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Maxwell Quotes (42 quotes)

Qu'une goutee de vin tombe dans un verre d'eau; quelle que soit la loi du movement interne du liquide, nous verrons bientôt se colorer d'une teinte rose uniforme et à partir de ce moment on aura beau agiter le vase, le vin et l'eau ne partaîtront plus pouvoir se séparer. Tout cela, Maxwell et Boltzmann l'ont expliqué, mais celui qui l'a vu plus nettement, dans un livre trop peu lu parce qu'il est difficile à lire, c'est Gibbs dans ses principes de la Mécanique Statistique.
Let a drop of wine fall into a glass of water; whatever be the law that governs the internal movement of the liquid, we will soon see it tint itself uniformly pink and from th at moment on, however we may agitate the vessel, it appears that the wine and water can separate no more. All this, Maxwell and Boltzmann have explained, but the one who saw it in the cleanest way, in a book that is too little read because it is difficult to read, is Gibbs, in his Principles of Statistical Mechanics.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 3.
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From a long view of the history of mankind—seen from, say, ten thousand years from now—there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell’s discovery of the laws of electrodynamics. The American Civil War will pale into provincial insignificance in comparison with this important scientific event of the same decade.
In The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964), Vol. 2, page 1-11.
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I count Maxwell and Einstein, Eddington and Dirac, among “real” mathematicians. The great modern achievements of applied mathematics have been in relativity and quantum mechanics, and these subjects are at present at any rate, almost as “useless” as the theory of numbers.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 131.
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I remember my first look at the great treatise of Maxwell’s when I was a young man… I saw that it was great, greater and greatest, with prodigious possibilities in its power… I was determined to master the book and set to work. I was very ignorant. I had no knowledge of mathematical analysis (having learned only school algebra and trigonometry which I had largely forgotten) and thus my work was laid out for me. It took me several years before I could understand as much as I possibly could. Then I set Maxwell aside and followed my own course. And I progressed much more quickly… It will be understood that I preach the gospel according to my interpretation of Maxwell.
From translations of a letter (24 Feb 1918), cited in Paul J. Nahin, Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age (2002), 24. Nahin footnotes that the words are not verbatim, but are the result of two translations. Heaviside's original letter in English was quoted, translated in to French by J. Bethenode, for the obituary he wrote, "Oliver Heaviside", in Annales des Posies Telegraphs (1925), 14, 521-538. The quote was retranslated back to English in Nadin's book. Bethenode footnoted that he made the original translation "as literally as possible in order not to change the meaning." Nadin assures that the retranslation was done likewise. Heaviside studyied Maxwell's two-volume Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.
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I think a strong claim can be made that the process of scientific discovery may be regarded as a form of art. This is best seen in the theoretical aspects of Physical Science. The mathematical theorist builds up on certain assumptions and according to well understood logical rules, step by step, a stately edifice, while his imaginative power brings out clearly the hidden relations between its parts. A well constructed theory is in some respects undoubtedly an artistic production. A fine example is the famous Kinetic Theory of Maxwell. ... The theory of relativity by Einstein, quite apart from any question of its validity, cannot but be regarded as a magnificent work of art.
Responding to the toast, 'Science!' at the Royal Academy of the Arts in 1932.)
Quoted in Lawrence Badash, 'Ernest Rutherford and Theoretical Physics,' in Robert Kargon and Peter Achinstein (eds.) Kelvin's Baltimore Lectures and Modern Theoretical Physics: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives (1987), 352.
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I venture to assert that the feelings one has when the beautiful symbolism of the infinitesimal calculus first gets a meaning, or when the delicate analysis of Fourier has been mastered, or while one follows Clerk Maxwell or Thomson into the strange world of electricity, now growing so rapidly in form and being, or can almost feel with Stokes the pulsations of light that gives nature to our eyes, or track with Clausius the courses of molecules we can measure, even if we know with certainty that we can never see them I venture to assert that these feelings are altogether comparable to those aroused in us by an exquisite poem or a lofty thought.
In paper (May 1891) read before Bath Branch of the Teachers’ Guild, published in The Practical Teacher (July 1891), reprinted as 'Geometry', in Frederic Spencer, Chapters on the Aims and Practice of Teaching (1897), 194.
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In despair, I offer your readers their choice of the following definitions of entropy. My authorities are such books and journals as I have by me at the moment.
(a) Entropy is that portion of the intrinsic energy of a system which cannot be converted into work by even a perfect heat engine.—Clausius.
