Chapter I – The Individualization of Forces and the Supposed Transformation of Energy
1. The Transformations of Energy
The most elementary textbooks now teach that all the forces of nature are interchangeably transformable, and are only transformations of a single entity, viz.: energy.
In his work on The Evolution of Physics, Poincare has summed up the existing ideas as follows: —
“The physicists of the end of the 19th century were brought to consider that in all physical phenomena there occur apparitions and disappearances which are balanced by various energies. It is natural, however, to suppose that these equivalent apparitions and disappearances corresponding to transformations, and not to simultaneous creations and destructions. We thus represent energy to ourselves as taking different forms — mechanical, electric, calorific, and chemical — capable of changing one into the other, but in such a way that the quantitative value always remains the same”.
It is easy to comprehend the origin of this theory, but when we go deeper into it we discover neither the necessity nor the exactness of it. All that can be said in its favor is, that it escapes the test of experiment. It is certain that the various forms of energy appear to transform themselves, or better, that from any form of energy others can be produced. But these are merely apparent transformations like the turning of money into goods. For a 5-franc piece we obtain a meter of silk; but nobody thinks that the silver of which the coin is made transforms itself into silk. Yet a like transformation is admitted when we are assured that the friction of a rod of resin with a strip of flannel has been turned into heat and electricity. The modern theory of the equivalence and the transformation of energies seems indeed to be only an illusion arising from the fact that in order to measure them, we have chosen the same unit, viz., that of work estimated in kilogram-meters or in calories.
Under its most dissimilar forms, energy is simply defined as equivalent to a certain amount of mechanical work, and to the modern physicist energy and work have always been synonymous, although they are in reality very distinct things. We should have a very poor idea f the comparative value of a horse, a Negro, and a white man, if we confined ourselves to measuring the number of kilogram-meters that each could produce. Little can be known of things from simply measuring one of their quantitative elements. We must indeed be satisfied with such indications when others cannot be obtained; but in that case we must resign ourselves to acknowledging the insufficiency of our knowledge.
Movement, electricity, heat, etc., being evidently very different things, its seems natural to say that the different forms of energy are too dissimilar to be transformed one into another, but that the same effect may come from different causes. A motor is set in movement by various agents such as steam, electricity, manual labor, or wind, which are not akin to each other, although they produce identical effects. When movement or any kind of force produces heat, does this signify anything else than that with dissimilar means we obtain the variations of molecular equilibrium from which heat results? A transmutation such as that of movement into electricity or light would assuredly be more marvelous than that of simple bodies — of, for instance, lead into gold.
I will not dwell further on this theory, which is little in conformity with the teachings of the present day. I should even have judged it useless to formulate it if chance had not brought before my eyes a memoir by Prof Ostwald, who arrives by other roads at the same conclusion as myself. These are his words:–
“As is well known, we distinguish since Hamilton’s time two kinds of physical magnitudes — scalars and vectors. These two kinds of magnitudes are essentially different in their nature, and the one can never be represented by the other. I am persuaded that there exist a greater number of magnitudes of different kinds, and I believe I am justified in admitting that the different forms of energy are all characterized by magnitudes possessing such an individuality. Let this be confirmed, and the fact that up to the present mechanics has been unable to give a complete image of nature will appear as a necessity. Such a notion would be as precious for science as was, in its time, the notion of the individuality of chemical elements, and the modern adepts of mechanical theories, by claiming to reduce all forms of energy to mechanical energy, would no more have done useful work than did the alchemists who sought to turn lead into gold. That, in the course of such labor, all kinds of discoveries, as interesting as they were unexpected were made, is only one likeness the more to the often fertile activity of these obstinate gold-seekers”.
2. Under What Forms Energy Can Exist in Matter
I have already examined this question in my last work, and I arrived at the conclusion that the energies manifested by matter are the consequences of the movements of its elements. It must be thanks to their rapidity that matter contains a very great quantity of energy in a very small volume. It is known that the liberation of one gram of hydrogen in the decomposition of water corresponds to a production of electricity equal to 96,000 coulombs — say, an output of nearly 27 amperes an hour.
It does not appear that chemists consider in this light the manifestations of energy of which matter may be the seat. While careful to affirm that energy is in no way anything material, they treat it exactly as if it were a kind of fluid absorbed and restored by bodies as a sponge imbibes a liquid and gives it out when being squeezed. They constantly speak, in fact, of heat being absorbed or given out by a combination, and all thermochemistry is founded on the measurement of these absorptions and liberations. In reality, bodies in their transformation absorb nothing at all. When we are told that a body absorbs heat to transform itself, this simply signifies that in order to compel its elements to modify their equilibria they have had to expend energy. This energy will be restored on their return to their primary equilibria, just as a spring produces when released an amount of work, equal to that expended in its compression.
This image of a spring, rude as it may be, makes us clearly understand that the absorptions or liberations of heat by chemical compounds during their transformation are only displacements of energy following on changes of equilibrium. It will be easily recognized that a spring on its release produces a power equal to that expended to set it. It is to this elementary fact that the whole science of thermochemistry and also the principle of the conservation of energy may be referred. Carbon, the combustion of which — that is to say, its combination with oxygen — generates a quantity of heat, offers us the type of those bodies supposed to be capable of absorbing energy and then of retaining it. Chemists tell us with regard to coal that “the heat of combustion represents stored-up solar energy”. It would seem that the coal has stored heat as a reservoir stores water.
