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Lastly, physical investigation more than anything besides helps to teach us the actual value and right use of the Imagination of that wondrous faculty, 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, November 30, 1859.
SCIENTIFIC USE OF THE IMAGINATION.
I CARRIED with me to the Alps this year the heavy burden of this evening's work. In the way of new investigation I had nothing complete enough to be brought before you; so all that remained to me was to fall back upon such residues as I could find in the depths of consciousness, and out of them to spin the fibre and weave the web of this discourse. 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 two volumes of poetry, Goethe's · Farbenlehre,' and the work on 'Logic' recently published by Mr. Alexander Bain. The spur, I am sorry to say, was no match for the integument of dulness it had to pierce. In Goethe, so glorious otherwise, I chiefly noticed the self-inflicted hurts of genius, as it broke itself in vain against the philosophy of Newton.
For a time Mr. Bain became my principal campanion. I found him learned and practical, shining generally with a dry light, but exhibiting at times a flush of emotional strength, which proved that eren 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 griefs 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. Take this passage as an illustration. Speaking 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 enquiry, wrestles with it, overcomes it, 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 repose. 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.' Such was my precise condition in the Alps this year; in a score of words Mr. Bain has here sketched my mental diagnosis ; and it was under these evil circumstances that I had to equip myself for the hour and the ordeal that are now come.
Gladly, however, as I should have seen this duty in other hands, I could by no means shrink from it. Disloyalty would have been worse than failure. In some fashion or other-feebly or strongly, meanly or manfully, on the higher levels of thought, or on the flats of common-place,—the task had to be accomplished. I
* Induction, page 422.
looked in various directions for help and furtherance; but without me for a time I saw only "antres vast,' and within me “deserts idle.' My case resembled that of a sick doctor who had forgotten his art and sorely needed the prescription of a friend. Mr. Bain wrote one for me. He said, Your present knowledge must forge the links of connection between what has been already achieved and what is now required.'* In these words he admonished me to review the past and recover from it the broken ends of former investigations.
Previous to going to Switzerland I had been thinking much of light and heat, of magnetism and electricity, of atoms, molecules, organic germs, comets, and skies. With one or another of these I sought in the mountains to re-form an alliance, and finally succeeded in establishing a kind of cohesion between thought and Light. The wish grew within me to trace, and to enable you to trace, some of the more occult operations of this agent. I wished, if possible, to take you behind the drop-scene of the senses, and to show you the hidden mechanism of optical action. For I take it to be well worth the while of the scientific teacher to take some pains, and even great pains, to make those whom he addresses copartners of his thoughts. To clear his own mind in the first place from all haze and vagueness, and then to project into language which shall leave no mistake as to his meaning—which shall leave even his errors naked—the definite ideas he has shaped. A great deal is possible to scientific exposition conducted in this way. It is possible, I believe, even before an audience like the present, to uncover to some extent the unseen things of nature; and thus to give, not only to professed students, but to others with the necessary bias, industry, and capacity, an intelligent interest in the operations of science. Time and labour are necessary to this result, but science is the gainer from the public sympathy thus created.
* Induction, page 422.
How then are those hidden things to be revealed ? Flow, for example, are we to lay hold of the physical basis of light, since, like that of life itself, it lies entirely without the domain of the senses ? Now philosophers may be right in affirming that we cannot transcend experience. But we can, at all events, carry it a long way from its origin. We can also magnify, diminish, qualify, and combine experiences, so as to render them fit for purposes entirely new. There are tories in science who regard Imagination as a faculty to be avoided rather than employed. They observe 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.
Nourished by knowledge patiently won; bounded and conditioned by cooperant Reason, Imagination becomes the mightiest instrument of the physical discoverer. Newton's passage from a falling apple to a falling moon was, at the outset, a leap of the prepared imagination. In Faraday, the exercise of this faculty preceded all his experiments, and its function has been impressively set forth by Brodie. When William Thomson tries to place the ultimate particles of matter between his compass points, and to apply to them a scale of millimetres, he is powerfully aided by his imagination. And in much that has been recently said about protoplasm and life, we have the outgoings of this faculty guided and controlled by the known analogies of science. In fact, without this power, our knowledge of nature would be a mere tabulation of