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this state of things remained, the law of gravitation, vigorous though its action be throughout the universe, could never have been recognized as a general principle by the human mind.
Mere observation of lightning and its effects could never have led to the discovery of their relation to the phenomena presented by rubbed amber. A modification of the course of Nature, such as the bringing down of atmospheric electricity into our laboratories, was necessary. Without experiment we could never even have learned the existence of terrestrial magnetism.
325. In all cases when a particular agent or cause is to be studied, experiments should be arranged in such a way as to lead, if possible, to results depending on it alone; or, if this cannot be done, they should be arranged so as to increase the effects due to the cause to be studied till these so far exceed the unavoidable concomitants, that the latter may be considered as only disturbing, not essentially modifying, the effects of the principal agent.
Thus, in order to find the nature of the action of a galvanic current upon a magnetized needle, we may adopt either of these methods. For instance, we may neutralize the disturbing effects of the earth's magnetism on the needle by properly placing a magnetized bar in its neighbourhood. This is an instance of the first method.
Or we may, by increasing the strength of the current, or by coiling the wire many times about the needle (as will be explained when we describe the galvanometer), multiply the effects of the current so that those of the earth's magnetism may be negligible in comparison.
326. In some cases, however, the latter mode of procedure is utterly deceptive—as, for instance, in the use of multiplying condensers for the detection of very small electro-motive forces. In this case the friction between the parts of the condenser often produces more electricity than that which is to be measured, so that the true results cannot be deduced: a feeble positive charge, for instance, may be trebled, neutralized, or even changed to a negative one, by variations of manipulation so delicate as to be undiscoverable, and therefore unavoidable.
327. We thus see that it is uncertain which of these methods may be preferable in any particular case; and indeed, in discovery, he is the most likely to succeed who, not allowing himself to be disheartened by the non-success of one form of experiment, carefully varies his methods, and thus interrogates in every conceivable manner the subject of his investigations.
328. A most important remark, due to Herschel, regards what are called residual phenomena. When, in an experiment, all known causes being allowed for, there remain certain unexplained effects (excessively slight it may be), these must be carefully investigated, and every conceivable variation of arrangement of apparatus, etc., tried; until, if possible, we manage so to exaggerate the residual phenomenon as to be able to detect its cause. It is here, perhaps, that in the present state of science we may most reasonably look for extensions of our knowledge; at all events we are warranted by the recent history of Natural Philosophy in so doing. Thus, to take only a very few instances, and to say nothing of the discovery of electricity and magnetism by the ancients, the peculiar smell observed in a room in which an electrical machine is kept in action, was long ago observed, but called the 'smell of electricity,' and thus left unexplained. The sagacity of Schönbein led to the discovery that this is due to the formation of Ozone, a most extraordinary body, of enormous chemical energies ; whose nature is still uncertain, though the attention of chemists has for years been directed to it.
329. Slight anomalies in the motion of Uranus led Adams and Le Verrier to the discovery of a new .planet; and the fact that a magnetized needle comes to rest sooner when vibrating above a copper plate than when the latter is removed, led Arago to what was once called magnetism of rotation, but has since been explained, immensely extended, and applied to most important purposes. In fact, this accidental remark about the oscillation of a needle led to facts from which, in Faraday's hands, was evolved the grand discovery of the Induction of Electrical Currents by magnets or by other currents. We need not enlarge upon this point, as in the following pages the proofs of the truth and usefulness of the principle will continually recur. Our object has been not so much to give applications as methods, and to show, if possible, how to attack a new combination, with the view of separating and studying in detail the various causes which generally conspire to produce observed phenomena, even those which are apparently the simplest.
