Carpenter's words are in bold.
TO proceed with a few more words about the general method of Science. Science passes from phenomena to laws, from individual details which can be seen and felt to large generalisations of an intangible and phantom-like character. That is to say, that for convenience of thought we classify objects. How is this classification effected ? It is effected through the perception of identity amid difference. Among a lot of objects I perceive certain attributes in common ; this group of common attributes serves, so to speak, as a band to tie these objects together with --- into a bundle convenient for thought. I give a name to the band, and that serves to denote any unit of the bundle by.
Thus perceiving common attributes among a lot of dogs --- as in an example already given --- I give the name "foxhound" to this group of attributes, and thenceforth use the name "foxhound" to connect these objects by in my mind ; again perceiving other common attributes among other similar objects, I invent the word "greyhound" to denote these latter by. The concept "foxhound" differs from the objects which it denotes, in this respect that these latter are (as we say) real dogs with thousands and thousands of attributes each : one of them has a broken tooth, another is nearly all white, another answers to the name "Sally," and so on ; while the concept is only an imaginary form in my mind, with only a few attributes and no individual peculiarities --- a kind of tiny G.C.M. [greatest common measure?] arising from the contemplation of a long row of big figures.
Now having created these concepts "foxhound," "greyhound," and a lot of other similar ones, I find that they in their turn have a few attributes in common and thus give rise to a new concept "dog." Of course this "dog" is more of an abstraction than ever, the concept of a concept. In fact the peculiarity of this whole process is that, as sometimes stated, the broader the generalisation becomes the less is its depth ; or in other words and obviously, that as the number of objects compared increases, the number of attributes common to them all decreases. Ultimately as we saw at the beginning, when a sufficient number of objects are taken in, the concept ("dog" or whatever it may be) fades away and ceases to have any meaning.
This therefore is the dilemma of Science and indeed of all human knowledge, that in carrying out the process which is peculiar to it, it necessarily leaves the dry ground of reality for the watery region of abstractions, which abstractions become ever more tenuous and ungraspable the farther it goes, and ultimately fade into mere ghosts. Nevertheless the process is a quite necessary one, for only by it can the mind deal with things.
To dwell for a moment over this last point : it is clear that every object has relation to every other object in the world --- exists in fact only in virtue of such relation to other objects ; it has therefore an infinite number of attributes. The mind consequently is powerless to deal with such object --- it cannot by any possibility think it. In order to deal with it, the mind is forced to single out a few of its attributes (the method of ignorance or abstraction already alluded to) --- that is a few of its relations to other objects, and to think them first. The others it will think afterwards --- all in good time.
In thus stripping or abstracting the great mass of its attributes from our object, and leaving only a few, which it combines into a concept, the mind practically abandons the real article and takes up with a shadow ; but in return for this it gets something which it can handle, which is light to carry about, and which, like paper-money, for the time and under certain conditions does really represent value. The only danger is lest it --- the mind --- carried away by the extensive applicability of the partial concept which it has thus formed, should credit it with an actual value --- should project it on the background of the external world and ascribe to it that reality which belongs only to objects themselves, i.e., to things embodying an infinite range of attributes.
The peculiar method of Science is now clear to us, and can be abundantly illustrated from modern results. Our experience consists in sensations, we feel the weight of heavy bodies, we see them fall when let go, we have sensations of heat and cold, light and darkness, and so forth. But these sensations are more or less local and variable from man to man, and we naturally seek to find some common measure of them, by which we can talk about and describe them exactly, and independently of the peculiarities of individual observers. Thus we seek to find some common phenomenon which underlies (as we say) the sensations of heat and cold, or of light and darkness, or something which explains (i.e. is always present in) the case of falling bodies --- and to do this we adopt the method of generalisation above described, i.e., we observe a great number of individual cases and then see what qualities or attributes they have in common.
So far good. But it is just here that the fallacy of the ordinary scientific procedure comes in ; for, forgetting that these common qualities are mere abstractions from the real phenomena we credit them with a real existence, and regard the actual phenomena as secondary results, "effects " or what-not of these "causes." This in plain language is putting the cart before the horse --- or rather the shadow before the man.
