Communication

Scientific Suffocation

(The Crimson invites all men in the University, to submit signed communications of timely interest. It assumes no responsibility, however, for sentiments expressed under this head and reserves the right to exclude any whose publication would be palpably inappropriate.)

To the Editor of the CRIMSON:

May I bring to bear on Mr. Murdock's criticism of "The Downfall of Science" those facts for which he pleads? I would begin by saying that both Mr. La Farge, and I have enjoyed such a course as "The Downfall" advocates--and we appear to have suffered in rather similar science courses at Harvard. (Let me take this opportunity to compliment him on his C. As I do not intend to take up the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers, I grew rather depressed in my science course and received a complimentary E, when I was allowed to retire).

At Mr. La Farge's constructive suggestion of a cultural course, Mr. Murdock seems to feel a slight resentment--"The great point is not whether this article makes a good case or not, but that it should be written at all". Perhaps I misinterpret 'this remark--certainly it sounds rather extraordinary to me. Then he puts quotations around the word "Cultural". I trust I am wrong in thinking that they indicate a peculiar tone of voice.

It is possible that he does not fully understand the type of course Mr. La Farge suggests. "On the order of History 1 or Philosophy A", is perhaps a trifle ambiguous. I think that he means by this a course wherein science is treated not only scientifically, but scientifically, historically, philosophically, and ethically. A large order? But I have seen it done; and if it can be done in a small preparatory school, and done successfully, for I was not alone in receiving honors in entrance physics, a large college can surely do it.

Or must the Artists and Scientists of our faculty admit themselves incompetent to produce any but a course wherein the gentleman after culture must be plunged to suffocation depth "under the surface" of one special, specialized branch of science, there to wallow for a year and to drag down by his incompetence--for who is not incompetent when set to that most hopeless of all tasks, working at something which for him is utterly futile?--to drag down by his incompetence, I say, the few precious students who would else do well because that subject is their special interest and acknowledged vocation?

Are the imposers of this system utterly ignorant of a relation between Lucretius, the present theories of atomic structure, and the sidereal system? Or would they merely keep us ignorant? Have they forgotten the relation between science and literature--to mention a few hackneyed names, Verne, Charles Reade, Dickens, Mrs. Shelley? Or did they never realize this relation? Do they not consider the substitution of eighty for one, two, or three elements, the substitution of a chemical change for the old idea of escaping phlogistin, superlatively important points in our consideration of the "scientific system"?--abused, ignorantly used phrase! Or do they consider that discarded ideas are merely things to pity, laugh at, and forget? Have they no conception of the social changes affecting the philosophical outlook and life of nations, wrought by scientific progress? Or do they think these mere trifles? Would they give us no warning of that increase in our moral obligations in proportion to our increasing powers of destruction? Or do they hold such a point fit merely for some course in a "dilettante humanity"?

Or have they changed the scientific requirements without making any adjustments in the science department? Has there been any radical change in the department since the time when only such men as were to be scientists studied science? If there ever was such a time.

But whether or not this is the case, surely Harvard College is able to duplicate, if not improve, the course which seems at present peculiar to one of its smaller contributing preparatory schools.

Surely if there have been written such texts as Duncan's "The New Knowledge" or the "Inside of the Atom", Harvard can give a course suited to the many searchers after that board knowledge necessary to culture and speculation. Must they always be plunged unwittingly into chemistry courses for the specialist? Will Harvard offer no rival attraction to the Lowell Institute lectures?

Let such a course be harder than the present science courses harder than the present science courses harder than History 1 and Philosophy A, but let it be profitable to the stupidly maligned searcher after general knowledge. J. A. ABBOTT '25.