330. If, on repetition several times, an experiment continually gives different results, it must either have been very carelessly performed, or there must be some disturbing cause not taken account of. And, on the other hand, in cases where no very great coincidence is likely on repeated trials, an unexpected degree of agreement between the results of various trials should be regarded with the utmost suspicion, as probably due to some unnoticed peculiarity of the apparatus employed. In either of these cases, however, careful observation cannot fail to detect the cause of the discrepancies or of the unexpected agreement, and may possibly lead to discoveries in a totally unthought-of quarter. Instances of this kind may be given without limit; one or two must suffice.
331. Thus, with a very good achromatic telescope a star appears to have a sensible disc. But, as it is observed that the discs of all stars appear to be of equal angular diameter, we of course suspect some common error. Limiting the aperture of the object-glass increases the appearance in question, which, on full investigation, is found to have nothing to do with discs at all. It is, in fact, a diffraction phenomenon, and will be explained in our chapters on Light.
Again, in measuring the velocity of Sound by experiments conducted at night with cannon, the results at one station were never found to agree exactly with those at the other; sometimes, indeed, the differences were very considerable. But a little consideration led to the remark, that on those nights in which the discordance was greatest a strong wind was blowing nearly from one station to the other. Allowing for the obvious effect of this, or rather eliminating it altogether, the mean velocities on different evenings were found to agree very closely.
332. It may perhaps be advisable to say a few words here about the use of hypotheses, and especially those of very different gradations of value which are promulgated in the form of Mathematical Theories of different branches of Natural Philosophy.
333. Where, as in the case of the planetary motions and disturbances, the forces concerned are thoroughly known, the mathematical theory is absolutely true, and requires only analysis to work out its remotest details. It is thus, in general, far ahead of observation, and is competent to predict effects not yet even observed-as, for instance, Lunar Inequalities due to the action of Venus upon the Earth, etc. etc., to which no amount of observation, unaided by theory, would ever have enabled us to assign the true cause. It may also, in such subjects as Geometrical Optics, be carried to developments far beyond the reach of experiment; but in this science the assumed bases of the theory are only approximate, and it fails to explain in all their peculiarities even such comparatively simple phenomena as Halos and Rainbows; though it is perfectly successful for the practical purposes of the maker of microscopes and telescopes, and has, in these cases, carried the construction of instruments to a degree of perfection which merely tentative processes never could have reached.
334. Another class of mathematical theories, based to a certain extent on experiment, is at present useful, and has even in certain cases pointed to new and important results, which experiment has subsequently verified. Such are the Dynamical Theory of Heat, the Undulatory Theory of Light, etc. etc. In the former, which is based upon the experimental fact that heat is motion, many formulae are at present obscure and uninterpretable, because we do not know what is moving or how it moves. Results of the theory in which these are not involved, are of course experimentally verified. The same difficulties exist in the Theory of Light. But before this obscurity can be perfectly cleared up, we must know something of the ultimate, or molecular, constitution of the bodies, or groups of molecules, at present known to us only in the aggregate. ,
335. A third class is well represented by the Mathematical Theories of Heat (Conduction), Electricity (Statical), and Magnetism (Permanent). Although we do not know how Heat is propagated in bodies, nor what Statical Electricity or Permanent Magnetism are, the laws of their forces are as certainly known as that of Gravitation, and can therefore like it be developed to their consequences, by the application of Mathematical Analysis. The works of Fourier,
· Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur. Paris, 1822.
Green', and Poisson”, are remarkable instances of such development. Another good example is Ampère's Theory of Electrodynamics. And this leads us to a fourth class, which, however ingenious, must be regarded as in reality pernicious rather than useful.
