Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Twenty-Four



OUR ONLY important opposition is, not science, but a belief that we are in conflict with science.

This is an old-fashioned belief.

There is nothing told of in this book that is more of an affront to old-time dogmas than is the theory of the Nobel Prize-winner, Dr. Bohr, that the sun is "deriving" its energy from nowhere.(1)

The quantum theory is a doctrine of magic. The idea of playing leapfrog, without having to leap over the other frog, is simply another representation of the idea of entering a closed room without passing through the walls. But there is a big difference between "authoritative pronouncements" and my expressions. It is the difference between sub-atomic events and occurrences in boarding houses. The difference is in many minds -- unlike my mind, to which all things are phenomena, and to which all records are, or may be, data -- in which electrons and protons are dignified little things, whereas boarders and tramps on park benches can't be taken solemnly. Charles Darwin was [255/256] similarly received when, in the place of academic speculations upon evolutions, he treated of bugs and bones and insides of animals. Not, of course, that I mean anything by anything.

Quantum-magic is a doctrine of discontinuity. So it seems to be opposed to my expressions upon hyphenation, which seem to be altogether a philosophy of continuity. But I have indicated that also I hyphenate in another "dimension." I conceive of all phenomena as representing continuity in one "dimension", and as representing discontinuity in another "dimension" -- that is, all phenomena as inter-dependent and bound up with one another, or continuous, and at the same time so individualized that nothing is exactly like anything else, or that everything is alone, or discontinuous. I conceive of our existence as one organic state, or being, that is an individual, or that is unrelated to anything else, such as other existences, in the cosmos, its state of oneness expressing in the continuity of its internal phenomena, and its state of individuality, or apartness from everything else in the cosmos, expressing in a permeation of that individuality, or discontinuity, throughout its phenomena. Of course, if the word cosmos means organized universality, I misuse the word here. For various reasons I let it stand.

There are hosts of persons, who consider themselves up-to-date, or ahead of that; who bandy arguments in the latest, scientific lingo, and believe anything that they're told to believe of electrons, but would be incapable of extending an idea from electrons to boarders -- even though they argue that every boarder is only a composi- [256/257] tion of electrons -- and go right on thinking of affairs, in general, in old-fashioned, materialistic terms.

Well, then, in old-fashioned terms, what had I this morning for breakfast?

I think: therefore I had breakfast.

If no line of demarcation can be drawn between one's breakfasts and one's thoughts, or between a cereal and a cerebration, this is the continuity of the material and the immaterial. If there is no material, as absolutely differentiated from the immaterial, what becomes of any opposition from what may still survive of what is called materialistic science?

"Science is systematized and formulated knowledge."

Then anybody who has systematized and formulated knowledge enough to appear, on time, at the breakfast table, is, to that degree, a scientist. There are scientific dogs. Most of them have a great deal of systematized and formulated knowledge. Cats and rabbits and all those irritating South American rodents that were discovered by cross-word puzzle-makers are scientists. A magnet scientifically picks out and classifies iron filings from a mass of various materials. Science does not exist, as a distinguished entity.

Our data have been upon witchcraft in love affairs; in small-town malices, and occasional murders of no importance. According to the phantom, materialistic science, there is no witchcraft. In the monistic sense, I agree. Witchcraft is so bound up with other "natural forces", that it can not be picked out, as having independent existence. But, in terms of common illusions, I accept that [257/258] there is witchcraft; and, just for the sake of seeming to have opposition, which makes for more interest, I pretend that there is science.

Stars and planets and ultra-violet radiations from the sun -- paleolithic and neolithic inter-relationships, and zymotic multiplications, and tetrahedronic equilaterality --

And the little Colwell girl, who kept the firemen busy -- and a kid named "Rena" got a haircut -- there was a house in which a pan of soft soap wandered from room to room -- a woman alone in a compartment of a railway train, and then maybe she wasn't

alone --

The disdain of any academic scientist -- if among the sensationalists of today, there survive an academic scientist -- for what I call the data of witchcraft --

And now my subject is the witchcraft of science.

