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23. Perpetual Motion

INTRODUCTION

     THE history of the search for perpetual motion does not afford a single instance of ascertained success; all that wears any appearance of probability remains secret, and like other secrets, can not be defended in any satisfactory way against the opinions of the skeptical, who have in their favor, in this instance, an appeal to learned authorities against the principle of all such machines, and the total want of operativeness in all known practical results. Published statements afford sorry examples of talents and ingenuity strangely misapplied. Some, but very few, are slightly redeemed from contempt by a glimpse of novelty. Of genius all are deficient, and the reproductions of known fallacies show a remarkable ignorance of first principles on one side and of the most ordinary sources of information on the other. One of the grossest fallacies of the mind is that of taking for granted that ideas of mechanical constructions, apparently the result of accident, must of necessity be quite original. The history of all invention fairly leads to the conclusion that, were all that is known to be swept from the face of the earth, the whole would be reinvented in coming ages. The most doubtful "originality" is that which any inventor attributes to his ignorance of all previous plans, coupled with an isolated position in life. It may be granted that the desire of secrecy often renders investigation difficult, and, from some remarkable feeling of this nature, most inventors of supposed perpetual-motion machines, believing themselves possessors of this notable power, make it a matter of profound secrecy.

     The attempts to solve this problem would seem, so far, only to have proved it to be thoroughly paradoxical. The inventions resulting from it during the last three centuries baffle any attempt at classification developing progressive improvement. It would almost seem as if each inventor had acted independently of his predecessors; and, therefore, frequently reinventing, as new, some exploded fallacy. These retrograde operations and strange resuscitations have led to unmitigated censure, and a sweeping charge of ignorance, imbecility, and folly. No doubt many instances exist especially deserving the severest treatment; but unsparing censure loses half its causticity, and it shows a weak cause, or weaker advocacy, to condemn all parties alike as deficient both in learning and common sense. It has long been, and so remains to this day, an unsettled question, whether perpetual motion is, or is not, possible. To name no other, it is evident, from their writings, that Bishop Wilkins, Gravesande, Bernoulli, Leupold, Nicholson, and many eminent mathematicians, have favored the belief in the possibility of perpetual motion, although admitting difficulties in the way of its discovery. Against it, we find De la Hire, Parent, Papin, Desaguliers, and the great majority of scientific men of all classes and countries. It is evident, therefore, that even mathematicians are not agreed.

From: Gardner D. Hiscox, M.E., Mechanical Appliances and Novelties of Construction (1927), Norman W. Henley Publ. Co.



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Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

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