In reality, it has stored nothing during its formation; but, being a body with a strong affinity for the oxygen of the air, and producing, when in combination with it, equilibria which are accompanied by a great liberation of heat, we utilize this last to produce water-vapor, the elastic force of which sets in motion the pistons of our steam engines. If the air, instead of oxygen, had contained only nitrogen, coal would never have been considered as a storehouse of energy. It does not, in reality, contain it any more than a crowd of other bodies more abundant in nature, such as aluminum and magnesium. These metals, if not already engaged in certain combinations, would produce, by uniting with oxygen, heat as utilizable as that generated by the oxidation of carbon.
The reader who bears in mind my theory of intra-atomic energy, according to which all atoms are a colossal reservoir of energy, will no doubt object that, apart from any combination, any body whatever is thus a reservoir of forces. But these forces have not been utilized up to the present. Only molecular and not intra-atomic reactions are recognized by chemistry and commerce. They were thus the only ones we had to deal with in the preceding remarks.
Chapter II – The Changes of Equilibria of Matter and of the Ether as the Origin of Forces
1. Alterations of Level as Generators of Energy
Physicists measure forces and energy, but do not define them. For them force is simply the cause of a movement, and they evaluate its magnitude by the acceleration it produces. When a force displaces its point of application over a certain length, it gives a determined amount of work. This mechanical work being the unit with which all forms of energy are measured, the effect has finally become confused with the cause, and for many physicists work and energy have become, as has been said, synonymous. Forces form part of the irreducible elements of the universe. Not being, like time and space, comparable to anything, we cannot define them. We shall here only attempt to put in evidence a general condition of their manifestation.
All the forces of nature are generated by disturbances of equilibrium in either the ether or matter, and disappear when the disturbed equilibria are restored. Light, for instance, which is born with the vibrations of the ether, ceases with them.
Two bodies charged with heat, electricity, movement, etc., cannot, whatever be the difference of magnitude of these bodies, act on each other and produce energy, save when the elements with which they are charged are out of equilibrium. From this defect of equilibrium results what is called tension, or, again, potential. In heat, tension is represented by the difference of temperature; in electricity, by the electromotive force; in energy of movement, by the velocity; in gravity, by the drop, etc.
This break of equilibrium excites a sort of flow of energy. It takes place from the point where the tension is highest towards that where it is lowest, and continues till the equilibrium is reestablished — that is to say, until there is an equality of level between the two bodies in question. We may therefore consider as generators of energy a liquid passing from a higher to a lower level; heat passing from a hot to a cold body; electricity flowing from a body with a high potential to one with a low potential; movement transmitted from a body animated by velocity to another with less velocity, etc. Thus energy depends on the state of the bodies in presence. There is only an exchange between them if they are out of equilibrium — that is to say, if they possess different tensions. One of the bodies present then loses something which it yields to the other until their tensions are equalized. In order that they may then generate a new quantity of energy, they must be put in presence of a third body, which is out of equilibrium with them.
Generally speaking, that which substances yield up to each other during these exchanges are forms of movement. All the modes of energy are known and measured by these movements.
According to the media in which the disturbances of equilibrium manifest themselves, and according to their form, they are termed heat, electricity, light, etc.
The disturbances of equilibrium which generate forces are themselves the consequence of other disturbances. They follow, by substituting themselves for, on another, which is why a force only appears at the expense of another force, which is at the same time annulled.
Taking these facts as starting point, we could formulate in the following way the principle of the conservation of energy. In a closed system and equilibrium cannot be destroyed without being replaced by another equivalent form of equilibrium. These things happen as if all the elements of the universe were related to each other in such a way as to constitute a sort of articulate system. Nothing, however, indicates that the universe is a closed system, and the fact that energy is always degraded when transformed — that is to say, becomes less and less utilizable — seems to show that the springs of our supposed articulate system cannot work without losing something.
This essential notion of the disturbance of equilibrium as the origin of energy may be put in evidence by a few examples. Let us place on the same level two receptacles full of water and connected by a tube. Being in equilibrium they cannot produce any energy. Raise one of the receptacles above the other, and the equilibrium of their contents is at once disturbed, and part of the liquid flows from the higher to the lower receptacle until the equilibrium is again established. During this interruption, and only while it lasts, will the water be able to do work — to lift a piston, for example.
It is exactly the same with heat, electricity, or any other energy. Two bodies heated to the same temperature represent two reservoirs on the same level, or two equal weights on the scale-pans of a balance, and there results from this no manifestation of energy. If, on the contrary, the temperature of one of the bodies is lower than that of the other, there will be a disturbance of equilibrium and a production of energy until the two bodies arrive at the same calorific level.
It is the same with electricity. There can be no production of electrical energy without an interruption of equilibrium. Whatever the quantity of electricity with which we charge a body, it will produce no energy if it be in relation with another at the same potential — that is to say, at the same electrical level.
Our instruments of measurement — thermometers, galvanometers, manometers, etc., simply indicate energetic differences of level, to which we give the names of temperature, pressure, voltage, etc., existing between some source of energy and an arbitrary zero taken as point of reference. If the bulb of a thermometer were at the temperature of the source to be measured — that is to say, in equilibrium with it — it is evident that the column of mercury would remain motionless. What a voltmeter measures is likewise the difference of level between a source of electricity and itself. Our instruments, like our senses, are only sensitive to differences.
