Previous Index Next
Page 342
(previous) (Page 000342) (next)
 
542 FRAGMENTS OF SCIENCE.

tangled in electro-chemistry. The light of 'law was for a
time obscured by the thick umbrage of novel facts; but he
finally emerged from his researches with the great principle
of definite electro-chemical decomposition in his hands. If
his discovery of magneto—electricity may be ranked with
that of the pile by Volta, this new discovery may almost
stand beside that of definite combining proportions in
chemistry. He passed on to static electricity—its conduc-
tion, induction, and mode of propagation. He discovered
and illustrated the principle of inductive capacity; and,
turning to theory, he asked himself how electrical attrac-
tions and repulsions are transmitted. Are they, like gravity,
actions at a distance, or do they require a medium -? If the
former, then, like gravity, they will act in straight lines; if
the latter, then, like sound or light, they may turn a corner.
Faraday held, and his views are gaining ground, that his
experiments proved the fact of curvilinear propagation, and
hence the operation of a medium. Others denied this; but
none can deny the profound and philosophic character of
his leading thought.1 The first volume of the researches
contains all the papers here referred to.

Faraday had heard it stated that henceforth physical
discovery would be made solely by the aid of mathematics;
that we had our data, and needed only to work deductively.
Statements of a similar character crop out from time to
time in our day. They arise from an imperfect acquaintance
with the nature, present condition, and prospective vastness
of the field of physical inquiry. The tendency of natural
science doubtless is to bring all physical phenomena under
the dominion of mechanical laws; to give them, in other
Words, mathematical expression. But our approach to this
result is asymptotic; and for ages to come—possibly for

1 In a very remarkable paper published in Poggendorff’s Annalen for
1857, Werner Siemens deve10ps and accepts Faraday’s theory of molecu-
lar induction.

Previous Index Next