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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/41

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37
WHAT IS MATTER?

without any practical application, if it were not for the fact that Kauffmann determined the apparent masses of corpuscles shot out from a radium preparation at different velocities, and compared them with the masses calculated on the basis that the whole of the mass was due to the electric charge. The agreement between the observed and calculated values is so close that it leads Thomson to say: "These results support the view that the whole mass of these electrified particles arises from their charge."

Then the corpuscles are to be looked upon as nothing but bits of electric charges. . . . It is this view which has led to the introduction of the term electron. . . . We have but to concede the logical sequence of this reasoning, all based on experimental evidence. . . and we have a universe of energy in which matter has no necessary part.[1]

Facts as many and as significant as these, added to the reasoned conclusions of philosophy and psychology, would seem adequate to settle the controversy in favor of the dynamic theory of matter, were it not that we are dealing with an idol of the tribe, far more difficult to shatter than the golden calf. But more remains to be said. The validity of a hypothesis rests not only upon the facts that support it, but also upon the ability it gives us to explain puzzles in fields adjacent to its own. This makes it worth while to mention, though space will not allow explanations in detail, that a number of knots in physical theory, that before had to be cut or else left alone, can be handily untied by the dynamic hypothesis. Professor Bigelow is again my authority in the statements, that the theory explains the highly puzzling property of valence, and that "An electronic structure of the atom furnishes a basis from which a plausible explanation of the refraction, polarization and rotation of the plane of polarized light may be logically derived."[2] These explanations bulk large in the aggregate, and the exclusive ability of the dynamic theory to make them adds significantly to its credibility.

As an alternative to the dynamic theory, thus substantially supported, the conservatives have little to offer, indeed, in the last analysis, nothing but a word. The "matter" they refuse to identify with force shrinks down to John Locke's "something, I know not what," by which a portion of the mass of bodies is to be accounted for. But, Sir Oliver Lodge remarks, "it would be equally true to say unaccounted for. The mass which is explicable electrically is to a considerable extent understood, but the mass which is merely material (whatever that may mean) is not understood at all."[3] "What is this matter which so many insist we must assume?" Bigelow asks, and answers:

No man can define it otherwise than in terms of energy. . . . Starting with any object and removing one by one its properties, indubitably forms of energy,
  1. Popular Science Monthly, July, 1906. Instead of conceiving matter as explained away, energy taking its place, I prefer to conceive of it as explained as being energy and nothing else. This difference in terminology is unimportant, but might lead to confusion if not pointed out.
  2. Loc. cit.
  3. Loc. cit.