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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/524

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

The world remains a more wonderful place than ever; we may be sure that it abounds in riches not yet dreamed of; and although we can not hope ever to explore its innermost recesses, we may be confident that it will supply tasks in abundance for the scientific mind for ages to come.

One significant result of the modern tendency is that we no longer with the same obstinacy demand a mechanical explanation of the phenomena of light and electricity, especially since it has been made clear that, if one mechanical explanation is possible, there will be an infinity of others. Some minds, indeed, reveling in their new-found freedom, have attempted to disestablish ordinary or 'vulgar' matter altogether. J may refer to a certain treatise which, by some accident, does not bear its proper title of 'Æther and no Matter,' and to the elaborate investigations of Professor Osborne Reynolds, which present the same peculiarity, although the basis is different. Speculations of this nature have, however, been so recently and (if I may say it) so brilliantly dealt with by Professor Poynting before this section that there is little excuse for dwelling further on them now. I will only advert to the question whether, as some suggest, physical science should definitely abandon the attempt to construct mechanical theories in the older sense. The question would appear to be very similar to this, whether we should abandon the use of graphical methods in analysis. In either ease we run the risk of introducing extraneous elements, possibly of a misleading character; but the gain in vividness of perception and in suggestiveness is so great that we are not likely altogether to forego it, by excess of prudence, in one case more than in the other.

We have traveled some distance from Stokes and the mathematical physics of half a century ago. May I add a few observations which might perhaps have claimed his sympathy? They are in substance anything but new, although I do not find them easy to express. We have most of us frankly adopted the empirical altitude in physical science; it has justified itself abundantly in the past, and has more and more forced itself upon us. We have given up the notion of causation, except as a convenient phrase; what were once called laws of nature are now simply rules by which we can tell more or less accurately what will be the consequences of a given state of things. We can not help asking, How is it that such rules are possible? A rule is invented in the first instance to sum up in a compact form a number of past experiences; but we apply it with little hesitation, and generally with success, to the prediction of new and sometimes strange ones. Thus the law of gravitation indicates the existence of Neptune; and Fresnel's wave-surface gives us (he quite unsuspected phenomenon of double refraction. Why does nature make a point of honoring our