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Table of Contents
    Cover
        Page 371
        Page 372
    The new order of things
        Page 373
        Page 374
        Page 375
        Page 376
        Page 377
        Page 378
        Page 379
        Page 380
        Page 381
        Page 382
        Page 383
        Page 384
        Page 385
        Page 386
        Page 387
        Page 388
Full Text




The University Record

of the


University of Florida


COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS
By
WILLIAM F. G. SWANN, D. Sc.
Director of Bartol Research Foundation
Franklin Institute


June 10th, 1935


Vol. XXX, Series I


No. 9


September 1, 1935


Published monthly by the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
Entered in the post office in Gainesville, Florida, as second-class
matter, under Act of Congress, August 24, 1912
Office of Publication, Gainesville, Florida




















The Record comprises:

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included in institutional exchanges, should be addressed to the Univer-
sity Librarian, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

The Committee on University Publications
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida











The New Order of Things*

AS I MEDITATED upon the subject of my address to you today, there came to
me a vision of that period a few decades ago when I and my companions
stood, as you stand now, at the threshold of life, each with our story of the
world as it had been handed to us, and with our little kit of tools, mental and
spiritual, designed for the tasks ahead of us, and fashioned according to the prin-
ciples of our teachers.
For those who chose the paths of science, the outlook was melancholy indeed, for
within the period of our own studentship one of the wise men of our calling, looking
into the future and seeing naught but barrenness, had uttered his belief that active
science had come to an end-that there was little more to do but repeat the inves-
tigations of the past with new, but not over-exciting refinements, as one would play
and replay the music of the old masters with ever a little more attention to refine-
ment and detail.
The science of electrical engineering had become established upon firm founda-
tions. Public buildings were lighted by electricity and certain wealthy people had
even gone to the extravagance of installing this expensive method of illumination in
their houses. Electric street cars went all over the city, but were still a source of
wonderment. Even one of my teachers who had taught me about these things ceased
not to marvel that the influence responsible for carrying the car up the steep hills
of the town could travel along a relatively insignificant copper cable.
Not many years earlier, as a boy, I had witnessed a truly remarkable phenomenon
of a hundred or so automobiles which under the guidance of certain hardy and
venturesome individuals had set out to make the journey of fifty miles under their
own power from London to Brighton. The few which arrived seemed to be on their
last legs as a result of the ordeal. Clattering along with many and diverse noises,
explosions, squeaks and rattles, they had demonstrated that the thing could be done.
I often think of the consternation which would have been produced in the mind of
some citizen of sixty years ago if he could have been transplanted for a moment in
time so as to catch a glimpse of a modern automobile. I can imagine his returning
to his own epoch and telling the story to his friends in such words as these: I have
had a most disturbing experience. I met a man-he assuredly must be a madman-
who showed me a curiously shaped thing which was something like a wagon of no
small weight, but instead of having strong substantial iron tires, the thing stood on
four rubber tubes blown out with air. It was a most ridiculous contraption because,
obviously, the rubber tubes must wear out before the thing could travel a mile.
But the most fantastic feature of this contrivance concerns the manner of its
propulsion. We all know that gasoline vapor and air form a most dangerous
mixture, which, when ignited with a spark, explodes with great violence. Well, this
strange vehicle was driven by a series of such explosions which took place within

*Acknowledgment is here made of the courtesy of the Macmillan Company in
permitting the inclusion of certain quotations on pages 377-380 and 382-384 from the
speaker's book, "The Architecture of the Universe," Macmillan, 1934.








374 COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS BY WILLIAM F. G. SWANN, D. SC.

its interior and were somehow arranged so that they did not blow the machine to
pieces. I asked the inventor of the vehicle how the occupants could tolerate the
terrific bombardment and shocks which must be incidental to its propulsion. When I
tell you that he informed me that the shocks and noises were inappreciable, you
can judge for yourselves as to his sanity, the more so since no sane person would
build a contraption based on principles which at the best must result in the whole
thing shaking to pieces in no time at all."

BUT outstanding as are the changes which have resulted from the development
of engineering skill, and from the utilization of the discoveries of the last
century in the field of engineering and electricity, they are as nothing com-
pared with those changes which have taken place in our mental vision of that
physically invisible universe of the atomic kingdom whose laws control, ultimately,
all of the phenomena which present themselves to us in our everyday affairs of life.
There are periods in the progress of science when nature seems to present a great
barrier to further vision. The phenomena which are the subjects of our interest seem
to divide themselves into two classes, those concerning which we know everything
that it seems worthwhile to know, and those of which there seems no hope that we
can know any more. Forty years ago physical science found itself in this state.
The coarse-grained laws of matter had been well-fathomed. We had evidence that
matter was composed ultimately of very small things, atoms and molecules; but, it
seemed as though, rich as might be the story of these small things, it must necessarily
be a story hidden from us forever. And so, the sage of our calling, whom I have cited
earlier, offered his famous dictum whose meaning was that discovery was ended, and
that science was dead.
It was true that we were compelled by logical argument to believe that even
coarse-grained phenomena presented by matter in bulk were somehow or other de-
termined by the properties of the atoms of which the matter was composed, but
there seemed little hope of extracting through an examination of those crude
phenomena anything like a complete story of the inner workings of the atom. We
were like the ancient Britons ruled by Rome. That which happened to them was
determined in some way by the structure and government of Rome, but most of the
richness of Rome was bound up in itself and had but little bearing upon the external
empire. That empire felt the power of Rome only as an incidental side-activity of
that power. Then, science was startled by the discovery of the electron, a funda-
mental element of the structure of the atom. This was a great encouragement. It
was as though the barbarians had found that Caesar lived not always in Rome, but
occasionally went abroad. Might it not even be possible to kidnap this Caesar of the
atom and make him perform for us barbarians that we might learn of what metal
he is made? Then before long, tempted forth by the activities, of whose drama the
barbarians had made Caesar the chief actor, came Caesar's consort, the proton, to
dance in the revels of a life free from a mere atomic existence. Free from the
monotony of this existence, Caesar found new powers 'of which he had never known
before. He could be made to run with great speed, and by his own individual
energy to cause light to flash forth from that which he struck. This Caesar of the
atom, this electron, could, in fact, eject ultraviolet light from metals with which it
collided. When excited to great energy it could create X-rays in crashing through








