The Machinery of the Universe: Mechanical Conceptions of Physical Phenomena - Amos Emerson Dolbear - ebook
Opis

For thirty yearsor more the expressions “Correlation of the Physical Forces” and “The Conservation of Energy” have been common, yet few persons have taken the necessary pains to think out clearly what mechanical changes take place when one form of energy is transformed into another. Since Tyndall gave us his book calledHeat as a Mode of Motionneither lecturers nor text-books have attempted to explain how all phenomena are the necessary outcome of the various forms of motion. In general, phenomena have been attributed toforces—a metaphysical term, which explains nothing and is merely a stop-gap, and is really not at all needful in these days, seeing that transformable modes of motion, easily perceived and understood, may be substituted in all cases for forces. In December 1895 the author gave a lecture before the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, on “Mechanical Conceptions of Electrical Phenomena,” in which he undertook to make clear what happens when electrical phenomena appear. The publication of this lecture inThe Journal of the Franklin Instituteand inNaturebrought an urgent request that it should be enlarged somewhat and published in a form more convenient for the public. The enlargement consists in the addition of a chapter on the “Contrasted Properties of Matter and the Ether,” a chapter containing something which the author believes to be of philosophical importance in these days when electricity is so generally described as a phenomenon of the ether.

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Table of Contents

 

 

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

PROPERTIES OF MATTER AND ETHER

1. MATTER IS DISCONTINUOUS.

THE ETHER IS CONTINUOUS.

2. MATTER IS LIMITED.

THE ETHER IS UNLIMITED.

3. MATTER IS HETEROGENEOUS.

THE ETHER IS HOMOGENEOUS.

4. MATTER IS ATOMIC.

THE ETHER IS NON-ATOMIC.

5. MATTER HAS DEFINITE STRUCTURE.

THE ETHER IS STRUCTURELESS.

6. MATTER IS GRAVITATIVE.

THE ETHER IS GRAVITATIONLESS.

7. MATTER IS FRICTIONABLE.

THE ETHER IS FRICTIONLESS.

8. MATTER IS ÆOLOTROPIC.

THE ETHER IS ISOTROPIC.

9. MATTER IS CHEMICALLY SELECTIVE.

10. THE ELEMENTS OF MATTER ARE HARMONICALLY RELATED.

11. MATTER EMBODIES ENERGY.

THE ETHER IS ENDOWED WITH ENERGY.

12. MATTER IS AN ENERGY TRANSFORMER.

THE ETHER IS A NON-TRANSFORMER.

13. MATTER IS ELASTIC.

THE ETHER IS ELASTIC.

14. MATTER HAS DENSITY.

THE ETHER HAS DENSITY.

15. MATTER IS HEATABLE.

THE ETHER IS UNHEATABLE.

16. MATTER IS INDESTRUCTIBLE.

17. MATTER HAS INERTIA.

THE ETHER IS CONDITIONALLY POSSESSED OF INERTIA.

18. MATTER IS MAGNETIC.

THE ETHER IS NON-MAGNETIC.

19. MATTER EXISTS IN SEVERAL STATES.

THE ETHER HAS NO CORRESPONDING STATES.

20. SOLID MATTER CAN EXPERIENCE ASHEARING STRESS, LIQUIDS AND GASES CANNOT.

THE ETHER CAN MAINTAIN A SHEARING STRESS.

21. OTHER PROPERTIES OFMATTER.

22. SENSATION DEPENDSUPON MATTER.

THE ETHER IS INSENSIBLE TO NERVES.

CONTRASTED PROPERTIES OF MATTER AND THE ETHER.

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER III

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

The Machinery of the Universe:

Mechanical Conceptions of Physical Phenomena

 

Amos Emerson Dolbear

 

First digital edition 2018 by Anna Ruggieri

PREFACE

For thirty yearsor more the expressions “Correlation of the Physical Forces” and “The Conservation of Energy” have been common, yet few persons have taken the necessary pains to think out clearly what mechanical changes take place when one form of energy is transformed into another.

Since Tyndall gave us his book calledHeat as a Mode of Motionneither lecturers nor text-books have attempted to explain how all phenomena are the necessary outcome of the various forms of motion. In general, phenomena have been attributed toforces—a metaphysical term, which explains nothing and is merely a stop-gap, and is really not at all needful in these days, seeing that transformable modes of motion, easily perceived and understood, may be substituted in all cases for forces.

In December 1895 the author gave a lecture before the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, on “Mechanical Conceptions of Electrical Phenomena,” in which he undertook to make clear what happens when electrical phenomena appear. The publication of this lecture inThe Journal of the Franklin Instituteand inNaturebrought an urgent request that it should be enlarged somewhat and published in a form more convenient for the public. The enlargement consists in the addition of a chapter on the “Contrasted Properties of Matter and the Ether,” a chapter containing something which the author believes to be of philosophical importance in these days when electricity is so generally described as a phenomenon of the ether.