Thus, then, without an alteration of level of the ether of matter there can be no possible manifestation of energy. If the sun possesses throughout its mass a uniform temperature of 6000 degrees, and there could exist in it beings capable of supporting that heat, it would represent to them no energy. Having no cold bodies at their disposal, they could produce no fall of heat, a condition indispensable for the production of thermal energy.
Let us now suppose that, instead of finding themselves at a uniform temperature of 6000 degrees, these imaginary beings live in a world of ice at the uniform temperature of zero, but possess in a corner of their world still colder an unlimited provision of liquid air. Contrary to those plunged in a medium at 6000 degrees, they would find in the blocks of ice around them a considerable source of energy. By plunging these latter, in fact, into the liquid air at 180 degrees, they would obtain a considerable alteration of temperature. At the contact of the ice, which is to liquid air a very hot body, this latter would immediately boil, and its vapor could be employed to put motors in operation. The inhabitants of that world would therefore replace the coal of our steam engine by blocks of ice, which they would consider, certainly with more reason than we do coal, reservoirs of energy.
With this ice and this liquid air, it would be very easy for them to produce the highest temperatures. The tension of the vapor obtained could be employed, in fact, to drive dynamos, by means of which can be obtained electric currents capable of producing temperatures sufficient to fuse and volatilize all metals.
That which has just been said concerning interruptions of equilibrium as the condition of the production of energy, applies to all its forms, including that possessed by bodies in motion. It can only be born from the encounter of bodies not having the same tension — that is to say, the same velocity — and which cannot therefore be put in equilibrium. If the hunter’s bullet kills the animal flying before him, it is because the velocities of the two are different. If these were equal, the bullet would evidently have no effect. Equalities of velocity render manifestations of kinetic energy impossible.
The locomotive, notwithstanding its mass, can do nothing to the fly which hovers in front of it at the same rate of speed. The effects of masses, endowed with kinetic energy, on the bodies they meet, result solely from the inertia of matter, which prevents its instantaneously adopting the velocity of the elements which act upon it. If bodies were not possessed of inertia — that is to say, of resistance to movement — they would simply take the velocity of the masses striking them, and would not be destroyed by them.
Kinetic energy, therefore, on final analysis, represents movement which passes or tends to pass from one body to another. It is the same, moreover, with thermal energy. It manifests itself by molecular movements from a heated body to the elements of a cold body, the movements of which have less velocity. It is always movement which is transmitted in order to make itself equal with another movement, and to be in equilibrium with it.
Into the disturbances of equilibrium which I have invoked in order to explain the origin of energy, the notion of quantity has not entered. The quantity of heat, electricity, movement, or gravity possessed by the bodies put in motion matters little. They will only act on each other if the movement, the electricity, or the heat, with which they are charged, have different tensions. Whether one or one hundred kilograms are placed in the two pans of a balance, it will remain motionless as long as there is no difference between the two weights. All the manifestations of energy are subject to the same law. Bodies in the presence of each other can, I repeat, only yield something to one another if they are at different tensions.
Differences of tension — that is to say, of equilibrium– are the first condition of all productions of energy, but the magnitude of this energy results evidently from the masses brought into play by the differences of tension. It is evident that a weight of 100 kilograms falling from a height of 100 meters will produce more energy than 1 kilogram falling from the same height. The magnitude of the energy is therefore necessarily represented by the product of two factors — quantity and tension. Tension represents a difference of level. Whether applied to very great or very small masses, it is the fundamental condition of the production of energy.
We see, finally, that all the forms of energy are transitory effects resulting from the interruption of equilibrium between several magnitudes — weight, heat, electricity, or velocity. It is therefore quite erroneous to speak of energy as a kind of entity having a real existence analogous to that of matter. The considerations just set forth allow is to imagine a world the physicists of which would accept the second principle of thermodynamics, but would reject the first — that is to say, that of the conservation of energy. Let us suppose a universe with an invariable temperature where the sole source of energy known is that of the waterfalls coming from immense lakes situated on mountain tops, such as one sometimes meets with in different regions of the earth. The learned men of such a work would no doubt have discovered pretty quickly the possibility of converting into heat, light, and electricity the energy of these waterfalls, but they would also have established by experiment that they could not without enormous leakage restore the water to its original level with the forces produced by its own flow. They would thus be led to believe that energy is a thing which is used up and lost, and that the energy of their world would be exhausted when all the water of the lakes should have descended to the plains.
2. Of What Elements the Entity Called Energy are Composed
It may be objected to the preceeding remarks, that it is not because a thing does not produce any effect that it does not exist. A weight held up by a thread is still a weight. Heat not in action is still heat; a force annulled by the action of another force does not on that account lose its existence. But when we reflect on the phenomena called heat, gravity, electricity, etc., we recognize that they are only known and measured as disturbances of equilibrium, and have, outside of these disturbances, no existence verifiable by our senses or instruments. Heat produces kinetic energy by its fall; but heat which does not change its level is no more energy than the tile fixed on a roof. No doubt the sun warms us, and there we see an energy which seems to be quite independent and to have an existence of its own. And yet all the energy produced results solely from a difference of temperature — that is to say, of equilibrium — between the caloric effects of the rays emitted by the star which warms us and the bodies which receive them. Let any body at the same heat as itself be brought as near as you please to the sun, and there will be no possible exchange of what we call caloric energy.