In the year 1913, the German scientist, Emil Abderhalden, announced his discovery of the synthesis of inorganic materials into edible substances. It was said that to avoid all uncertainties -- this back in those supreme old days when all scientists were certain -- this announcement had been long-delayed. But experiments had been successes. Dogs fed upon synthetic foods had gained weight astonishingly, as compared to dogs that had been fed ordinary meals. Reports were much tabulated. Statistics -- very statistical. Then came the War. If Dr. Abderhalden, or anybody else in Germany, could out of muds of various kinds have produced those alleged meals, perhaps we'd all be fighting to this day. As it is, we have had a rest, and can do the necessary breeding, before [258/259] again starting up atrocities. So, at least for the sake of vigorous new abominations, it seems to be just as well that some of the widely advertised scientific successes aren't so successful.

But the dogs got fat.

There is scarcely an annual meeting of any prominent scientific association, at which are not made, by eminent doctors and professors, announcements of great discoveries that, by long and careful experimentation, constructive and eliminative tests, and guards against all possible sources of error, had been established. A year or so later, these boons to suffering humanity are forgotten.

Almost always these announcements are not especially questioned, and bring no confusion upon their sponsors. There is much "scientific caution." A scientist doesn't know but that he may make an announcement, himself, someday. But about the middle of July, 1931, Professor Wilhelm Gluud, of the Westphalian University of Münster, was not received with the usual "caution." Prof. Gluud announced -- these Professors never merely say anything -- that synthetic albumen could be produced from coal. This dreamery was attacked, and later, in July, Prof. Gluud admitted that he had been "premature" in his announcement.(2)

But something had convinced a scientist, of international reputation, so that he had risked that reputation by making his announcement.

So one inclines to think.

If he had made no experiments, and had simply and irresponsibly squawked into publicity, we have some more [259/260] monism, and can draw no line between a Westphalian Professor and any Coney Island "barker." But, if he did make experiments, and, if, in spite of later developments, which showed that, according to chemical principles, success was impossible, he nevertheless had reasons to believe that some of his experiments were successes, these successes that agreed with his theory were realizations of his imaginings.

About the same time (July, 1931) another scientist was embarrassed. The Russian physiologist, Pavlov, had announced that he had taught white mice to respond to a bell, at meal time --(3)

But now see here!

Just how disdainful should persons who put in their time ringing dinner bells for mice be of others who collect accounts of meandering pans of soft soap?

It was Pavlov's statement, or "announcement", that he had taught white mice to respond to a bell, at meal time, and that a second generation of white mice had been keener in so responding. This improvement was supposed to represent cumulative hereditary influences.

But Sir Arthur Thompson, of Aberdeen, Scotland, made an announcement.

And now see here, again! I should like to hear Sir Arthur's opinion upon the dignity of such subjects as "the vanishing man", and stones that were pegged at a farmer's niece. He, too, had been ringing dinner bells for animals.

Thompson's announcement was that he had noted no improved teachableness in a second generation of white [260/261] mice. Whereupon Pavlov withdrew his announcement, saying that he must have been deceived by his assistant.

This is becoming a stock-retreat. Before he shot himself, in August, 1925, Prof. Kammerer, accused of having faked, with India ink, what he called acquired characters in the feet of toads, explained that he had been betrayed by an assistant.

I conceive that, though Pavlov retreated before a "higher authority", his white mice may have been keener in a second generation, though nobody else's white mice would have been of any improved discernment in a fifteenth generation -- and that, though biologically, nuptial pads could not appear upon the feet of Prof. Kammerer's toads --

Pictures on hailstones -- a face on a cathedral wall -- and an insect takes on the appearance of a leaf --

That it may be that a man did not altogether deceive himself and others, but that faint markings did appear upon the feet of toads, as responses to his theory -- but in all the uncertainty and the evanescence of the incipient -- that, convinced that he was right, Prof. Kammerer may have supplemented faint markings with India ink, just to tide over, at a time of enquiry -- then exposure -- suicide.

