Saturday, April 04, 2009

Andre Ampère

This Catholic physicist, whose name (like Volta's) appears all over the world, was called "The Newton of electricity" by James Clerk Maxwell, the great physicist whose four laws were enshrined by Einstein:
It was ... a source of deep satisfaction for them [physicists of the late 1800s] to learn that the mathematical interpretation of a physical process in which gravitation played no part might show a striking resemblance to the law of gravitation. Maxwell was particularly eager to point this out in connection with the law of the conduction of heat in uniform media. Newton's laws were also the ideal Ampère had emulated in his work with such success that Maxwell was prompted to say: "The whole theory and experiment seems as if it had leaped, full-grown, full-armed, from the brain of the Newton of electricity."
[Jaki, The Relevance of Physics 73 quoting Maxwell's A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism]
One of Maxwell's four laws is a generalization of Ampère's law of magentism. In that same work, Jaki goes very deep in to a very important aspect of science, giving some more light on Ampère:
Culture is the art of finding the true proportion in things, situations, and human affairs. Consequently, any ingredient in culture must take its place in the whole according to its own proportion of truth, uncertainty, and error. By ignoring history, it is easy to forget that errors, blind alleys, wrong assumptions, and illusions in physics far outnumbered the successful efforts. Faraday, for one, found that even in the most successful instances not a tenth of his preliminary ideas and conclusions could be carried to satisfactory completion. In his diaries failures were recorded as faithfully as successes, in the conviction that an awareness of failures was indispensable for progress. No one upheld this view more resolutely than Maxwell, whose electromagnetic theory was deeply rooted in the study of Faraday's notes. Comparing the methods of Ampère and Faraday, Maxwell warned his students that it was necessary to study both in order to get a view in depth of a scientific theory. Ampère, said Maxwell, does not show the steps by which he arrived at his perfect demonstration: "He removed all traces of the scaffolding by which he had raised it." Faraday, on the other hand, made known both his successful and his unsuccessful experiments, both his crude and his developed ideas. Therefore, if Ampère's research should be read, to hear Maxwell state it, as a "splendid example of scientific research," Faraday's writings should be studied "for the cultivation of a scientific spirit." Maxwell made this point even more explicit soon after the opening of the Cavendish Laboratories. "The history of science," he said, "is not restricted to the enumeration of successful investigations. It has to tell of unsuccessful inquiries, and to explain why some of the ablest men have failed to find the key of knowledge, and how the reputation of others has only given a firmer footing to the errors into which they fell."
[Ibid, 519-20 quoting the same book by Maxwell and his "Introductory Lecture on Experimental Physics" from Maxwell's Scientific Papers]
Jaki also reveals an interesting study of cybernetics by Ampère: Maxwell interpreted the progress of science, it steadily tended "to deepen the distinction between the visible part, which perishes before our eyes and that which we are ourselves." The accumulation of scientific knowledge kept bringing, he insisted, ever fresh evidence that human personality, "with respect to its nature as well as to its destiny, lies quite beyond the range of science." In stating this, Maxwell merely voiced a conviction shared by all the outstanding figures of nineteenth-century physics. This should be abundantly clear to anyone having some familiarity with the views of Ohm, Young, Gauss, Fresnel, and Ampère, to mention only some of Maxwell's older contemporaries. Ampère's name is particularly relevant in this connection, as he gave in his Essai sur la philosophie des sciences a concise outline of the art of governing, or as he called it, cybernetics. While present-day definitions of cybernetics are all too often equivalent to questionable generalizations of the notion of feedback mechanism, Ampère's idea of cybernetics is not marred by debilitating physicalism. For contrary to the narrow outlook of physicalism, Ampère emphasized that the science of governing should be based on a thorough attentiveness to every facet of human life and activity. Cybernetics, according to him, far transcended the skill of establishing quantitative correlations. It was, rather, a science that had to ponder carefully the character, manners, history, religion, and laws of society before trying to formulate the general patterns of human activities. This is why, in his classification of sciences, cybernetics is at the very end of a long list of both quantitative and non-quantitative fields of inquiry, the knowledge of all of which was, in his opinion, indispensable for the development of a science that at the same time did justice to the wholeness of man.
[Jaki, Brain, Mind, and Computers]
There is a good deal more on Ampère and his work in Father Jaki's books, but let us hear some more about the man from Father Kneller:
Of the great Ampère, who, taking up Volta's work in electricity, developed it in many directions, the same [as Volta; see my posting] is to be recorded. André Marie Ampère was, according to the judgment of all who knew him and as his discoveries show, a man remarkable alike for acuteness and width of mind, a many-sided genius. His point of departure in science was Oerstedt's accidental discovery of the influence of a galvanic current on a magnetised needle. This at once suggested to Ampère a truth of much larger scope, namely, that magnetism could be transformed into electricity, and that electric currents in general exercised an influence on one another. He devised apparatus for the investigation of this hypothesis, and in a short time had established its truth, and formulated the laws according to which currents attract and repel one another, and cause deflections of magnetic needles. These discoveries have proved inexhaustible in their consequences, and mark the first step towards a true understanding of earth-magnetism and of magnetism in general. While the general course of scientific discovery is the establishment of the facts by one investigator, a general explanation of them by a second, and an exact formulation of the laws governing them by a third, in the case of electro-dynamics the three stages were performed by the single mind of Ampère. "A man who possessed all the characteristics of scientific genius, spacious vision, acuteness, and infallible accuracy in deduction", is the estimate of Ampère given by Clausius, surely a competent judge. And Bertrand says: "Ampère's essay is one of the most wonderful productions of modern science, and forms the foundation of the vastest and most perfect construction erected by natural philosophy since the time of Newton." Science owes to Ampère other discoveries in addition to those which have made his name immortal. He opened his career with mathematical works of great brilliancy, and it was, indeed, through these that he obtained his position in Paris and Membership of the Academy of Sciences. In Chemistry he had independently re-established the important law discovered by Avogadro in 1811 but since then completely forgotten: and in the controversy on the nature of chlorine he was a vigorous upholder of the true view at a time when the greatest specialists in Chemistry confessed themselves puzzled. In Zoology and Botany he was also thoroughly grounded. But it was philosophy proper that interested him most and his last work was an essay in the classification of the sciences. Ampère's religious experience included an early period of indifference, and after his return to Christianity a period of great doubt and distress. These were however merely stages in his development. At the time of his great discoveries he was once more a zealous and convinced Christian, and in this faith he remained to the end. Ozanam, who lived for some time in Ampère's household expresses himself unmistakably on this point:
"But over and above his scientific achievements there is something more to be said: for us Catholics, this rare genius has other titles to our veneration and love. He was a brother in the Faith.... Religion presided over the labours of his mind, shed its light over every field of his thought: and it was from this sublime point of view that he judged all things, even science itself.... This venerable head, with all its wisdom and glory, bowed unreservedly before the mysteries of the Divine Teaching. He knelt at the same altar as Descartes and Pascal, side by side with poor women and children, humbler in soul than the least of them. No one could have observed more scrupulously the austere, and yet sweet discipline of the Church.... But most beautiful of all was the operation of Christianity in the interior of his noble soul: that admirable simplicity, the modesty of a genius which, knowing everything, was content to be ignorant of its own greatness: that high scientific probity, eager not after glory, but after truth alone, nowadays so rare: that affable and communicative temper, pouring out in familiar conversation treasures beyond count, so communicative indeed that its ideas lay at the mercy of the plagiarist; finally that benevolence towards all he met but especially the young.... We know more than one, towards whom he showed the care and affection of a father. I say emphatically that those who knew only his intellect knew the less perfect part of him. For if he thought deeply, he loved more deeply still."
Ampère's discussions with Ozanam hardly ever concluded without some mention of the name of God. "Then Ampère took his broad brow between his hands and cried out: 'How great God is, Ozanam, how great God is! All our knowledge is absolutely nothing'."