Physicists argue, moreover, exactly as if they admitted all this. They are fully aware that there must be alterations of level to effect work, and that no work can be manifested when the alteration of level has ceased. But as it would be possible to produce a flow of energy with a fresh alteration of level, they assert that this energy which is not manifested exists in a potential state.
All these concepts of potential energy, unusable energy, degraded energy, etc., are the consequences of a confusion of ideas, according to which energy is a sort of substance of which the existence is as real as that of matter. This invisible entity, the secret mover of things, is supposed to circulate unceasingly through the universe by constantly transforming itself. This hypothesis was, moreover, necessary when matter was believed to be an aggregate of inert elements only able to restore the energy it received, and incapable of creating any. Something was indeed necessary to animate it, and it was that something which constituted energy.
If this mysterious entity was necessary for the epoch when a superior cause had to be imagined for the animation of inert matter, its existence has no object at the present day. Instead of imagining an unexplained power perpetually circulating through the world without ever being exhausted, I say: —
At the origin of things there was condensed in matter, under the form of movement of its elements, an enormous but yet limited quantity of energy. This phase of concentration was followed by a period of expenditure of the accumulated energies, on which the sun and analogous stars have now entered. The disintegration of their atoms is the origin of all the natural forces now utilized. These atoms form an immense reservoir, but one which must inevitably exhaust itself. Then that which we call energy will, like matter, have disappeared forever.
By thus reasoning we only appeal to conceivable phenomena. Our explanation brings us to the brief enunciation of a limited provision of forces stored up in matter at the time of its formation, which produce, when this last disintegrates, different energies having only momentary existence. This is very simple, whereas the entity, supposed to be immortal, termed energy is completely incomprehensible. Science has not driven forth the gods from their ancient empire to replace them by metaphysical processes still more unintelligible than they.
Chapter III – The Evolution of the Cosmos — Origin of Matter and of the Forces of the Universe
1. The Origin of Matter
The origin of things and their end are the two great mysteries of the universe which have cost religions, philosophies, and science the most meditation and thought. As these mysteries appear unfathomable, many thinkers turn away from them. But the human mind has never resigned itself to ignorance. It invents chimeras when it is refused explanations, and these chimeras soon become its masters.
Science has not yet lighted torches capable of illuminating the darkness which envelops our past and veils the future. It is able, however, to project some beams into this deep night.
If everything proceeds from the ether and afterwards returns to it, we are forced to inquire first of all how a substance so immaterial can transform itself into heavy and rigid bodies, such as a rock or a block of metal.
The ideas I have set forth on the structure of matter allow us in some degree to understand this and to deduce from them the following theory: —
Bodies are constituted by a collection of atoms, each composed of an aggregate of rotating particles, probably formed by vortices of ether. By reason of their velocity these particles possess an enormous kinetic energy. According to the way in which their equilibria are disturbed they generate different forces — heat, light, electricity, etc.
It is probable that matter owes its rigidity only to the rapidity of the rotary motion of its elements, and that if this movement stopped it would instantaneously vanish into ether without leaving a trace behind. Gaseous vortices, animated by a rapidity of rotation on the order of that of the cathode rays, would in all probability become as hard as steel. This experiment is not realizable, but we can imagine its results by noting the considerable rigidity which is acquired by a fluid animated by great velocity.
Experiments made in hydroelectric factories have shown that a liquid column only 2 centimeters in diameter, falling through a tube of the height of 500 meters, cannot be broken into by a violent blow from a saber. The arm is stopped as if by a wall when it arrives at the surface of the liquid. Prof. Bernard Brunbes, who witnessed this experiment, is persuaded that if the velocity of the liquid column were sufficient a cannon ball would not go through it. A layer of water a few centimeters thick, animated by a sufficient velocity, would be as impenetrable to shells as the steel plates of an ironclad.
Lat us give to the above column of water the form of a vortex ring, and we shall get an image of the particles of mater and the explanation of its rigidity.
This enables us to understand how the immaterial ether, when transformed into small vortex-rings animated by sufficient velocity, may become very material. It will also be understood that, if these whirling movements were stopped, matter would instantaneously vanish by return to the ether.
Matter, which seems to give us the image of stability and repose, only exists, then, by reason of the rapidity of the rotary movement of its particles. Matter is velocity, and, as a substance animated by velocity is also energy, matter may be considered a particular form of energy.
Velocity being the fundamental condition of the existence of matter, we may say that this last is born so soon as the vortex rings of the ether have acquired, by reason of their increasing condensation, a rapidity sufficient to give them rigidity. Matter grows old when the speed of its elements slackens. It will cease to exist so soon as its particles lose their movement.
We are therefore brought to this first essential notion: Particles of a substance, however minute we may imagine them to be, may, by the sole fact of their velocity, acquire a very great rigidity and become transformed into matter. Let us now examine how, with these two elements, particles of ether and velocity, it is possible to understand the genesis of a universe.
2. The Formation of a Solar System
The fist scientific theory on the origin of the world was, as we know, formulated by Kant and developed by Laplace. According to this last, our solar system with its retinue of planets must be derived from a primal nebula similar to those observed in space. Agglomerated under the influence of gravitation, which would thus be the primitive force, it formed a central globe animated with a movement of rotation, whose particles by constant attraction have drawn closer and closer together.
