Frederick Soddy

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Frederick Soddy

Beitragvon Marsianer » Sa 7. Mai 2022, 08:28

Soddy war ein Schüler von Ernest Rutherford. 1921 wurde er mit dem Nobelpreis für Chemie ausgezeichnet.

Beim Herumstöbern im Internet fand ich Hinweise darauf:
Buchscan-OCR-Text von Soddy, The Interpretation of Radium, 1909, S. 238-247 hat geschrieben:Leaving this globe and taking a survey of the solar system, it has always struck me as remarkable that the temperature of the constituent worlds so far as we know them seems to be roughly in pro- portion to their size. The moon we regard as quite cold. The Earth and Mars have similar temperatures, while Jupiter and Saturn are probably nearly red-hot. Of course this agrees well enough with the old idea that these bodies were steadily cooling, the process being the slower the greater the mass. But it agrees also with the newer idea that the temperature is probably more or less constant, as the result of an equilibrium in which the heat lost by radiation is counterbalanced by new internal sources of heat provided by slow atomic disintegrations.

With regard to the sun itself, it is certain that the loss of heat cannot be supplied by the presence of radium. For this to be the case a very large part of the sun’s mass must consist of uranium, and this we know from the spectroscope is very improbable. Still it is by no means to be concluded that the heat of the sun and stars is not in the first place of internal rather than, as has been the custom to regard it, of external origin. Obviously we are only at the beginning of our knowledge of the internal stores of energy in matter, and the mere fact that these stores existed, and in a few actual cases within our knowledge were slowly evolved and became available for the purposes of cosmical evolution, justified us in regarding them as the probable, as they were certainly the sufficient, first source from which the available energy of all Nature was derived.

There is one other sphere in which these discoveries touch human life strangely into which I cannot forbear altooether from entering although I am all unfitted to act as guide. Radioactivity has accustomed us in the laboratory to the matter- of-fact investigation of processes which require for their completion thousands of millions of years. In one sense the existence of such processes may be said largely to have annihilated time. That is to say, at one bound the limits of the possible extent of past and future time have been enormously extended. We are no longer merely the dying inhabitants of a world itself slowly dying, for the world, as we have seen, has in itself, in the internal energy of its own material constituents, the means, if not the ability, to rejuvenate itself perennially. It is, of course, true, upon present existing knowledge, that the extent of the possible duration of time is merelv increased and that on the new scale exactly the same principles apply as before. Yet the in- crease is so extensive that it practically constitutes a reversal of the older views. At the same time, it will be admitted that physical science can no longer, as at one time she felt justified in doing, impose a definite limit to the continuance of the existing conditions of things. The idea that evolution is proceeding in continuous cycles, without beginning and without end, in which the waste energy of one part of the cycle is transformed in another part of the cycle back into available forms, is at least as possible and conceivable in the present state of knowledge as the older idea, which was based on a too wide application of those laws of the availability of energy we have found to hold within our own experience. It remains for the future to decide whether what happens to be at present our sole experience of the laws of energy does apply, as has hitherto been quite definitely assumed, to the universe as a whole, and to all the conditions therein within which it is impossible for us to per- form our experiments. This reservation is one legitimate consequence of the recent ideas, for we have learnt from them how easy it is to give to the generalisations of physical science a universal appli- cation they do not in fact possess.

If, then, the world is no longer slowly dying from exhaustion, but bears within itself its own means of regeneration, so that it may continue to exist in much the same physical condition as at present for thousands of millions of years, what about Man ? The revelations of radio- activity have removed the physical difficulties connected with the sufficiency of the supply of natural energy, which previously had been supposed to limit the duration of man’s existence on this planet, but it adds of itself nothing new to our knowledge as to whether man has shared with the world its more remote history. Here again it is interesting and harmless to indulge in a little specu- lation, and I may mention one rather striking- point.

It is curious how strangely some of the old myths and legends about matter and man appear in the light of the recent knowledge. Consider, for example, the ancient mystic symbol of matter, known as Ouroboros — “ the tail devourer ” — which was a serpent, coiled into a circle with the head devouring the tail, and bearing the central motto “ The whole is one.” This symbolises evolution, moreover it is evolution in cycle — the latest possi- bility — and stranger still it is evolution of matter — again the very latest aspect of evolution — the existence of which was strenuously denied by Clerk Maxwell and others of only last century. The idea which arises in one’s mind as the most attrac-live and consistent explanation of the universe in light of present knowledge, is perhaps that matter is breaking down and its energy being evolved and degraded in one part of a cycle of evolution, and in another part still unknown to us, the matter is being again built up with the utilisation of the waste energy. The consequence would be that, in spite of the incessant changes, an equilibrium condition would result, and continue indefinitely. If one wished to symbolise such an idea, in what better way could it be done than by the ancient tail- devouring serpent?

