By Professor J. Arthur Thomson
Was it not the great philosopher and mathematician Leibnitz who said that the more knowledge advances the more it becomes possible to condense it into little books? Now this "Outline of Science" is certainly not a little book, and yet it illustrates part of the meaning of Leibnitz's wise saying. For here within reasonable compass there is a library of little books—an outline of many sciences.
It will be profitable to the student in proportion to the discrimination with which it is used. For it is not in the least meant to be of the nature of an Encyclopædia, giving condensed and comprehensive articles with a big full stop at the end of each. Nor is it a collection of "primers," beginning at the very beginning of each subject and working methodically onwards. That is not the idea.
What then is the aim of this book? It is to give the intelligent student-citizen, otherwise called "the man in the street," a bunch of intellectual keys by which to open doors which have been hitherto shut to him, partly because he got no glimpse of the treasures behind the doors, and partly because the portals were made forbidding by an unnecessary display of technicalities. Laying aside conventional modes of treatment and seeking rather to open up the subject as one might on a walk with a friend, the work offers the student what might be called informal introductions to the various departments of knowledge. To put it in another way, the articles are meant to be clues which the reader may follow till he has left his starting point very far behind. Perhaps when he has gone far on his own he will not be ungrateful to the simple book of "instructions to travellers" which this "Outline of Science" is intended to be. The simple "bibliographies" appended to the various articles will be enough to indicate "first books." Each article is meant to be an invitation to an intellectual adventure, and the short lists of books are merely finger-posts for the beginning of the journey.
We confess to being greatly encouraged by the reception that has been given to the English serial issue of "The Outline of Science." It has been very hearty—we might almost say enthusiastic. For we agree with Professor John Dewey, that "the future of our civilisation depends upon the widening spread and deepening hold of the scientific habit of mind." And we hope that this is what "The Outline of Science" makes for. Information is all to the good; interesting information is better still; but best of all is the education of the scientific habit of mind. Another modern philosopher, Professor L. T. Hobhouse, has declared that the evolutionist's mundane goal is "the mastery by the human mind of the conditions, internal as well as external, of its life and growth." Under the influence of this conviction "The Outline of Science" has been written. For life is not for science, but science for life. And even more than science, to our way of thinking, is the individual development of the scientific way of looking at things. Science is our legacy; we must use it if it is to be our very own.