GREAT MOMENTS IN SCIENCE

LONG ages ago man found himself in this world. Although it was to be his home and the home of his children and his childrenís children to countless generations, he was a stranger here with everything to find out.

Every child who is born into the world is a stranger even in his own home. A baby finds out slowly about the room in which he stays, about the street on which he lives, about his father and mother and brothers and sisters. He finds out that he can walk, that he can talk. One day he goes to school into a new, bigger world than he has ever known before. Perhaps he travels and learns more and more about the world. Whatever he does, someone has always prepared the way for him, so that he can do it easily. He does not have to learn how to build a house in order to have one to live in. If he wants to build a new one, the ways of building are all ready for his choice. He does not have to make a stove; he can buy one. He does not have to invent the telephone; a company will put a wire into his house. The newspaper and the radio and the moving picture bring to him news of the whole world. His books tell him of geography and history. The world is made ready for him.

It is pleasant for us who do find our lives made comfortable and easy and interesting to think back to the men and women who made our world so ready for us. This was done by men and women who lived on the earth before we came. Some of them lived very long ago, back in the dim ages; of them we can know only by the things they left behind them, the stone weapons, the cave drawings, and the altars to their gods. Others lived in the days of tradition, when the story of manís doings on the earth was passed from mouth to mouth but never written down. Others lived in the early days of history; still others in the Middle Ages; some in the last hundred years; while some are living now.

No bit of knowledge ever came except as some human being discovered it. The earth on which the earliest man found himself was as rich in treasures as is the earth of to-day. But he had to find out its wealth for himself. It did not speak out its secrets. He must learn how to make fire and to melt iron out of the rock. He must find out how to tell time and how to steer his boats by a compass. Steam and electricity were waiting for him to find them out. Coal and oil to run his machines lay buried in the earth. With them he could work wonders; but he must discover them and their uses. It is because man has been so clever in this business of finding out that he is today not a stranger but a master, a conqueror in his world. He has traveled during the centuries a long, uphill road. It has become in his progress along it a royal road to victory.

As there had always to be a man, eager, adventurous, and industrious, to add every bit of knowledge to the human store of information and of skill, so there was always a moment in that manís lifetime when he first caught sight of the new fact or the new way of doing something which would make him and his neighbors wiser or more comfortable or richer or happier. Those are the moments of which our stories tell.

Science is knowledge, human knowledge. Human knowledge has grown by leaps and bounds. In every gain that has been made there have been two factors, two partsóa man seeking to find out, and a moment when he found out. These great moments in Science stand out down the ages as manís moments of insight and victory. In them man, a creature of mind and spirit, is shown in his conquest of a world of matter.




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© 2001, by Lynn Waterman