We add to Ozanam's testimony that of Sainte-Beuve, a witness certainly not open to the charge of prejudice:
"The religious doubts and struggles of his early life had ceased: or at least his trouble of mind was no longer so acute. For years many things had been leading him back to the faith and submission of mind which he had so well expressed in 1803, in an affecting document which no doubt he had often re read in the interval. Interior sorrows, his instinct for the infinite, active correspondence with his old friend Father Barret, the very atmosphere of the Restoration all drew him back. Throughout all the years that followed down to the very end, we saw him effecting without effort and in a fashion to arouse admiration and respect, a reconciliation and alliance of faith and science, of belief and hope in human thought and adoration before the Revealed Word."
In Ampère's own writings we find many passages in which he speaks of Nature as leading up to God:
"We can see only the works of the Creator but through them we rise to a knowledge of the Creator Himself. Just as the real movements of the stars are hidden by their apparent movements, and yet it is by observation of the one that we determine the other: so God is in some sort hidden by His works, and yet it is through them that we discern Him and catch a hint of the Divine attributes. One of the most striking evidences of the existence of God is the wonderful harmony by which the universe is preserved and lilting beings are furnished in their organization with everything necessary to life, multiplication, and the enjoyment of all their powers, physical and intellectual."
[Kneller, Christianity and the Leaders of Modern Science]
For more details, please see the Catholic Encyclopedia.

I will conclude with an excerpt from another source, which unfortunately does not give its source, but given Fr. Kneller's report, it rings true:
The Rosary in the Hands of an Eminent Scientist

When Frederick Ozanam, the French Catholic scholar, leader of the 19th century Catholic social thought and founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (1833) was eighteen years old, he was experiencing a serious religious crisis. Tormented by doubts he entered one of the Paris churches seeking a bit of tranquility and solace. In the corner, near the Blessed Sacrament, he noticed a venerable old man fervently absorbed in praying the rosary.
Ozanam recognized the devout gentleman as Andre Ampère, the famous physicist, mathematician, natural philosopher and eminent researcher in electrodynamics, after whom the electrical unit ampere is named. Quietly he knelt down in back of his admired master. As he observed the great scientist absorbed in prayer he felt how faith and love of God began to surge in his soul. Later he confessed that the rosary in the hands of Ampère impressed him far more than any book or sermon.
[from Key to Happiness, September/October 1990]
Another scientist - an electrical engineer - who said the Rosary!

Well? What are YOU waiting for?


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