SCIENCE AND SANITY - online book

An Introduction To Non-aristotelian Systems And General Semantics.

 646 IX. ON EMPIRICAL AND VERBAL STRUCTURES The invention of the differential calculus also had a tremendous structural influence. It introduced continuity as a basic assumption in the vast structure of science, and cleared the way for psycho-logically trained scientific workers in structural continuity, and therefore in action by contact. The discovery that light appears as electromagnetic waves and the finite velocity of both, made the notion of 'absolute emptiness' structurally untenable; and so E geometry with its action at a distance, 'emptiness' and neglect of gravitation and electricity, became very unsatisfactory. Indeed if our universe were E, light could not reach us. Leibnitz, who invented the differential calculus independently of Newton, formulated a postulate of action by contact, and therefore could not become reconciled to Newton's Law of Gravitation which was structurally a law of action at a distance, corresponding fully to Coulomb's law in electricity. The latter law states that the force exerted by two electrically charged bodies upon each other is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, and acts in the direction of the line joining them.8 The introduction by Faraday of the structural notion of a 'field', instead of the notion of electrical charges acting at a distance, introduced the notion of a strain of the electrical field, which appears structurally as 'lines of forces'. Here we already have a 'fulness' of 'lines' and a big step toward the structural fusion of physics with geometry has been taken. The transition from E to riemannian geometry corresponds structurally to the transition from physics based on action at a distance to physics based on action by contact. The fundamental metrical theorem of E geometry is the Pythagorean rule, which expresses the fact that the square of the distance between two points is a quadratic form of the co-ordinates of the points. If we regard this theorem as strictly valid only in the case of points which are very near each other, we pass at once from E geometry to differential geometry. By doing so we gain a notable structural advantage, as we dispense with the necessity of defining our co-ordinates more precisely; because the Pythagorean law, when expressed in differential form, is invariant for arbitrary transformations.6 Semantically, Riemann was the immediate predecessor of Einstein, although Einstein was not directly influenced by him. In differential geometry we ought to start with indefinitesimally near points, and depend for the analysis of greater distances, areas and volumes, on integration. The difficult notion of 'straight line' has to be replaced by the notion of the shortest line (geodetic), which is easily defined by differential methods and found empirically. In the older method, the length of a curve was to be found, in general, by the process of integration. The length of a 'straight line' between two points was supposed to be defined as a whole, and not as the limit of a sum of indefinitely little bits. Riemann considered that a 'straight line' does not differ in this respect from a curve. Measurements which are always performed by means of some instrument are physical operations, and their results depend for their interpretation