Frederick Soddy.

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SCIENCE AND LIFE



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

THE INTERPRETATION
OF RADIUM

PROGRESSIVE SCIENCE SERIES



Ex Ubris
C. K. OGDEN

SCIENCE AND LIFE

ABERDEEN ADDRESSES

BY FREDERICK SODDY, M.A., F.R.S.

DR LBB'S PROFESSOR OF INOBOAN1C AFD PHYSICAL CHIMI3TRT

UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD; LATELY PROFESSOR or CHEMISTRY

UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN



LONDON

JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
1920



A II rights reserved.



UNTVEP-TV OF PATJFORNTA
' BAKBARA



TO MY STUDENTS
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN

THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED

IN GRATITUDE FOR THEIR LOYAL AND
SYMPATHETIC APPRECIATION



PREFACE



I HAVE collected together this series of addresses and
articles, written, for the most part, during" my five
years at the University of Aberdeen, in the hope
that, in volume form, they may prove acceptable to
the students of the university and those for whom,
in the first place, they were written. But I am not
without hope that, in these days of stress and change,
they may be useful to a wider circle, anxious to
explore to the foundations the causes of modern
unrest, and to rectify for the future the causes which
have led to failure in the past. I have, from the
standpoint of an original investigator in physical
science, attempted to show how fundamentally and
beyond the possibility of escape our knowledge and
control of the inanimate world underlies and de-
termines the development of all the potentialities of
life. Admittedly, the attempt is a very imperfect
one, but scientific investigators too seldom endeavour
at all to make known the bearing of their special
fields of inquiry upon the general problems of life
and belief.

Written at a time when millions of young men
were being killed in consequence of the destinies
of scientific nations being in the hands of people of
archaic mental outlook, no mock deference has been
paid to conventional habits of thought. The times
seem to call for outspokenness, if one has anything
to say, rather than persuasive propagandism and



viii PREFACE

time-serving compromise. It may be recalled that
scientific men have, for nearly a century, pointed out
the dangers to the nation of the traditional school
and university training, disastrous especially in that
it embraces even those who are to be its rulers and
statesmen.

Naturally, radioactivity and its conclusions as
to the immanence and illimitableness of natural
energy, still confused in orthodox religions with the
Deity, enter largely into the subject-matter, and I
have included two articles, giving some more con-
nected account of these advances. The first, "The
Evolution of Matter," is intended for the general
reader, and the second, "The Conception of the
Chemical Element as enlarged by the Study of
Radioactive Change," for students of chemistry, who
may desire to acquaint themselves further with these
developments.

In a collection of separate and self-contained
articles such as this, some repetition is unavoidable,
but I have attempted to minimise it. I trust, in so
far as I have not been successful, that it may be
pardoned in view of the hitherto almost complete
neglect by the intellectual world of the theme, for
philosophies "of lighter and less solid wood."

I have included, as an appendix, some articles and
reports bearing on certain definite charges which I
have made, and which have remained unanswered, of
the financial treatment of science by the Carnegie
Trustees for the Universities of Scotland, and the
University of Aberdeen. These are specific instances
of what it would be possible to multiply no doubt
indefinitely, and I include them, in the first place, to
justify the complaint that something more than mere
neglect of science by the British nation is involved,
and that, in the educational institutions and govern-
ment of this country, science has not received, nor is



PREFACE ix

it likely in the future to receive, the ordinary honour-
able fair-play supposed to be characteristic of British
standards. The dead past might well be left to bury
its dead, if there were any sign of a different spirit
prevailing- in the future. But, with the present spirit
still dominant, how can it be expected that modern
men will bequeath their wealth to the universities
here, as they habitually do in America? Nor is it
much use Parliament voting large grants for the
purpose of fostering scientific research, or Ministers
taking from the taxes increased sums to promote
scientific education, until the administration of them
is taken out of the hands of those who have proved
their unfitness for such a trust in the past.

My acknowledgments are due to the Chemical
Society, the British Science Guild, and the editors
and publishers of Science Progress, the Aberdeen
University Review, and other publications for per-
mission to reprint articles appearing in their pages.

FREDERICK SODDY.
ABERDEEN, September 1919.



