Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/June 1875/Correspondence

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To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly:

WILL you allow me to call the attention of scientists to some facts (suggested by me in the Monthly for February) inconsistent with the most important recent theory in physical science—the Conservation or Persistence of Force.

The persistence of force is as certain as the persistence of existence. But persistence being, so far, an absolute property or principle, cannot be proved by physical sense, or phenomena conditioned by mass, time, and space. Only finite relations are verified by finite proofs.

All things perceived through physical sense are, severally, quantitatively, and qualitatively, in unceasing change, and are, directly or indirectly, dependent on each other for their existence. Therefore, not phenomena, but only principles—things per se—persist. That the force or energy which we perceive, pressure, tension, or motion, does not persist, is not only a logical deduction from the nature of phenomena, but is a familiar fact in our experiences.

Force—pressure or tension—is created and annihilated at pleasure by the use of the lever.

Energy is evoked from motion, and motion is only changing relations in space, and as each specific or perceived change or movement is absolutely created and annihilated, not the perceived energy, but only the ideal, abstract principle, persists.

Again, the conservation of perceived force requires the existence of potential energy, or energy of position. But this "energy" is a misnomer; for mere position, or static relation in space, is in itself important, and therefore answers our conceptions of neither energy nor potentiality. Yet, it is alleged that the energy expended in lifting and planting a mass on the top of a mountain persists in the mass, because, if it could fall that same energy would reappear. But it cannot fall. And its gravity being less, it has within itself, as a property, less falling force than before its position was changed by the expenditure of energy. To say, "If it had power to fall, it would receive the energy expended in lifting it," is equivalent to saying, "It does not possess that energy." If it imparted that energy to something else, from which it will be returned, to what did it impart it? If the ball in a loaded cannon has potential energy by being in front of the cartridge, what becomes of that energy when the powder is saturated with water?

Perceived force is conditioned by mass and relations in space, and, as here shown, change in these conditions changes its quantity. Physical science is limited to these conditions, changes, and quantities, because its verifications are limited to them. The proposition that a phenomenon persists, is a self-contradiction. Only objects of conception, and not of perception, persist.

The conservation of force is illustrated by that of form. If a circle of plastic material be changed to a square, abstract form persists through all the innumerable changes of size and form through which it passes, but no observed size or form persists; nor is any specific form, from the circle to the square, metamorphosed into its subsequent form; each is as absolutely created and annihilated as though there were no persistence of form.

And, as matter is only a concrete of properties, and as form is as persistent as other properties, it follows that all perceived physical changes are creations and annihilations. What is observed as gas is not the persistent thing per se, but only one evanescent state of that which persists. Hence, this perceived thing, gas, is no more metamorphosed into its subsequent water, than a circle is into a square. All that was observed—gas—was as totally annihilated, and what appeared—water—as surely created, as were the circle and square. No perceived physical property persists, for, even the alleged physical proof of the persistence of matter—weight—is annihilated and created by distance and proximity to the earth.

Physical science relates only to the limited and conditioned, because its proofs are limited. The unlimited—persistent—is beyond the realm of physical sense and experimental proof. Hence, only abstract, ideal force persists, and is known to persist, not from our experiences with perceived forces, but only because mind, heredity, and mental experiences, evolve the conception of ultimate, absolute principles, and forbid the conception of their annihilation.

Proper discrimination, exactly expressed, between perceptions of the finite and conditioned, and conceptions of the persistent and absolute, rids science from the odium of materialism, and other fallacies, and makes the persistence of force not a new theory, but what it was ever conceived to be—the principle of potency—causality—an attribute of the ever-existing I Am.

Alleged infallibility of spectrum analysis of suns and nebulæ, billions of miles distant, when, for terrestrial use, the Director of the United States Mint says, "it cannot be trusted," shows the present tendency to sacrifice logical mental conceptions to mere physical sense.

Religious superstitions, in their conflict with science, will not succumb to sophistry: but, let scientific, physical facts be fortified with careful experimental verification, and hypotheses with pure logic, and give mind, though it be "discerned in matter," its fair share of the universe, and both superstitious bigotry and fallacious dogmas will surely disappear.

A. Arnold.
Tenafly, N.J., February 20, 1875.