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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/452

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

will not be you when you say to me: I have spoken to you in English or in French.

Is there something to change in all that when we pass to the following stages? When I observe a galvanometer, as I have just said, if I ask an ignorant visitor: Is the current passing? He looks at the wire to try to see something pass; but if I put the same question to my assistant who understands my language, he will know I mean: Does the spot move? and he will look at the scale.

What difference is there then between the statement of a fact in the rough and the statement of a scientific fact? The same difference as between the statement of the same crude fact in French and in German. The scientific statement is the translation of the crude statement into a language which is distinguished above all from the common German or French, because it is spoken by a very much smaller number of people.

Yet let us not go too fast. To measure a current I may use a very great number of types of galvanometers or besides an electro-dynamometer. And then when I shall say there is running in this circuit a current of so many amperes, that will mean: if I adapt to this circuit such a galvanometer I shall see the spot come to the division a; but that will mean equally: if I adapt to this circuit such an electro-dynamometer, I shall see the spot go to the division b. And that will mean still many other things, because the current can manifest itself not only by mechanical effects, but by effects chemical, thermal, luminous, etc.

Here then is one same statement which suits a very great number of facts absolutely different. Why? It is because I assume a law according to which, whenever such a mechanical effect shall happen, such a chemical effect will happen also. Previous experiments, very numerous, have never shown this law to fail, and then I have understood that I could express by the same statement two facts so invariably bound one to the other.

When I am asked: Is the current passing? I can understand that that means: Will such a mechanical effect happen? But I can understand also: Will such a chemical effect happen? I shall then verify either the existence of the mechanical effect, or that of the chemical effect; that will be indifferent, since in both cases the answer must be the same.

And if the law should one day be found false? If it was perceived that the concordance of the two effects, mechanical and chemical, is not constant? That day it would be necessary to change the scientific language to free it from a grave ambiguity.

And after that? Is it thought that ordinary language by aid of which are expressed the facts of daily life is exempt from ambiguity?