THE NEW ORDEB OF THINGS


the atoms in which it had formerly reigned as king with little to do but carry out a
conventional routine.
For more than a decade, physicists hoped to have found in the electron and the
proton the two fundamental bricks out of which all the architecture of nature was
fashioned. Having found the bricks, man was encouraged to see what kind of
structures could be built of them. From his investigations of the properties of
these bricks he had come to some conclusions as to their nature. The electron was
a thing so small that if we should magnify its diameter so that it attained the size
of a piece of small lead shot, that piece of lead shot would, on the same scale of
magnification, become larger than the sun. The mass of the electron was so small
that if we should magnify all masses so that the electron attained a mass of one-
tenth of an ounce, that one-tenth of an ounce would, on the same scale of magnifica-
tion, become as heavy as the earth. The proton was found to be two thousand times
heavier, but two thousand times smaller than the electron, so that if we should
magnify such a proton to the size of a pin's head, that pin's head would, on the
same scale of magnification, attain a diameter equal to the diameter of the earth's
orbit around the sun.
It is characteristic of mankind to try to fashion the new upon the model of the
old; and so in building pictures of the atom out of electrons and protons, the hope
was to make the mechanisms in those pictures something like the mechanisms of
everyday experience. The physicist would have liked to picture the atom as a
kind of complicated watch, or a special kind of dynamo, or as a little solar system,
or a conglomeration of springs, something, in fact, with which he was already famil-
iar; and he hoped to extract out of the models of this kind characteristics which
could represent the atom.
One of the most characteristic features of matter is exhibited when, in a gaseous
form at reduced pressure, it is caused to emit light under the influence of an electric
discharge sent through it. Under such conditions it emits light of definite colors
characteristic of the gas. For many years, science had recognized the fact that the
secret of the explanation of these colors was, somehow or other, to be sought in the
nature of the atomic mechanism producing the colors. The first thought was that the
electrons in the atom were constrained to move in complicated vibratory motion
when excited, like a lot of balls connected by springs, and that the motions com-
municated themselves to the surrounding medium, the ether, which was supposed
to permeate all space and serve as the means of transmitting light and heat from
the sun and stars. The different kinds of motion of the atomic springs were sup-
posed to correspond to the different colors of light emitted by the atoms. Alas! it
was soon found that this kind of picture would not fit the facts, and the trouble was
that nothing like it could be made to fit the facts. All sorts of modifications of the
details of these mechanisms were imagined, but there was something in all of them
which ran just contrary to what was required to correspond to the observations.
The unfortunate thing was that the characteristics of these models which were
most unsatisfactory for the purpose in hand were just those characteristics which
made them most pleasing to the mind as intuitively understandable models. It is as
though we tried to understand certain of the features concerned with the building
of a bridge by thinking of the bridge as built by artists. Perhaps the features con-
cerned are those having to do with the letting of contracts and the administration









