Historical Reprints Science A History of Science : 4 Books in One Volume

A History of Science : 4 Books in One Volume

A History of Science : 4 Books in One Volume
Catalog # SKU1443
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 6.10 lbs
Author Name Henry Smith Williams


A History
of Science

4 Books in One Volume

By Henry Smith Williams

Should the story that is about to be unfolded be found to lack interest, the writers must stand convicted of unpardonable lack of art. Nothing but dullness in the telling could mar the story, for in itself it is the record of the growth of those ideas that have made our race and its civilization what they are; of ideas instinct with human interest, vital with meaning for our race; fundamental in their influence on human development; part and parcel of the mechanism of human thought on the one hand, and of practical civilization on the other.


Such a phrase as "fundamental principles" may seem at first thought a hard saying, but the idea it implies is less repellent than the phrase itself, for the fundamental principles in question are so closely linked with the present interests of every one of us that they lie within the grasp of every average man and woman--nay, of every well-developed boy and girl. These principles are not merely the stepping-stones to culture, the prerequisites of knowledge--they are, in themselves, an essential part of the knowledge of every cultivated person.

It is our task, not merely to show what these principles are, but to point out how they have been discovered by our predecessors. We shall trace the growth of these ideas from their first vague beginnings. We shall see how vagueness of thought gave way to precision; how a general truth, once grasped and formulated, was found to be a stepping-stone to other truths. We shall see that there are no isolated facts, no isolated principles, in nature; that each part of our story is linked by indissoluble bands with that which goes before, and with that which comes after. For the most part the discovery of this principle or that in a given sequence is no accident. Galileo and Keppler must precede Newton. Cuvier and Lyall must come before Darwin;--Which, after all, is no more than saying that in our Temple of Science, as in any other piece of architecture, the foundation must precede the superstructure.

We shall best understand our story of the growth of science if we think of each new principle as a stepping-stone which must fit into its own particular niche; and if we reflect that the entire structure of modern civilization would be different from what it is, and less perfect than it is, had not that particular stepping-stone been found and shaped and placed in position. Taken as a whole, our stepping-stones lead us up and up towards the alluring heights of an acropolis of knowledge, on which stands the Temple of Modern Science. The story of the building of this wonderful structure is in itself fascinating and beautiful.

To speak of a prehistoric science may seem like a contradiction of terms. The word prehistoric seems to imply barbarism, while science, clearly enough, seems the outgrowth of civilization; but rightly considered, there is no contradiction. For, on the one hand, man had ceased to be a barbarian long before the beginning of what we call the historical period; and, on the other hand, science, of a kind, is no less a precursor and a cause of civilization than it is a consequent. To get this clearly in mind, we must ask ourselves: What, then, is science? The word runs glibly enough upon the tongue of our every-day speech, but it is not often, perhaps, that they who use it habitually ask themselves just what it means. Yet the answer is not difficult. A little attention will show that science, as the word is commonly used, implies these things: first, the gathering of knowledge through observation; second, the classification of such knowledge, and through this classification, the elaboration of general ideas or principles. In the familiar definition of Herbert Spencer, science is organized knowledge.

Now it is patent enough, at first glance, that the veriest savage must have been an observer of the phenomena of nature. But it may not be so obvious that he must also have been a classifier of his observations--an organizer of knowledge. Yet the more we consider the case, the more clear it will become that the two methods are too closely linked together to be dissevered. To observe outside phenomena is not more inherent in the nature of the mind than to draw inferences from these phenomena. A deer passing through the forest scents the ground and detects a certain odor. A sequence of ideas is generated in the mind of the deer. Nothing in the deer's experience can produce that odor but a wolf; therefore the scientific inference is drawn that wolves have passed that way. But it is a part of the deer's scientific knowledge, based on previous experience, individual and racial; that wolves are dangerous beasts, and so, combining direct observation in the present with the application of a general principle based on past experience, the deer reaches the very logical conclusion that it may wisely turn about and run in another direction. All this implies, essentially, a comprehension and use of scientific principles; and, strange as it seems to speak of a deer as possessing scientific knowledge, yet there is really no absurdity in the statement. The deer does possess scientific knowledge; knowledge differing in degree only, not in kind, from the knowledge of a Newton. Nor is the animal, within the range of its intelligence, less logical, less scientific in the application of that knowledge, than is the man. The animal that could not make accurate scientific observations of its surroundings, and deduce accurate scientific conclusions from them, would soon pay the penalty of its lack of logic.

What is true of man's precursors in the animal scale is, of course, true in a wider and fuller sense of man himself at the very lowest stage of his development. Ages before the time which the limitations of our knowledge force us to speak of as the dawn of history, man had reached a high stage of development. As a social being, he had developed all the elements of a primitive civilization. If, for convenience of classification, we speak of his state as savage, or barbaric, we use terms which, after all, are relative, and which do not shut off our primitive ancestors from a tolerably close association with our own ideals. We know that, even in the Stone Age, man had learned how to domesticate animals and make them useful to him, and that he had also learned to cultivate the soil. Later on, doubtless by slow and painful stages, he attained those wonderful elements of knowledge that enabled him to smelt metals and to produce implements of bronze, and then of iron. Even in the Stone Age he was a mechanic of marvellous skill, as any one of to-day may satisfy himself by attempting to duplicate such an implement as a chipped arrow-head. And a barbarian who could fashion an axe or a knife of bronze had certainly gone far in his knowledge of scientific principles and their practical application. The practical application was, doubtless, the only thought that our primitive ancestor had in mind; quite probably the question as to principles that might be involved troubled him not at all. Yet, in spite of himself, he knew certain rudimentary principles of science, even though he did not formulate them.

Softcover, 8" x 10.5", 570+ pages Illustrated


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