336. A good type of such a theory is that of Weber, which professes to supply a physical basis for Ampère's Theory of Electrodynamics, just mentioned as one of the admirable and really useful third class. Ampère contents himself with experimental data as to the action of closed currents on each other, and from these he deduces mathematically the action which an element of one current ought to exert on an element of another-if such a case could be submitted to experiment. This cannot possibly lead to confusion. But Weber goes farther, he assumes that an electric current consists in the motion of particles of two kinds of electricity moving in opposite directions through the conducting wire; and that these particles exert forces on other such particles of electricity, when in relative motion, different from those they would exert if at relative rest. In the present state of science this is wholly unwarrantable, because it is impossible to conceive that the hypothesis of two electric fluids can be true, and besides, because the conclusions are inconsistent with the Conservation of Energy, which we have numberless experimental reasons for receiving as a general principle in nature. It only adds to the danger of such theories, when they happen to explain further phenomena, as those of induced currents are explained by that of Weber. Another of this class is the Corpuscular Theory of Light, which for a time did great mischief, and which could scarcely have been justifiable unless a luminous corpuscle had been actually seen and examined. As such speculations, though dangerous, are interesting, and often beautiful (as, for instance, that of Weber), we will refer to them again under the proper heads.
337. Mathematical theories of physical forces are, in general, of one of two species. First, those in which the fundamental assumption is far more general than is necessary. Thus the celebrated equation of Laplace's Functions contains the mathematical foundation of the theories of Gravitation, Statical Electricity, Permanent Magnetism, Permanent Flux of Heat, Motion of Incompressible Fluids, etc. etc., and has therefore to be accompanied by limiting considerations when applied to any one of these subjects.
Again, there are those which are built upon a few experiments, or simple but inexact hypotheses, only; and which require to be modified in the way of extension rather than limitation. As a notable example, we may refer to the whole subject of Abstract Dynamics, which requires extensive modifications (explained in Division III.) before it can, in general, be applied to practical purposes.
338. When the most probable result is required from a number of
1 Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism. Nottingham, 1828. Reprinted in Crelle's Journal.
? Mémoires sur le Magnétisme. Mém. de l'Acad. des Sciences, 1811.
observations of the same quantity which do not exactly agree, we must appeal to the mathematical theory of probabilities to guide us to a method of combining the results of experience, so as to eliminate from them, as far as possible, the inaccuracies of observation. But it must be explained that we do not at present class as inaccuracies of observation any errors which may affect alike every one of a series of observations, such as the inexact determination of a zero-point or of the essential units of time and space, the personal equation of the observer, etc. The process, whatever it may be, which is to be employed in the elimination of errors, is applicable even to these, but only when several distinct series of observations have been made, with a change of instrument, or of observer, or of both.
339. We understand as inaccuracies of observation the whole class of errors which are as likely to lie in one direction as another in successive trials, and which we may fairly presume would, on the average of an infinite number of repetitions, exactly balance each other in excess and defect. Moreover, we consider only errors of such a kind that their probability is the less the greater they are; so that such errors as an accidental reading of a wrong number of whole. degrees on a divided circle (which, by the way, can in general be probably corrected by comparison with other observations) are not to be included.
340. Mathematically considered, the subject is by no means an easy one, and many high authorities have asserted that the reasoning employed by Laplace, Gauss, and others, is not well founded; although the results of their analysis have been generally accepted. As an excellent treatise on the subject has recently been published by Airy, it is not necessary for us to do more than sketch in the most cursory manner what is called the Method of Least Squares.
341. Supposing the zero-point and the graduation of an instrument (micrometer, mural circle, thermometer, electrometer, galvanometer, etc.) to be absolutely accurate, successive readings of the value of a quantity (linear distance, altitude of a star, temperature, potential, strength of an electric current, etc.) may, and in general do, continually differ. What is most probably the true value of the observed quantity ?
The most probable value, in all such cases, if the observations are all equally reliable, will evidently be the simple mean; or if they are not equally reliable, the mean found by attributing weights to the several observations in proportion to their presumed exactness. But if several such means have been taken, or several single observations, and if these several means or observations have been differently qualified for the determination of the sought quantity (some of them being likely to give a more exact value than others), we must assign theoretically the best method of combining them in practice.
342. Inaccuracies of observation are, in general, as likely to be in excess as in defect. They are also (as before observed) more likely to be small than great; and (practically) large errors are not to be