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James Jeans (1877 – 1946)


British physicist, astronomer and mathematician.
James Jeans
A theoretical investigation which Einstein published in 1917 provides a third conspicuous landmark. It connected up he two great landmarks already mentioned by showing that the disintegration of radioactive substances is governed by the same laws as the jumps of the kangaroo electrons in the theory of Bohr. In fact radioactive atoms were now seen merely to contain a special breed of kangaroos, much more energetic and ferocious than any that had hitherto been encountered.
Jeans quotes
With the coming of the twentieth century, there came into being a new physics which was especially concerned with phenomenon on the atomic and sub-atomic scale. ...A preliminary glance over the vast territory of this new physics reveals three outstanding landmarks.
Jeans
...when the experiment was attempted by Michelson and Morley it failed, thus showing that space and time assumed in the picture were not true to the facts of nature. ...the pattern of events was the same whether the world stood at rest in the supposed ether, or had an ether wind blowing through it at a million miles an hour. It began to look as though the supposed ether was not very important in the scheme of things... and so might as well be abandoned. But if the bell-rope is to be discarded, what is to ring the bell?




Jeans James quotes
Everything that has been said, and every conclusion that has been tentatively put forward, is quite frankly speculative and uncertain. We have tried to discuss whether present-day science has anything to say on certain difficult questions, which are perhaps set for ever beyond the reach of human understanding. We cannot claim to have discerned more than a very faint glimmer of light at the best; perhaps it was wholly illusory, for certainly we had to strain our eyes very hard to see anything at all. So that our main contention can hardly be that the science of to-day has a pronouncement to make, perhaps it ought rather to be that science should leave off making pronouncements: the river of knowledge has too often turned back on itself.
Jeans James
The complete closed world consists of three parts-substratum, phenomenal world, and observer. By our experiments we drag up activities from the substratum into the phenomenal world of space and time, but there is no clear line of demarcation between subject and object, and by performing observations on the world, we alter it, much as a fisherman dragging up fish from the depths of the seas disturbs the waters and also damages the fish.
James Jeans quotes
Another conspicuous failure of classical mechanics was with one aspect of the problem of radiation. ...Imagine a crowd of steel balls rolling about on a steel floor. ...There must... be a steady leakage of energy from... causes, such as air resistance and the friction of the floor, so the balls will eventually lose energy, and, after no great length of time, will be found standing at rest on the floor. The energy of their motion seems to have been lost... most of it has been transformed into heat. The classical mechanics predicts that this must happen; it shows that all energy of motion, except possibly a minute fraction of the whole, must be transformed into heat whenever such a transformation is physically possible. It is because of this that perpetual-motion machines are a practical impossibility.
James Jeans
Life exists in the universe only because the carbon atom possesses certain exceptional properties.
Jeans James quotes
...a detailed mathematical discussion shows that whatever kind of wave-packet we select to represent the electron, the product of the two uncertainties of position and momentum can never be less than h, which is precisely what Heisenberg found...
Jeans
It would, however, be wrong to think of an electron as a bullet-like structure with tentacles sticking out from its surface. We can calculate the mass of the bullet, and also the mass of the tentacles. The two masses are found to be identical, each agreeing with the known mass of the electron. Thus we cannot take the electron to be bullet plus tentacles... The two pictures do not depict two different parts of the electron, but two different aspects of the electron. They are not additive but alternative; as one comes into play, the other must disappear.
Jeans James
A second conspicuous landmark... is the enunciation of the fundamental law of radioactive disintegration by Rutherford and Soddy in 1903. This law was in no sense a consequence or development of Plank's theories; indeed fourteen years were to elapse before any connection was noticed between the two. The new law asserted that the atoms of radioactive substances broke up spontaneously, and not because of any particular conditions or special happenings. This seemed to involve an even more startling break with classical theory than the new laws of Plank; radioactive break-up appeared to be an effect without a cause, and suggested that the ultimate laws of nature were not even causal.
James Jeans
This fallacious result is not... a peculiarity of classical mechanics; it is given also by a very wide class of possible systems of mechanics. This being so, no minor modification of the classical mechanics can possibly put things right. Something far more drastic is needed; we are called upon to surrender either the continuity or the causality of classical mechanics, or else the possibility of representing changes by motions in time and space.




