W. L. (William Larkin) Webb.

Brief biography and popular account of the unparalleled discoveries of T.J.J. See .. online

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Online LibraryW. L. (William Larkin) WebbBrief biography and popular account of the unparalleled discoveries of T.J.J. See .. → online text (page 22 of 28)
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Laws of Nature. No philosopher could admit this latter possi-
bility, for it leads to a reductio ad absurdum as convincing as any
in geometry.

58. As the Earth always rotated about as at present, and
never had a day of a few hours length, as formerly concluded by
Kelvin and Darwin, it follows also that her twin sister planet Venus
rotates about as the earth does, and has a day of about the same
length, or slightly shorter, 23 h 21 m . With its abundance of air
and water vapor, as shown by the brilliant surface of clouds, the
planet Venus therefore is habitable, and inhabited like the

59. When we behold the Milky Way in the region of Sagit-
tarius, the naked eye easily perceives the star-clouds into which
the millions of stars have become collected by the clustering power
of universal gravitation. This is a convenient witness to the
effects produced by the ravages of time under the operation of the
central powers observed by Herschel to be gradually breaking up
the Milky Way.

60. And just as the majestic arch of the Milky Way visibly
exhibits the effects of the clustering power of universal gravita-
tion, so also the reversal of these centripetal tendencies leads at


once to a more primordial state of wide diffusion under repulsive
forces in nature, which made possible the observed clustering
stream of the Galaxy. The operation of repulsive forces is thus
as evident to the mind as the clustering which is visibly breaking
up the Milky Way.

61. With the flight of immeasurable ages the clustering now
observed may become more pronounced, but the restorative pro-
cess, under repulsive forces, for developing sidereal systems in the
vacant regions of starless space is also at work.

62. The depths of the Milky May into which our telescopes
can penetrate is shown to be several million light-years, as held
byHerschel in 1802, and thus about a thousand times greater than
astronomers have recently believed.

63. The Milky Way being of very great profundity, and the
clusters being aggregations of stars in this starry stratum, they
are by the effects of perspective made to appear projected along
the path of the Galaxy.

64. The same process of capture which is gathering the stars
into clusters operates on a larger scale in the star-clouds of the
Milky Way, and thus the process is everywhere uniform from the
very lowest to the very highest order of sidereal systems.

65. If there is any truth in Herschel's theory that a cluster-
ing power has moulded the figures and internal arrangement of
density in clusters and nebulae of which we are assured by
the central accumulations noticed in many thousands of these
objects throughout the sidereal universe then it necessarily
follows that the Capture Theory corresponds to the true Law of

66. For it is essentially a theory of the Clustering Power of
universal gravitation, supplemented by the theory of repulsive
forces, and of the modifications produced by such agencies as the
resisting medium.

67. It should be remarked that in the time of Herschel, New-
tonian gravitation was not yet established as the central force
governing the motions of double and multiple stars; but subse-


quent investigations, especially those included in the first volume
of the writer's Researches, have established this fact beyond doubt,
and thus enabled us to affirm, without further observations, that
gravitation holds also for the nebulae, clusters and star-clouds of
the Galaxy.

68. It is upon the basis of the Great Cyclic Law of Nature
involving the mutual interaction of attractive and repulsive forces
operating throughout the sidereal universe and illustrated by the
grandest of celestial phenomena, that Cosmogony now takes rank
as a New Science of the Stars.

69. It is justly remarked that an astronomer of the philo-
sophic intuition of Herschel, but with modern mathematical
insight into the exhaustion of the potential energy of a cloud of
stars, under the central power of gravitation, by merely directing
his vision along the clustering stream of the Galaxy, over the region
of the bifurcation, from the Southern Cross through Centaurus,
Sagittarius and Cygnus to Cepheus, would be able to deduce not
only the breaking up of the Milky Way, but also the origin of our
planets at a great distance from the sun, and thus the principal
laws of the formation of the solar and sidereal system. As an
obvious deduction from the accumulative effects of universal
gravitation visible in the sky, surely this is no small gain. For
it places the new science of Cosmogony easily within the grasp of
the mathematician and the natural philosopher, who contemplate
the starry heavens with no instruments or applicances beyond the
simple naked eye.

