As a general thing, too much trust should not be placed in words. In the first place, it frequently happens that their sense is not well defined, or that they are not understood exactly in the same way by everybody, and this leads to sad misunderstandings. But even in case they are precise, and are received everywhere under a single acceptation, there still remains one danger, and that is that of passing from the word to the idea, and of being led to believe that, because there is a word, there is a real thing designated by this word.

Let us take, for example, the word electricity. If we understand by this term the common law which embraces a certain category of phenomena, it expresses a clear and useful idea; but as for its existence, it is not permitted to believe a priori that there is a distinct agent called electricity which is the efficient cause of the phenomena. We ought never, says the old rule of philosophy, to admit entities without an absolute necessity. The march of science has always consisted in gradually eliminating these provisory conceptions and in reducing the number of causes. This fact is visible without going back to the ages of ignorance, when every new phenomenon brought with it the conception of a special being which caused it and directed it. In later ages they had spirits in which there was everything: volatile liquids, gases, and theoretical conceptions, such as phlogiston. At the end of the last century, and at the beginning of our own, ideas being more rational, the notion of the "fluid" had been admitted, a mysterious and still vague enough category (but yet an already somewhat definite one) in which were ranged the unknown and ungraspable causes of caloric, luminous, electric, etc., phenomena. Gradually, the "fluid" has vanished, and we are left (or rather, we were a short time ago) at the notion of forces - a precise and mathematically graspable notion, but yet an essentially mysterious one. We see this conception gradually disappearing to leave finally only the elementary ideas of matter and motion - ideas, perhaps, which are not much clearer philosophically than the others, particularly that of matter taken per se, but which, at least, are necessary, since all the others supposed them.

Among those notions that study and time are reducing to other and simpler ones, that of electricity should be admitted; for it presents itself more and more as one of the peculiar cases of the general motion of matter. It will be to the eternal honor of Fresnel for having introduced into science and mathematically constituted the theory of undulations (already proposed before him, however), thus giving the first example of the notion of motion substituted for that of force. Since the principle of the conservation of energy has taken the eminent place in science that it now occupies, and we have seen a continual transformation of one series of phenomena into another, the mind is at once directed to the aspect of a new fact toward an explanation of this kind. Still, it is certain that these hypotheses are difficult of justification; for those motions that are at present named molecular, and that we cannot help presuming to be at the base of all actions, are per se ungraspable and can only be demonstrated by the coincidence of a large number of results. There is, however, another means of rendering them probable, and that is by employing analogy. If, by vibrations which are directly ascertainable, we can reproduce the effects of electricity, there will be good reason for admitting that the latter is nothing else than a system of vibration differing only, perhaps, in special qualities, such as dimensions, direction, rapidity, etc.

Such is the result that is attained by the very curious experiments that are due to Mr. Bjerknes. These constitute an ensemble of very striking results, which are perfectly concordant and exhibit very close analogies with electrical effects, as we shall presently see.

Bjerknes s Experiments 315 2
Fig. 1.

They are based on the presence of bodies set in vibration in a liquid. The vibrations produced by Mr. Bjerknes are of two kinds - pulsations and oscillations. The former of these are obtained by the aid of small drums with flexible ends, as shown to the left in Fig. 1. A small pump chamber or cylinder is, by means of a tube, put in communication with one of these closed drums in which the rapid motion of a piston alternately sucks in and expels the air. The two flexible ends are successively thrust outward and attracted toward the center. In an apparatus of this kind the two ends repulse and attract the liquid at the same time. Their motions are of the same phase; if it were desired that one should repulse while the other was attracting, it would be necessary to place two drums back to back, separated by a stiff partition, and put them in connection with two distinct pump chambers whose movements were so arranged that one should be forcing in while the other was exhausting. A system of this nature is shown to the right in Fig. 1.

The vibrations are obtained by the aid of small metal spheres fixed in tubular supports by movable levers to which are communicated the motions of compression and dilatation of the air in the pump chamber. They oscillate in a plane whose direction may be varied according to the arrangement of the sphere, as seen in the two apparatus of this kind shown in Fig. 1. Fig. 2 will give an idea of the general arrangement. The two pistons of the air-pumps are connected to cranks that may be fixed in such a way as to regulate the phases as may be desired, either in coincidence or opposition. The entire affair is put in motion by a wheel and cord permitting of rapid vibrations being obtained. The air is let into the apparatus by rubber tubing without interfering with their motions.

Bjerknes s Experiments 315 3a
Fig. 2.