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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/300

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perature, there are about nineteen million million million molecules. All these numbers of the third rank are, I need not tell you, to be regarded as at present conjectural. In order to warrant us in putting any confidence in numbers obtained in this way, we should have to compare together a greater number of independent data than we have as yet obtained, and to show that they lead to consistent results.

Thus far, we have been considering molecular science as an inquiry into natural phenomena. But, though the professed aim of all scientific work, is to unravel the secrets of Nature, it has another effect, not less valuable, on the mind of the worker. It leaves him in possession of methods which nothing but scientific work could have led him to invent, and it places him in a position from which many regions of Nature, besides that which he has been studying, appear under a new aspect. The study of molecules has developed a method of its own, and it has also opened up new views of Nature.

When Lucretius wishes us to form a mental representation of the motion of atoms, he tells us to look at a sunbeam shining through a darkened room (the same instrument of research by which Dr. Tyndall makes visible to us the dust we breathe), and to observe the motes which chase each other in all directions through it. This motion of the visible motes, he tells us, is but a result of the far more complicated motion of the invisible atoms which knock the motes about. In his dream of Nature, as Tennyson tells us, he

"saw the flaring atom-streams

And torrents of her myriad universe,
Running along the illimitable inane,
Fly on to clash together again, and make
Another and another frame of things

And it is no wonder that he should have attempted to burst the bonds of Fate by making his atoms deviate from their courses at quite uncertain times and places, thus attributing to them a kind of irrational free-will, which on his materialistic theory is the only explanation of that power of voluntary action of which we ourselves are conscious.

As long as we have to deal with only two molecules, and have all the data given us, we can calculate the result of their encounter; but when we have to deal with millions of molecules, each of which has millions of encounters in a second, the complexity of the problem seems to shut out all hope of a legitimate solution.

The modern atomists have therefore adopted a method which is, I believe, new in the department of mathematical physics, though it has long been in use in the section of statistics. When the working members of Section F get hold of a report of the census, or any other document containing the numerical data of Economic and Social Science, they begin by distributing the whole population into groups, according to age, income-tax, education, religious belief, or criminal convictions.