(b) Entropy is that portion of the intrinsic energy which can be converted into work by a perfect engine.—Maxwell, following Tait.
(c) Entropy is that portion of the intrinsic energy which is not converted into work by our imperfect engines.—Swinburne.
(d) Entropy (in a volume of gas) is that which remains constant when heat neither enters nor leaves the gas.—W. Robinson.
(e) Entropy may be called the ‘thermal weight’, temperature being called the ‘thermal height.’—Ibid.
(f) Entropy is one of the factors of heat, temperature being the other.—Engineering.
I set up these bald statement as so many Aunt Sallys, for any one to shy at.
[Lamenting a list of confused interpretations of the meaning of entropy, being hotly debated in journals at the time.]
In The Electrician (9 Jan 1903).
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In the heavens we discover [stars] by their light, and by their light alone ... the sole evidence of the existence of these distant worlds ... that each of them is built up of molecules of the same kinds we find on earth. A molecule of hydrogen, for example, whether in Sirius or in Arcturus, executes its vibrations in precisely the same time. Each molecule therefore throughout the universe bears impressed upon it the stamp of a metric system as distinctly as does the metre of the Archives at Paris, or the royal cubit of the Temple of Karnac.
[Footnote: Where Maxwell uses the term “molecule” we now use the term “atom.”]
Lecture to the British Association at Bradford (1873), 'Atoms and Molecules'. Quoted by Ernest Rutherford, in 'The Constitution of Matter and the Evolution of the Elements', The Popular Science Monthly (Aug 1915), 112.
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It did not cause anxiety that Maxwell’s equations did not apply to gravitation, since nobody expected to find any link between electricity and gravitation at that particular level. But now physics was faced with an entirely new situation. The same entity, light, was at once a wave and a particle. How could one possibly imagine its proper size and shape? To produce interference it must be spread out, but to bounce off electrons it must be minutely localized. This was a fundamental dilemma, and the stalemate in the wave-photon battle meant that it must remain an enigma to trouble the soul of every true physicist. It was intolerable that light should be two such contradictory things. It was against all the ideals and traditions of science to harbor such an unresolved dualism gnawing at its vital parts. Yet the evidence on either side could not be denied, and much water was to flow beneath the bridges before a way out of the quandary was to be found. The way out came as a result of a brilliant counterattack initiated by the wave theory, but to tell of this now would spoil the whole story. It is well that the reader should appreciate through personal experience the agony of the physicists of the period. They could but make the best of it, and went around with woebegone faces sadly complaining that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays they must look on light as a wave; on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, as a particle. On Sundays they simply prayed.
The Strange Story of the Quantum (1947), 42.
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It has been said that no science is established on a firm basis unless its generalisations can be expressed in terms of number, and it is the special province of mathematics to assist the investigator in finding numerical relations between phenomena. After experiment, then mathematics. While a science is in the experimental or observational stage, there is little scope for discerning numerical relations. It is only after the different workers have “collected data” that the mathematician is able to deduce the required generalisation. Thus a Maxwell followed Faraday and a Newton completed Kepler.
In Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics (1902), 3.
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It seems to me, he says, that the test of “Do we or not understand a particular subject in physics?” is, “Can we make a mechanical model of it?” I have an immense admiration for Maxwell’s model of electromagnetic induction. He makes a model that does all the wonderful things that electricity docs in inducing currents, etc., and there can be no doubt that a mechanical model of that kind is immensely instructive and is a step towards a definite mechanical theory of electromagnetism.
From stenographic report by A.S. Hathaway of the Lecture 20 Kelvin presented at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, on 'Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light' (1884), 132. (Hathaway was a Mathematics fellow there.) This remark is not included in the first typeset publication—a revised version, printed twenty years later, in 1904, as Lord Kelvin’s Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light. The original notes were reproduced by the “papyrograph” process. They are excerpted in Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem, Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science (1996), 54-55.