70. The fundamental cosmogonic law of the firmament, that
all bodies are formed in the distance and subsequently drawn to
the centers about which they now revolve, is confirmed by the
Herschel-See theory of the depth of the Galaxy and of the Cluster-
ing Power found to be gathering the stars into groups, swarms
and immense star-clouds, and thus breaking up the Milky Way.
Accordingly it is now obvious why this stupendous arch of light
appears to span the heavens as a clustering stream exhibiting to the
naked eye the most unmistakable effects of the ravages of time.


71. Among all the sublime discoveries which have crowned
the labors of philosophers throughout the centuries, wonders are
many, but none is more wonderful than this amazing triumph of
human ingenuity, by which mysteries are fathomed that the entire
life of our race would scarcely enable us to deduce from changes
such as might be observed in the star-clouds of the Milky Way;
and yet from established laws of Nature may be concluded with
even more certainty than if they rested on the evidence of
actual observations authentically transmitted from the remotest

72. The foremost geometers of the eighteenth century, in-
cluding Lagrange, Laplace and Poisson, were greatly occupied
with the problem of the stability of the solar system; and in his
historical eulogy on Laplace the penetrating Fourier justly remarks
that the researches of geometers prove that the law of gravitation
itself operates as a preservative power, and renders all disorder
impossible, so that no object is more worthy of the meditation of
philosophers than the problem of the stability of these great celes-
tial phenomena.

73. But if the question of the stability of our single planetary
system may so largely absorb the talents of the most illustrious geom-
eters of the age of Herschel, how much more justly may the problem
of the stability of clusters, involving many thousands of such systems,
claim the attention of the modern geometer, who has witnessed the per-
fect unfolding of the grand phenomena first discovered by that unri-
valed explorer of the heavens?

74. The grandeur of the study of the origin of the greatest
of sidereal systems is worthy of the philosophic penetration of a
Herschel! The solution of the dynamical problem presented sur-
passes the powers of the most titanic geometers, and would demand
the inventive genius of a Newton or an Archimedes!

75. Yet notwithstanding the transcendent character of the
problem, and the hopelessness of a rigorous solution in our time,
even an imperfect outline of Nature's laws may aid the thoughtful
astronomer, in penetrating the underlying workings of the sidereal


universe, and thus enable him to perceive the great end subserved
by the development of the Cosmos. If so, he may well rejoice,
and exclaim with Ptolemy:

"Though but the being of a day,
When I the planet-paths survey,

My feet the dust despise;
Up to the throne of God I mount
And quaff from an immortal fount
The nectar of the skies."

(Translated by Professor W. B. SMITH.)

Starlight on Loutre,

Montgomery City, Missouri, December 10, 1912.



what has now been shown it is apparent that See's
work in Astronomy and Cosmogony can only be described
as revolutionary. That is to say, he has torn down mental
processes and structures long used by men of science and grown
venerable and hoary with age. Yet not content with being a mere
iconoclast, he has substituted new structures for the rubbish and
cobwebs which have been swept away. Evidently such a revolu-
tionary movement is of great importance to the scientific world.

When the Nebular Hypothesis of Laplace was proposed in
1796, it did not pretend to be more than a plausible hypothesis.
Laplace considered it highly probable, but not demonstrated. It
came into use little by little, and has now found a place in every
important work on Astronomy, most books on Geology, and nearly
all treatises on Philosophy. It has therefore become deeply
intrenched, from mere usage, and in default of a better explana-
tion. But it is now recognized that See's discoveries have shaken
it to the very foundations, and all who keep abreast of progress
realize that Laplace's hypothesis involving the detachment of
planets and satellites is permanently overthrown. The use of
that antiquated and abandoned theory hereafter will be nothing
less than a sign of fossilization and of mental incapacity.

