The Function Of Perception





NEED OF KNOWING THE MATERIAL WORLD.--It is the business of perception to

give us knowledge of our world of material objects and their relations

in space and time. The material world which we enter through the

gateways of the senses is more marvelous by far than any fairy world

created by the fancy of story-tellers; for it contains the elements of

all they have conceived and much more besides. It is more marvelous than

any structure planned and executed by the mind of man; for all the

wonders and beauties of the Coliseum or of St. Peter's existed in nature

before they were discovered by the architect and thrown together in

those magnificent structures. The material advancement of civilization

has been but the discovery of the objects, forces, and laws of nature,

and their use in inventions serviceable to men. And these forces and

laws of nature were discovered only as they were made manifest through

objects in the material world.



The problem lying before each individual who would enter fully into this

rich world of environment, then, is to discover at first hand just as

large a part of the material world about him as possible. In the most

humble environment of the most uneventful life is to be found the

material for discoveries and inventions yet undreamed of. Lying in the

shade of an apple tree under the open sky, Newton read from a falling

apple the fundamental principles of the law of gravitation which has

revolutionized science; sitting at a humble tea table Watt watched the

gurgling of the steam escaping from the kettle, and evolved the steam

engine therefrom; with his simple kite, Franklin drew down the lightning

from the clouds, and started the science of electricity; through

studying a ball, the ancient scholars conceived the earth to be a

sphere, and Columbus discovered America.



THE PROBLEM WHICH CONFRONTS THE CHILD.--Well it is that the child,

starting his life's journey, cannot see the magnitude of the task before

him. Cast amid a world of objects of whose very existence he is

ignorant, and whose meaning and uses have to be learned by slow and

often painful experience, he proceeds step by step through the senses in

his discovery of the objects about him. Yet, considered again, we

ourselves are after all but a step in advance of the child. Though we

are somewhat more familiar with the use of our senses than he, and know

a few more objects about us, yet the knowledge of the wisest of us is at

best pitifully meager compared with the richness of nature. So

impossible is it for us to know all our material environment, that men

have taken to becoming specialists. One man will spend his life in the

study of a certain variety of plants, while there are hundreds of

thousands of varieties all about him; another will study a particular

kind of animal life, perhaps too minute to be seen with the naked eye,

while the world is teeming with animal forms which he has not time in

his short day of life to stop to examine; another will study the land

forms and read the earth's history from the rocks and geological strata,

but here again nature's volume is so large that he has time to read but

a small fraction of the whole. Another studies the human body and learns

to read from its expressions the signs of health and sickness, and to

prescribe remedies for its ills; but in this field also he has found it

necessary to divide the work, and so we have specialists for almost

every organ of the body.





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