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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/180

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176
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

This is why I do not hesitate to say that mathematics deserve to be cultivated for their own sake, and that the theories inapplicable to physics should be so as well as the others. Even if the physical aim and the esthetic aim were not united, we ought not to sacrifice either.

But more: these two aims are inseparable and the best means of attaining one is to aim at the other, or at least never to lose sight of it. This is what I am about to try to demonstrate in setting forth the nature of the relations between the pure science and its applications.

The mathematician should not be for the physicist a mere purveyor of formulas; there should be between them a more intimate collaboration. Mathematical physics and pure analysis are not merely adjacent powers, maintaining good neighborly relations; they mutually interpenetrate and their spirit is the same. This will be better understood when I have shown what physics gets from mathematics and what mathematics, in return, borrows from physics.

 
II

The physicist can not ask of the analyst to reveal to him a new truth; the latter could at most only aid him to foresee it. It is a long time since one still dreamt of forestalling experiment, or of constructing the entire world on certain premature hypotheses. Since all those constructions in which one yet took a naive delight it is an age, to-day only their ruins remain.

All laws are therefore deduced from experiment; but to enunciate them, a special language is needful; ordinary language is too poor, it is besides too vague, to express relations so delicate, so rich, and so precise.

This therefore is one reason why the physicist can not do without mathematics; it furnishes him the only language he can speak. And a well-made language is no indifferent thing; not to go beyond physics, the unknown man who invented the word heat devoted many generations to error. Heat has been treated as a substance, simply because it was designated by a substantive, and it has been thought indestructible.

On the other hand, he who invented the word electricity had the unmerited good fortune to implicitly endow physics with a new law, that of the conservation of electricity, which, by a pure chance, has been found exact, at least until now.

Well, to continue the simile, the writers who embellish a language, who treat it as an object of art, make of it at the same time a more supple instrument, more apt for rendering shades of thought.

We understand, then, how the analyst, who pursues a purely esthetic aim, helps create, just by that, a language more fit to satisfy the physicist.

But this is not all: law springs from experiment, but not immedi-