Thus finding that a vast number of variously shaped and coloured bodies tend to fall towards the earth, we erect this common attribute of falling into an independent existence which we call "attraction" or "gravitation" --- and ultimately posit a universal gravitation acting on all bodies in Nature ! --- or finding that a number of different substances, such as water, air, wood, etc., convey to us the sensation we call sound, and that in all these cases the common element is vibration, we detach the attribute vibration, credit it with a separate existence, and speak of it as the cause of sound.
But though we may thus think of the shadow as separate from the man, the shadow cannot be separate from the man ; and though we may try to think of the falling or the vibration as separate from the wood or the stone, such falling and vibration cannot exist apart from these and other such materials, and the effort to speak of it as so existing ends in mere nonsense.
More strange still is the fatuity, when, as in the case of the Undulatory theory of light or the Atomic theory of physics, the concepts thus erected into actualities are composed of purely imaginary attributes --- of which no one has had any experience --- an undulatory ether in the one case, a hard and perfectly elastic atom in the other. The total result is of course --- just what we see --- Science landing itself in pure absurdities in every direction.
Beginning by detaching the attribute of falling from the bodies that fall --- beginning that is by an abstraction, which of course is also a falsity --- it generalises and generalises this abstraction till at last it reaches a perfectly generalised absurdity and thing without any meaning --- the law of gravitation. The statement that "every particle in the universe attracts every other particle with a force proportional to the mass of the attracting particle and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two" is devoid of meaning --- the human mind can give no definite meanings to the words "mass," "attract," and "force," which do not overlap and stultify each other. The law in every way baffles intelligence. Newton, who invented it, declared that no philosophic mind would suppose that bodies could thus act on one another "without the mediation of anything else by and through which their action might be conveyed ;" scientific men to-day are fain to see that a material mediation of this kind would only make the law still more remote from our comprehension than it already is, while, on the other hand, an immaterial mediation or a fourth-dimensional mediation, such as some propose, would simply remove the problem out of the regions of scientific analysis.
Again, the form of the law is declared to be the inverse square of the distance ; but this is the law by the nature of space itself of any perfect radiation, and if true of gravitation involves the conclusion that that radiation of force (whatever its nature may be) takes place without loss or dissipation of any kind. This would make gravitation absolutely unique among phenomena.
More than this, its propagation is supposed to be instantaneous over the most enormous distances of space, and to take place always unhindered and unretarded, whatever be the number or the nature of the bodies between ! What can be more clear than that the law is simply metaphysical --- a projection into a monstrous universality and abstraction, of partially understood phenomena in a particular region of observation --- a Brocken-shadow on the background of Nature of the observer's own momentary attitude of thought ?
[NOTE ADDED BY CARPENTER TO THE 1921 REPRINT:
See the report of the joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society, November 6, 1919, when Einstein's theory was discussed.
It is obvious that the Einstein theory, in which Time enters as a kind of fourth dimension in relation to Space, removes us at once out of the whole field of ordinary scientific reasoning and lands us, so to speak, in a new world. The nature of Space (or of the universal medium, whatever it is) in any region --- its possible fundamental accelerations there, its "curvature" or non- Euclidean character, and so forth --- is supposed, according to this theory, to vary with the amount of matter in, or density of, that region ; and the movements of bodies are consequently supposed to take on the characters (accelerations, etc.,) which we ascribe to the action of Gravitation. Gravitation in fact in any region is the manifestation in Time of the attributes of the universal Medium in that region --- which latter again is dependent on the degree of Matter present. Thus, Matter, Time, and Space are one phenomenon.
The whole Einstein theory, in fact, is a device to present these three Protean and variable elements of all material exist- ence (Matter, Time and Space) as so far involved and interlaced in each other that they form always an absolute and complete unity. As such the theory is no doubt suggestive, and along the line of future speculation : but it awaits corroboration. If corroborated it will point the way to a new conception of the Universe.]
Again, the undulatory theory of Light. Studying the phenomena of a vast number of coloured and bright bodies, Science finds that it can think about these phenomena --- can generalise and tie them into bundles best by assuming that the bodies are all in a state of vibration ; a vibration so minute that (unlike the vibrations connected with Sound) it cannot be directly perceived.