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Kirchhoff’s whole tendency, and its true counterpart, the form of his presentation, was different [from Maxwell’s “dramatic bulk”]. … He is characterized by the extreme precision of his hypotheses, minute execution, a quiet rather than epic development with utmost rigor, never concealing a difficulty, always dispelling the faintest obscurity. … he resembled Beethoven, the thinker in tones. — He who doubts that mathematical compositions can be beautiful, let him read his memoir on Absorption and Emission … or the chapter of his mechanics devoted to Hydrodynamics.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 30, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 187. From the original German, “Kirchhoff … seine ganze Richtung war eine andere, und ebenso auch deren treues Abbild, die Form seiner Darstellung. … Ihn charakterisirt die schärfste Präcisirung der Hypothesen, feine Durchfeilung, ruhige mehr epische Fortentwicklung mit eiserner Consequenz ohne Verschweigung irgend einer Schwierigkeit, unter Aufhellung des leisesten Schattens. … er glich dem Denker in Tönen: Beethoven. – Wer in Zweifel zieht, dass mathematische Werke künstlerisch schön sein können, der lese seine Abhandlung über Absorption und Emission oder den der Hydrodynamik gewidmeten Abschnitt seiner Mechanik.” The memoir reference is Gesammelte Abhandlungen (1882), 571-598.
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Liebig himself seems to have occupied the role of a gate, or sorting-demon, such as his younger contemporary Clerk Maxwell once proposed, helping to concentrate energy into one favored room of the Creation at the expense of everything else.
Gravity's Rainbow (1973), 411.
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Maxwell Redressed.
Heaviside’s comment on his more compact, efficient, clarifying reformulation of Maxwell’s equations, as they are now generally seen. In undated note on the back of p.5 of Heaviside’s manuscript of 'Theory of Voltaic Action'. Box 14, OH-IEE. As cited in Bruce J. Hunt, The Maxwellians (2005), 108.
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Maxwell's theory is Maxwell's system of equations.
Electric Waves (1893), 21.
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Maxwell's equations… originally consisted of eight equations. These equations are not “beautiful.” They do not possess much symmetry. In their original form, they are ugly. …However, when rewritten using time as the fourth dimension, this rather awkward set of eight equations collapses into a single tensor equation. This is what a physicist calls “beauty.”
In 'Quantum Heresy', Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (1995), 130. Note: For two “beauty” criteria, unifying symmetry and economy of expression, see quote on this page beginning “When physicists…”
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Maxwell, like every other pioneer who does not live to explore the country he opened out, had not had time to investigate the most direct means of access to the country, or the most systematic way of exploring it. This has been reserved for Oliver Heaviside to do. Maxwell’s treatise is cumbered with the débris of his brilliant lines of assault, of his entrenched camps, of his battles. Oliver Heaviside has cleared those away, has opened up a direct route, has made a broad road, and has explored a considerable tract of country.
Book Review of Heaviside’s Electrical Papers in The Electrician (11 Aug 1893). Collected in Joseph Larmore (ed.), The Scientific Writings of the Late George Francis FitzGerald (1902), 294.
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Newton was the greatest creative genius physics has ever seen. None of the other candidates for the superlative (Einstein, Maxwell, Boltzmann, Gibbs, and Feynman) has matched Newton’s combined achievements as theoretician, experimentalist, and mathematician. … If you were to become a time traveler and meet Newton on a trip back to the seventeenth century, you might find him something like the performer who first exasperates everyone in sight and then goes on stage and sings like an angel.
In Great Physicists (2001), 39.
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Newton was the greatest creative genius physics has ever seen. None of the other candidates for the superlative (Einstein, Maxwell, Boltzmann, Gibbs, and Feynman) has matched Newton’s combined achievements as theoretician, experimentalist, and mathematician. … If you were to become a time traveler and meet Newton on a trip back to the seventeenth century, you might find him something like the performer who first exasperates everyone in sight and then goes on stage and sings like an angel.
In Great Physicists (2001), 39.
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Newton’s laws of motion made it possible to state on one page facts about nature which would otherwise require whole libraries. Maxwell’s laws of electricity and magnetism also had an abbreviating effect.
In 'Man’s Place in the Physical Universe', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Sep 1965), 21, No. 7, 16.
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One scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell.
Quoted in Robyn Arianrhod, Einstein's Heroes: Imagining the World Through the Language of Mathematics (2005), 272.
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Our most successful theories in physics are those that explicitly leave room for the unknown, while confining this room sufficiently to make the theory empirically disprovable. It does not matter whether this room is created by allowing for arbitrary forces as Newtonian dynamics does, or by allowing for arbitrary equations of state for matter, as General Relativity does, or for arbitrary motions of charges and dipoles, as Maxwell's electrodynamics does. To exclude the unknown wholly as a “unified field theory” or a “world equation” purports to do is pointless and of no scientific significance.