A. E. Dolbear.

CHAPTER I

 

Ideas of phenomena ancient and modern, metaphysical and mechanical—Imponderables—Forces, invented and discarded—Explanations—Energy, its factors, Kinetic and Potential—Motions, kinds and transformations of—Mechanical, molecular, and atomic—Inventionof Ethers, Faraday's conceptions.

‘And now we might add something concerning a most subtle spirit which pervades and lies hid in all gross bodies, by the force and action of which spirit the particles of bodies attract each other at near distances, and cohere if contiguous, and electric bodies operate at greater distances, as well repelling as attracting neighbouring corpuscles, and light is emitted, reflected, inflected, and heats bodies, and all sensation is excited, and members of animal bodies move atthe command of the will.’—Newton,Principia.

In Newton's day the whole field of nature was practically lying fallow. No fundamental principles were known until the law of gravitation was discovered. This law was behind all the work of Copernicus, Kepler,and Galileo, and what they had done needed interpretation. It was quite natural that the most obvious and mechanical phenomena should first be reduced, and so thePrincipiawas concerned with mechanical principles applied to astronomical problems. To us,who have grown up familiar with the principles and conceptions underlying them, all varieties of mechanical phenomena seem so obvious, that it is difficult for us to understand how any one could be obtuse to them; but the records of Newton's time, and immediately after this, show that they were not so easy of apprehension. It may be remembered that they were not adopted in France till long after Newton's day. In spite of what is thought to be reasonable, it really requires something more than complete demonstration to convince most of us of the truth of an idea, should the truth happen to be of a kind not familiar, or should it chance to be opposed to our more or less well-defined notions of what it is or ought to be. If those who labour for and attain whatthey think to be the truth about any matter, were a little better informed concerning mental processes and the conditions under which ideas grow and displace others, they would be more patient with mankind; teachers of every rank might then discover that what is often called stupidity may be nothing else than mental inertia, which can no more be made active by simply willing than can the movement of a cannon ball by a like effort. Wegrowinto our beliefs and opinions upon all matters, and scientific ideasare no exceptions.

Whewell, in hisHistory of the Inductive Sciences, says that the Greeks made no headway in physical science because they lacked appropriate ideas. The evidence is overwhelming that they were as observing, as acute, as reasonable as anywho live to-day. With this view,it would appear that the great discoverers must have been men who started out with appropriate ideas: were looking for what they found. If, then, one reflects upon the exceeding great difficulty there is in discovering onenew truth, and the immense amount of work needed to disentangle it, it would appear as if even the most successful have but indistinct ideas of what is really appropriate, and that their mechanical conceptions become clarified by doing their work. This isnot always the fact. In the statement of Newton quoted at the head of this chapter, he speaks of a spirit which lies hid in all gross bodies, etc., by means of which all kinds of phenomena are to be explained; but he deliberately abandons that idea when hecomes to the study of light, for he assumes the existence and activity of light corpuscles, for which he has no experimental evidence; and the probability is that he did this because the latter conception was one which he could handle mathematically, while he saw no way for thus dealing with the other. His mechanical instincts were more to be trusted than his carefully calculated results; for, as all know, what he called “spirits,” is what to-day we call the ether, and the corpuscular theory of light hasnow no more than a historic interest. The corpuscular theory was a mechanical conception, but each such corpuscle was ideally endowed with qualities which were out of all relation with the ordinary matter with which it was classed.

Until the middle of thepresent century the reigning physical philosophy held to the existence of what were called imponderables. The phenomena of heat were explained as due to an imponderable substance called “caloric,” which ordinary matter could absorb and emit. A hot body wasone which had absorbed an imponderable substance. It was, therefore, no heavier than before, but it possessed ability to do work proportional to the amount absorbed. Carnot's ideal engine was described by him in terms that imply the materiality of heat. Light was another imponderable substance, the existence of which was maintained by Sir David Brewster as long as he lived. Electricity and magnetism were imponderable fluids, which, when allied with ordinary matter, endowed the latter with their peculiar qualities. The conceptions in each case were properly mechanical onespart(but not all)of the time; for when the immaterial substances were dissociated from matter, where they had manifested themselves, no one concerned himself to inquire as to their whereabouts. They were simply off duty, but could be summoned, like the genii in the story of Aladdin's Lamp. Now, a mechanical conception of any phenomenon, or a mechanical explanation of any kind of action, must be mechanical all the time, in the antecedentsas well as the consequents. Nothing else will do except a miracle.