376 COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS BY WILLIAM F. G. SWANN, D. SC.

of matters pertaining to construction. We find it difficult to picture the artists as
doing these things; and if we modify the characteristics of the individuals so far
as to make them fit the duties required of them, we find we can no longer think of
them as artists. If one is sufficiently sophisticated he can claim that an artist can
also be a good executive and business man. I do not deny it, but, if the picture of an
artist which you have formed in your mind is that of a being to whom these acti-
vities are foreign, you cannot retain these characteristics in the picture and yet
have it satisfying to you. At least, you cannot do this unless you decide not to think
too much.
When it became quite clear that no kind of model built on the lines of concepts
which were familiar to us could be a satisfactory representative of the atom, we
reluctantly accommodated ourselves to a new philosophy in the theory of the atom
devised by Niels Bohr. In this theory there was a compromise. The atom was half
model and half something else. We came to think of the atom as a little planetary
system. At the center was a nucleus containing all of the positive electricity of
the atom and most of its mass; and around this nucleus electrons revolved according
to the same laws as those which govern the motions of planets in their journeys
around the sun. But now it was necessary to suppose that this atom had certain
additional characteristics which the ordinary laws of a planetary system would not
require; and, worse still, it was necessary to suppose that the atom would do certain
things which a strict interpretation of the planetary laws would really deny. Only
certain of the orbits which would be permitted by the planetary laws were allowed in
our picture and no reason was given for the exclusion of the others. Then it was
supposed that the electrons could jump from one possible orbit to another and emit
light in the process; but no reason for this performance was given and no detailed
story of what happened during the performance was told.
When the man of science tries to speak of these things to the layman, it is
difficult to do so without conveying the impression that he, the man of science, is
ultimately a hopeless lunatic building castles in the sky. In order to avoid com-
plete surrender to this accusation I must beg you to believe that in this theory
of Bohr there is something else. There is a foundation of a consistent set of rules
or laws for the behavior of the atom which contain in themselves the power to
predict much that occurs. There are in fact two things. There are the system of
rules and the model. The model, it must be admitted, is terribly unsatisfactory.
The more we think of it, the worse it is; but the rules which go with it are per-
fectly definite.
One may well argue, what is the use of seeking an explanation of the behavior
of the atom by setting up a set of rules which are chosen for no other reason than
that they harmonize the facts, and which contain no other reason for their existence ?
The point here is that the man of science tries to reduce the number of his rules to a
minimum. The facts of nature and those associated with the atom in particular are
many. The man of science seeks some way in which by stating a few principles he
can make those principles the keynote of all the rest. Then he can understand all
the rest in terms of tliose principles, even though he may not understand the reason
for the principles.








THE NEW ORDER OF THINGS


HE MAN OF SCIENCE seeks a way in which, by postulating a few things,
he can deduce as their consequence many things which are found true to
nature. The classical example of this method is found in Newton's formulation
of the law of gravitation. I will not remind you of what the law of gravitation is,
further than to state that in it Newton stated one thing about the motion of the
heavenly bodies, and from that one thing it was possible to deduce all of the con-
sequences of classical astronomy. It was possible to calculate the shapes of the orbits
of the planets, the time of occurrence of eclipses, the time of return of comets, r*ae
relation between the periods of revolution of the planets arQund the sun and their
distances from the sun. These and a hundred othei things it was possible to cal-
culate from that one statement embodied in the Law of Newton.
When I strike this desk, I produce very complicated vibrations in it. Probably
no mathematician living could calculate all the details of those vibrations because
of their complexity; yet I feel that I understand those vibrations, because I believe
that nothing but complexity of mathematical calculation exists between the complete
story of them and one or two very simple laws concerning the way in which the
motion and the shape of a little cube of wood respond to forces applied to it. It
may sound rather strange to say that the physicist likes to take a simple thing and
make it complicated. Yet that, indeed, is one of his main activities. He likes to
grow out of simple things a complexity which corresponds to the complexities which
he observes in nature. Then he can feel that his understanding of the complex is
reflected back to his understanding or acceptance of the simple.
And so the main feature of this theory of Bohr was that in terms of a few simple
assumptions, much of the story of what was observed in the doings of the atom
could be deduced. What remained as a model in that theory was a sort of half-
hearted attempt to seek comfort in believing the few simple things by hoping that
some kind of reason for them could be provided by the model. The irony of the
situation was that the parts of the model which had the greatest pictorial significance
were just those which played no part in the story of the atom's activities. It is as
though in trying to represent the characteristics of a certain animal, I hit upon the
idea that perhaps he was an elephant, but found that in order to explain his activities
it was necessary to assume that his trunk was used only for purposes of wagging,
while his tail was used for carrying things about, that his ears were not used for
hearing, but for the absorption of food. It is doubtful whether I should be justified
in deriving much comfort from the thought that this animal was an elephant.
I have frequently meditated upon what I have sometimes called the "irrelevance
of the obvious." I picture a situation where I set a problem to a school boy. The
problem is to the effect that a ball is thrown upwards with a certain speed, and I
ask the boy to calculate how long it will take for the ball to attain a certain altitude.
He comes back and complains that I have not given him enough information. I ask
him what further information he desires. He tells me he would like to know the
color of the ball. I tell him that the color does not matter. But he may not like
that, because some of the reality of the ball has vanished from his vision with the
color. He asks me for the weight of the ball, and I tell him that doesn't matter
either; and I add to his troubles by telling him that I will withdraw even my remark
that it was a ball, and leave its shape indefinite. Then, if he is over-materialistically
minded he will explode entirely and demand to know how he is to work out any