By reason of the increasing rapidity of its rotation, following on its condensation, this first nucleus of the sun became flattened, and at a certain moment there were detached from it by centrifugal force rings similar to those existing round Saturn.
Continuing their movement of rotation, these rings finally, still under the influence of centrifugal force, broke into fragments. From these fragments, projected into space, were born the planets which revolve round the sun. Incandescent at first like this last, but cooling relatively quickly by reason of their small volume, they at length became inhabitable by living beings.
Laplace stopped his investigation at the cooled planet, and did not busy himself wither with the elements which formed it nor with those which might enter into the constitution of other solar systems.
It is now possible to go further, and to apply to atoms the laws which seem to have presided at the birth and formation of our universe.
It is now admitted that atoms are formed of numerous particles revolving round one or several masses with a velocity of the order of light. The atom may therefore be compared to a sun surrounded by its retinue of planets. Its small size does not prevent such a comparison. In an immensity without limits extreme littleness does not sensibly differ from extreme greatness. Beings sufficiently small would consider the planetary system formed by the elements of an atom as important as are to us the gigantic stars of which astronomy observes the march.
In the study of the evolution of worlds it is today easy to go, as has been said above, far beyond Laplace. No one could suspect in his time that spectrum analysis would make known the composition of the sun, and would reveal therein elements identical with those of our globe — an evident proof that the terrestrial elements are derived from those of the sun.
Spectrum analysis has, moreover, enabled us to follow the genesis of the elements which compose the various worlds. The variation of the spectra of the stars in the red and the ultraviolet regions indicates their temperature, and consequently their relative age; while the other spectral rays make known their composition. We have thus determined the bodies appearing in the stars with the variations of temperature corresponding to different phases of evolution. In the youngest stars — that is to say, the hottest — there hardly exists anything but a few gases, principally hydrogen; then, as these stars become cooler, there successively appear the simple bodies we know, beginning with those of the lowest atomic weight.
Since astronomy has learnt to fix by photography the image of the stars, it has established that their number is much larger than it once thought. It now estimates at more than 400 millions the number of luminous stars, planets, and nebulae existing in the firmament, without speaking, naturally, of those that are invisible and consequently unknown. Spectrum analysis shows that they are at very different stages of evolution. Their past must be of fearful length, since geologists estimate the existence of our planet at several hundred million years.
During these accumulations of ages unknown to history, the millions of stars with which space is peopled must have begun or ended cycles of evolution analogous to that now pursued by our globe. Worlds peopled like ours, covered with flourishing cities filled with the marvels of science and the arts, must have emerged from eternal night and returned thereto without leaving a trace behind them. The pale nebulae with shadowy forms represent perhaps the last vestiges of worlds about to vanish into nothingness or to become the nuclei of a new universe.
How can the worlds undergo the phase of descending evolution succeeding that of ascending evolution briefly pointed out in this chapter? This we shall soon study.
We will especially bear in mind from what has been said that the transformations revealed by observation of the stars point out the general march of the evolution of worlds. It is always enclosed in that fatal cycle of things — birth, growth, decline and death.
Whether it is the transformation of worlds or that of the beings living on their surface that is the question, slowness is always the law of evolution. In order to succeed in forming beings gifted with the small amount of intelligence possessed by man, nature has caused to evolve through thousands of centuries the animal forms which preceded him. Her transformations are only realized at the cost of very slow efforts. She cannot create a world in seven days like the god of early legends. If mighty divinities reign in some distant region, they are not sovereign divinities, for Time dominates them, and they can do nothing without him.
3. Molecular and Intra-Atomic Energies
In order to avoid all confusion in what is to follow, we must first clearly separate molecular from intra-atomic energies. These are probably close relations between them.
Molecular energies are the only ones hitherto known to science. They generate cohesion, affinity, and chemical combinations and decompositions. The manifestations of intra-atomic energy sometimes accompany them, as in the phenomena of incandescence, but they formerly escaped all investigation.
It is solely to molecular energies that the laws of thermodynamics and of thermochemistry have been applied. They always come back to this: A material body can emit no energy but that which it has first received.
The forces manifested in all chemical and industrial operations represent simply restitutions or displacements of energy; and it is conceived that, under such conditions, the quantity of this last remains invariable. These operations are identical with those effected by the introduction into reservoirs of various shapes of a certain quantity of water contained in another reservoir. This substitution naturally does not change the weight of the liquid.
Science, then, has only examined those intra-molecular energies with which bodies can be charged. This study has led to matter being considered as entirely distinct from energy, and simply serving as its support. Matter, when heated or electrified, could indeed absorb energy; but it restored this borrowed energy afterwards, as a sponge does the water it has absorbed, without ever increasing its quantity.
Matter being only the support of energy, we seemed perfectly justified in establishing a difference profound and, as it was thought, irreducible between matter and energy.
4. Intra-Atomic Energy as the Source of the Forces of the Universe
The readers of my last work know how I sought to cause this great dichotomy to disappear by showing that matter, far from only being able to restore the energy borrowed by it from without, is, on the contrary, a colossal reservoir of forces. It is itself only a particular form of energy characterized by its relative fixity and its concentration in immense quantity but in small volume. The energy accumulated in 1 gram of any matter represents as much as about 3 billion kilograms of coal. I showed finally that this intra-atomic energy was the source of solar heat, of electricity, and of most of the forces of the universe.
