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Should I learn the story of the whipcord forwards like an annalist, or backward like a modern historian? Clearly it could be done in a measure by either method. Here was a highly finished product of which either might furnish the story, and of which, we may suppose, I knew nothing. I tried the backward way, and by the aid of a needle began to unravel it.

The cord was as good as if just made, slender, strong, twisted, with some glazing on the twisted threads. It showed three main bundles, and each of these was composed of two smaller ones. The substance of all these six was found when examined with a lens to consist of minute silky fibres varying from a quarter of an inch to an inch in length. This was all I could learn without a stronger magnifying power or a chemical analysis, and the direct search was at an end. I gathered since then that the first three bundles were called “strands,” and the two composing each of these “yarns,” and that the fibres were from a plant called hemp. This did not carry the story deep or far, and illustrates.

how often in the backward method facts have to be supplemented by inference. But I had learnt some undoubted facts and some inferences from them nearly as certain. Some mind of man had conceived and hands carried out the division of the bundles of fibres into three strands, had twisted them length by a quarter and yet not far enough to rupture them, and had thus fitted them the better for their purpose by a reinforcement of tensile strength due to the twisting. I could also see that this same mind had seen it better to divide each of these strands into two yarns before the final twisting, and that in framing the yarns the silky fibres of the plant had been squeezed together by some powerful agency and yet not disintegrated, and that the finished product had been immersed in a protective substance which gave it a slight glaze. In short, I, though a child in these matters, read much of the story of this cord in terms of mind dealing with given organic matter .

I may add that I did not imagine myself a little Paley, and that I do not intend to “take in” the reader as to the argument from design and final causes, even though this parable may feebly resemble Paley’s study of a watch. The conclusion was perfectly clear that certain directing grey cells of a certain brain had interfered with and acted upon some plastic vegetable matter, and one could at the “strand” stage, the “yarn” stage, and the “fibre” stage see mind writ large .

The Forward Way

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