378 COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS BY WILLIAM F. G. SWANN, D. SC.

problem about the body if I won't tell him anything about it. There is nothing left
for him to think about, and he may well claim that it is difficult for the human mind
to think at all unless it has something to think about. Well, to please him, I tell
him the body is red, weighs ten pounds and is really a nice round ball. Now he is
happy. He takes his paper and pencil, draws the round ball, puts a 10 inside it,
paints it red in his mind's eye, and works out the problem. When he brings me the
result, I inquire at what point the redness of the ball came into his calculations.
He lookL through them and finds it didn't come in at all. The result would have
been the same for a blue hb1l. Then I ask him where the 10 pounds came in. He
looks again and finds he did not use it; or, if he did, it cancelled out, so that the
result would have been the same for a fifty-pound ball. Finally, I ask him where
the roundness came in, and he finds he did not use that at all. So I say to him,
"Don't ask me a lot of unnecessary things again." But I think I hear you
sympathizing with the poor student. "What harm," you say, "did the redness of
the ball do? Why did he sin in thinking it was 10 pounds in weight and that it whs
round, if after all these things did not matter?" Well, I agree; in this particular
case the redness did no harm. But I suspect that if I let the student think the ball
is red, he will come to me some day with some ideas founded purely upon the redness
of the ball. He will be troubled because he will want some other ball to do the
same sort of thing that this ball did, and will be unable to satisfy himself because,
perchance, the second ball is blue. Then, I shall have to go to the trouble of raking
up past history to show that the redness did not matter in the former case; but, if
he has enjoyed the vision of redness for a long time, his whole mental equilibrium
may be destroyed if I take it away, and he may be quite unable to think at all
without it.
An archdeacon has been defined as one who performs archdeaconal functions.
Sometimes we laugh at that definition; but, provided that the functions are expressed
explicitly, it is a very good definition-a much better definition, for example, than
one which defines the individual in question as one who wears gaiters and a top hat
of rather ostentatious shape. It is true that the gaiters and the top hat are the
most immediately obvious features of the archdeacon, but one who riveted his atten-
tion on these appendages as the most fundamental attributes of an archdeacon
might be at a loss to understand the significance of the individual, if for some reason
he were without them, in spite of the fact that he might be just as good an arch-
deacon. The obvious part of the archdeacon is irrelevant to his true functions.
And, so in science, we encounter many instances where we choose to think of things
mainly in terms of their activities, and we are loth to add to them appendages
which may hinder or complicate these activities.
Thus it appeared that all that was gained in any attempt to hang on to something
like a model for the atom was to hang on to something which played no part in
anything which really mattered, something which was cumbersome, a continual source
of trouble, and whose only use was to provide an illusion of comfort based upon
some idea of reality which it might be supposed to afford.








THE NEW ORDER OF THINGS


IN THE NEXT STAGE, which has developed during the last ten years, physicists
have been content to make a complete break with the idea of models, and to
formulate the principles of atomic activities in purely formal terms. The rules
which govern the behavior of the atoms are more like the rules of a game. We do
not hope to see why they should be so. They, themselves, are the "why" of every-
thing, and there is no "why" for them. The desire for a model was simply the
unconscious desire to understand the unknown by analogy with the known. If we
wish for an analogy to describe the modern view of the atom, it is not in terms of
models that we must seek it. The characteristics of individuals would give, I think,
a better analogue than those of machines.
In ancient times, when unaccountable things happened, people attributed them
to the gods. If thunderbolts fell, the gods were angry. If all was fair, the gods were
pleased. Of course it was necessary to come beforehand to some agreement as to
the dispositions of the gods. Now in the modern theory of atomic structure, we
may liken the atom to the gods. We have come to realize that the atom can exist
in a number of different states of energy. We may liken these states to different
states of the gods: the gods in peace, the gods at war, the gods hunting, and so forth.
Now the mathematician has found out how to calculate, for the atom, a quantity
analogous to what we may call the degree of amiability of disposition of the gods
in these various states.
In any one of the states of the atom there is a quantity which we may call the
degree of anger of the atom, and determined by the external conditions to which
the atom is subjected. The atom has the characteristic of being angry in a lot of
different ways at once. It is as though the gods had righteous anger, malicious
anger, war-like anger, and so on. When the atom is angry, it may do one of the
various acts which it is capable of doing. It may emit a splash of energy associated
with one kind of light, or a splash associated with an X-ray, or it may hurl out
an electron. If, in general, the atom is angry in a lot of different ways at once, then
the chance that it may do the various acts associated with the various kinds of
anger is to be regarded as proportional to the intensity of the appropriate kind of
anger. It will be observed that there is no certainty that the atom will do any
one particular thing. There is merely a chance, a chance which is proportional to
the kind of anger associated with the event. The atom is like a cat. You may
torment it and it may do nothing, but the chance of getting scratched is propor-
tional to the annoyance of the cat. There is no attempt to make a story of just
how the atom operates when it "strikes." Indeed, the physicist has come to see
that there is very much less content to that question than might be supposed.
But, you may say, is this not a terribly complicated way of talking about atomic
phenomena? No, it is ultimately more simple. In other words, we can get a better
correlation between the various actions of the atom by referring them to laws
about what we may call the "temperament" of the atom than by seeking an ex-
planation in terms of springs and weights. After all, that is not surprising. Who
would attempt to decide what an operatic prima donna, or, for that matter, any
woman, would do under given circumstances, by an appeal to the laws of springs,
weights, and machinery? The fundamental thing is that she is angry, for instance.
That is the starting point, and there is no going back of that fact. Everything is
accounted for in terms of the anger, but there may be no accounting for the anger.








380 COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS BY WILLIAM F. G. SWANN, D. SC.

The modern view of atomic structure which I have sketched very incompletely
possesses an applicability and meaning over a much wider range of phenomena
than was the case with the older theories. It is true that we do not see just how
things should go in certain cases, but the underlying general principles seem to be
there. The story of the atom's light emission, of the conduction of electricity in
metals, of the photoelectric effect, of X-ray phenomena, of electric fields necessary to
pull electrons out of metals under different conditions-all of these become told in
terms of a common language; and, while the story of the nucleus, and of atom-
building processes, has not been completely told, a good beginning has been made.