CONTENTS



SCIENCE AND LIFE .....

From an Article originally contributed to The Candid Quarterly
Review, and republished in abbreviated and revised form in The
Studtnt Movement, Dec. igiS-Feb. 1919.



PHYSICAL FORCE MAN'S SERVANT OR HIS MASTER? . 25

Address to the Aberdeen Branch of the Independent Labour
Party, Nov. 1915.



CHEMISTRY AND NATIONAL PROSPERITY . . -43

Remarks to the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, Annual
Meeting, Feb. 1916.

SCIENCE AND THE STATE . . \ . .49

Address to the Aberdeen Branch of the Independent Labour
Party, Oct. 1916.

THE FUTURE OF SCIENCE, AND WHAT BARS THE WAY . 65

Presidential Address to the Aberdeen University Scientific
Association, Nov. 1916.

THE EVOLUTION OF MATTER . . . -85

Contributed to the Aberdeen University Review, Feb. 1917.

THE CONCEPTION OF THE CHEMICAL ELEMENT AS EN-
LARGED BY THE STUDY OF RADIOACTIVE CHANGE 1 1 r
Address to the Chemical Society, London, Dec. 1918 ; published
in the Journal of 'the Chemical Society, Transactions, Jan. 1919.



xii CONTENTS

PAGE

MATTER, ENERGY, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND SPIRIT . .149

Address to the Aberdeen University Christian Union, April 1919.

To THE NEW LAUNCH! . . . . . 175

Contributed to the first number of The Crucible, May 1919.

THE IDEALS OF A SCIENCE SCHOOL . . .181

Farewell Address to the Aberdeen University Scientific Associa-
tion, June 1919.



APPENDIX

A. A CRITICISM OF THE FINANCIAL OPERATIONS OF THE

CARNEGIE TRUST FOR THE UNIVERSITIES OF
SCOTLAND . . . . .207

Contributed to Science Progress, Jan. 1917.

B. REPORT OF A COMMITTEE OF THE BRITISH SCIENCE

GUILD UPON THE CARNEGIE TRUST AND
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH . . . .218

Journal of the British Science Guild, Dec. 1917.

C. CARNEGIE TRUST FOR THE UNIVERSITIES OF SCOTLAND 222

Twelfth Annual Report of the Executive Committee of the British
Science Guild, July 1918.



SCIENCE AND LIFE 1

" Science is the great instrument of social change, all the greater
because its object is not change but knowledge, and its silent
appropriation of this dominant function, amid the din of political
and religious strife, is the most vital of all the revolutions which
have marked the development of modern civilisation." A. J.
BALFOUR, Decadence^ 1908.

THE curiously limited outlook of the devotees of
scientific inquiries, the strange contrast between the
recluseness of the individual and the cumulative
consequences to society of their work, has been the
note struck by many modern commentators. The
spirit of the mythical don, who thanked the Almighty
at the close of a life-long tussle with a mathematical
problem that its solution could never be of the least
possible use to anyone, is still revered as the pure
distilled essence of scientific endeavour. That this
cloisteral attitude is essential to the highest and
most practical discovery is patent from a casual
examination of the history of science. But whether
it is sane to leave entirely to the unscientific wisdom
of the age the proper direction and utilisation for the
many of the treasure so acquired, is a question to
which the answer is equally patent from a casual
examination of the history of the application of
science. The immense acquisition to the wealth
and resources of mankind which has been the result

1 This is a revised and abbreviated version of an article which
appeared in The Candid Quarterly some years ago, and subsequently
in The Student Movement, December 1918 to February 1919.

i



2 SCIENCE AND LIFE

of the past century of science, should have been the
golden opportunity of statesmen and humanitarians
and the raw material out of which the sum total
of human happiness could have been augmented.
Instead, it has but revealed a growing incapacity
and failure on the part of the altruist to appreciate
the nature and power of the new weapon that science
has placed in his hands, and an ever-increasing
rapacity and far-sightedness on the part of the
egotist to secure it for his own ends.