Intra-atomic energy is, moreover, very stable or the world would long ago have vanished. It is even so sable that chemists considered the aggregation of energy called matter to be absolutely indestructible. We have now learnt to dissociate matter, but only in extremely feeble quantities. It may, however, be hoped that the science of the future will find means to disaggregate it more thoroughly. It will then have at its disposal an immense source of forces. I have shown in my former work that by artificial means very stable bodies can be rendered — surface for surface — 40 times more radioactive than substances spontaneously dissociable, such as uranium.
The study of intra-atomic energy, which is now only beginning, has enabled us to penetrate into an entirely new world where the ancient laws of chemistry and of physics are no longer applicable. One of the most important of these differences is the following: —
In handling intra-atomic energy we can only draw from an isolated material system a quantity of energy at the most equal and never superior to the amount primarily supplied to it. In the manifestations of intra-atomic energy, we observe just the contrary. Matter is able to liberate spontaneously large quantities of energy either without any aid from without, as is seen in highly radioactive bodies such as uranium and radium, or under such feeble influences as a ray of light. With a very minute quantity of energy we can therefore produce a very large quantity, which fact is contrary to principles formerly considered indestructible.
When seeking, in my previous work, for the causes of solar heat and of the incandescence of the nocturnal stars, I showed that intra-atomic energy greater than that which exists on the cooled globes ought to suffice for the maintenance of these stars’ temperature. Studying subsequently the properties of the emissions from the isolated poles of an electrical machine, I showed their identity with the products of dissociation of radioactive bodies. Electricity might, then, be considered as one of the manifestations of intra-atomic energy. And it is thus that its part in natural phenomena, so unsuspected a few years ago, appeared to me entirely preponderant. Our sun, in the phase of the world into which it has entered, only expends the energies accumulated by its atoms during an earlier phase of concentration.
This dissociation of the provision of intra-atomic energy accumulated in matter at the commencement of things explains the origin of the forces of the universe. At those far-off epochs of the chaos of our solar system of which the nebulae show a confused image, the ether slowly condensed. The localized vortices of ether, forming probably the primitive elements of matter, accumulated by the increasing velocity of their rotation the intra-atomic energy of which we note the existence. To the phase of concentration succeeded, later on, a phase of dissociation. Our universe has entered upon a new cycle and the energy slowly accumulated in the atom has commenced to liberate itself by reason of its dissociation. The solar heat, whence is derived the greater part of the energies of which we make use, represents the most important manifestation of this dissociation.
Although this provision of intra-atomic energy is immense, it is not infinite, and its emission, consequently, cannot last forever. The planets surrounding the stars have cooled because this energy is reduced. The sun itself must be subject to the same law. When its intra-atomic energy has been dissipated, it will cease to light the planets around it, and the earth will become uninhabitable, unless science discovers the means of easily liberating the immense quantity of intra-atomic energy still contained in matter. But even should its succeed in this, it will but retard the repose, since the provision of intra-atomic energy is limited.
Thus, then, the sun, the generator of most of the terrestrial energies, only expends the forces slowly accumulated in matter at the epoch when within the primordial clouds of the ether the atoms stored up the energies they were one day to restore.
How can this intra-atomic energy, the source of solar heat, electricity, and most of the forces of the universe, be dissociated and lost? We will new examine this point.
Chapter IV – The Vanishing of Energy and the End of Our Universe
1. The Old Age of Energy and the Vanishing of Forces
We have just seen that intra-atomic energy is a limited magnitude, which is reduced day by day. How can it be lost? Having already treated this question in my last work, I will only summarize what I have already there explained.
To say how matter finally vanishes is to explain how forces vanish, since matter is a special form of energy, only differing from others by its relative fixity and its very great concentration in a very feeble volume.
I have shown that one of the most constant products of the dissociation of matter was the so-called particle of electricity, deprived, according to the last researches, of all material support, and considered as constituted solely by a vortex-ring of ether.
The experiments previously described have shown that these particles emit lines of force, and are always accompanied in their various manifestations by those vibrations of the ether called Hertzian waves, radiant heat, visible light, invisible ultraviolet light, etc.. These vibrations represent for us the vanishing phase of the elements of the atom and the energies of which they are the seat.
How can the vortex-rings of ether and the energies generated by them lose their individuality and vanish into the ether? The question reduces itself to this: How can a vortex formed in a fluid disappear into this fluid by causing vibrations in it?
Stated in this form the solution of the problem is fairly simple. It can be easily seen, in fact, how a vortex generated at the expense of a liquid can, when its equilibrium is disturbed, vanish in spite of its theoretical rigidity by radiating away the energy it contains under the form of vibrations of the medium in which it is plunged. It is in this way, for instance, that a waterspout formed by a whirl of liquid loses its existence and disappears in the ocean.
In the same manner, doubtless, the whirls of ether constituting the elements of atoms can transform themselves into vibration of the ether. These last represent the final stage of the dematerialization of matter and of its transformation into energy before its final disappearance.
Thus, then, when the atoms have radiated all their energy in the form of luminous caloric, or other vibrations, they return, by the very fact of these radiations following on their dissociation, to the primitive ether whence they came. Matter and energy have returned to the nothingness of things, like the wave into the ocean.
