Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/417

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413
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

THE PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS BEFORE THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION

Great Britain is able to supply each year for the presidency of its national association for the advancement of science a scientific man of distinction, who can deliver an address in a form interesting to a large audience and likely to attract popular attention. Sir Oliver Lodge, who presided over the Birmingham meeting, was no exception. He is known for his original investigations in experimental physics and at the same time for his wide-reaching speculations. His address combined a statement of recent physical theories, likely to be of interest even to those who can not fully understand them, with some remarks on vitalism and psychical research which are sure to attract wide attention.

Sir Oliver Lodge began his address, which extended to some 20,000 words, by stating that the characteristic of the promising though perturbing period in which we live is rapid progress combined with fundamental scepticism. The subject of his address was "Continuity." He said that the remarkable feature of the present scientific era is the discovery of various kinds of atomism, but he urged that a belief in ultimate continuity is essential to science. The modern tendency is to emphasize the discontinuity or atomic character of everything. Matter has long been atomic and electricity has proved itself to be atomic. The electron is a natural unit of negative electricity, and it may not be long before the unit of positive electricity is also found. Even magnetism is suspected of being atomic and atomic theories of the ether have been invented; biology is said to be becoming atomic through modern ideas on mutation and Mendelian heredity. Sir Oliver Lodge, however, states that he is himself an upholder of ultimate continuity and a firm believer in the ether of space. The ether is a universal connecting medium which binds the universe together and makes it a coherent whole instead of a chaotic collection of independent fragments.

The lecturer then discussed the principle of relativity which had its origin in the famous experiment of two American physicists. Professor Michelson and Professor Morley, concerning the time taken by light to travel to and fro independent of the motion of the earth through space, from which such remarkable conclusions have been deduced by Dr. Einstein and others. Sir Oliver Lodge holds that the dependence of inertia and shape on speed is a genuine discovery, while the principle of relativity seeks to replace these real changes in matter by imaginary changes in time.

There is an emotional appeal in words such as electricity, ether and continuity, and this becomes even greater when we pass to life, free-will and immortality, with which Sir Oliver Lodge deals in the second part of his address. It will be remembered that last year his predecessor in the presidential chair, Professor Shäfer, who is now lecturing in America, defended the mechanistic conception of living bodies. Perhaps a physiologist is more competent than a physicist to decide on which side the weight of the evidence lies, and indeed in the course of his address Sir Oliver Lodge warns us frequently against negative generalizations. In the case of living beings he holds, however, that life introduces an incalculable element. The vagaries of a fire or of a cyclone ought to be pre-