Now, in the development of our knowledge of the workings of Nature out of the tremendously complex assemblage of phenomena presented to the scientific inquirer, mathematics plays in some respects a very limited, in others a very important part. As regards the limitations, it is merely necessary to refer to the sciences connected with living matter, and to the ologies generally, to see that the facts and their connections are too indistinctly known to render mathematical analysis practicable, to say nothing of the complexity.
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Ohm found that the results could be summed up in such a simple law that he who runs may read it, and a schoolboy now can predict what a Faraday then could only guess at roughly. By Ohm's discovery a large part of the domain of electricity became annexed by Coulomb's discovery of the law of inverse squares, and completely annexed by Green's investigations. Poisson attacked the difficult problem of induced magnetisation, and his results, though differently expressed, are still the theory, as a most important first approximation. Ampere brought a multitude of phenomena into theory by his investigations of the mechanical forces between conductors supporting currents and magnets. Then there were the remarkable researches of Faraday, the prince of experimentalists, on electrostatics and electrodynamics and the induction of currents. These were rather long in being brought from the crude experimental state to a compact system, expressing the real essence. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Faraday was not a mathematician. It can scarcely be doubted that had he been one, he would have anticipated much later work. He would, for instance, knowing Ampere's theory, by his own results have readily been led to Neumann's theory, and the connected work of Helmholtz and Thomson. But it is perhaps too much to expect a man to be both the prince of experimentalists and a competent mathematician.
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As to the need of improvement there can be no question whilst the reign of Euclid continues. My own idea of a useful course is to begin with arithmetic, and then not Euclid but algebra. Next, not Euclid, but practical geometry, solid as well as plane; not demonstration, but to make acquaintance. Then not Euclid, but elementary vectors, conjoined with algebra, and applied to geometry. Addition first; then the scalar product. Elementary calculus should go on simultaneously, and come into vector algebraic geometry after a bit. Euclid might be an extra course for learned men, like Homer...
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Ohm (a distinguished mathematician, be it noted) brought into order a host of puzzling facts connecting electromotive force and electric current in conductors, which all previous electricians had only succeeded in loosely binding together qualitatively under some rather vague statements. Even as late as 20 years ago, "quantity" and "tension" were much used by men who did not fully appreciate Ohm's law.
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Mathematics is of two kinds, Rigorous and Physical. The former is Narrow: the latter Bold and Broad. To have to stop to formulate rigorous demonstrations would put a stop to most physico-mathematical inquiries. Am I to refuse to eat because I do not fully understand the mechanism of digestion?
Electric and magnetic forces. May they live for ever, and never be forgot, if only to remind us that the science of electromagnetics, in spite of the abstract nature of its theory, involving quantities whose nature is entirely unknown at the present, is really and truly founded on the observations of real Newtonian forces, electric and magnetic respectively.
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