Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/188

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176
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

in which volume diminishes. The explanation consisted in supposing that a gas is made up of a vast number of minute particles always flying about and striking against one another, and then showing that the rate of impact of such a crowd of particles on the sides of the vessel containing them would vary exactly as the pressure is found to vary. Suppose the vessel to have parallel sides, and that there is only one particle rushing backward and forward between them; then it is clear that if we bring the sides together to half the distance, the particle will hit each of them twice as often, or the pressure will be doubled. Now, it turns out that this would be just as true for millions of particles as for one, and when they are flying in all directions instead of only in one direction and its opposite; provided only that they interfere with each other's motion. Observe, now: it is a perfectly well-known and familiar thing that a body should strike against an opposing surface and bound off again; and it is a mere every-day occurrence that what has only half so far to go should be back in half the time; but that pressure should be strictly proportional to density is a comparatively strange, unfamiliar phenomenon. The explanation describes the unknown and unfamiliar as being made up of the known and the familiar; and this, it seems to me, is the true meaning of explanation.[1]

Here is another instance: If small pieces of camphor are dropped into water, they will begin to spin round and swim about in a most marvellous way. Mr. Tomlinson gave, I believe, the explanation of this. We must observe, to begin with, that every liquid has a skin which holds it; you can see that to be true in the case of a drop, which looks as if it were held in a bag. But the tension of this skin is greater in some liquids than in others; and it is greater in camphor-and-water than in pure water. When the camphor is dropped into water, it begins to dissolve and get surrounded with camphor-and-water instead of water. If the fragment of camphor were exactly symmetrical, nothing more would happen; the tension would be greater in its immediate neighborhood, but no motion would follow. The camphor, however, is irregular in shape; it dissolves more on one side than the other; and consequently gets pulled about, because the tension of the skin is greater where the camphor is most dissolved. Now, it is probable that this is not nearly so satisfactory an explanation to you as it was to me when I was first told of it; and for this reason: By that time I was already perfectly familiar with the notion of a skin upon the surface of liquids, and I had been taught by means of it to work out problems in capillarity. The explanation was therefore a description of the unknown phenomenon which I did not

  1. This view differs from those of Mr. J. S. Mill and Mr. Herbert Spencer, in requiring every explanation to contain an addition to our knowledge about the thing explained. Both those writers regard subsumption under a general law as a species of explanation. See also Ferrier's "Remains," vol. ii., p. 436.