O NE OF THE CHIEF revolutions in thought brought about by the new phil-
osophy in physics is the denial of the principle of determinism. If the
position and motions of the sun and planets were given at some instant,
then, through the operation of the law of gravitation it is possible to calculate their
positions and motions for all time. We can calculate what the solar system will look
like a million years hence as easily as we can calculate what it will look like to-
morrow. The future history of the heavenly bodies is irrevocably bound up with the
present.
Now, although the laws which govern the more detailed activities of matter in
general and of atoms in particular may be expected to be far more complicated than
those which govern the solar system, there was always at the back of our minds Ihe
thought that if we knew what those laws were we could calculate, with absolute
precision, the story of the future in terms of that of the past. Driven to its logical
conclusion this would mean that the act of my giving this address today is intimately
bound up with, and in a sense a direct consequence of what happened in the reign
of Julius Caesar. In a sense, Julius Oaesar, or some of his contemporaries, was sub-
consciously aware of the necessity of this address, and somehow or other managed
through many generations to convey the idea to President Tigert. At first I am
overwhelmed with the tremendous responsibility placed upon me by Julius Caesar
and his contemporaries in arranging, so far ahead, that I should speak to you today.
But on second thought I cease to worry, for I realize that after all the responsibility
is not mine, and that really the address itself was, somehow or other, subconsciously
written, or at any rate, determined, at the time of Caesar. The paradoxes in these
matters have worried the man of science for many years. He hated the implications
involved in such examples as that I have cited in connection with Julius Caesar
and my address. If he did not admit them his whole scheme of physical law seemed
to break down. And yet he was frightened from the opposite angle, when he
thought of free will, so he went to church on Sundays and believed in free will,
and during the remainder of the week he sought to show by his experiments and
theories that everything was predetermined. While my own view as to this question
of predetermination versus free will, etc., holds that it is rather a tempest in a teapot,
and maintains that in the last analysis there is not as much difference between them
as is usually supposed, the limited space of this address will not suffice to give the
reasons for this attitude. The point which is to be emphasized here, however, is that
we have come to realize in physics that an expression of the laws of nature in such
a form that we say such and such a thing has only a certain chance of happening,
rather than a certainty of happening, is not such an expression of incompleteness of








THE NEW ORDER OF THINGS


knowledge as we formerly thought. We can have the laws in this form as a practical
basis for unifying our experiments; and the old-time desire for something which
seemed more "complete" is rather analogous to the desire of one who asks the
question, "If an elephant could solve mathematical equations, would he also be a
good musician?"
Many who have grown old in the mechanistic vision of nature view with regret
any departure from it. They hope and hope that some day one will find once more
a way to view the atom as mechanistic. I, for one, would be willing to join in the
labor of striving continually for this goal but for one thing. That thing concerns
the fundamentality of the goal itself. The more critically we examine the matter,
the more do we find that there is really nothing in the mechanistic picture as a
starting point which gives it a right to pose as a more fundamental starting point
than any other. The mechanistic picture is pleasing to us because we are familiar
with it, and this familiarity gives a certain illusion of fundamental contentment in
it, as though we felt that once we could get back to a mechanism we would have
arrived at an explanation which itself called for no explanation. There was a feeling
that every other starting point was a makeshift, was artificial and called for a
reason, but that the mechanistic starting point called for no prior reason. Now I
have no quarrel with the idea that the mechanistic starting point calls for no prior
reason. My quarrel is with the claim that it is unique in this matter. My quarrel
is with the idea which forbids any other starting point to claim the same thing.
I am aware that a superficial view of the mechanistic picture seems to give it a
substantiality, a reality, superior to other pictures. Had I the time, however, I
could take any one of these pictures which are especially appealing to you and if
you should point out to me the things in it which gave it the semblance of funda-
mental reality, I could contrive to make you extremely uncomfortable in your reasons
for contentment.
When one is confronted with a situation such as one meets in devising theories
of the atom, one is apt to be worried continually by the groans of a specter which
is always in attendance when anything new is under consideration. The specter's
name is "Common Sense." He is usually regarded as a most respectable being. He
manages to preserve a high reputation for profundity by a dignified avoidance of
saying exactly who or what he is. Now, I will not deny that "Common Sense"
has his merits. In his proper domain he is a counselor of priceless value; and it is
because he justly inspires such confidence in that domain that he becomes the most
dangerous of deceivers of those who seek his guidance outside of it. For "Common
Sense" seeks to pin all thoughts of the new to the fabric of the old, and so, ofttimes,
he distorts the meaning of the new by destroying that form which was inherent in
it in its own right, and for no purpose other than to fit it to a pattern with which
it has no harmony. The result is a bizarre and shapeless thing out of harmony with
the form into which it has been forced, and out of harmony with the form which was
its own. Common sense in natural philosophy repatterns itself from age to age.
At each stage of its development it seeks to generalize the ideas born of the ex-
perience of the immediate past and to weld them into bonds which sometimes re-
strain the future. Thus, the breeders of error in the epoch to come are sometimes
the truths of the days which have gone.
It was the common sense of the ancients which made them see the sun as carried








