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Volume 27, 1894
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Art. LXII.—The Immortality of the Cosmos; being an Attempt to show that the Theory of Dissipation of Energy is limited to Finite Portions of Space.

[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 7th November, 1894.]

The task of showing that Lord Kelvin's theory of dissipation of energy is limited in its action, that it only applies to finite portions of space, and that there are independent counteracting agencies in the cosmos taken as a whole, is one not to be lightly undertaken, seeing that the universal application of the theory is practically accepted by the entire thinking world. Nor have I thought lightly of it. The results I shall offer were worked out more than a dozen years ago, and previous to that every step had been submitted over and over again to the judgment of physicists and mathematicians during the three years of its development. I do not suggest any fallacy in Carnot's great generalization founded on his reversible engine; nor in Professor James Thomson's deduction from Carnot's work; nor in Lord Kelvin's axiom, as regards any individual body or system, that “it is impossible by means of inanimate material agency to derive mechanical

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effect from any portion of matter by cooling it below the temperature of the coldest of surrounding objects.” Yet I shall attempt to show that hydrogen nearly at rest may take heat from a particle of cosmic dust, and, in this way, cool it below the temperature of surrounding objects, and that this energy may take the hydrogen to positions of higher gravitation potential. Thus low-temperature heat is turned into the potential energy of gravitation. I shall also attempt to show that by inorganic means the known laws of nature are at work taking the place of Professor Clerk Maxwell's imaginary demons, who, he suggests, by sorting atoms, may elevate energy.

I do not in the least quarrel with Lord Kelvin's argument in the Fortnightly, in which he classifies the attempt of Hutton and Lyell to make the solar system a perpetualmotion engine as of the same order as the efforts of the humblest mechanical perpetual-motionist. Undoubtedly Lord Kelvin's views are true of the earth, of the solar system, and even of the universe. It is only in the study of the interaction of systems that the axiom is found to fail.

Of course, the great generalization of cosmic evolution, of which this paper is a part, only acquired its present form as contained in the published Synopsis after almost endless modifications; but for the past twelve years, although enlarged, it has otherwise remained practically unchanged, and, although I have in many lectures submitted its principles to the judgment of Honours scientific and mathematical university graduates, no flaw has yet been detected in the reasoning.

The practical demonstration of the accuracy of the more fundamental part of this generalization by its anticipation of many recently-discovered and complex phenomena, combined with the independent rediscovery by Dr. Johnstone Stoney, and the indorsement by the scientific world, of what I have called “selective molecular escape,” confirms the confidence I have always felt in the more complex and far-reaching part of the theory of constructive impact.

The theory of the dissipation of energy as defined by Preston (“Theory of Heat”) states, with respect to the energy of the universe, that “it is constantly undergoing transformations,” and that “there is a constant dissipation in operation, and a constant degradation to the final unavailable form of uniformly-diffused heat.”

It affirms, practically, that all the agencies of the cosmos tend to concentration of matter and diffusion of energy. In its baldest form it supposes that the cosmos was once a mass of infinitely diffused gas, and will finish by being a simple, cool body, at a temperature uniform with that of space. The

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following reasoning provides the only means of escape from this dismal conclusion that has not been refuted.

If, as I consider Proctor has conclusively proved, our universe is of definite and not chance form, it must have had a definite and not chance mode of evolution; and if, as I have suggested elsewhere, its form is demonstrably similar to that resulting from the partial collision of two previously-existing universes, we have a right to postulate the existence of universes other than our own; and late photographic observations suggest, at least, that we have such universes actually within sight in the shape of the Magellanic Clouds.

If light suffers extinction in travelling long distances, as Struvé's observations suggest to be the case, and as seems reasonable considering the dusty condition of space, then the number of unseen universes may be infinite.

