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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/444

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

ring formed of a very great number of very small negative electrons. Such is the planet Saturn with its rings. This is a very interesting attempt, but not yet wholly satisfactory; this attempt should be renewed. We will penetrate, so to speak, into the inmost recess of matter. And from the particular point of view which we to-day occupy, when we know why the vibrations of incandescent bodies differ thus from ordinary elastic vibrations, why the electrons do not behave like the matter which is familiar to us, we shall better comprehend the dynamics of electrons and it will be perhaps more easy for us to reconcile it with the principles.

Conventions Preceding Experiment.—Suppose, now, that all these efforts fail, and, after all, I do not believe they will, what must be done? Will it be necessary to seek to mend the broken principles by giving what we French call a coup de pouce? That evidently is always possible, and I retract nothing of what I have said above.

Have you not written, you might say if you wished to seek a quarrel with me—have you not written that the principles, though of experimental origin, are now unassailable by experiment because they have become conventions? And now you have just told us that the most recent conquests of experiment put these principles in danger.

Well, formerly I was right and to-day I am not wrong. Formerly I was right, and what is now happening is a new proof of it. Take, for example, the calorimetric experiment of Curie on radium. Is it possible to reconcile it with the principle of the conservation of energy? This has been attempted in many ways; but there is among them one I should like you to notice; this is not the explanation which tends to-day to prevail, but it is one of those which have been proposed. It has been conjectured that radium was only an intermediary, that it only stored radiations of unknown nature which flashed through space in every direction, traversing all bodies, save radium, without being altered by this passage and without exercising any action upon them. Radium alone took from them a little of their energy and afterward gave it out to us in various forms.

What an advantageous explanation, and how convenient! First, it is unverifiable and thus irrefutable. Then again it will serve to account for any derogation whatever to Mayer's principle; it answers in advance not only the objection of Curie, but all the objections that future experimenters might accumulate. This new and unknown energy would serve for everything.

This is just what I said, and therewith we are shown that our principle is unassailable by experiment.

But then, what have we gained by this stroke? The principle is intact, but thenceforth of what use is it? It enabled us to foresee that in such or such circumstance we could count on such a total