382 COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS BY WILLIAM F. G. SWANN, D. SC.

around the earth by angels. It was the common sense of the Egyptians which mhde
them see the universe as a box with a river running around the outer edge, the
river carrying a boat and the boat carrying the sun. It was common sense which,
in the time of Kepler, saw the sun endowed with spokes to which were attached the
planets and which, through the rotation of the sun, drove the planets around in their
orbits. It was the common sense of the astronomers of the time of Galileo which
made his discovery of the satellites of Jupiter seem nonsense and his discovery of
the laws of falling bodies contrary to reason.
And so common sense today groans at the modern atom. And yet in what a
curious light it places itself by so groaning. For, to explain the actions of matter
in bulk we have been driven to the thoughts of atoms and molecules. Then we have
felt the necessity to go further and formulate a set of laws for these atoms which
would account for the behavior expected of them. By a strange kink in the psy-
chology of mankind, common sense has held us to a hope that those laws would
partake of the same nature as those for matter in bulk. It is as though having
studied cities, and having come to the discovery that they were composed of build-
ings, which in turn were composed of bricks, we had then begun to meditate upon the
bricks and had sought to see some way in which they could be regarded as com-
posed of houses put together in some kind of way suitable for the explanation of their
tenacity and strength. Common sense is a good servant, but a bad master. So
beware how you glory too much in good old "horse sense"; for, in the last analysis,
"horse sense" is in all verity the kind of sense that a horse has.

QUITE APART from the philosophical principles involved in the theory of the
atom, the last two or three decades have brought to light a startling picture
of the way things happen in the atomic world. One of the first things which
surprises us in examining this picture is the fact that the atomic activities which
constitute the chief phenomena of our interest are activities whose occurrence is so
very iare from the point of view of the individual atom that they would constitute
miracles to an intelligent inhabitant of an atom, if we could imagine such a being.
In every cubic inch of the air which you breathe there are about ten thousand mole-
cules which are in a peculiar state. They have lost an electron, and are consequently
charged to the extent of one proton. To us there is no miracle about this matter.
I could bring into this room a comparatively small piece of apparatus with which, in
five minutes, I could measure the number of these peculiar molecules. Yet, think
what a strange phenomenon we have here when viewed from the standpoint of the
molecules themselves, for that cubic inch of air contains about five hundred million
million million molecules, and only ten thousand of them have lost an electron. In
other words, out of every fifty thousand million million molecules only one has lost an
electron. If a molecule were to go about saying that it had once seen one of its
brothers which had lost an electron, the story would be less likely to be believed
than would the assertion by some person that he had seen a man with two heads, if
he were the only person who had seen such a monstrosity during the whole history of
the human race. Indeed, the assertion in question would have a much better chance
of being believed than would the story told by the molecule which had lost an
electron. For a molecule would, on the average, have to meet fifty thousand million
million other molecules before finding one that had lost an electron; and if you could








THE NEW OBDEB OF THINGS


have lived long enough to have met all the people who have ever lived, in your search
for the two-headed man, you would probably have met less than a million million
people.
We may view the matter from another angle. The charged molecules in the air
attract one another and so are continually coming together and neutralizing one
another's charges. It is only because electrons are being continually torn from the
molecules of the atmosphere that all of the supply of charged molecules does not
disappear. An important agency responsible for tearing the electrons from the
molecules of the air is the cosmic radiation which comes to us, probably, from out-
side our atmosphere. In order to account for the maintenance of the observed num-
ber of charged molecules in a pure atmosphere it is necessary to suppose that in
each cubic inch about twenty or thirty molecules have an electron torn from them
each second; and, as a matter of fact, we know that the cosmic radiation is capable
of accounting for such a result. But think what an exceedingly rare phenomenon
this catastrophe of the loss of an electron is from the point of view of the mole-
cules themselves. It is as rare a catastrophe to the molecules as would be a murder
in the realm of mankind if, with the population of the earth at its present value,
only one murder were committed on the whole earth in three hundred years.
Most of the outstanding phenomena of modern physics are miracles from the
point of view of the atom. The photoelectric effect, which is responsible for the
operation of the photoelectric cell, which in turn is responsible for the wireless trans-
mission of pictures, is the ejection of an electron from an atom through the agency of
light. We have been accustomed to think of an atom as a little solar system with
electrons revolving around a central nucleus. Now in the photoelectric effect, you must
think of a light beam shooting into an atom and hurling one of these electrons out of
the atom in some such manner as that in which we might suppose a flash of light from
the depths of interstellar space to burst into our solar system and hurl the earth into
outer darkness. The latter idea is a fantastic one, you will say. True, but much less
fantastic than the photoelectric effect would seem to an inhabitant of an atom if
there were any inhabitants. For, even if we confine our attention to the atoms
(they are atoms of potassium or caesium) which are on the sensitive surface of the
photoelectric cell, we shall find about a hundred million million million of such atoms,
and even with a strong photoelectric effect any one of these atoms would, on the
average, suffer the catastrophe of the ejection of an electron only once in ten million
seconds, i. e., about three times a year. But a year of our time would seem very
long from the point of view of the atom. Things happen very rapidly on the atom.
In the sense that the year for an electron of the atom is the time taken for that
electron to revolve once around the nucleus, one of our years is equal to about thirty
thousand million million million atomic years. Thus, from the point of view of the
atom's measure of time, an atom of the sensitive surface of the photoelectric cell
experiences the catastrophe of the photoelectric effect only three times in thirty
thousand million million million years. Such a phenomenon may well be re-
garded as a miracle.
In an incandescent gas, we have been accustomed to think of the emission of the
light as a phenomenon accompanying the fall of an electron from some orbit around
the nucleus to another orbit of smaller size, a phenomenon analogous to the fall of
Neptune from its present orbit to some other nearer the sun. Even in the case








