James Clerk Maxwell: Perspectives on his Life and Work Hardcover – 9 Jan 2014
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... a wonderfully holistic tour of Maxwell's life and impact ... This work is highly recommended. It will be of interest to researchers and most certainly will enhance a library collection or serve as an anchor for a seminar in British history and/or the history of science. (Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Sam Houston State University)
This selection of highly detailed essays from academic physicists, mathematicians and historians of science seeks to do justice to Maxwell from many perspectives, looking at his life, his science, his mathematical abilities, his poetry and his religious faith. (Christine Evans-Pughe, Engineering & Technology,)
The same editorial team produced a wonderful book on another great Scottish Victorian mathematician, Lord Kelvin, and this new collection of essays looks equally enticing. (Tony Mann, Times Higher Education)
About the Author
Raymond Flood is Gresham Professor of Geometry. He was Vice President of Kellogg College, Oxford and is an Emeritus fellow of Kellogg College. His main research interests are in the history of mathematics, and he was formerly President of the British Society for the History of Mathematics. Mark McCartney is Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Ulster. His research interests include nonlinear dynamics, the history of science and maths education. Andrew Whitaker is Emeritus Professor of Physics at Queen's University Belfast. His main research interest has been in the foundations of quantum theory and he also has an interest in the history of physics, having had The New Quantum Age published by Oxford University Press in 2011.
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Einstein wrote in his autobiography: "The theory of special relativity owes its origin to Maxwell's equations of the electromagnetic field. Conversely, the latter can be grasped formally in satisfactory fashion only by the special theory of relativity." (296) Maxwell is between Newton and Einstein.
This work not only explains the overwhelming impact of Maxwell's science, it also reveals the heart and faith of this astonishing man. Contents -
Part I: Life
2. Maxwell at Aberdeen
3. Maxwell at Kings College, London
4. Cambridge and Building the Cavendish Laboratory
Part II: Science
5. Maxwell and the Science of Colour
6. Maxwell and the Rings of Saturn
7. Maxwell's Kenetic Theory
8. Maxwell and the Theory of Liquids
9. Maxwell's Famous (or Infamous) Demon
10. Maxwell's Contributions to Electricity and Magnetism
11. The Maxwellians
12. The Fluid Dynamics
Part III: Poetry, Religion and Conclusions
13. Boundaries of Perception: Maxwell's Poetry of Self, Senses and Science
14. Maxwell, Faith and Physics
15. I Remember Years and Labours as a Tale I have Read
This is not a science textbook. It does cover Maxwell's science, albeit for the general reader; however, the focus is on the man, not mathematics. His relationships with his wife, father, friends, students, etc. are presented vividly. Loved by all. When one close friend, Stokes, describes Maxwell, he writes; " 'a deeply religious Christian man.' Other descriptions of Maxwell used by his peers include such terms as 'simplicity, modesty, humility, charity, deep earnestness and unworldliness.' " (291)
Also the inner man is revealed by letters, poems, humor, speeches and teaching. His profound love for the Bible; intense reverence for his Creator; absolute trust in Christ's ransom; total confidence in his own heavenly resurrection; defense of free-will; all are clearly explained. He writes toward the end of his life: "The purpose of human life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Astounding!
The chapter on his poetry is fascinating. First paragraph: "If there is one feature Maxwell's poems share, it is their continual questioning of how we come to know what we come to know. Again and again, the poems address epistemological and disciplinary boundaries, divergences and parallels between individual and collective consciousness, the nature of perception as sensory, rational and non-rational." (233) Wow!
"His equations of electricity and magnetism are rather more elegant and timeless than his occasional verse, but the two together suggest how analogous, intertwined, and mutually productive, poetry and physics may be. By reading the two interests in parallel, we gain an extraordinary and often very personal perspective of a figure positioned at the epicenter of the birth of modern physics." (235) Notes that in that in the nineteenth century, Maxwell was well known as 'a lover of poetry.' " How special!
"Each, my wandering sense entrancing,
Tells me my back my thoughts aloud,
All the joys of Truth enhancing
Crushing all that makes me proud."
"Empirical knowledge is presented as illusory and misleading in that each experience only 'tells me back my thoughts aloud'. The poem's conclusion asserts that the sole purpose of sensory experience is the explication of Christian 'Truth', alongside which there is no room for individual vanity or pride." (240) This is analysis of the relationship of knowledge and self-knowledge. Very profound.
Chapter 14 is: Maxwell, Faith and Physics.
Maxwell led his household in prayer. One was printed; "Almighty God, who hast created man in Thine own image, and made him a living soul that he might seek after thee and have dominion over thy creatures, teach us to study the works of your hands that we may subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen our reason for thy service; and so to receive thy blessed Word, that we may believe on Him whom thou hast sent to give us the knowledge of salvation and the remission of our sins. All which we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ our Lord." (270)
In a letter to a friend: "You will easily see that my 'confession of faith' must be liable to the objection that Satan made against Job's piety." (266) This issue, that humans only serve God for selfish benefits (riches, status, eternal life, etc.), is not commonly grasped. It is the issue that explains why God allows present suffering and the reason Christ suffered before he died. This 'objection' and the response is the theme of the Bible. Amazing that Maxwell understood this and lived his life to defend his Creator's reputation!
Maxwell's later years included a somewhat public dispute with Tyndall, a prominent scientist, and a determined advocate of scientific materialism. Maxwell believed the unchanging nature of atoms indicate a Creator. "None of the properties of Nature, since the time when Nature began, have produced the slightest difference in the properties of any molecule. We are unable to ascribe either the existence of the molecules or the identity of their properties to the operation of any of the causes we call natural." (274) This from a world class physicist! (The 2015 book, "Huxley's Church and Maxwell's Demon" by Matthew Stanley, adds insight.)
"On the other hand, the exact quality of each molecule to all others of the same kind gives it, as Sir John Hershel has well said, the essential character of a manufactured article, and precludes the idea of its being eternal and self existent." (270) This idea became a famous controversy with many scientists taking part.
This dispute, that materialism is the only reality, is still alive. One German physiologist, wrote "Of all kinds of dogmatism, the materialistic is the most dangerous, because it denies its own dogmatism, and appears in the garb of science because it professes to rest on fact, when it is but speculation; and because it attempts to annex territories to natural science, before they have been fairly conquered." (277) This work devotes serious coverage to this theme.
The last paragraph: Maxwell was "a marvelous interpretation of scientific industry, philosophic insight, poetic feeling and imagination, and overflowing humor. He must have been a wonderful man." (300)
This book is printed on high quality paper. It is the large coffee table size. Fifty three pages of notes and a ten page index.
Written for the serious reader. Some background in science and/or Maxwell useful. Nevertheless, someone wanting to understand the history of ideas that still drive the modern world, will receive valuable insights. This would serve as an outstanding beginning. Maxwell was there when the world changed!
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