to recall how Felix Klein, in a question relative to Riemann surfaces, has had recourse to the properties of electric currents.
It is true, the arguments of this species are not rigorous, in the sense the analyst attaches to this word. And here a question arises: How can a demonstration not sufficiently rigorous for the analyst suffice for the physicist? It seems there can not be two rigors, that rigor is or is not, and that, where it is not there can not be deduction.
This apparent paradox will be better understood by recalling under what conditions number is applied to natural phenomena. Whence come in general the difficulties encountered in seeking rigor? We strike them almost always in seeking to establish that some quantity tends to some limit, or that some function is continuous, or that it has a derivative.
Now the numbers the physicist measures by experiment are never known except approximately; and besides, any function always differs as little as you choose from a discontinuous function, and at the same time it differs as little as you choose from a continuous function. The physicist may, therefore, at will suppose that the function studied is continuous, or that it is discontinuous; that it has or has not a derivative; and may do so without fear of ever being contradicted, either by present experience or by any future experiment. We see that with such liberty he makes sport of difficulties which stop the analyst. He may always reason as if all the functions which occur in his calculations were entire polynomials.
Thus the sketch which suffices for physics is not the deduction which analysis requires. It does not follow thence that one can not aid in finding the other. So many physical sketches have already been transformed into rigorous demonstrations that to-day this transformation is easy. There would be plenty of examples did I not fear in citing them to tire the reader.
I hope I have said enough to show that pure analysis and mathematical physics may serve one another without making any sacrifice one to the other, and that each of these two sciences should rejoice in all which elevates its associate.