of Paris, and in 1844 one of the eight foreign associates; in 1846 he received the Rumford Medal and the Royal Medal; in 1832 Oxford conferred the degree of Civil Law (D.C.L.), and in 1830 he was made Fellow of the Royal Society (F.R.S.). In 1835 he received from Lord Melbourne's government a pension of £300; in 1836 he was appointed Scientific Advisor to the Trinity House, and subsequently, to the Board of Trade; and from 1829 to 1842, he was chemical lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. With opportunities to become rich by the commercial value of this scientific work, Faraday deliberately declined them, and stuck to his laboratory and study, with an
average income of £1,000 to £2,000 a year, instead of an accumu lating fortune of £150,000-as a compensation he hints to Prof Tyndal, “Our subjects are so glorious, that to work at them rejoices and encourages the feeblest; delights and enchants the strongest."
OBSERVATIONS ON MENTAL EDUCATION.
If the term education may be understood in so large a sense as to include all that belongs to the improvement of the mind, either by the acquisition of the knowledge of others, or by increase of it through its own exertions, then I may hope to be justified for bringing forward a few desultory observations respecting the exercise of the mental powers in a particular direction, which otherwise might seem out of place.
Deficiency of Judgment in every Direction.
I know that in physical matters multitudes are ready to draw conclusions who have little or no power of judgment in the cases; that the same is true of other departments of knowledge; and that, generally, mankind is willing to leave the faculties which relate to judgment almost entirely uneducated, and their decisions at the mercy of ignorance, prepossessions, the passions, or even aceident.
There are multitudes who think themselves competent to decide, after the most cursory observation, upon the cause of this or that event (and they may be really very acute and correct in things familiar to them):-a not unusual phrase with them is, that "it stands to reason," that the effect they expect should result from the cause they assign to it, and yet it is very difficult, in numerous cases that appear plain, to show this reason, or to deduce the true and only rational relation of cause and effect. In matters connected with natural philosophy, we have wonderful aid in the progress and assurance in the charac ter, of our final judgment, afforded us by the facts which supply our data, and the experience which multiplies their number and varies their testimony. A fundamental fact, like an elementary principle, never fails us, its evidence is always true; but, on the other hand, we frequently have to ask what is the fact?—often fail in distinguishing it,—often fail in the very statement of it,— and mostly overpass or come short of its true recognition.
The laws of nature, as we understand them, are the foundation of our knowledge in natural things. So much as we know of them has been developed by the successive energies of the highest intellects, exerted through many ages. After a most rigid and scrutinizing examination upon principle and trial, a definite expression has been given to them; they have become, as it were, our belief or trust. From day to day we still examine and test our expressions of them. We have no interest in their retention if erroneous; on the contrary, the greatest discovery a man could make would be to prove that one of these accepted laws was erroneous, and his greatest honor would be the discovery. Neither would there be any desire to retain the former expression:-for we know that the new or the amended law would be far more productive in results, would greatly increase our intellectual acquisitions, and would prove an abundant source of fresh delight to the mind.
These laws are numerous, and are more or less comprehensive. They are also precise; for a law may present an apparent exception, and yet not be less a law to us, when the exception is included in the expression. Thus, that elevation of temperature expands all bodies is a well defined law, though there be
an exception in water for a limited temperature; because we are careful, whilst stating the law, to state the exception and its limits. Pre-eminent among these laws, because of its simplicity, its universality, and its undeviating truth, stands that enunciated by Newton (commonly called the law of gravitation), that matter attracts matter with a force inversely as the square of the distance. Newton showed that, by this law, the general condition of things on the surface of the earth is governed; and the globe itself, with all upon it, kept together as a whole. He demonstrated that the motions of the planets round the sun, and of the satellites about the planets, were subject to it. During and since his time, certain variations in the movements of the planets, which were called irregularities, and might, for aught that was then known, be due to some cause other than the attraction of gravitation, were found to be its necessary consequences. By the close and scrutinizing attention of minds the most persevering and careful, it was ascertained that even the distant stars were subject to this law; and, at last, to place as it were the seal of assurance to its never-failing truth, it became, in the minds of Leverrier and Addams (1845), the foreteller and the discoverer of an orb rolling in the depths of space, so large as to equal nearly sixty earths, yet so far away as to be invisible to the unassisted eye. What truth, beyond that of revelation, can have an assurance stronger than this!
