Page:An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge.djvu/7

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PREFACE

THERE are three main streams of thought which are relevant to the theme of this enquiry; they may, with sufficient accuracy, be termed the scientific, the mathematical, and the philosophical movements.

Modern speculative physics with its revolutionary theories concerning the natures of matter and of electricity has made urgent the question, What are the ultimate data of science? It is in accordance with the nature of things that mankind should find itself acting and should then proceed to discuss the rationale of its activities. Thus the creation of science precedes the analysis of its data and can even be accompanied by the acceptance of faulty analyses, though such errors end by warping scientific imagination.

The contributions of mathematics to natural science consist in the elaboration of the general art of deductive reasoning, the theory of quantitative measurement by the use of number, the theory of serial order, of geometry, of the exact measurement of time, and of rates of change. The critical studies of the nineteenth century and after have thrown light on the nature of mathematics and in particular on the foundations of geometry. We now know many alternative sets of axioms from which geometry can be deduced by the strictest deductive reasoning. But these investigations concern geometry as an abstract science deduced from hypothetical premisses. In this enquiry we are concerned with geometry as a physical science. How is space rooted in experience?

The modern theory of relativity has opened the possibility of a new answer to this question. The successive

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