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Religious creeds are a great obstacle to any full sympathy between the outlook of the scientist and the outlook which religion is so often supposed to require … The spirit of seeking which animates us refuses to regard any kind of creed as its goal. It would be a shock to come across a university where it was the practice of the students to recite adherence to Newton's laws of motion, to Maxwell's equations and to the electromagnetic theory of light. We should not deplore it the less if our own pet theory happened to be included, or if the list were brought up to date every few years. We should say that the students cannot possibly realise the intention of scientific training if they are taught to look on these results as things to be recited and subscribed to. Science may fall short of its ideal, and although the peril scarcely takes this extreme form, it is not always easy, particularly in popular science, to maintain our stand against creed and dogma.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929), Science and the Unseen World (1929), 54-56.
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Tait dubbed Maxwell dp/dt, for according to thermodynamics dp/dt = JCM (where C denotes Carnot’s function) the initials of (J.C.) Maxwell’s name. On the other hand Maxwell denoted Thomson by T and Tait by T'; so that it became customary to quote Thomson and Tait’s Treatise on Natural Philosophy as T and T'.
In Bibliotheca Mathematica (1903), 3, 187. As cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 178. [Note: Thomson is William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin. —Webmaster.]
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The aether: Invented by Isaac Newton, reinvented by James Clerk Maxwell. This is the stuff that fills up the empty space of the universe. Discredited and discarded by Einstein, the aether is now making a Nixonian comeback. It’s really the vacuum, but burdened by theoretical, ghostly particles.
In Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi, The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question (1993, 2006), xiii.
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The average English author [of mathematical texts] leaves one under the impression that he has made a bargain with his reader to put before him the truth, the greater part of the truth, and nothing but the truth; and that if he has put the facts of his subject into his book, however difficult it may be to unearth them, he has fulfilled his contract with his reader. This is a very much mistaken view, because effective teaching requires a great deal more than a bare recitation of facts, even if these are duly set forth in logical order—as in English books they often are not. The probable difficulties which will occur to the student, the objections which the intelligent student will naturally and necessarily raise to some statement of fact or theory—these things our authors seldom or never notice, and yet a recognition and anticipation of them by the author would be often of priceless value to the student. Again, a touch of humour (strange as the contention may seem) in mathematical works is not only possible with perfect propriety, but very helpful; and I could give instances of this even from the pure mathematics of Salmon and the physics of Clerk Maxwell.
In Perry, Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 59-61.
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The law that entropy always increases—the Second Law of Thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations—then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation—well these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
Gifford Lectures (1927), The Nature of the Physical World (1928), 74.
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The rigid electron is in my view a monster in relation to Maxwell's equations, whose innermost harmony is the principle of relativity... the rigid electron is no working hypothesis, but a working hindrance. Approaching Maxwell's equations with the concept of the rigid electron seems to me the same thing as going to a concert with your ears stopped up with cotton wool. We must admire the courage and the power of the school of the rigid electron which leaps across the widest mathematical hurdles with fabulous hypotheses, with the hope to land safely over there on experimental-physical ground.
In Arthur I. Miller, Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity (1981), 350.
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The second law of thermodynamics is, without a doubt, one of the most perfect laws in physics. Any reproducible violation of it, however small, would bring the discoverer great riches as well as a trip to Stockholm. The world’s energy problems would be solved at one stroke… . Not even Maxwell’s laws of electricity or Newton’s law of gravitation are so sacrosanct, for each has measurable corrections coming from quantum effects or general relativity. The law has caught the attention of poets and philosophers and has been called the greatest scientific achievement of the nineteenth century.
In Thermodynamics (1964). As cited in The Mathematics Devotional: Celebrating the Wisdom and Beauty of Physics (2015), 82.
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The velocity of light is one of the most important of the fundamental constants of Nature. Its measurement by Foucault and Fizeau gave as the result a speed greater in air than in water, thus deciding in favor of the undulatory and against the corpuscular theory. Again, the comparison of the electrostatic and the electromagnetic units gives as an experimental result a value remarkably close to the velocity of light–a result which justified Maxwell in concluding that light is the propagation of an electromagnetic disturbance. Finally, the principle of relativity gives the velocity of light a still greater importance, since one of its fundamental postulates is the constancy of this velocity under all possible conditions.
Studies in Optics (1927), 120.
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This change in the conception of reality is the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.
Refering to James Clerk Maxwell's contributions to physics.
'Maxwell's Influence on the Development of the Conception of Physical Reality', James Clerk Maxwell: A Commemorative Volume 1831-1931 (1931), 71.