Yet this law is often cast aside as of no value or authority, because of the unconscious ignorance amidst which we dwell. You hear at the present day, that some persons can place their fingers on a table, and then elevating their hands, the table will rise up and follow them; that the piece of furniture, though heavy, will ascend, and that their hands bear no weight, or are not drawn down to the wood; you do not hear of this as a conjuring manœuvre, to be shown for your amusement, but are expected seriously to believe it; and are told that it is an important fact, a great discovery amongst the truths of nature. Your neighbor, a well-meaning, conscientious person, believes it; and the assertion finds acceptance in every rank of society, and amongst classes which are esteemed to be educated. Now, what can this imply but that society, speaking generally, is not only ignorant as respects education of the judgment, but is also ignorant of its ignorance. The parties who are thus persuaded, and those who are inclined to think and to hope that they are right, throw up Newton's law at once, and that in a case which of all others is fitted to be tested by it; or if the law be erroneous, to test the law.
Why should not one who can thus lift a table, proceed to verify and simplify his fact, and bring it into relation with the law of Newton? Why should he not take the top of his table (it may be a small one), and placing it in a balance, or on a lever, proceed to ascertain how much weight he can raise by the draught of his fingers upwards; and of this weight, so ascertained, how much is unrepresented by any pull upon the fingers downward? He will then be able to investigate the further question, whether electricity, or any new force of matter, is made manifest in his operations; or whether, action and reaction being unequal, he has at his command the source of a perpetual motion. Such a man, furnished with a nicely constructed carriage on a railway, ought to travel by the mere draught of his own fingers. A far less prize than this would gain him the attention of the whole scientific and commercial world; and he may rest assured, that if he can make the most delicate balance incline or decline by attraction, though it be only with the force of an ounce, or even a grain, he will not fail to gain universal respect and most honorable reward.
When we think of the laws of nature (which by continued observation have become known to us), as the proper tests to which any new fact or our theoretical representation of it should, in the first place, be subjected, let us contemplate their assured and large character. Let us go out into the field and look at the heavens with their solar, starry, and planetary glories; the sky with its clouds; the waters descending from above or wandering at our feet; the animals, the trees, the plants; and consider the permanency of their actions and conditions under the government of these laws. The most delicate flower, the tenderest insect, continues in its species through countless years, always varying, yet ever the same.
I do not object to table-moving, for itself; for being once stated it becomes a fit, though a very unpromising subject for experiment; but I am opposed to the unwillingness of its advocates to investigate; their boldness to assert; the credulity of the lookers-on; their desire that the reserved and cautious objector should be in error; and I wish, by calling attention to these things, to make the general want of mental discipline and education manifest.
Education of the Judgment in the Study of Nature.
I am persuaded that all persons may find in natural things an admirable school for self-instruction, and a field for the necessary mental exercise; that they may easily apply their habits of thought, thus formed, to a social use; and that they ought to do this, as a duty to themselves and their generation.
Let me first try to illustrate the former part of the case, and at the same time state what I think a man may and ought to do for himself.