For many a decade now, owing primarily and
indisputably to the intellectual achievements of a
comparative handful of men of communistic and
cloisteral habit of thought, a steady shower of
material benefits has been raining down upon
humanity, and for these benefits men have fought
in the traditional manner of the struggle when the
fickle sunlight was the sole hazardous income of the
world. The strong have fed and grown fat upon a
larger and ever larger share of the manna. Initial
slight differences of strength and sagacity have
become so emphasised by the virile stream that the
more successful are becoming monstrously so, and
the unsuccessful less and less able to secure a full
meal than before the shower began.

Already it savours of indelicacy and tactlessness
to recall that the exploiters of all this wealth are not
its creators ; that the spirit of acquisitiveness which
has ensured success to them, rather than to their
immediate neighbours, is the antithesis of the spirit
by which the wealth was won.

Amid all the sneers at the impracticability and
visionary character of communist schemes, let it not
be forgotten that science is a communism, neither
theoretical rior on paper, but actual and in practice.
The results of those who labour in the fields of
knowledge for its own sake are published freely and



THE MATERIAL BASIS OF LIFE 3

pooled in the general stock for the benefit of all.
Common ownership of all its acquisitions is the
breath of its life. Secrecy or individualism of any
kind would destroy its fertility.



THE MATERIAL BASIS OF LIFE.

To the altruist, to whom wealth and human
happiness are far from being synonyms, science is
viewed with distrust. A phrase "like the growing
materialism of the age" is a curious betrayal of a
habit of thought which would be ludicrous if it were
not fraught with disaster. The physical conditions
of existence are more fundamental than the aesthetic,
moral or intellectual. A child must be fed before it
can be taught. A certain standard of living above
that of animals is a preliminary condition for the
development of any of the special qualities of human
beings. Philosophies, codes, political systems and
religions must follow the lead of science and range
themselves in alliance with, rather than in defiance
of, these inanimate fundamentals, or, like a machine
designed in ignorance of the principles of mechanics,
they constitute themselves a danger to the com-
munity. Of these elementary physical conditions,
which absolutely control existence, and which take
precedence over every other, mankind remained in
total ignorance until they suddenly changed. Most
fish probably remain utterly oblivious of the existence
of water until rudely hauled into the upper air. In
the essentially unchanging physical environment, in
which all but the latest epoch of recorded history has
been enacted, lies the probable explanation of the
seeming paralysis which has overtaken the sources
of constructive thought and action since science in
the last century revolutionised the major physical
condition of life.



4 SCIENCE AND LIFE

The results of a sudden acquisition of wealth
without effort, or with a relative minimum of effort,
are proverbial, and science, that has secured wealth
beyond precedent and promises wealth beyond
belief, has till now been too closely pursued by the
proverbial results. But is the whole accumulated
wisdom of the ages really sterile and impotent before
this problem, of how to use wealth, of how to secure
that a preater part of the sum-total of increased
material resources shall be made to contribute to
the sum-total of human happiness? For at present,
it has not only shown itself powerless to bring about
this result, but it is, an uncharitable observer might
conclude, in league with the other side, and is active,
so far as it is active at all, in ensuring that the
improvement in material conditions shall increase
the sum-total of human misery.

THE APPLICATION OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY.

The statesman from whom the writer has ventured
to borrow the quotation at the head of this article,
showed a rare insight into the character of the
world movement which has followed the application
of scientific discovery, and was able to penetrate
beneath the superficial consequences "appropriately
associated with materialism and greed." Something
" seriously to be ranked with religion and patriotism
as an important force for raising men's lives above
what is small, personal and self-centred," "a source
not merely of material convenience but of spiritual
elevation " was hinted at from a remote standpoint,
over and beyond the nearer prospect of "smoky
cities, polluted rivers and desecrated landscapes."
But those who can take a nearer, narrower and less
clouded view, feel as though they had "stared at the
Pacific." For, from the point of vantage attained



APPLICATION OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY 5

from the foremost outskirts of physical science, there
lies in full view a realm till now untrodden by mortals
even in their dreams the promise of power to fulfil
ambitions as yet latent, wealth and energy adequate
to eliminate for ever the struggle for existence on its
physical side, strength, at least in great measure, to
make of life whatsoever we will. Even the probable
route forward can be dimly made out, the way the
pioneers will most likely pursue to enter the promised
land. And then ?