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This whole theory of electrostatics constitutes a group of abstract ideas and general propositions, formulated in the clear and precise language of geometry and algebra, and connected with one another by the rules of strict logic. This whole fully satisfies the reason of a French physicist and his taste for clarity, simplicity and order. The same does not hold for the Englishman. These abstract notions of material points, force, line of force, and equipotential surface do not satisfy his need to imagine concrete, material, visible, and tangible things. 'So long as we cling to this mode of representation,' says an English physicist, 'we cannot form a mental representation of the phenomena which are really happening.' It is to satisfy the need that he goes and creates a model.
The French or German physicist conceives, in the space separating two conductors, abstract lines of force having no thickness or real existence; the English physicist materializes these lines and thickens them to the dimensions of a tube which he will fill with vulcanised rubber. In place of a family of lines of ideal forces, conceivable only by reason, he will have a bundle of elastic strings, visible and tangible, firmly glued at both ends to the surfaces of the two conductors, and, when stretched, trying both to contact and to expand. When the two conductors approach each other, he sees the elastic strings drawing closer together; then he sees each of them bunch up and grow large. Such is the famous model of electrostatic action imagined by Faraday and admired as a work of genius by Maxwell and the whole English school.
The employment of similar mechanical models, recalling by certain more or less rough analogies the particular features of the theory being expounded, is a regular feature of the English treatises on physics. Here is a book* [by Oliver Lodge] intended to expound the modern theories of electricity and to expound a new theory. In it are nothing but strings which move around pulleys, which roll around drums, which go through pearl beads, which carry weights; and tubes which pump water while others swell and contract; toothed wheels which are geared to one another and engage hooks. We thought we were entering the tranquil and neatly ordered abode of reason, but we find ourselves in a factory.
*Footnote: O. Lodge, Les Théories Modernes (Modern Views on Electricity) (1889), 16.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 70-1.
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To prove to an indignant questioner on the spur of the moment that the work I do was useful seemed a thankless task and I gave it up. I turned to him with a smile and finished, 'To tell you the truth we don't do it because it is useful but because it's amusing.' The answer was thought of and given in a moment: it came from deep down in my soul, and the results were as admirable from my point of view as unexpected. My audience was clearly on my side. Prolonged and hearty applause greeted my confession. My questioner retired shaking his head over my wickedness and the newspapers next day, with obvious approval, came out with headlines 'Scientist Does It Because It's Amusing!' And if that is not the best reason why a scientist should do his work, I want to know what is. Would it be any good to ask a mother what practical use her baby is? That, as I say, was the first evening I ever spent in the United States and from that moment I felt at home. I realised that all talk about science purely for its practical and wealth-producing results is as idle in this country as in England. Practical results will follow right enough. No real knowledge is sterile. The most useless investigation may prove to have the most startling practical importance: Wireless telegraphy might not yet have come if Clerk Maxwell had been drawn away from his obviously 'useless' equations to do something of more practical importance. Large branches of chemistry would have remained obscure had Willard Gibbs not spent his time at mathematical calculations which only about two men of his generation could understand. With this faith in the ultimate usefulness of all real knowledge a man may proceed to devote himself to a study of first causes without apology, and without hope of immediate return.
A.V. Hill
Quoted in Larry R. Squire (ed.), The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography (1996), Vol. I, 351.
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To take one of the simplest cases of the dissipation of energy, the conduction of heat through a solid—consider a bar of metal warmer at one end than the other and left to itself. To avoid all needless complication, of taking loss or gain of heat into account, imagine the bar to be varnished with a substance impermeable to heat. For the sake of definiteness, imagine the bar to be first given with one half of it at one uniform temperature, and the other half of it at another uniform temperature. Instantly a diffusing of heat commences, and the distribution of temperature becomes continuously less and less unequal, tending to perfect uniformity, but never in any finite time attaining perfectly to this ultimate condition. This process of diffusion could be perfectly prevented by an army of Maxwell’s ‘intelligent demons’* stationed at the surface, or interface as we may call it with Prof. James Thomson, separating the hot from the cold part of the bar.
* The definition of a ‘demon’, according to the use of this word by Maxwell, is an intelligent being endowed with free will, and fine enough tactile and perceptive organisation to give him the faculty of observing and influencing individual molecules of matter.
In 'The Kinetic Theory of the Dissipation of Energy', Nature (1874), 9, 442.
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We have decided to call the entire field of control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in the animal, by the name Cybernetics, which we form from the Greek … for steersman. In choosing this term, we wish to recognize that the first significant paper on feedback mechanisms is an article on governors, which was published by Clerk Maxwell in 1868, and that governor is derived from a Latin corruption … We also wish to refer to the fact that the steering engines of a ship are indeed one of the earliest and best-developed forms of feedback mechanisms.