So far good. There is no harm in the assumption of vibration, as long as it is understood to be a mere assumption for a temporary convenience of thought. But now Science goes farther than this, and not only supposes a common attribute to all visible bodies, but credits this common attribute with a real existence independent of the visible bodies in which it was supposed to inhere --- and makes this the cause of their visibility !
Obviously now a common and universal medium is required for this common and universal assumed vibration (just as Newton required a medium for his universal "falling") and so, hey presto ! we have the Undulatory Ether.
And having got it we find that to fulfil our requirements it must have a pressure of 17 million million pounds on the square inch, and yet be so rare and tenuous as not to hinder the lightest breath of air ; that while it is thus rare enough to surpass all our powers of direct scrutiny, its vibrations must yet be capable of agitating and breaking up the solidest bodies ; that it must pass freely through some dense and close structures like glass, and yet be excluded by some light and porous, like cork, and so on and on !
In fact we find that it is unthinkable. Against this adamantine, impalpable Ether, as against this instantaneous, untranslatable gravitation, Science bangs its devoted head in vain. Having created these absurdities by the method of "personification of abstractions" (in the phrase of J. S. Mill) or the "reification of concepts," (in the phrase of Stallo's excellent Concepts of Modern Physics), it seriously and in all good faith tries to understand them ; having dressed up its own Mumbo Jumbo (which it once jeered at religion for doing) it piously shuts its eyes and endeavours to believe in it.
The Atomic Theory affords a good example of the "method of ignorance." When we try to think about material objects generally --- to generalise about them --- that is, to find some attribute or attributes common to them, we are at first puzzled. They present such an immense variety. But after a time, by dint of stripping off or abstracting all such attributes or qualities as we think we perceive in one body and not in another --- as for example, redness, blueness, warmth, saltness, life, intelligence, or what not --- we find an attribute left, namely resistance to touch, which is common to all material bodies.
This quality in the body we call "mass," and since it is only known by motion, mass and motion become correlative attributes which we find useful to class bodies by, not because they represent the various bodies particularly well, but because they are found in all bodies ; just as you might class people by their boots --- not because boots are a very valuable method of classification, but simply because every one wears boots of one kind or another.
So far there is no great harm done. But now having by the method of ignorance thought away all the qualities of bodies, except the two correlatives of mass and motion, we set about to explain the phenomena of Nature generally by these two "thinks" that are left. We credit these "thinks " (mass and motion) with an independent existence and proceed to derive the rest of phenomena from them.
The proceeding of course is absurd, and ends by exposing its own absurdity. Thinking of mass and motion as existing in the various bodies apart from colour, smell, and so forth --- which of course is not the case --- we combine the two attributes into one concept, the atom, which we thus assume to exist in all bodies.
The atom has neither colour, smell, warmth, taste, life or intelligence ; it has only mass and motion ; for it came by the method of divesting our thought of everything but mass and motion. It is a projection of a "think " upon the background of nature.
And it is an absurdity. No such thing exists in all the wide universe as mass and motion divested from colour, smell, warmth, life and intelligence. The atom is unthinkable. It is perfectly hard and it is perfectly elastic --- which is the same as saying that it bends and it doesn't bend at the same time ; it has form, and it hasn't form ; it has affinities and yet is perfectly indifferent.
To justify to men the ways of their Mumbo Jumbo has sorely exercised the votaries of the Atom. One philosopher says that it is mere matter, passive, exercising no force but resistance ; another says that it is a centre of force, without matter ; a third suggests that it is not itself matter, but only a vortex in other matter ! All agree that it is not an object of sense, and there remains no conclusion but that it is nonsense !
See, for instance, the last new thing in this style --- the Helmholtz molecule as improved upon by Sir William Thomson ; it is described as follows : "A heavy mass connected by massless springs with a massless enclosing shell ; or there may be several shells enclosing each other connected by springs with a dense mass in the centre (far more dense than the ether)." It is not, of course, seriously maintained that this nonsensical creation exists --- but that if it did exist it would account for certain unexplained phenomena in the dispersion of light, etc.
