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ATOMS, MOLECULES, AND ETHER WAVESby@scientificamerican

ATOMS, MOLECULES, AND ETHER WAVES

by Scientific American 19mNovember 26th, 2023
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I. Man is prone to idealization. He cannot accept as final the phenomena of the sensible world, but looks behind that world into another which rules the sensible one. From this tendency of the human mind, systems of mythology and scientific theories have equally sprung. By the former the experiences of volition, passion, power, and design, manifested among ourselves, were transplanted, with the necessary modifications, into an unseen universe from which the sway and potency of those magnified human qualities were exerted. "In the roar of thunder and in the violence of the storm was felt the presence of a shouter and furious strikers, and out of the rain was created an Indra or giver of rain." It is substantially the same with science, the principal force of which is expended in endeavoring to rend the veil which separates the sensible world from an ultra-sensible one. In both cases our materials, drawn from the world of the senses, are modified by the imagination to suit intellectual needs. The "first beginnings" of Lucretius were not objects of sense, but they were suggested and illustrated by objects of sense. The idea of atoms proved an early want on the part of minds in pursuit of the knowledge of nature. It has never been relinquished, and in our own day it is growing steadily in power and precision. The union of bodies in fixed and multiple proportions constitutes the basis of modern atomic theory. The same compound retains, for ever, the same elements, in an unalterable ratio. We cannot produce pure water containing one part, by weight, of hydrogen and nine of oxygen, nor can we produce it when the ratio is one to ten; but we can produce it from the ratio of one to eight, and from no other. So also when water is decomposed by the electric current, the proportion, as regards volumes, is as fixed as in the case of weights. Two volumes of hydrogen and one of oxygen invariably go the formation of water. Number and harmony, as in the Pythagorean system, are everywhere dominant in this under-world. Following the discovery of fixed proportions we have that of multiple proportions. For the same compound, as above stated, the elementary factors are constant; but one elementary body often unites with another so as to form different compounds. Water, for example, is an oxide of hydrogen; but a peroxide of that substance also exists, containing exactly double the quantity of oxygen. Nitrogen also unites with oxygen in various ratios, but not in all. The union takes place, not gradually and uniformly, but by steps, a definite weight of matter being added at each step. The larger combining quantities of oxygen are thus multiples of the smaller ones. It is the same with other combinations.
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Oldest US science mag (est. 1845). Features contributions from Einstein, Tesla & 150+ Nobel laureates.

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