In Cybernetics (1948), 19.
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We then got to Westminster Abbey and, moving about unguided, we found the graves of Newton, Rutherford, Darwin, Faraday, and Maxwell in a cluster.
(1980). In Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 294.
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When Faraday filled space with quivering lines of force, he was bringing mathematics into electricity. When Maxwell stated his famous laws about the electromagnetic field it was mathematics. The relativity theory of Einstein which makes gravity a fiction, and reduces the mechanics of the universe to geometry, is mathematical research.
In 'The Spirit of Research', III, 'Mathematical Research', in The Monist (Oct 1922), 32, No. 4, 542-543.
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When silhouetted against historical background Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory and its remarkable experimental confirmation by Hertz loomed up as large to the physicist of 1895 as the de Broglie-Schrödinger wave theory of matter and its experimental confirmation by Davison and Germer does to the physicist of to-day. [1931]
In 'The Romance of the Next Decimal Place', Science (1 Jan 1932), 75, No. 1931, 2.
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When the 1880s began. Maxwell’s theory was virtually a trackless jungle. By the second half of the decade, guided by the principle of energy flow. Poynting, FitzGerald, and above all Heaviside had succeeded in taming and pruning that jungle and in rendering it almost civilized.
In The Maxwellians (2008), 128.
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Who does not know Maxwell’s dynamic theory of gases? At first there is the majestic development of the variations of velocities, then enter from one side the equations of condition and from the other the equations of central motions, higher and higher surges the chaos of formulas, suddenly four words burst forth: “Put n = 5.” The evil demon V disappears like the sudden ceasing of the basso parts in music, which hitherto wildly permeated the piece; what before seemed beyond control is now ordered as by magic. There is no time to state why this or that substitution was made, he who cannot feel the reason may as well lay the book aside; Maxwell is no program-musician who explains the notes of his composition. Forthwith the formulas yield obediently result after result, until the temperature-equilibrium of a heavy gas is reached as a surprising final climax and the curtain drops.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 29-30, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 187. From the original German, “Wer kennt nicht seine dynamische Gastheorie? – Zuerst entwickeln sich majestätisch die Variationen der Geschwindigkeiten, dann setzen von der einen Seite die Zustands-Gleichungen, von der anderen die Gleichungen der Centralbewegung ein, immer höher wogt das Chaos der Formeln; plötzlich ertönen die vier Worte: „Put n=5.“Der böse Dämon V verschwindet, wie in der Musik eine wilde, bisher alles unterwühlende Figur der Bässe plötzlich verstummt; wie mit einem Zauberschlage ordnet sich, was früher unbezwingbar schien. Da ist keine Zeit zu sagen, warum diese oder jene Substitution gemacht wird; wer das nicht fühlt, lege das Buch weg; Maxwell ist kein Programmmusiker, der über die Noten deren Erklärung setzen muss. Gefügig speien nun die Formeln Resultat auf Resultat aus, bis überraschend als Schlusseffect noch das Wärme-Gleichgewicht eines schweren Gases gewonnen wird und der Vorhang sinkt.” A condensed alternate translation also appears on the Ludwig Boltzmann Quotes page of this website.
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Who … is not familiar with Maxwell’s memoirs on his dynamical theory of gases? … from one side enter the equations of state; from the other side, the equations of motion in a central field. Ever higher soars the chaos of formulae. Suddenly we hear, as from kettle drums, the four beats “put n=5.” The evil spirit v vanishes; and … that which had seemed insuperable has been overcome as if by a stroke of magic … One result after another follows in quick succession till at last … we arrive at the conditions for thermal equilibrium together with expressions for the transport coefficients.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 29, as translated in In Michael Dudley Sturge, Statistical and Thermal Physics (2003), 343. A more complete alternate translation also appears on the Ludwig Boltzmann Quotes page of this website.
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[About mathematicians’ writings] Extreme external elegance, sometimes a somewhat weak skeleton of conclusions characterizes the French; the English, above all Maxwell, are distinguished by the greatest dramatic bulk.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zy Graz (1888), 29, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 187. From the original German, “Höchste äussere Eleganz, mitunter etwas schwaches Knochengerüste der Schlüsse charakterisirt die Franzosen, die grösste dramatische Wucht die Engländer, vor Allen Maxwell.”
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail 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) -- Carl Sagan
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