[NOTE ADDED BY CARPENTER TO THE 1921 REPRINT:
Later still (1920) we have the following delightful verdict on the Structure of the Atom, given by Sir Ernest Rutherford --- and which I commend to all lovers of clear thinking : ---
"The Bakerian Lecture was delivered yesterday before the Royal Society by Sir Ernest Rutherford, whose subject was 'The Nuclear Construction of the Atom.' He said that during recent years much attention had been paid to the nature and structure of atoms. The atomic theory of matter had been definitely proved. The mass of the individual atoms, and the number in any given weight of matter, were now known with considerable accuracy. Not only was matter known to be made up of atoms, but electricity was also atomic in nature, and there was a definite unit of electrical charge which could not further be subdivided. The negative electron, which was a constituent of all atoms of matter, was probably nothing more than an isolated unit of negative electricity, and its small mass was electrical in origin. It had long been considered probable that the atom is an electrical structure, consisting of positive and negative particles, held in equilibrium by electric or magnetic forces. In recent years evidence had accumulated that an atom consists of a positively charged nucleus surrounded at a distance by a distribution of electrons to make it electrically neutral." (From The Morning Post of June 4, 1920.) ]
And so on in all directions. Human thought flying off at its tangents from Nature lands itself in infinite nothings afar off, poor ghostly skeletons and abstractions from Nature --- which indeed is all right, for human thought as yet can only see ghosts and not realities ; but let there be no mistake, let these ghosts not be mistaken for realities --- for they are not even compatible with each other. The Atom that suits the physicist does not suit the chemist. The Ether that does for the vehicle of Light will not do for the vehicle of universal Gravitation.
It would be hardly worth while entering into these criticisms, were it not evident that Science in modern times, either tacitly or explicitly, has been seeking, as I said at the beginning, to enounce facts independent of Man, the observer.
Seeing that the ordinary statements of daily life are obviously inexact and relative to the observer --- charged with human sensation in fact --- Science has, naturally tried to produce something which should be exact and independent of human sensation ; but here it has of course condemned itself beforehand to failure ; for no statement of isolated phenomena or groups of phenomena can be exact except by the method of ignorance aforesaid, and no statement obviously can be really independent of human sensation.
When a man says It is cold, his statement, it must be confessed, is deplorably human and vague. It --- what is that ? Is --- do you mean is ? or do you mean feels, appears ? Cold --- in what sense ? Cold to yourself, or to other people, or to polar bears, or by the thermometer ? And so on.
Science therefore steps in with an air of authority and sets him right. It says the temperature is 30° Fahrenheit as if to settle the matter.
But does this really settle the matter ? Temperature --- who knows what that is ? What is the scientific definition of it ?
I find (Clerk-Maxwell's Theory of Heat, p. 2.) "the temperature of a body is a quantity which indicates how hot or how cold the body is." This sounds very much like saying, "the colour of a body is a quantity which indicates how blue, red, or yellow the body is." It does not bring us much farther on our way. But in the next paragraph Maxwell shows the object of his definition (which of course is only preliminary) by saying, "By the use, therefore, of the word temperature, we fix in our minds the conviction that it is possible not only to feel, but to measure, how hot a body is." That is to say he clearly maintains that it is possible to find an absolute standard of hotness or coldness --- or rather of the unknown thing called temperature --- outside of ourselves and independent of human sensation.
When the man said he was cold he was probably just describing his own sensations, but here Science indicates that it is in search of something which has an independent existence of its own, and which therefore when found we can measure exactly and once for all. What then is that thing ? What is temperature ? say, what is it ?
We cudgel our brains in vain. Perhaps the remainder of the sentence will help us. " The temperature is 30° Fahrenheit."
"The unknown thing is thirty degrees."
What then is a degree ? That is the next question. When the Theory of Heat went out from sensation and left it behind, one of its first landing places was in the expansion of liquids --- as in thermometer tubes. Here for some time was thought to be a satisfactory register of "temperature." But before long it became apparent that the degree --- Fahrenheit, Reaumur, or what-not --- was an entirely arbitrary thing, also that it was not the same thing at one end of the scale as the other ---the very fact alone that the degrees on a thermometer are equal space divisions shows that they must bear a varying relation to the total volume of liquid as that expands from one end of the tube to the other --- and finally that the scale itself had no starting point !