The self-education to which he should be stimulated by the desire to improve his judgment, requires no blind dependence upon the dogmas of others, but is commended to him by the suggestions and dictates of his own common sense. The first part of it is founded in mental discipline: happily it requires no unpleasant avowals; appearances are preserved, and vanity remains unhurt; but it is necessary that a man examine himself, and that not carelessly. On the contrary, as he advances, he should become more and more strict, till he ultimately prove a sharper critic to himself than any one else can be; and he ought to intend this, for, so far as he consciously falls short of it, he acknowledges that others may have reason on their side when they criticise him. A first result of this habit of mind will be an internal conviction of ignorance in many things respecting which his neighbors are taught, and, that his opinions and conclusions on such matters ought to be advanced with reservation. A mind so disciplined will be open to correction upon good grounds in all things, even in those it is best acquainted with; and should familiarize itself with the idea of such being the case; for though it sees no reason to suppose itself in error, yet the possibility exists. The mind is not enfeebled by this internal admission, but strengthened; for, if it cannot distinguish proportionately between the probable right and wrong of things known imperfectly, it will tend either to be rash or to hesitate; while that which admits the due amount of probability is likely to be justified in the end. It is right that we should stand by and act on our principles; but not right to hold them in obstinate blindness, or retain them when proved to be erroneous. I remember the time when I believed a spark was produced between voltaic metals as they approached to contact (and the reasons why it might be possible yet remain); but others doubted the fact and denied the proofs, and on re-exam. ination I found reason to admit their corrections were well founded. Years
ago I believed that electrolytes could conduct electricity by a conduction proper; that has also been denied by many through long time: though I believed myself right, yet circumstances have induced me to pay that respect to criticism as to reinvestigate the subject, and I have the pleasure of thinking that nature confirms my original conclusions.
Among those points of self-education which take up the form of mental discipline, there is one of great importance, and, moreover, difficult to deal with, because it involves an internal conflict, and equally touches our vanity and our ease. It consists in the tendency to deceive ourselves regarding all we wish for, and the necessity of resistance to these desires. It is impossible for any one who has not been constrained, by the course of his occupation and thoughts, to a habit of continual self-correction, to be aware of the amount of error in relation to judgment arising from this tendency. The force of the temptation which urges us to seek for such evidence and appearances as are in favor of our desires, and to disregard those which oppose them, is wonderfully great. In this respect we are all, more or less, active promoters of error. In place of practising wholesome self-abnegation, we ever make the wish the father to the thought: we receive as friendly that which agrees with, we resist with dislike that which opposes us; whereas the very reverse is required by every dictate of common sense. Let me illustrate my meaning by a case where the proof being easy, the rejection of it under the temptation is the more striking. In old times, a ring or a button would be tied by a boy to one end of a long piece of thread, which he would then hold at the other end, letting the button hang within a glass, or over a piece of slate-pencil, or sealing-wax, or a nail; he would wait and observe whether the button swung, and whether in swinging it tapped the glass as many times as the clock struck last, or moved along or across the slate-pencil, or in a circle or oval. In late times, parties in all ranks of life have renewed and repeated the boy's experiment. They have sought to ascertain a very simple factnamely, whether the effect was as reported; but how many were unable to do this? They were sure they could keep their hands immovable,—were sure they could do so whilst watching the result,—w ‚—were sure that accordance of swing with an expected direction was not the result of their desires or involuntary motions. How easily all these points could be put to the proof by not looking at the objects, yet how difficult for the experimenter to deny himself that privilege. I have rarely found one who would freely permit the substance experimented with to be screened from his sight, and then its position changed.
The inclination we exhibit in respect of any report or opinion that harmonizes with our preconceived notions, can only be compared in degree with the incredulity we entertain towards everything that opposes them; and these opposite and apparently incompatible, or at least inconsistent, conditions are accepted simultaneously in the most extraordinary manner. At one moment a departure from the laws of nature is admitted without the pretence of a careful examina tion of the proof; and at the next, the whole force of these laws, acting undeviatingly through all time, is denied, because the testimony they give is disliked.
It is my firm persuasion, that no man can examine himself in the most common things, having any reference to him personally, or to any person, thought, or matter related to him, without being soon made aware of the temptation and the difficulty of opposing it. I could give you many illustrations personal to myself, about atmospheric magnetism, lines of force, attraction, repulsion, unity of power, nature of matter, &c.; or in things more general to our common