Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/91

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ically subsequent to space, since we can represent it to ourselves only under the form of a straight line; as well say that time is logically subsequent to the cultivation of the prairies, since it is usually represented armed with a scythe. That one can not represent to himself simultaneously the different parts of time, goes without saying, since the essential character of these parts is precisely not to be simultaneous. That does not mean that we have not the intuition of time. So far as that goes, no more should we have that of space, because neither can we represent it, in the proper sense of the word, for the reasons 1 have mentioned. What we represent to ourselves under the name of straight is a crude image which as ill resembles the geometric straight as it does time itself.

Why has it been said that every attempt to give a fourth dimension to space always carries this one back to one of the other three? It is easy to understand. Consider our muscular sensations and the 'series' they may form. In consequence of numerous experiences, the ideas of these series are associated together in a very complex woof, our series are classed. Allow me, for convenience of language, to express my thought in a way altogether crude and even inexact by saying that our series of muscular sensations are classed in three classes corresponding to the three dimensions of space. Of course this classification is much more complicated than that, but that will suffice to make my reasoning understood. If I wish to imagine a fourth dimension, I shall suppose another series of muscular sensations, making part of a fourth class. But as all my muscular sensations have already been classed in one of the three preexistent classes, I can only represent to myself a series belonging to one of these three classes, so that my fourth dimension is carried back to one of the other three.

What does that prove? This: that it would have been necessary first to destroy the old classification and replace it by a new one in which the series of muscular sensations should have been distributed into four classes. The difficulty would have disappeared.

It is presented sometimes under a more striking form. Suppose I am enclosed in a chamber between the six impassable boundaries formed by the four walls, the floor and the ceiling; it will be impossible for me to get out and to imagine my getting out. Pardon, can you not imagine that the door opens, or that two of these walls separate? But of course, you answer, one must suppose that these walls remain immovable. Yes, but it is evident that I have the right to move; and then the walls that we suppose absolutely at rest will be in motion with regard to me. Yes, but such a relative motion can not be anything; when objects are at rest, their relative motion with regard to any axes is that of a rigid solid; now, the apparent motions that you imagine are not in conformity with the laws of motion of a rigid solid.