See's proof that the planets have been formed in the distance
and have since neared the sun, as their orbits were reduced in size
by growth of the central mass and rounded up into almost perfect
circles by the action of a resisting medium, is of a mathematical
character, and admits of no dispute. The theory that the planets
have been added on to the sun from without and the satellites


likewise added on to the planets therefore is generally accepted
by progressive investigators throughout the scientific world. For
example, in his Lectures on Cosmogony at the University of Paris,
1911, the late celebrated mathematician Poincare devotes two
chapters to See's work, in spite of the fact that the Lectures were
nearly finished when the Researches, Vol. II, reached Paris, and
thus Poincare could not treat adequately of See's discoveries. In
the same way the interest in this great advance has been profound
in every civilized country.

At the Monist Congress in Hamburg, September, 1911, the
celebrated Professor Suante Arrhenius of Stockholm delivered
the principal address. Naturally it related to progress in the
physical sciences, and was largely about the discoveries of Pro-
fessor See, as the most significant recent development in physical

In October, 1911, these discoveries were the subject of lively
discussion at the meetings of the Paris Academy of Sciences.
Professor Charles Andre, late director of the observatory of Lyons,
tried to reply to See's argument overthrowing the Cosmogony of
Laplace. It seemed to be a matter of national pride for the
French. They were shocked at the sacrilegious thought of giving
up the venerable views of the great French geometer of the days
of Napoleon, which they had accepted from childhood. Andre's
argument, however, is no match for that of See, and the latter has
therefore paid no attention to the late director of the observatory
of Lyons.

The late M. Poincare, the greatest and most sagacious of the
French men of science, was too wise and just to attempt to defend
the indefensible; and promptly abandoned Laplace's theory and
adopted the new theory of the American astronomer. Naturally
France will recognize the views of Poincare and See as correct, and
the only ones entitled to serious consideration in the future.

In England a curious movement occurred, but there, too, most
men of science were disinclined to contest the ground with the
American astronomer. It happened that Professor See's work


overthrew the thirty-years-old theory of Lord Kelvin and Sir
George Darwin that the moon was thrown off from the earth, and
thus had a terrestrial origin. There are no greater names in
British Science than those of Kelvin and Darwin; and naturally
British pride was somwehat hurt by this outcome. The modern
successors of Newton at Cambridge were accustomed to think
that in Science their authority was supreme, and found it a little
hard to realize that they would have to learn from an American.

It is a matter of deep regret to record the somewhat unex-
pected death of Sir George Darwin, Dec. 7, 1912, in the 68th year
of his age.

In announcing the death of this eminent mathematician to
the Royal Astronomical Society, Dec. 13, 1912, Professor F. W.
Dyson, Astronomer Royal for Great Britain, remarked that it had
been a cherished thought with Sir George Darwin that as his
father, the celebrated Charles Darwin, had outlined the laws of
terrestrial evolution, so too, he in turn had added to our knowl-
edge of celestial evolution. Darwin's last paper to the Royal
Astronomical Society, read in June, 1912, was submitted with the
remark by Sir George himself that he had labored for the develop-
ment of Cosmogony.

There can be no difference of opinion on this point. Pro-
fessor See recognized Darwin as master in all his earlier work, and
departed from his teachings in later years only when he found the
Darwinian premises insecure.

Perhaps the occasion of a memorial resolution, such as was
passed at the meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, Dec. 13,
1912, would not have permitted anything to be said in behalf of
another still living; but it has been remarked that the Astrono-
mer Royal might with strict regard for truth better have said
that one of Sir George Darwin's greatest services to Science had
consisted in his early support of Professor See, who finally estab-
lished correct premises and laid the Foundations of Cosmogony,
by reviving and greatly extending the theories of Sir William

SIR GEORGE H. DARWIN, F.R.S. (1845-1912). AT THE AGE OF 47.

One of the most eminent of recent British mathematicians, and the author
of many profound investigations in Dynamical Astronomy and on the Figures
of Equilibrium of Rotating Masses of Fluid. Unfortunately the premises under-
lying his work in Cosmogony were insecure, and the results are therefore largely
inapplicable to the actual universe. One of Professor See's earliest British friends.


Competent men of science are now agreed on the truth of
Herschel's theory that throughout the sidereal universe New-
tonian gravitation acts as a clustering power; and on the truth
of See's supplementary but equally important theory of the resto-
rative process going on under repulsive forces in nature. These
two fundamental conceptions form the Foundations of Cosmogony;
but the subject could hardly be called a Science till it had a mathe-
matical basis like that outlined in See's Researches on the Evolution
of the Stellar Systems, Vol. II, 1910, and in the Dynamical Theory
of the Globular Clusters, 1912.

