The Evolution of Scientific Thought from Newton to Einstein

The Evolution of Scientific Thought from Newton to Einstein

The Evolution of Scientific Thought from Newton to Einstein

The Evolution of Scientific Thought from Newton to Einstein

Excerpt

Although in the course of the last three centuries scientific theories have been subject to all manner of vicissitude and change, the governing motive that has inspired scientists has been ever the same -- a search for unity in diversity, a desire to bring harmony and order into what might at first sight appear to be a hopeless chaos of experimental facts.

In this book the essential features of Newton's great discoveries, the apparent inevitableness of absolute space and time in classical science, are passed in review. Then we come to Riemann, that great mathematician who wrested the problem of space from the dogmatic slumber where it had rested so long. Finally we see how Einstein succeeded in transporting to the realm of physics the ideas that Riemann had propounded, giving us thereby that supreme achievement of modern thought, the theory of relativity.

Although I have used non-technical language, great care has been given to an accurate presentation of facts. In certain parts, however, notably in those devoted to non-Euclidean geometry and to the principle of Action, a looseness of presentation has appeared unavoidable owing to the extreme technicality of the subjects discussed. But as it was a question of presenting these subjects loosely or leaving them out of the picture entirely, it appeared preferable to sacrifice accuracy to general comprehensiveness.

Here, however, the reader may be reminded that even for those who are interested solely in trends of thought or in the evolution of ideas, no popular or semi-popular book can ever aspire to take the place of the highly technical mathematical works. The superiority of the latter lies not in the bare mathematical formulæ which they contain. Rather does it reside in the power the mathematical instrument has of giving us a deeper insight into the problems of nature, revealing unsuspected harmonies and extending our survey into regions of thought whence the human intelligence would otherwise be excluded. Thus the sole rôle a semi-popular book can hope to perform is to serve as a general introduction, to whet the appetite for further knowledge, if a craving for knowledge is within us. To presume, as the philosophers do, that a vague understanding of a highly technical subject, gleaned from semi-popular writings, or from the snatching at a sentence here and there in a technical book, should enable them to expound a theory, criticise it, and, worse still . . .

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