In disproving the theory of dissipation as applied to the whole cosmos, we do not have to prove the immortality of the cosmos, but only to demonstrate the possibility of its immortality. The idea that the process of cosmic evolution is finite in time is so essentially repugnant to most minds that it is only after the most diligent search for and the failure to show the possibility of the contrary that the dissipation theory has been accepted. Rankine, Clausius, and other great physicists have attempted to remove it; but their reasoning has been shown to be faulty. It is easy also to show that Herbert Spencer's attempt in his “First Principles” fails on grounds of equivalent energy.

If space is dusty, radiation may all be caught by matter, thus raising its mean temperature, and so it is possible that no radiation is wasted, but that it all falls upon the meteoric and other matter of space. The idea that space is thus occupied throughout with gaseous molecules and solid meteoric and other dust is common to many hypotheses. Some sixteen years ago I demonstrated, and Dr. Johnstone Stoney has recently shown, that there is a tendency for light molecules, such as hydrogen, to obtain velocities high enough to enable them to escape from gravitating masses. I have shown this to be the case particularly during impacts, when molecular escape would probably be, on the average, very considerable. Again, the coalescence of free heavy gaseous molecules escaping from dissipating bodies, together with impacts between comparatively small bodies, tends to besprinkle space with solid matter in the form of dust. The formation of such free solid matter is discussed in my Synopsis under the head of “The Formation of Star-clusters and Meteoric Swarms.”

When moving bodies, molecular or otherwise, are not in closed orbits they remain but a short time at high velocities. The highly hyperbolic orbit of a comet in its journey round

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the sun is a characteristic instance of this. The comet is a few days near the sun at high velocity, then it remains for longer and longer periods at lessened velocity, getting slower and slower, until it is beyond the sun's effective gravitation. Therefore gaseous molecules distant from gravitation, as a rule, are moving slowly. But slowly-moving gas is cold,—colder than the solid dust of space,—and any of this gas coming in contact with cosmic dust will be warmed by this dust, and, heat being molecular motion, will bound off with renewed velocity, to be again exhausted only (in the absence of contact with other matter) by doing work against gravitation, and so passing to rarer portions of space, where potential energy is higher, finally moving slowest of all where there is least matter.

In the case of bodies moving indiscriminately, where motion is slowest, they tend to aggregate. If over a plain all persons walked in indiscriminate directions at four miles per hour, except within a certain area where they walked one mile per hour, there would be on the average four times as many persons in equal areas within that space as elsewhere. So in cosmic space this diffused gas will move slowest, and tend to aggregate in the bare parts of the cosmos. Thus, to summarize: Radiant energy falling on the dust of space is converted into diffused heat, the lowest form of energy, and this is transferred to free light molecules, increasing their velocity, and this motion is converted into the potential energy of gravitation, the highest form of energy. At one and the same time, in opposition to the theory of the dissipation of energy, there is a tendency to disperse matter and raise energy.

Were hydrogen and other light molecules plentiful enough, obviously this action would not cease until the rare parts of space were as well filled with these light molecules as the rest of space with other matter. There is no necessity, however, to assume this enormous amount of hydrogen as far as the purpose of this theory is concerned, for after a time another action sets in. Where matter is aggregated into condensed masses, as in our universe, free bodies such as comets, or stars of 1830 Groombridge type, pass through and escape from them; but this is not the case in a mass of diffused gas, the retarding friction of which tends to stop all such wandering bodies entering it. Thus the sparse portions of space, once filled with diffused hydrogen, become traps to catch indiscriminately-travelling matter. So after a time accumulation goes on, not because molecules come to partial rest there, but because of the gathering action of the friction of diffused gas, and coalescence sets in, due to the presence of these trapped stars. As radiation from these bodies permits condensation, a new universe begins to form

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in what was the rarest part of space; so that an action is constantly going on tending to balance the distribution of matter in space, whilst the action of gravitation is as constantly tending to unequal distribution.