384 COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS BY WILLIAM F. G. SWANN, D. SC.

of a gas which is emitting light copiously, however, the number of atoms of the gas
which participate in the light emission at any instant is so small that to the in-
dividual atom the phenomenon of light emission must seem as remarkable as the fall
of Neptune from its orbit would seem to us. X-rays are produced by the bom-
bardment of the atoms of a certain piece of metal in the X-ray tube by high-speed
electrons. Yet even if we should confine our attention to the particular atoms
which constitute that particular piece of metal which went into the construction
of the X-ray tube, for the atoms, the phenomenon associated with the emission of
an X-ray is such a rare one that if you lived on one of the atoms, participating in the
pace of life natural to the atom, you would probably be put in an atomic madhouse
if you insisted on suggesting that any such phenomenon as the emission of an X-ray
had ever occurred.
With what a curious situation are we presented. Here is a set of phenomena
which constitute the crucial activities upon which modern science is based. The
evidence of these things is all about us-the phenomena themselves are less obscure
to us than arguments about atoms and molecule. Even in the realms of nature's
spontaneous activities they play a fundamental part. The emission of light goes
on everywhere. The photoelectric effect is continually operative in the economy of
plant life; and yet, from the point of view of the actual things which are the seat of
these phenomena, from the point of view of the atoms, the phenomena themselves
are of such rarity than no less drastic a word than "'miracle'" is fit to describe
them. Imagine an inhabitant of an atom looking out upon the external world and
seeing a furnace. The phenomenon should surprise him considerably; for he would be
unable to explain its activities without invoking phenomena of such a character
as would put him in a lunatic asylum if he suggested their possibility. And he
would be in the same predicament with regard to most of the interesting things
which were happening in the world. As a matter of fact, if he confined his attention
to only the phenomena which he would have a reasonable right to expect, he would
conclude this world to be a very uninteresting place.
I can well remember the time when of all bonerss" which could be pulled by the
student of physics in an examination, none was more heinous than one carrying an
implication that atoms of matter could be broken up, or divided in any way into
their constituent parts. To commit the sin of such an implication was for the poor
wretch who was guilty to relegate himself to the realm of the scientifically hope-
lessly lost. Even the great Lord Kelvin shuddered when responsible men of science
began to question the permanance of the atom. "For," said he, "from the very
word atom comes the implication of an indivisible entity."
Only one thought could be deeper in the mire of heresy than that which played
in imagination with the permanence of the atoms, and that thought concerned the
conversion of one element into another. The transmutation of the elements, the
dream of the alchemists of old, was the typical example of wild charlatanism and
uncontrolled speculation. Today we face the accomplishment of this act hereto-
fore regarded as so far outside the realms of possibility. One after another the
elements are being broken up through acts under the control of man. They are
being converted from one to the other; and, while we have not reached the goal in
which atomic transmutation has been realized in such large amount as to have a
significant bearing upon the production of elements on a commercial scale, an en-








THE NEW ORDER OF THINGS


couraging beginning has been made. Indeed, already new elements such as radio
sodium, having properties different from those of the elements which nature has
given us, are being produced artificially in amounts sufficient to be of use in
medical science.
Within the last few years, we have come to a realization that matter itself,
formerly thought indestructible, can in actuality disappear, and that when it does
so disappear, energy is created in its place. So great is the energy equivalent of
even a small quantity of matter that the annihilation of a single drop of water
would produce enough energy to supply two hundred horse power for a year. For
many years the source of the heat poured out from the stars was one of the most
perplexing mysteries of science. Were the story simply that of a hot body cooling,
our sun would, have run cold almost within historic times. None of the more ob-
viously available sources of heat were adequate to the task required. Now we
believe that in the annihilation of matter by the devouring of their own substance
the stars find that source of energy to pay to the universe the tax which they must
pay continuously in the form of radiation.

IT IS FAR BEYOND the scope of this address to enumerate all of the fields of
practical utility in which the scientific discoveries of the last thirty years have
found place. It is a significant fact that most of the scientific developments
which have played vital roles in the practical affairs of life have arisen from
discoveries made in the first instance with no utilitarian end in view. Is it not
meet, however, that one should seek to excuse the existence of any science or art
by pointing out its utilitarian features.
In the matter of utilitarianism I have sometimes meditated upon a supposed con-
versation between an apostle of utilitarianism and one whom we will call an artist
of the art-for-art 's-sake type.
"Of what use are those pictures in the Vatican?" asks the utilitarianist. "They
do nobody any good and only wasted the time of Michaelangelo who painted them."
"And what kind of creative work would you regard as of use?" asks the artist.
"An example is the development of the steam engine and the automobile," says
the utilitarianist.
"But why are these of use?" says the artist.
"Because they enable one to move about faster and get more done," says the
utilitarianist.
"But why move about faster and get more done?" replies the artist.
"Because by doing so you create wealth for yourself and others; you save time
and are enabled to enjoy more leisure," is the rejoinder.
"And what is the use of money and leisure?" asks the artist. "Is it not
rather boresome to have nothing to do?"
"Oh! it is not necessary to do nothing," is the reply. "You can travel and
enlarge your mind."
"But," says the artist, "what is the good of traveling? You only get sea-
sick and very tired."
"Oh! replies the utilitarianist, "it is a wonderful experience to travel. You
can go to the old world and visit all those places of classic renown: Paris, Venice,
London. "