During the fifty years, from about 1820 to 1870, a somewhat different kind of explanation of physical events grew up. The interest that was aroused by the discoveries in all the fields of physical science—in heat, electricity, magnetism and chemistry—by Faraday, Joule, Helmholtz, and others, compelled a change of conceptions; for it was noticed that each special kind of phenomenon was preceded by some other definite and known kind; as, for instance, that chemical action preceded electrical currents, that mechanical or electrical activity resulted from changing magnetism, and so on. As each kind of action was believed to be due to a special force, there were invented such terms as mechanical force, electrical force, magnetic, chemical and vital forces, and these werediscovered to be convertible into one another, and the “doctrine of the correlation of the physical forces” became a common expression in philosophies of all sorts. By “convertible into one another,” was meant, that whenever any given force appeared, it was at the expense of some other force; thus, in a battery chemical force was changed into electrical force; in a magnet, electrical force was changed into magnetic force, and so on. The idea here was thetransformation of forces, andforceswere not so clearly defined that one could have a mechanical idea of just what had happened. That part of the philosophy was no clearer than that of the imponderables, which had largely dropped out of mind. The terminology represented an advance in knowledge, but was lacking in lucidity, for no one knew what a force of any kind was.

The first to discover this and to repudiate the prevailing terminology were the physiologists, who early announced their disbelief in a vital force, and their belief that all physiological activities were of purely physical and chemical origin, and that there was no need to assume any such thing as a vital force. Then came the discovery that chemical force, or affinity, had only an adventitious existence, and that, at absolute zero, there was no such activity. The discovery of, or rather the appreciation of, what is implied by the termabsolute zero, and especially of the nature of heat itself, as expressed in the statement that heat is a mode of motion, dismissed another of the so-called forces as being a metaphysical agency having no real existence, though standing for phenomena needing further attention and explanation; and by explanation is meantthe presentation of the mechanical antecedents for a phenomenon, in so complete a way that no supplementary or unknown factors are necessary. The train moves because the engine pulls it; the engine pulls because the steam pushes it. There is no more necessity for assuming a steam force between the steam and the engine, than for assuming an engine force between the engine and the train. All the processes are mechanical, and have to do only with ordinary matter and its conditions, from the coal-pile to the moving freight, though there are many transformations of the forms of motion and of energy between the two extremes.

During the past thirty years there has come into common use another term, unknown in any technical sense before that time, namely,energy. What was once called the conservation of force is now called the conservation of energy,and we now often hear of forms of energy. Thus, heat is said to be a form of energy, and the forms of energy are convertible into one another, as the so-called forces were formerly supposed to be transformable into one another. We are asked to consider gravitative energy, heat energy, mechanical energy, chemical energy, and electrical energy. When we inquire what is meant by energy, we are informed that it means ability to do work, and that work is measurable as a pressure into a distance, and is specifiedas foot-pounds. A mass of matter moves because energy has been spent upon it, and has acquired energy equal to the work done on it, and this is believed to hold true, no matter what the kind of energy was that moved it. If a body moves, it moves because another body has exerted pressure upon it, and its energy is calledkinetic energy; but a body may be subject to pressure and not move appreciably, and then the body is said to possess potential energy. Thus, a bent spring and a raised weight are said to possess potential energy. In either case,an energized body receives its energy bypressure, and has ability to produce pressure on another body. Whether or not it does work on another body depends on the rigidity of the body it acts upon. In any case, it issimply a mechanical action—body A pushes upon body B (Fig. 1). There is no need to assume anything more mysterious than mechanical action. Whether body B moves this way or that depends upon the direction of the push, the point of its application. Whetherthe body be a mass as large as the earth or as small as a molecule, makes no difference in that particular. Suppose, then, thata(Fig. 2) spends its energy onb,bonc,cond, and so on. The energy ofagives translatory motion tob,bsetscvibrating, andcmakesdspin on some axis. Each of these has had energy spent on it, and each has some form of energy different from the other, but no new factor has been introduced betweenaandd, and the only factor that has gone fromatodhas beenmotion—motion that has had its direction and quality changed, but not its nature. If we agree that energy is neither created nor annihilated, by any physical process, and if we assume thatagave toball its energy, that is, all its motion; thatblikewise gave its all toc, and so on; then the succession of phenomena fromatodhas been simply the transference of a definite amount of motion, and therefore of energy, from the one to the other; formotion has been the only variable factor. If, furthermore, we should agree to call the translatory motion α, the vibratory motion β, the rotary γ, then we should have had a conversion of α into β, of β into γ. If we should consider the amount of transfer motion instead of the kind of motion, we should have to say that the α energy had been transformed into β and the β into γ.

 

 

Fig. 1.

 

 

Fig. 2.

What a given amount of energy will do depends only upon itsform, that is, the kind of motion that embodies it.