Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/549

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
545
THE VALUE OF SCIENCE

THE VALUE OF SCIENCE
By M. H. POINCARE

MEMBER OF THE INSTITUTE OF FRANCE

5. The Notion of Displacement

I HAVE shown in 'Science and Hypothesis' the preponderant role played by the movements of our body in the genesis of the notion of space. For a being completely immovable there would be neither space nor geometry; in vain would exterior objects be displaced about him, the variations which these displacements would make in his impressions would not be attributed by this being to changes of position, but to simple changes of state; this being would have no means of distinguishing these two sorts of changes, and this distinction, fundamental for us, would have no meaning for him.

The movements that we impress upon our members have as effect the varying of the impressions produced on our senses by external objects; other causes may likewise make them vary; but we are led to distinguish the changes produced by our own motions and we easily discriminate them for two reasons: (1) because they are voluntary; (2) because they are accompanied by muscular sensations.

So we naturally divide the changes that our impressions may undergo into two categories to which perhaps I have given an inappropriate designation: (1) the internal changes, which are voluntary and accompanied by muscular sensations; (2) the external changes, having the opposite characteristics.

We then observe that among the external changes are some which can be corrected, thanks to an internal change which brings everything back to the primitive state; others can not be corrected in this way (it is thus that when an exterior object is displaced, we may then by changing our own position replace ourselves as regards this object in the same relative position as before, so as to reestablish the original aggregate of impressions; if this object was not displaced, but changed its state, that is impossible). Thence comes a new distinction among external changes: those which may be so corrected we call changes of position; and the others, changes of state.

Think, for example, of a sphere with one hemisphere blue and the other red; it first presents to us the blue hemisphere, then it so revolves as to present the red hemisphere. Now think of a spherical vase containing a blue liquid which becomes red in consequence of a chemical reaction. In both cases the sensation of red has replaced that of blue; our senses have experienced the same impressions which have succeeded