386 COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS BY WILLIAM F. G. SWANN, D. SC.

"But," says the artist, "is that not very disturbing? I hear that many of
these places are unsanitary. The food is not what you are accustomed to, and
sometimes the people are not over-friendly."

"Those are but small matters," says the utilitarianist. "They are far out-
weighed by all of the other riches you fall heir to. You can bask in the exhilarating
sun of the Alps. You can drink in the beauties of the Mediterranean. You can
visit ancient Rome; and when you are there do not fail to see those marvelous
pictures painted by Michaelangelo in the Vatican."
And so I have wondered if we should be far from the truth if we should maintain
the thesis that the only ultimate excuse for the existence of the things utilitarian
is that they provide the means whereby we may enjoy the things non-utilitarian.
In the new era which is before us, and upon which you will now enter, mankind
is likely to enjoy far more leisure than has been the lot of our forefathers. With
the world's work done largely by machines, the day is coming when but a fraction
of man's time will be occupied by the necessities of existence. What are we going
to do with the remainder? I think it is safe to say that one obtains permanent
satisfaction only out of the things on which he has done serious work. You may
decide to devote the whole of your life to golf, but unless at some time in your life
you work as hard as a navvy to improve yourself in the game, you will soon reach
a stage where your enjoyment lags. I would suggest that the very characteristic
which determines a good game is that it shall be something at which one can work
continually, in which one can continually improve and yet never attain perfection.
Following this criterion, golf is a good game. Billiards is a good game. Ping pong
is not such a good game, because, in a relatively short time a large number of
people can go practically as far as it is possible to go in the game, and it has no
further richness to stimulate improvement.
The consciousness of improvement is more satisfying than the realization of
success. There is no more unhappy being than the man or woman who has attained
middle age and has never done any serious work at anything. Such people go to
concerts, but know nothing about music, and soon they are sick of concerts. They go
to plays, knowing nothing of literature, and they are sick of the theatre. By
the time they are forty they have exhausted all the superficialities of pleasure and
are heartily sick of everything. The only excitement left is an ailment or a
grievance. In the years which have passed, this state of affairs has been the potential
lot of the wealthy few, and only they have had the problem of leisure before them.
In the years ahead of us, however, the leisure problem will be one for all of us.
It will be necessary for an individual to work hard in his youth that he may play
with satisfaction in his maturity. I vision a day when each of us will have his
vocation, and an avocation in which he is not necessarily less proficient than in his
vocation. The former is his contribution to the necessities of existence; it is the
thing he is paid for. The latter he does as his own master. When this day comes
perhaps we shall once more find a world in which there is time to do a thing well.








THE NEW ORDER OF THINGS


IN THIS WORLD of turmoil and scientific achievement, where the science of
even fifty years ago seems obsolete and primitive in its character, compared with
the science of today, it is almost a shock to turn to other fields where time has
wrought less changes. Three hundred years ago, the old Italian masters made
violins, violon-cellos and similar instruments. The general form and character of
those instruments is quite obvious, and indeed for five dollars one can buy a violin
which looks in its general characteristics very much like a "Strad". But the
"Strad" is worth fifty thousand or even a hundred thousand dollars; and there
are many musicians who will tell you that it is worth it, and that the value is not
a fictitious one based upon the antiquity and rarity of the instrument. Those old
instruments are not merely show pieces. They are not like the ancient museum
parchments kept sealed in light-protected eases, and exhibited on occasion only for
a moment. They are live things, working hard every day in the hands of the
great violinists and 'cellists of our time. They stand as the product of a skill in
craftsmanship which grew in an atmosphere sympathetic to it. There was in the
air of sixteenth and seventeenth century Italy the spirit of the making of these
instruments so that despite the meagre knowledge of the principles of acoustics,
despite the primitiveness of the tools and despite the ignorance of the chemistry
of the varnishes, a result was achieved which, even today, transcends the efforts
of modern skill. Machines can make many things better than the hand of man;
but there are some things born of the hand of man and of the heart which no life-
less thing can duplicate. The spirit which guided the master violin-makers of old
could hardly thrive in the civilization which has seen the rapid growth of the
machine age. The painters could not live, and indeed would not be content to live
in this age with the return with what they wish to paint might bring them. They
would have to paint advertisements, and portraits of uninteresting people who
paid them well for it.
If and when the day comes in which, through a greater leisure, these great arts
and other non-utilitarian activities can find once more an adequate proportion of
the time and sympathy of mankind, then perhaps we may regain some of the things
which mankind seems to have lost. It is for a new generation such as you represent
that this millennium awaits. When it comes, see that you use it well.




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