The defenders of the postulate of the conservation of energy will evidently answer to the above, that energy being, by the hypothesis, supposed to be indestructible, by vanishing into the ether is not lost, and remains in the potential state, drowned in its immensity. Thus regarded, the theory of the conservation of energy evidently represents nothing but an unverifiable conception, especially created by our desire to believe that there exists in the universe something immortal. Not wishing to consent to being only a flash in the infinite, we dream of a movement that shall last forever.
But even if, in accordance with the preceding hypothesis, energy should continue to circulate in some form or other in space, yet, cast forth from the sphere of our universe, it would no longer forma part of it, and in one way or another the energy of the universe would have vanished. It is to this point, which is moreover fundamental, that we limit our demonstration.
It does not seem at first sight very comprehensible that worlds which appear more and more stable as they cool could become so unstable as to afterwards dissociate entirely. To explain this phenomenon we will inquire whether astronomical observations do not allow us to witness this dissociation.
We know that the stability of a body in motion, such as a top or a bicycle, ceases to be possible when its velocity of rotation descends below a certain limit. Once this limit is reached it loses its stability and falls to the ground. Prof J.J. Thomson even interprets radioactivity in this manner, and points out that when the speed of rotation of the elements composing the atoms descends below a certain limit they become unstable and tend to lose their equilibrium. There would result from this a commencement of dissociation with diminution of their potential energy, and a corresponding increase of their kinetic energy sufficient to launch into space the products of intra-atomic disintegration.
It must not be forgotten that the atom being an enormous reservoir of energy is by this very fact comparable with explosive bodies. These last remain inert so long as their internal equilibria are not disturbed. So soon as some cause or other modifies these, they explode and smash everything around them after being themselves broken to pieces.
Atoms therefore which grow old in consequence of the diminution of a part of their intra-atomic energy gradually lose their stability. A moment then arrives when this stability is so weak that the matter disappears by a sort of explosion more or less rapid. The bodies of the radium group offer an image of this phenomenon — a rather faint image, however, because the atoms of this body have only reached a period of instability when the dissociation is rather slow. It probably precedes another and more rapid period of dissociation capable of producing their final explosion. Bodies such as radium, thorium, etc., represent no doubt a state of old age at which all bodies must arrive some day, and which they already begin to manifest in our universe, since all matter is slightly radioactive. It would suffice for the dissociation to be fairly general and fairly rapid for an explosion to occur in a world where it was manifested.
These theoretical considerations find a solid support in the sudden appearances and disappearances of stars. The explosions of a world which produces them reveal to us, perhaps, how the universes perish when they become old.
As astronomical observations show the relative *** these rapid destructions, we may ask ourselves whether the end of a universe by a sudden explosion after a long period of old age does not represent its most general ending. These abrupt annihilations manifest themselves as the sudden apparition in the heavens of an incandescent star, which pales and vanishes sometimes in a few days, leaving generally no trace behind it, or at most a faint nebula.
When the new star first appears, its spectrum, at first analogous to that of the sun, proves that it contains metals similar to those of our solar system. Then, in a short time, the spectrum is transformed, and becomes finally that of the planetary nebulae — that is, it only contains rays of a few simple elements, some of which are unknown. It is therefore evident that the atoms of the temporary star have been rapidly and profoundly transformed. This downward evolution is the converse of that indicated in the upward evolution of stars. These contain, when very hot, simple elements which become more and more complicated and numerous as they continue to cool.
These transitory stars, resulting no doubt from the sudden explosion of a world accompanied by the disintegration of its atoms, are not rare. Hardly a year passes without some being observed either directly or by the study of photographic plates. One of the most remarkable was the one recently observed in the constellation of Perseus. In a few days it attained a brilliancy which made it the most brilliant star in the sky; but 24 hours later it began to pale, its spectrum was slowly transformed, and became, as said before, that of the planetary nebula — an evident proof, I repeat, of atomic dissociation. At the very moment when this transformation was taking place, photographs of long exposure showed nebulous masses round the star, produced no doubt by atomic dissociation, which rapidly left it behind at a speed of the order of light — that is to say, analogous to that of the Beta particles emitted by radioactive bodies when disintegrating. The astronomers were, then, enabled to be present at the rapid destruction of a world.
2. Summary of the Doctrine of the vanishing of Forces and Discussion of Objections
The account of the general evolution of worlds to which this and the preceding chapter have been devoted, includes facts of experiment or of observation which I have endeavored to connect by hypotheses. I will sum up this account by a recapitulation showing the different phases of evolution of a system analogous to ours and to those which continue to be born and transformed in the firmament.
3. The Periods of Evolution of a World
(1) Phase of Chaos or of the Birth of Energy — Formation, by the action of gravitation or of unknown causes, of clouds and ether. Under their influence inequalities are established whence result differences of potential. The ether condenses into scattered particles which assume the form of vortex-rings. Animated at first by rather slow movements, they contain but very little energy.
(2) Phase of Nebulae or of Concentration of Energy — The whirls of ether accelerate their movements. Thence attractions result which agglomerate them into nuclei, the future germs of matter. A general concentration of the mass is established. A nebula is formed, vague at first in shape, which ends by becoming spherical, and will eventually be the origin of a solar system. In proportion as the particles of this mass condense, the ether-whirls precipitate their movements, agglomerate and form the nuclei of atoms which, by reason of the increasing rapidity of their rotation, become more and more saturated with energy.