Judging from past experience, from the uses to
which the enlarged opportunities and dominance
already conferred by physical science have been put,
is it so certain that man is ripe for such a myriad-
fold multiplication of his physical powers? Apart
altogether from war, what would the unscientific
wisdom of the age make of the golden opportunity
more publicly beneficial than more millionaires and
more slums? There arises the challenge: Is there
a single practical branch of human thought or know-
ledge which has been left untouched, nay, more,
which has not been altered to its very foundations,
by the progress of science ? The education of those
to whom for the most part is entrusted the happi-
ness and destiny of nations ceases where it should
begin.

For a modern ruler the laws of the conservation
and transformation of energy, whence the vivifying
stream takes its source, the ways it wends its course
in nature, and how, under wisdom and knowledge, it
may be intertwined with human destiny, instead of
careering headlong to the ocean, are a study at least
as pregnant with consequences to life as any lesson
taught by the long unscientific history of man. The
essential public questions of the day find in such
modern advances a suggestive and connected inter-
pretation.

c



6 SCIENCE AND LIFE

Youth ought to breathe in science with its mother
tongue, in addition to the ancient wisdom of those
who lived directly on sunlight. A prolonged course
of pettifogging crofting fits no man to administer
vast possessions. With the exception of a few, to
whom it is a hobby, public men in this country are
as ignorant of the meaning of science to life as the
man in the street is of the Greek alphabet.

It is not difficult to comprehend the precise con-
dition which science has introduced into human
affairs, and to which every feature peculiar to the
present age can be more or less directly traced. It
is the effective control and utilisation of inanimate
sources of energy. The power of a man to do work
one man-power is, in its purely physical sense,
now an insignificant accomplishment, and could only
again justify his existence if other sources of power
failed. To increase and multiply one man-power is
the object of all social systems from time immemorial.

The modern Ship of State moves with an unseen
power. Old salts still trim the useless sails in true
maritime fashion, and there is a talk on deck of
hurricanes and doldrums, maelstroms and monsoons.
But those below the deck, who provide the power,
know where the ship would sail to, if sail it ever had
to again. Curious persons in cloisteral seclusion are
experimenting with new sources of energy, which, if
ever harnessed, would make coal and oil as useless
as oars and sails. If they fail in their quest, or are
too late, so that coal and oil, everywhere sought for,
are no longer found, and the only hope of men lay in
their time-honoured traps to catch the sunlight, who
doubts that galley-slaves and helots would reappear
in the world once more? The history of man is
dominated by, and reflects, the amount of available
energy. The energy available for each individual
man is his income, and the philosophy which can



DIVORCE OF SCIENCE FROM EDUCATION 7

teach him to be content with penury should be
capable of teaching him also the uses of wealth.

A single modern machine does the work of tens
of thousands of labourers, releasing them from the
benumbing and soul-destroying effect of unremittent
physical labour. The very same movement which
lightened the task of men, favoured women even
more. The minimisation of individual brute strength
in the affairs of life could hardly do otherwise.

ITS EFFECT ON EDUCATION.

Each year science increases by so many millions
of horse-power its patient armies of inanimate slaves.
The adoption of slave labour by Imperial Rome, we
are taught, laid that mighty civilisation in the dust.
Already the new slave of science has laid in ruins
all the ineradicable doctrines derived from the history
and experience of a time when the physical environ-
ment was unchanging. Those who pleaded just for
one or two at least of the ancient seats of learning to
be left untouched and unreformed amid the startling
and dangerous innovations of science, as a sanctuary
for what was noble and enduring in the thought of
the past, may have perpetuated an anachronism,
safe enough in a monastery, but infinitely more
dangerous than innovation where it concerns the
education of future generations of public men. If
men so trained had been debarred from holding
public positions in the State, or even if they had
been regarded, so far as their training was serious,
as specialists, instead of becoming the fashion and
being preferred as the traditional type which all
systems of general education should strive to pro-
duce, no possible objection could be taken. But it
is absurd that the administration of a modern State
should be left to men ignorant of science and of its



8 SCIENCE AND LIFE

human consequences. More serious consequences
have attended the overweighting of education by
dead and moribund habits of thought than would
have attended an overweighting of education with
science. So great is the discontinuity between the
present and any previous period.

