Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/35

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PHYSICS IN GENERAL EDUCATION.

physics, by one of the greatest mathematical physicists of modern times, is confessedly but little more than his interpretation.

Dazzled by the success of the leaders and representatives of another school, we proclaim that true success will depend on mathematical attainment, and that mathematical physics is the only physics worthy of the name. Here, again, the exceptionally brilliant few, who have succeeded under this training, stand as its exponents, and we fail to consider that, if adopted to the exclusion of the first, its results may be disastrous in the extreme. No better evidence of this need be furnished than is found in the remarks recently made by Mr. G. H. Darwin, concerning a contest for honors, in what is generally admitted to be the greatest school of mathematics and mathematical physics in existence. Mr. Darwin, who was one of the examiners, says: "The subject which exhibited the average weakness of grasp most flagrantly was thermo-dynamics. A great many men had read something of it, but very few really understood what they attempted to explain. Extraordinary muddle and confusion was sent up in answer to a question on the absolute scale of temperature. On another question, while the very elements of the subject were unknown to those who answered, the same men reproduced faultlessly the algebraic calculation of the thermo-dynamic function for a perfect gas."

Mr. Darwin also strongly recommends such a change in the style of questions as that half intelligence may be more stringently treated, and men induced to read less and master more, and to gain a comprehension of physical principles.

There can be little doubt but that the experimental and mathematical study of the subject should go on together, assuming, of course, a sufficient preliminary training in pure mathematics.

What seems desirable, therefore, at least in some instances, is less experimental work on the part of the student, and more thorough and exhaustive discussion and examination of what is done.

This leads at once to the consideration of what ought to be the nature of the work done in the laboratory. The limits to which I am confined will not allow me to enter into any lengthy discussion of this important question.

I will remark, however, that in my opinion there is much done which is neither desirable nor necessary. As a rule, quantitative work alone, and that the best possible under the circumstances, should occupy the time of the student. I would relegate to the lecture-table of the instructor all illustrative experiments and qualitative work necessary to a good understanding of the underlying principles of the subject, which every student should possess when he enters the laboratory. That which he gets which is of most worth in his course in a physical laboratory is not a familiarity with the principles of the science, but a training in the methods of investigation in use among physicists, including a knowledge of the use and abuse of experiment and the ne-