Cornhill Magazine,  4 (1861), 409–20.

Force

[James Hinton]

Genre:

Essay

Subjects:

Force, Nomenclature, Popularization, Energy, Heat, Natural Law, Methodology, Creation

People mentioned:

James P Joule , William R Grove

Publications cited:

Grove 1855


    Begins by insisting that there is 'a diversity deep and broad between the natural mode of thinking and that which science suggests [...] which separates the practical and "common sense" view of things'. This division 'finds emphatic expression in the different meanings of the word force to the initiated and uninitiated mind'. (409) From a properly scientific point of view, the term force does not designate 'something which has a separate existence' (411), but rather 'the active conditions of matter, of whatever kind they may be' (412). As merely different conditions of matter, the seemingly different forces witnessed by an untrained sensibility can now be seen 'passing continually into one another', and 'We are obliged to think of the forces as one, because, in fact, they will not remain distinct' (413). The 'idea of force which science present to us', then, is that of actions 'continually shifting from one kind to another, but [remaining] essentially one [...]. Thus we grasp nature in our thought' (414). This idea of forces being part of a continual 'circle of transmutations, from one to another' (413), as well as the 'great doctrine [...] of the "conservation of force"', both of which insist on 'the constancy of nature's laws, and [...] the rational connection of all her processes' (415), together form 'the corner stone of modern science' (414). Indeed, the 'very spirit of science consists in the confidence' with which these principles can be 'applied to all cases, however vast beyond the reach of our observation, or complex beyond our power to unravel, however long the completion of the process may be deferred' (418). Because the 'absolute constancy of force' means that all natural actions must involve 'two equal and opposite actions—the ceasing of force in one relation, and its operation in another' (419), the sum of all human activity on earth 'exactly equals—none. These opposites are like plus and minus, and they make up 0'. Nevertheless, the 'discovery of the unity of force carries with it a conviction that brings harmony to our mental life [...] which nature teaches directly to the heart, [and] reveals also to the intellect', and this is that the 'manifold energies of nature, uniting into one, point to one act as their source and secret'. (420)


Reprinted:

Hinton 1871


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