Kelvin and the Physics of Time

  • Joe D. Burchfield
Chapter

Abstract

The study of geology has always attracted and profited from the efforts of dedicated amateurs. Even after its emergence at the beginning of the nineteenth century as a fully independent branch of science, the appearance of a growing cadre of professional geologists stimulated rather than inhibited the activity of a still larger band of amateurs. In England especially, geology was the popular science par excellence. Clergymen, professional men, scholars, leisured gentlemen, and scientists from other branches of science were all attracted to its problems. They filled the geological societies and made important contributions to the literature of the maturing science. Kelvin was such an amateur.

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References

  1. 1.
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  2. 2.
    Ibid., I: 185–188. Even the title of this dissertation is in some doubt. Thompson recorded it as “De Caloris distributione per terrae corpus,” while Kelvin referred to it as “De Motu Caloris per Terrae Corpus.” See Kelvin (1882–1911), Mathematical Papers, III: 295.Google Scholar
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  83. 52.
    Kelvin never published an endorsement of the implications of radioactivity for geological time. On the contrary, as is discussed in Chapter 6, he opposed the idea that radioactive materials could spontaneously emit heat without being supplied by an outside source. Nonetheless, J. J. Thomson reports that in private conversation Kelvin did concede that his theories had been overthrown. (See: Thomson, J. J. (1936), Recollections, p. 420.)Google Scholar
  84. 53.
    Archibald Geikie attributed to Joseph Larmor the following statement, supposedly uttered at Kelvin’s funeral: “Conceive a perfectly level line drawn from the summit of Newton’s genius across all the intervening generations; probably the only man who reached it in these two centuries has been Kelvin.” Geikie, A. (1924), Autobiography, pp. 350–351.Google Scholar
  85. Such opinions, if not quite so extreme or poetic, were common, ranging from Helmholtz’s opinion of the young Kelvin (Thompson (1910), Kelvin, 1:310, 324–25)Google Scholar
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  101. Kelvin (1871b), Geological Dynamics, p. 77.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Science History Publications 1975

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  • Joe D. Burchfield

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