James Jeans quotes
The human race, whose intelligence dates back only a single tick of the astronomical clock, could hardly hope to understand so soon what it all means.
James Jeans
If we assume that the last breath of, say, Julius Caesar has by now become thoroughly scattered through the atmosphere, then the chances are that each of us inhales one molecule of it with every breath we take.
Jeans quotes
The laws which governed the spontaneous jumps of the kangaroos were shown to be of the simplest; out of any number of kangaroos a certain proportion always jumped within a specified time, and nothing seemed to be able to change this number. Also, before the jumps took place, there was nothing in the world of phenomena to distinguish those kangaroos that were about to jump from those that were not... to help fill the quota demanded by the statistical law. As discontinuity marched into the world of phenomena through one door, causality walked out through another.
Jeans James
In the interior of the atom, Bohr had tried the plan of retaining the particle-electron and modifying the classical mechanics. Heisenberg took the opposite course, his procedure amounting in effect to retaining the classical mechanics, at least in form, and modifying the electron. Actually, the electron dropped out all together, because it exists only as a matter of inference and not of direct observation. For the same reason, the new theory contains no mention of atoms, nuclei, protons, or of electricity in any shape or form. The existences of all these are matters of inference, and Heisenberg's purely mathematical theory could no more make contact with them than with the efficiency of a turbine or with the price of wheat.
Jeans James quotes
Bohr's investigation had typified what had become a standard procedure in problems of theoretical physics. The first step was to discover the mathematical laws governing certain groups of phenomena; the second was to devise hypothetical models or pictures to interpret these laws in terms of motion or mechanism; the third was to examine in what way these models would behave in other respects, and this would lead to prediction of other phenomena-predictions which might or might not be confirmed when put to the test of experiment. For instance, Newton had explained the phenomena of gravitation in terms of a force of gravitation; a later age had seen the luminiferous ether introduced to explain the propagation of light and, subsequently, the general phenomena of electricity and magnetism; finally Bohr had introduced electronic jumps in an attempt to explain atomic spectra. In each case the models had fulfilled their primary purpose, but had failed to predict further phenomena with accuracy.
James Jeans
Precisely similar ideas are applicable to the molecules that form the air in a room. ...The classical mechanics now predicts that the whole energy of motion will be changed into radiation [heat], so that the molecules will shortly be found lying at rest on the floor... In actual fact they continue to move with undiminished energy, forming a perpetual-motion machine in defiance of classical mechanics. ...We have passed from one to another of three worlds... from the man-sized world to the world of the electron.
James Jeans quotes
The classical mechanics had envisaged the world constructed of matter and radiation, the matter consisting of atoms and the radiation of waves. Plank's theory called for an atomicity of radiation similar to that which was so well established for matter. It supposed that radiation was not discharged from matter in a steady stream like water from a hose, but rather like lead from a machine-gun; it came off in separate chunks which Plank called quanta. This... carried tremendous philosophical consequences.
James Jeans
Heisenberg now approached the problem from a new philosophical angle. He discarded all models, pictures and parables, and made a clear distinction between sure knowledge we gain from observation of nature and the conjectural knowledge we introduce when we use models, pictures and parables. Sure knowledge... can only be numerical, so that Heisenberg's results were inevitably mathematical in form, and could not disclose anything about the true nature of physical properties or entities.
Jeans James
In every previous application of the quantum law, Plank's law, that the energy is h [Plank's constant] times the frequency, had been used to deduce the energy of a quantum when the frequency of the radiation was already known. In the present case the formula was used the other way; the energy of the emitted photon was known to begin with, and the formula was utilized to deduce its frequency. The frequencies calculated in this way are found to agree completely and exactly with those of the spectrum of hydrogen.


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