Darwin's last public utterance, in his address as president of
the International Congress of Mathematicians at Cambridge,
August 22, 1912, contained a distinct note of despair in regard to
the applications of mathematics to the physical universe. He
cited the correctness of the mathematics in Lord Kelvin's researches
on the secular cooling of the earth, but added that his reasoning
was invalidated by conditions not taken account of, such as the
effects of radio-activity. In other words, Lord Kelvin reasoned
from false or unsatisfactory premises.

Sir George Darwin obviously could not be expected to allude
to the failure of much of his own work in Cosmogony, but it is im-
possible to doubt that it was the similar flaws found by See in the
premises underlying these investigations that so deeply impressed
on Darwin's mind the difficulty of applying mathematics to the
physical universe. His last public expression is thus a tacit ad-
mission of the truth of See's discoveries, and a concession to his
triumphant overthrow of the old ideas in Cosmogony. For on
the appearance of the Researches, Vol. II, 1910, Darwin had written
Professor See to the effect that it would not be right to leave the
impression that he had "as yet adopted the theory," but that he
would study it attentively, and no doubt he did so. Moreover,
Darwin had received the "Determination of the Depth of the
Milky Way" in May, and the "Dynamical Theory of the Globular
Clusters" early in July, 1912; and he was thus aware of the com-
plete verification of the results first outlined in See's Researches,
Volume II, 1910.


The following extracts from a circular issued by the Thos. P.
Nichols & Son Co., of Lynn, Mass., publishers of See's famous
Researches, will more fully explain some points relating to the
triumph of the Capture Theory:

1. Professor W. S. Adams, Solar Observatory, Mt. Wilson,
California: "A beautiful book which will prove of the greatest
service in connection with my future work."

2. Professor Suante Arrhenius, Stockholm: "A great and
splendid treatise to which I shall give months of study."

3. Professor Benjamin Baillaud, Director of the Paris Ob-
servatory: "A magnificent and important work."

4. Professor E. E. Barnard, of Yerkes Observatory: "A
great work of deep interest, with every subject splendidly treated."

5. Professor A. Belopolski, of Poulkowa Observatory: "This
book contains much food for human thought."

6. Professor K. Bohlin, Director of Observatory, Stockholm:
"A very beautiful and splendid work."

7. Professor E. W. Brown, Yale University: "The beauti-
ful printing and magnificent illustrations are a very unusual feat-
ure, and make the book a welcome addition to any library, quite
apart from the contents."

8. Professor Chas. Burkhalter, Chabot Observatory, Oak-
land, California: "It is a superb volume, a monumental work
and its effect on astronomy will be profound."

9. Professor S. W. Burnham, Yerkes Observatory: "It is
a great work in every sense, and will constitute a most enduring

10. Professor H. S. Carslaw, University of Sydney: "It is
a most important work."

11. Professor R. T. Crawford, University of California :
"Admirably prepared and full of most interesting and important

12. Professor Sir G. H. Darwin, University of Cambridge,
England: "In passing final proof of 'Tides' for Encyclopedia


Britannica yesterday, I gave a reference to this work by erasing
several sentences in existing type, but was unable to enter into any

13. Professor H. Delandres, Director of Observatory, Meu-
don, France: "A work of vast extent and profound interest."

14. Professor F. W. Dyson, Astronomer Royal for Great
Britain: "A magnificent work, which will be greatly appreciated
by astronomers."

15. Sir David Gill, President Royal Astronomical Society:
"A wonderful and beautiful book of Researches, and I look for-
ward with great interest to the study of its pages."

16. Professor R. T. A. Innes, Director of Transvaal Observ-
atory: "It is indeed a remarkable production for one man."

17. Dr. Otto Klotz, Dominion Observatory, Ottawa, Canada :
"It will give food for thought for many a moon."

18. Professor H. Ludendorff, Astrophysical Observatory,
Potsdam: "It will mark an epoch in Cosmogony."

19. Professor H. Poincare, University of Paris: "I have
made use of your book (Researches, Vol. II) in my course this year,
although I had not expected to do so, since I did not receive the
volume till near the close of the last lesson: I then insisted, with
profit, on the capture of planets by a resisting medium."