(3) Phase of Stellar Incandescence or of Expenditure of Energy — This phase is that of the formation of a sun and analogous stars. By continuous condensation, the atoms have finally acquired a quantity of intra-atomic energy which they can no longer contain and therefore radiate in the form of heat, light, or various forms of electricity, of which heat is perhaps only a secondary manifestation. The temperature of the orb is excessive. The future atoms are not yet individualized.
(4) Phase of the Commencement of Stellar Refrigeration and of the Individualization of Matter — By reason of the continuity of its radiation, the temperature of the orb becomes lower, although it still remains incandescent. The elements of the atoms form new equilibria, and give birth to the various simple bodies which differentiate and multiply in proportion as the cooling of the star increases.
(5) Phase of Planets, or of Refrigeration and of the Equilibrium of Intra-Atomic Energy — The planets, detached by the centrifugal force of the central sun round which they continue to revolve, become cooler by reason of the relative smallness of their volume, and finally reach a temperature low enough for life to be possible on their surface. The energies accumulated in the form of matter have attained a phase of stable equilibrium. Fixity succeeds to mobility. The worlds are about to become inhabitable for long series of ages.
(6) Phase of Final Dissociation of Intra-Atomic Energy and Return of the World to the Ether — While maintaining themselves in equilibrium for long centuries, the atoms have not ceased to radiate slightly, and in consequence of this radiation and of the reduction of the speed of rotation of their elements which ensues, they lose some of their stability. Then commences a period of disaggregation, which increases very quickly in proportion as the stability of the intra-atomic elements decreases. Progressive at first, it afterwards becomes instantaneous; at a certain period of old age, the elements return to the ether whence they came.
To this period of final destruction succeeds, perhaps, in the course of ages, a new cycle of birth and of evolution, without its being possible to assign a term to these destructions and recommencements, probably eternal (1).
[(1) The above rather reminds one of the “retour eternal” of Nietzsche; it is an hypothesis, moreover, void of importance, which I formulated long before that author, as Prof. Lichtenberger recalls in a book devoted to the doctrines of the philosopher.]
The above account, deduced from researches related in my preceding volume, may be summarized in a few lines. I borrow these from one of the scholars who have had the kindness to analyze my doctrine:–
“We imagine the world to be formed at first of diffuse atoms of ether which, under the action of unknown forces, have stored up energy. This energy, one of the forms of which is matter, dissociates and appears in various forms — electricity, heat, etc., so as to bring matter back to ether. ‘Nothing is created’ signifies that we cannot create matter. ‘Everything is lost’ means that matter disappears entirely, as does matter by its return to the ether. The cycle is therefore complete. There are two phases in the history of the world: 1, Condensation of energy under the form of matter; 2, Expenditure of this energy”.
This conception of the concentration of energy at the origin of a world and of its expenditure in a subsequent phase of its existence has been disputed by a distinguished physicist, M. Bernard Brunhes, in a recent memoir. The following is the objection he makes to it: —
“The concentration of cosmic matter and the dissociation of matter are two phenomena which appeared opposed to each other, but which possess a common characteristic. Both liberate heat and correspond to a degradation of energy. Be therefore assured that if any radioactive body whatever has been produced which has stored up an enormous provision of reserve energy, it is by favor of a still greater degradation of energy… Matter which dissociates at the end of transformations which seem to bring it back to the starting point will have undergone a definite loss of utilizable energy”.
The above exception is supported by the principle of Carnot; but a principle applicable to the downward phase of evolution is not necessarily applicable to its earlier upward phase.
The illustrious mathematician Maxwell had already shown by a much bolder hypothesis than mine — since it implies the existence of very subtle demons — how the principle of Carnot might be violated and the course of things retraced. We must wait till we are better acquainted with the laws of nature before supposing that she has not found out the means of bringing out of the gloomy void of the ether the forces condensed in the atom. If hypotheses analogous to mine are rejected, we must return to that of a creator drawing forth worlds from his will — that is to say, from a nothing much more mysterious still than the substratum from which I have endeavored to raise them. The gods having been eliminated from nature, where our ignorance alone had placed them, we must try to explain things without them. Evidently since the dawn of geological times, phenomena seem to have always evolved in accordance with the second law of thermodynamics; but this law is, I repeat, one of the period of the wearing out of a universe and not of the ages during which the energies now expended were condensed — since we must admit that our solar system has had a beginning like all the analogous systems of which astronomy has noted the evolution. It is likewise necessary to admit that a concentration of energy was first formed. N. Brunhes, moreover, himself recognizes this in a passage of his memoir, which constitutes the best answer I can make to him: —
“There is no inconsequence in imagining that the present period of degradation has been preceded and may be followed by periods in which the energy utilizable may increase instead of diminishing”.
It is, moreover, as the same author points out, at a similar conclusion that Boltzmann arrived in his great work on the theory of gases. The march of the world in the direction opposed to the present evolution no longer appears to him as an absolute impossibility, but simply as a very faint probability which may nevertheless have been realized during the succession of ages.
It is to these brief and uncertain notions that all we can say regarding the evolution of the worlds in the infinite duration of time is reduced. We will now leave these mysterious regions to return to those in which experiments can serve as a guide. The study of the actions of light on a fragment of metal, which was the origin of my researches, led me into very different fields of physics. I will now conduct the reader into these, and examine a few new problems.
As the general conclusion of this first part of my work, I shall formulate the following proposition: —
Energy is not indestructible. It is unceasingly consumed, and tends to vanish like the matter which represents one of its forms.