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Consciousness, Physics, and the Holographic Paradigm

Essays and Shadowless Poetry by Alan T. Williams

A problem, founded on the physical truth of nature, is stated, and, being stated, is on the way to its solution.
(Faraday's emphasis, June 1858)


Introduction:  Michael Faraday wrote this June 1858 paper as an addendum to his article On the Conservation of Force in response to the unexpected professional disagreement and separation from Faraday and Faraday's novel interpretation of his electric and magnetic experimental results expressed in Clerk Maxwell's letter dated 9 November 1857. Clearly, Faraday has a 40-year experimental and written record of advocating a bifurcated material/immaterial foundation of physics while the young mathematician, James Clerk Maxwell, limited himself to the Newtonian mechanics and material physics mathematically described by Laplace, Hamilton, and his mentor, William Thomson.

Faraday's article, On the Conservation of Force, was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Institution on 27 February 1857.

Addendum *

by Michael Faraday

    During the year that has passed since the publication of the preceding views regarding gravitation, &c., I have come to the knowledge of various observations upon them, some adverse, others favourable; these have given me no reason to change my own mode of viewing the subject, but some of them make me think that I have not stated the matter with sufficient precision. The word "force" is understood by many to mean simply "the tendency of a body to pass from one place to another," which is equivalent, I suppose, to the phrase "mechanical force;" those who so restrain its meaning must have found my argument very obscure. What I mean by the word "force," is the cause of a physical action; the source or sources of all possible changes amongst the particles or materials of the universe.

    It seems to me that the idea of the conservation of force is absolutely independent of any notion we may form of the nature of force or its varieties, and is as sure and may be as firmly held in mind, as if we, instead of being very ignorant, understood perfectly every point about the cause of force and the varied effects it can produce. There may be perfectly distinct and separate causes of what are called chemical actions, or electrical actions, or gravitating actions, constituting so many forces; but if the "conservation of force" is a good and true principle, each of these forces must be subject to it:  none can vary in its absolute amount; each must be definite at all times, whether for a particle, or for all the particles in the universe; and the sum also of the three forces must be equally unchangeable. Or, there may be but one cause for these three sets of actions, and in place of three forces we may really have but one, convertible in its manifestations; then the proportions between one set of actions and another, as the chemical and the electrical, may become very variable, so as to be utterly inconsistent with the idea of the conservation of two separate forces (the electrical and the chemical), but perfectly consistent with the conservation of a force being the common cause of the two or more sets of action.

    It is perfectly true that we cannot always trace a force by its actions, though we admit its conservation. Oxygen and hydrogen may remain mixed for years without showing any signs of chemical activity; they may be made at any given instant to exhibit active results, and then assume a new state, in which again they appear as passive bodies. Now, though we cannot clearly explain what the chemical force is doing, that is to say, what are its effects during the three periods before, at, and after the active combination, and only by very vague assumption can approach to a feeble conception of its respective states, yet we do not suppose the creation of a new portion of force for the active moment of time, or the less believe that the forces belonging to the oxygen and hydrogen exist unchanged in their amount at all these periods, though varying in their results. A part may at the active moment be thrown off as mechanical force, a part as radiant force, a part disposed of we know not how; but believing, by the principle of conservation, that it is not increased or destroyed, our thoughts are directed to search out what at all and every period it is doing, and how it is to be recognized and measured. A problem, founded on the physical truth of nature, is stated, and, being stated, is on the way to its solution.

    Those who admit the possibility of the common origin of all physical force, and also acknowledge the principle of conservation, apply that principle to the sum total of the force. Though the amount of mechanical force (using habitual language for convenience sake) may remain unchanged and definite in its character for a long time, yet when, as in the collision of two equal inelastic bodies, it appears to be lost, they find it in the form of heat and whether they admit that heat to be a continued mechanical action (as is most probable), or assume some other idea, as that of electricity, or action of a heat-fluid, still they hold to the principle of conservation by admitting that the sum of force, i.e., of the "cause of action," is the same, whatever character the effects assume. With them the convertibility of heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical action and motion is a familiar thought; neither can I perceive any reason why they should be led to exclude, a priori, the cause of gravitation from association with the cause of these other phenomena respectively. All that they are limited by in their various investigations, whatever directions they may take, is the necessity of making no assumption directly contradictory of the conservation of force applied to the sum of all the forces concerned, and to endeavour to discover the different directions in which the various parts of the total force have been exerted.

    Those who admit separate forces inter-unchangeable, have to show that each of these forces is separately subject to the principle of conservation. If gravitation be such a separate force, and yet its power in the action of two particles be supposed to be diminished fourfold by doubling the distance, surely some new action, having true gravitation character, and that alone, ought to appear; for how else can the totality of the force remain unchanged? To define the force as "a simple attractive force exerted between any two or all the particles of matter, with a strength varying inversely as the square of the distance," is not to answer the question; nor does it indicate or even assume what are the other complementary results which occur; or allow the supposition that such are necessary: it is simply, as it appears to me, to deny the conservation of force.

    As to the gravitating force, I do not presume to say that I have the least idea of what occurs in two particles when their power of mutually approaching each other is changed by their being placed at different distances; but I have a strong conviction, through the influence on my mind of the doctrine of conservation, that there is a change; and that the phenomena resulting from the change will probably appear some day as the result of careful research. If it be said that "'twere to consider too curiously to consider so," then I must dissent. To refrain to consider, would be to ignore the principle of the conservation of force, and to stop the inquiry which it suggests:—whereas to admit the proper logical force of the principle in our hypotheses and considerations, and to permit its guidance in a cautious yet courageous course of investigation, may give us power to enlarge the generalities we already possess in respect of heat, motion, electricity, magnetism, &c.; to associate gravity with them; and perhaps enable us to know whether the essential force of gravitation (and other attractions) is internal or external as respects the attracted bodies.

    Returning once more to the definition of the gravitating power as "a simple attractive force exerted between any two or all the particles or masses of matter at every sensible distance, but with a STRENGTH VARYING inversely as the square of the distance," I ought perhaps to suppose there are many who accept this as a true and sufficient description of the force, and who therefore, in relation to it, deny the principle of conservation. If both are accepted and are thought to be consistent with each other, it cannot be difficult to add words which shall make "varying strength" and "conservation" agree together. It cannot be said that the definition merely applies to the effects of gravitation as far as we know them. So understood, it would form no barrier to progress; for, that particles at different distances are urged towards each other with a power varing inversely as the square of the distance, is a truth; but the definition has not that meaning; and what I object to is the pretence of knowledge which the definition sets up, when it assumes to describe, not the partial effects of the force, but the nature of the force as a whole. 1

June, 1858. M.F.

* Note:  The emphasis placed on various words and phrases is Faraday's.


Reference Notes:

1  Faraday, Michael. Experimental Researches in Chemistry and Physics [1859]; pp. 460-463. Reprinted by Taylor & Francis Books Ltd, London, 1990. ISBN 0850668417

Last Edit:  September 4, 2010.

Back to  Chapter 4, Section 4:  Faraday Versus Maxwell.


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