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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/183

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179
THE VALUE OF SCIENCE

Thus mathematical analogies not only, may make us foresee physical analogies, but besides do not cease to be useful when these latter fail.

To sum up, the aim of mathematical physics is not only to facilitate for the physicist the numerical calculation of certain constants or the integration of certain differential equations. It is besides, it is above all, to reveal to him the hidden harmony of things in making him see them in a new way.

Of all the parts of analysis, the most elevated, the purest, so to speak, will be the most fruitful in the hands of those who know how to use them.

 
III

Let us now see what analysis owes to physics.

It would be necessary to have completely forgotten the history of science not to remember that the desire to understand nature has had on the development of mathematics the most constant and happiest influence.

In the first place the physicist sets us problems whose solution he expects of us. But in proposing them to us, he has largely paid us in advance for the service we shall render him, if we solve them.

If I may be allowed to continue my comparison with the fine arts, the pure mathematician who should forget the existence of the exterior world would be like a painter who knew how to harmoniously combine colors and forms, but who lacked models. His creative power would soon be exhausted.

The combinations which numbers and symbols may form' are an infinite multitude. In this multitude how shall we choose those which are worthy to fix our attention? Shall we let ourselves be guided solely by our caprice? This caprice, which itself would besides soon tire, would doubtless carry us very far apart and we should quickly cease to understand each other.

But this is only the smaller side of the question. Physics will doubtless prevent our straying, but it will also preserve us from a danger much more formidable; it will prevent our ceaselessly going around in the same circle.

History proves that physics has not only forced us to choose among problems which came in a crowd; it has imposed upon us such as we should without it never have dreamed of. However varied may be the imagination of man. nature is still a thousand times richer. To follow her we must take ways we have neglected, and these paths lead us often to summits whence we discover new countries. What could be more useful!

It is with mathematical symbols as with physical realities; it is in comparing the different aspects of things that we are able to compre-