This was awkward, so a move was made to the air thermometer, and there was some talk about an absolute zero and absolute temperatures ; it was thought that the Unknown thing showed itself most clearly and simply in the expansion of air and other gases, and that the "degree" might fairly be measured in terms of this expansion. But in a little time this kind of thermometer --- chiefly because no gas turned out to be "theoretically perfect" --- broke down, absolute zero and all, and another step had to be made --- namely, to the dynamical theory. It was announced that the Unknown thing might be measured in terms of mechanical energy, and Joule at Manchester proclaimed that the work done by any quantity of water falling there a distance of 772 feet is capable of raising that water one degree Fahrenheit (a statement obviously applying --- from what has been already said --- at only one point in the scale.)
Here seemed something definite. To measure temperature by mass and velocity, to measure a degree by the flight of a stone, or the heat in the human body by the fall of a factory chimney --- if rather roundabout and elusive of the main question --- seemed at any rate promising of exact results ! Unfortunately the difficulty was to pass from the theory to its application. The complicated nature of the problem, the "imperfection" of the gases and other bodies under consideration, the latent and specific heats to be allowed for, the elusive nature of heat in experiment, and the variable value of the degree itself --- all render the conclusions on this subject most precarious ; and the general equations connecting the Fahrenheit or other temperatures with a thermo-dynamic scale --- while they become so unwieldy as to be practically useless --- are themselves after all only approximate.
Finally, to give a last form to the mechanical theory of heat, the conception of flying atoms or molecules was introduced, and a number of neat generalisations were deduced from dynamical considerations. Of course it was inevitable, having once started with a mechanical theory, that one should arrive at the Atom some time or other --- and (from what has already been said) it was also inevitable that the result should be unsatisfactory. It is sufficient to say that the molecular theory of heat is not in accordance with facts. Such things as the law of Charles and the law of Boyle, which according to it should be strictly accurate and of general application, are known to be true only over a most limited range. This failure of the theory may be said to arise partly from its being pursued by the statistical method ; but if, on the other hand, we were to try and follow out the individual movement of each molecule we should be landed in a problem far exceeding in complexity the wildest flights of Astronomy, and should have exchanged for the original difficulty about "temperature" a difficulty far greater.
The result of all this has been that notwithstanding the talk about energy and atoms, Science has sadly to confess that it can still give no valid meaning to the word temperature : the unknown thing is still unknown, the independent existence round the corner still escapes us. By the very effort to arrive at something independent of human sensation, Science has, in a roundabout way, arrived at an absurdity.
When the man said he was cold, his statement --- deplorably vague as it certainly was --- had some meaning ; he was describing his feelings, or possibly he had seen some snow or some ice on the road ; but when, in the endeavour to leave out the human and to say something absolute, Science declared that the temperature was thirty degrees, it committed itself to a remark which possibly was exact in form, but to which it has never given and never can give any definite meaning.
(I am not, of course, here arguing against the use of thermometers or other instruments for practical purposes. This is certainly the legitimate field of Science. But (as in the case of prediction before mentioned) the exactness of results obtained is a very different matter from the truth of the generalities which are supposed to underlie these results. In using a thermometer you need not even mention the word "temperature.")
Similarly with other generalities of Science : the "law" of the Conservation of Energy, the "law" of the Survival of the Fittest --- the more you think about them the less possible is it to give any really intelligible sense to them. The very word Fittest really begs the question which is under consideration, and the whole Conservation law is merely an attenuation of the already much attenuated "law" of Gravitation. The Chemical Elements themselves are nothing but the projection on the external world of concepts consisting of three or four attributes each : they are not more real, but very much less real than the individual objects which they are supposed to account for ; and their "elementary" character is merely fictional. It probably is in fact as absurd to speak of pure carbon or pure gold, as of a pure monkey or a pure dog. There are no such things, except as they may be arrived at by arbitrary definition and the method of ignorance.
In the search for exactness, then, Science has been continually led on to discard the human and personal elements in phenomena, in the hope of finding some residuum as it were behind them which should not be personal and human but absolute and invariable. And the tendency has been (hitherto) in all the sciences to get rid of such terms as blue, red, light, heavy, hot, cold, concord, discord, health, vitality, right, wrong, etc., and to rely on any less human elements discoverable in each case ; as for instance in Sound, to deal less and less with the judgments and sensations of the ear, and to rely more and more on measurements of lengths of strings, numbers of vibrations, etc.