20. Professor C. L. Poor, Columbia University, New York:
"A very valuable work in which the problems are ably presented."

21. Professor H. von Seeliger, Director of Observatory,
Munich: "A work of vast extent and deep interest."

22. Professor W. B. Smith, Tulane University: "A majestic,
magnificent volume, a monument more lasting than brass, more
lofty than the kingly form of pyramids."

23. Professor Elis Stromgren, Director of Observatory, Cop-
enhagen: " It revolutionizes our thought in many lines."

24. Dr. Alexander Roberts, Lovedale, South Africa: "A
monumental work which will be the standard for all issues in
astronomy for many and many a year."

25. Professor Max Wolf, Director of Observatory, Heidel-
berg; "A splendid work of deepest interest."


26. Professor A. Wolfer, Director of Observatory, Zurich,
Switzerland: "A beautiful work treating of discoveries of tran-
scendent importance."

Considering the extremely revolutionary character of See's
discoveries, it must be held that they have had a very favorable
reception from the scientific world. Those whose work is over-
thrown by the new advance naturally have been unable to take a
calm and disinterested view of recent progress. But as more time
has elapsed it is noticed that acceptance of the results is general,
and that acquiescence in See's conclusions becomes more and more

It is a deplorable fact that as the newer processes of Astron-
omy have developed, such as the various branches of spectro-
scopic and photographic research, the number of astronomers who
can understand difficult mathematical arguments like those built
up by See, has decreased rather than increased. This is the un-
fortunate outcome of the narrow specialization of our age. It
makes solid progress in the deeper problems of Astronomy very
slow, and dependent on the few rather than on the many. Yet
the final results, as given in a work such as the Researches, may be
followed by any fairly well trained student at college, who has a
clear grasp of the elements of mathematics. The need of such a
comprehensive work was very great. Prior to its appearance it
looked as if progress on a large scale had been disintegrated by
specialization, and that the threads of the argument could never
again be woven into a substantial and durable fabric. But for
the unusual grasp of See's mind it is doubtful if it could have been
done; for no one else had even made a beginning in the develop-
ment of the New Science of Cosmogony.

If we look back at the great revolutions of thought in the past,
we find that most of them involved severe struggles, which ex-
tended over considerable periods of time. This was true, for
example, of the heliocentric theory of the solar system which was
published by Copernicus in 1543, but not generally accepted till


after Galileo's invention of the telescope in 1610. It was much
the same way with the discoveries of the laws of planetary motion
by Kepler (1619). They were not fully adopted and universally
recognized till the age of Newton (1686) . And in the case of New-
ton himself, the law of gravitation was not universally adopted
till the next generation, when Clairault and Euler greatly extended
the theory. So also for physical discoveries, like that made by
Roemer of the velocity of light (1675), which was at once accepted
by a few eminent men like Huyghens and Newton, but not gener-
ally adopted by physicists till after Bradley 's discovery of the
Aberration of light in 1727. For long after Roemer 's discovery,
Fontenelle, perpetual secretary of the Paris Academy of Sciences,
went so far as to publicly congratulate himself that he had not
believed in so great a heresy as the gradual propagation of light.

In our time the progress of the world is much more rapid than
in former centuries; and consequently it is probable that See's
discoveries will find more immediate adoption than could be ex-
pected of similar theories in the past. This is in fact indicated by
the progress already made towards a general adoption of these
discoveries in different countries. New theories, however, not
only have to triumph over the old, by virtue of inherent superi-
ority, but also have to displace them from current thought, by the
gradual teaching of the correct principles, before the new discov-
eries can be said to be fully effective. As the modern world is
organized, this ought to be possible within ten years, possibly in
less time. But this clarification of the public mind and its accept-
ance of new truth is always a somewhat gradual process.

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Online LibraryW. L. (William Larkin) WebbBrief biography and popular account of the unparalleled discoveries of T.J.J. See .. → online text (page 22 of 28)