The story of cancer-cure announcements is a record of abounding successes in the treatment of cancerous dogs, cats, chickens, rats, mice, and guinea pigs -- followed by appeals to the public for funds for the study of the unknown causes, and the still undiscovered cure for cancer. Look over the records of cancerous growths that, accord- [261/262] ing to triumphant announcements have been absorbed, or stopped, in mice and guinea pigs, and try to think that all were only deliberate deceptions. My good-bad opinion of human nature won't stand it. But, if some of these experiments were the successes they were said to be, and if the treatments are now repudiated or forgotten, these successes were realized imaginings. I know of nothing in science that has the look of better establishment than that there have been some cures of cancer, under radium-treatment. But, in the year 1930, the British Radium Commission issued a warning that the use of radium had not been established as a cancer-cure.(4) The look to me is that, in all the earnestness and charlatanry; devotion to ideals, and fakery, and insincerity; exploitations and duperies of this cult, some cures, as if by the use of radium, have occurred; but that applications of soft soap, if subject to an equal intensity of thought, would have done just as well --

Which brings us to the appalling unnecessity of vivisection, if experiments upon the animals to a toy Noah's Ark, to cure them of their splinters, would be just as enlightening, if anything can be construed into meaning anything that anybody wants it to mean -- in an existence in which there is not meaning, but meaning-meaninglessness.

And -- not wanting to write three or four hundred pages upon this subject -- I shall not go much into records of professional rascals, or faithful and devoted scientists, who have exploited, or have tried to minister unto, the desire of old codgers to caper. I take from the New York Evening Post, April 12, 1928, an account of "discoveries of major importance to the science of rejuvenation", as announced, [262/263] in Berlin, by Professor Steinach, to the annual Congress of German Surgeons.(5) Professor Steinach's announcement was that he had discovered the secret of rejuvenation in uses of the pituitary gland. If any reader isn't quite sure where the pituitary is, I remind him that it is connected with the fundibulum. It is in a part of the body that is most profoundly engaged in sex-relations. It is in the brain.

Dr. Steinach announced that, with twelve injections of pituitary serum, in senile rats, he had "restored their failing appetites, induced a new growth of hair, rejuvenated all bodily functions, and had generally transformed ailing, or half-dead, creatures into youthful animals."

There is witchcraft in science --

If bald old rats have turned young and hairy -- if dogs, fed on coal-products, have astonishingly fattened -- if tens of thousands of mice and guinea pigs have magically gone fat, or gone thin, in the presence of experimenters --

If, in not all these cases has the treacherous, or perhaps kind-hearted, assistant slipped, say, a brisk and hairy young rat into the place of a decrepit old codger; or has not, in secret rascality, or benevolence, meatily supplemented the fare of dogs supposed to be thriving upon coal-products --

If not in all these cases have eminent trappers lied snares for dollars.

My pseudo-conclusion, or acceptance -- which is as far as I can go, in the fiction that we're living -- is that some of these announcements have been pretty nearly faithful report of occurrences; and that, by witchcraft, or in response to intense desires of experimenters, senile rats [263/264] have lost the compensations of old age, and have suffered again the tormenting restlessness of youth -- all this by witchcraft, and not by injections that in themselves could have no more of a rejuvenating effect upon either rats or humans, than upon mummies.

But, if Prof. Steinach, by witchcraft, or by the effects of belief, did grow hair upon the bald skin of a rat -- to say nothing of the more frolicsome effects of his practices -- how comes it that he was not equally successful with the human subjects of his sorcery? Today the Steinach treatment stands discredited. Especially destructive have been Dr. Alexis Carrel's attacks upon it. It may be that the Professor's own greed defeated him. It may be that he failed, because he dissipated his sorcery among many customers. [264]

1. "Again the cosmic riddle." New York Times, January 17, 1932, s.3 p.1 c.4. Correct quote: "Nobel Prizeman Bohr tops all by asserting that the sun and the stars may derive their energy from nothing."

2. "Food from coal." New York Herald Tribune, July 26, 1931.

3. "Leningrad and Aberdeen." New York Times, August 15, 1931, p.12 c.5-6.

4. "Warning on radium is issued in Britain." New York Times, October 9, 1930, p.6 c.3.

5. "Rejuvenation secret found by Steinbach in brain gland." New York Evening Post, April 12, 1928, p.1 c.2-3 & p.15.

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