Each science has been (as far as possible) reduced to its lowest terms. Ethics has been made a question of utility and inherited experience. Political Economy has been exhausted of all conceptions of justice between man and man, of charity, affection, and the instinct of solidarity ; and has been founded on its lowest discoverable factor, namely self-interest. Biology has been denuded of the force of personality in plants, animals, and men ; the "self" here has been set aside, and the attempt made to reduce the science to a question of chemical and cellular affinities, protoplasm, and the laws of osmosis. Chemical affinities, again, and all the wonderful phenomena of Physics are emptied down into a flight of atoms ; and the flight of atoms (and of astronomic orbs as well) is reduced to the laws of dynamics --- which the student sitting in his chamber may write down on a piece of paper.
Thus the idea, formulated by Comte, of a great scale of sciences arising from the simplest to the most complex, has tacitly underlain modern scientific work. It --- Science --- has sought to " explain " each stage by reference to a lower stage --- " blueness " by vibrations, and vibrations by flying atoms --- the human always by the sub-human. Going out from humanity dissatisfied, it has wandered through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, through the regions of Chemistry and Physics, into that of Mechanics. "Here at last, in Mechanics, is something outside humanity, something exact in itself, something substantial," it has said. "Let us build again on this as on a foundation, and in time we shall find out what humanity is."
This I say has been the dream of Modern Science ; yet the fallacy of it is obvious. We have not got outside the human, but only to the outermost verge of it. Mass and motion, which in this process are taken to be real entities and the first progenitors of all phenomena, are simply the last abstractions of sensible experience, and our emptiest concepts. The material explanation of the universe is simply an attempt to account for phenomena by those attributes which appear to us to be common to them all --- which is, as said before, like accounting for men by their boots : --- it may be possible to get an exact formula this way, but its contents have little or no meaning.
The whole process of Science and the Comtian classification of its branches --- regarded thus as an attempt to explain Man by Mechanics --- is a huge vicious circle. It professes to start with something simple, exact, and invariable, and from this point to mount step by step till it comes to Man himself ; but indeed it starts with Man. It plants itself on sensations low down (mass, motion, etc.), and endeavours by means of them to explain sensations high up, which reminds one of nothing so much as that process vulgarly described as "climbing up a ladder to comb your hair."
In truth Science has never left the great world, or cosmos, of Man, nor ever really found a locus standi without it ; but during the last two or three centuries it has gone in this direction, outwards, continually. Leaving the central basis and facts of humanity as too vast and unmanageable, and also as apparently variable from man to man and therefore affording no certain consent to work upon, it has wandered gradually outwards, seeking something of more definite and universal application.
Discarding thus one by one the interior phases of sensation --- as the sense of personal relationship, the sense of justice, duty, fitness in things or what-not (as too uncertain, or perhaps developed to an unequal degree in different persons, embryonic in one and matured in another), drifting past the more specialised bodily senses, of colour, sound, taste, smell, etc., as for similar reasons unavailable --- Science at last in the primitive consciousness of muscular contraction and its abstraction "mass" or "matter " comes to a pause. Here in this last sense, common probably to man and the lowest animals, it finds its widest, most universal ground --- its farthest limit from the Centre. It has reached the outermost shell, as it were, of the great Man-cosmos. Even this shell is partially human ; it is not entirely osseous, and so far not entirely exact and invariable ; but Science can go no farther --- and there, for the present, it may remain !
Some day perhaps, when all this showy vesture of scientific theory (which has this peculiarity that only the learned can see it) has been quasi-completed, and Humanity is expected to walk solemnly forth in its new garment for all the world to admire --- as in Anderssen's story of the Emperor's New Clothes --- some little child standing on a door-step will cry out : " But he has got nothing on at all," and amid some confusion it will be seen that the child is right.
"I fear I have very imperfectly succeeded in expressing my strong conviction that, before a rigorous logical scrutiny, the Reign of Law will prove to be an unverified hypothesis, the Uniformity of Nature an ambiguous expression, the certainty of our scientific inferences to a great extent a delusion." (Stanley Jevons, Principles of Science, p. ix.)
END OF PART B