One may believe that the human aspect of learn-
ing, if it is the highest, is also the last aspect to be
achieved, and if no adequate appreciation of the older
humanities can be arrived at without long prepara-
tion in the grammar and etymology of ancient
languages, so no adequate appreciation of the newer
scientific humanities can be derived without a long
discipline in the grammar and principles of science.
In spite of all make-believe to the contrary, this is
the age of science.

One may walk through any city, as the early
Greek sculptor did in his day, absorbing uncon-
sciously from its medley of sights and sounds the
fleeting impressions which, in a trained mind, fuse
together and congeal, epitomising for all time the
animation of a moment. Science is not sculpturing
from models. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
But the workmen are building in steel and the
designers are thinking in stone.



THE NEED FOR ADAPTATION.

Human nature, in general, is the result of an
age-long adaptation to what has been hitherto, for
any one country, an essentially unchanging physical
environment. Emigration to other countries, as in
the population of the Americas, produces corre-
sponding marked changes of human nature, and the
rapidity of these changes among the mixed popula-
tion which finds its way into the United States is
well known. The subjection of inanimate sources



THE NEED FOR ADAPTATION 9

of energy resulted in a far vaster and more sudden
change of physical environment than a mere geo-
graphical alteration, and its effect on human nature
have been more immediate and universal than could
be produced by any local migrations in themselves.
The change is the more immediate and complete, as
one generation succeeds another, among those upon
whom the struggle for existence presses the more
directly. It began at the bottom with the unskilled
labourer. It is resisted the more strenuously, and
for the time the more effectively, in accordance as an
accumulation of wealth, interests or privileges serves
to protect the resister from the natural consequences
of being out of tune with his environment, or endear
him to the conditions which are changing.

In such resistance is to be found the explanation
of the disquieting fact that the vast social recon-
struction everywhere in progress is volcanic rather
than a normal healthy growth. There is scarcely a
social change of any consequence which has not, like
the right of combination of labour, taken its origin
and assumed strength from below, and burst through
the resistance offered to it from above. After having
been denounced as anti-social, it is, in due course,
welcomed and universally adopted by official and
orthodox circles, so soon as the further progress of
the movement has made it appear as the least of
inevitable evils. Even the nationalisation of rail-
ways, land, and the sources of wealth, the conscrip-
tion of capital, and all the rank heresies of a little
while ago, are now receiving serious consideration.
Perhaps most significant of all such ideas is that
of the international co-operative labour movement
against war.

This movement is a remarkable instance of how
the forces compelling change find expression, in
spite of the most innate traditions, such as patriotism



10 SCIENCE AND LIFE

and the martial spirit, which were once the essentials
of survival, whatever they may be to-day. The
progress of change spreading upwards throughout
society leads to some strange paradoxes. Official
constructive philosophy long since deteriorated in a
soil utterly exhausted by a monotonous alternation
of introspective and retrospective agriculture and the
bearing of a monotonous succession of the same
dwindling harvest. It alone remains sterile, whilst
all around, in the most unexpected places, the
fertilising influence of the new knowledge, won and
being won by the perfection of the extrospective or
experimental method, is producing a luxuriant, if
tangled, growth.



THE ENERGY OF COAL.

So far as the mere multiplication of the physical
capacity of the race is concerned, the shifting and
transport of loads, the hurling of projectiles or the
minimisation of animal strength, the social effects of
science are obvious enough. But these are but
special instances of a universal change, which the
modern doctrine of energy enables us to envisage
in its entirety. All life-processes demand for their
continuation and maintenance a continuous supply
of energy, which is derived from food. A modern
maxim might be, "Look after the energy and the
matter will look after itself." In metabolism, so far
as matter is concerned, there is a closed cycle. Men
feed on animals, and animals on plants. The plants
feed on the carbon-dioxide and other products of the
animal metabolism, reconverting them into food.
The net result is nil, or nearly so, as far as the
material changes are concerned. They cancel out.
But the one essential physical factor that makes the


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Online LibraryFrederick SoddyScience and life: Aberdeen addresses → online text (page 1 of 18)