Some of the beliefs and legends which have come down to us from antiquity are so universal and deep-rooted that we are accustomed to consider them almost as old as the race itself. One is tempted to inquire how far the unsuspected apt- ness of some of these beliefs and sayings to the point of view so recently disclosed is the result of mere chance or coincidence, and how far it may be evidence of a wholly unknown and unsuspected ancient civilisation of which all other relic has dis- appeared. It Is curious to reflect, for example, upon the remarkable legend of the philosopher’s stone, one of the oldest and most universal beliefs, the origin of which, however far back we penetrate into the records of the past, we do not seem to be able to trace to its source. The philosopher’s stone was accredited the power not only of transmuting the metals, but of acting as the elixir of life. Now, whatever the origin of this apparently meaningless jumble of ideas may have been, it is really a perfect and but very slightly allegorical expression of the actual present views we hold to-day. It does not require much effort of the imagination to see in energy the life of the physical universe, and the key to the primary fountains of the physical life of the universe to-day is known to be transmuta- tion. Is then this old association of the power of transmutation with the elixir of life merely a coincidence ? I prefer to believe it may be an echo from one of many previous epochs in the unrecorded history of the world, of an age of men which have trod before the road we are treading to-day, in a past possibly so remote that even the very atoms of its civilisation literally have had time to disintegrate.

Let us give the imagination a moment’s further free scope in this direction, however, before closing. What if this point of view that has now suggested itself is true, and we may trust ourselves to the slender foundation afforded by the traditions and superstitions which have been handed down to us from a prehistoric time ? Can we not read into them some justification for the belief that some former forgotten race of men attained not only to the knowledge we have so recently won, but also to the power that is not yet ours ? Science has reconstructed the story of the past as one of a con- tinuous Ascent of Man to the present-day level of his powers. In face of the circumstantial evidence existing of this steady upward progress of the race, the traditional view of the Fall of Man from a higher former state has come to be more and more difficult to understand. From our new standpoint the two points of view are by no means so irrecon- cilable as they appeared. A race which could transmute matter would have little need to earn its bread by the sweat of its brow. If we can judge from what our engineers accomplish with their comparatively restricted supplies of energy, such a race could transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling Garden of Eden. Possibly they could explore the outer realms of space, emigrating to more favourable worlds as the superfluous today emigrate to more favourable continents. One can see also that such dominance may well have been short-lived. By a single mistake, the relative positions of Nature and man as servant and master would, as now, become reversed, but with infinitely more disastrous consequences, so that even the whole world might be plunged back again under the undisputed sway of Nature, to begin once more its upward toilsome journey through the ages. The legend of the Fall of Man possibly may indeed be the story of such a past calamity.

I cannot fittingly conclude this series of lectures without, however inadequately, directing attention to one further outstanding feature of general interest, which this interpretation of radium will in the cpurse of time bring home to all thoughtful minds.

The vistas of new thought which have opened out in all directions in the physical sciences, to which man is merely incidental and external, have in turn reacted powerfully upon those departments of thought in which man is central and supreme. I am aware that in this field, concerned with the most profound of all questions — the relation of man to his external environment — it has lately been the custom for the physicist not to intrude. This phase of opinion is perhaps somewhat of the nature of a reaction from the other extreme of an earlier generation, in which science arrogated to itself the right to pronounce the final judgment upon the questions in dispute. At least it will be admitted that if the progress of physical science completely transforms, as it has recently so transformed, our notions of the outer world in which we live, its claim to be heard upon the relations of this world to its inhabitants cannot be resisted. Another reason why perhaps the physicist has hesitated to encroach too directly upon the eternal problems of life has been that he could contribute little of hope or com- fort for the race from his philosophy. In the past his conclusions concerning physical evolution and destiny have intensified rather than lightened the existing gloom. To what purpose is the incessant upward struggle of civilisation which history and the biological sciences has made us aware of, if its arena is a slowly dying world, destined to carry ultimately all it bears to one inevitable doom? At least this reason for silence no longer exists. We find ourselves in consequence of the progress of physical science at the pinnacle of one ascent of civilisation, taking the first step upwards out on to the lowest plane of the next. Above us still rises indefinitely the ascent to physical power — far be- yond the dreams of mortals in any previous system of philosophy. These possibilities of a newer order of things, of a more exalted material destiny than any which have been foretold, ‘are not the promise of another world. They exist in this, to be fought and struggled for in the old familiar way, to be wrung from the grip of Nature, as all our achieve- ments and civilisation have, in the past, been wrung by the labour of the collective brain of mankind guiding, directing, and multiplying the individual’s puny power. This is the message of hope and inspiration to the race which radium has contributed to the great problems of existence. No attempt at presentation of this new subject could be 'considered complete which did not, however imperfectly, suggest something of this side.

Released as physical science now is from the feel- ing of hopelessness in dealing with such matters, and at the same time in possession of vast general- isations concerning matter and energy of more than mere abstract significance to the race, it is fitting to attempt to see how far purely physical considerations will take us in delimiting the major controlling influences which regulate our existence.

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