It may be asked, How can matter ever escape such a universe again? Two or three methods suggest themselves, and there are probably others. Firstly, contact with hot bodies having no atmosphere would give the gaseous matter an escaping velocity. Secondly, any bodies coming into impact would tend to lose their hydrogen through the phenomena known as “selective escape.” Thirdly, three bodies passing near each other may give one of them an escaping velocity at the expense of the other two. Universes formed in this way by aggregation in the rare parts of space may be called universes of the first order; whilst universes such as the one of which our solar system forms a part—universes obviously made up of the coalescence of two impacting universes—may be called universes of the second order. If a universe formed by the coalescence of two similar universes necessarily contained more matter than one of the original universes, when the coalesced universe had condensed to its size a process of aggregation would be going on in the cosmos that would ultimately lead to the increase of the masses of universes, and the cosmic process would not be strictly rhythmic.

I have already suggested three agencies, in universes of the first order, by which matter may pass out of universes. In addition to these it can be shown that, during the ages of coalescence and subsequent expansion of the system, there are many agencies that will send matter out of the system.

Taken altogether there seems reason to suppose that sometimes the collision of universes may make three of two, sometimes make one of less mass than either of the two original universes, and sometimes one of greater mass than either. But the agencies are of such complexity and variety that they would simply overload this statement of the possibility of an immortal cosmos. The most important agency to consider is the approach of three bodies. This may gradually use up the chief energy of a system in sending bodies out of the system. As is well known, whenever three bodies pass near each other, one at least has its velocity increased at the expense of the other two. It may so happen amongst the members of a system that one has its velocity so increased as to actually escape the attractive power of the system itself, and become a free wanderer, as 1830 Groombridge is believed to be in our universe. No matter how rare an event this may be; only give time enough, and most of the energy of motion must be used up in thus causing the escape of bodies. For we must remember, if once, in a thousand chance approaches,

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a body attains sufficient velocity to escape, when it has that velocity it is gone for ever, so that ultimately most of the remaining energy of a system of indiscriminately – moving bodies will be used up in giving an escaping proper motion to some of its members.

Think of an analogy. The energy of the attraction of potassium for oxygen is enormous compared with the affinity of carbon for oxygen. But carbon is a fixed substance, as also is carbonate of potash. When, by the most extraordinary coincidence of abnormal velocities, carbon succeeds in dislodging potassium and taking up its oxygen, both the substances form gases, and they at once escape the influence of their affinities; and so this most remarkable fact occurs: that carbon is capable of reducing potassium from its compounds. So with the escaping bodies from a system: give them time enough, and they must go as long as there is energy enough to send them.

Nor must we forget that, as a universe contracts, its potential energy is slowly turned into motion, so that the mean velocity of stars will become much greater. They would be closer together, and the number of their approaches and encounters more and more frequent, tending all the time to disperse matter. Taken altogether there seems to be an abundance of agencies from the time of impact and coalescence of the original universes to the time of the concentration of this new universe for the dispersal of one-half of the original mass; so that at the final state of the universe its mass will be no greater than that of one of the universes from which it was formed.

The series of these agencies are as follow:—


Diffusion of heat by radiation.


Heating of cosmic dust by radiation.


The heat of cosmic dust taken away by slowly-moving hydrogen molecules.


Free hydrogen will remain longest where its motion is least, and will aggregate in the empty parts of space.


It then becomes a trap for wandering bodies, that tend to be stopped and converted into dense nebulæ.


These dense nebulæ tend to attract surrounding gas; they cool and shrink, ultimately forming solid bodies.


These solid bodies, by mutual attraction, give form to the new universe.


Such universes are of the first order.


The impact of universes of the first order produces universes of the same type as our own.


The coalescence of two universes does not necessarily result finally in a universe of larger mass than either of the

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  • two, as many agencies tend to send matter out of the coalescing mass.

Thus, in contradistinction to the theory of dissipation of energy, there appears to be no evidence to show that the cosmos as a whole is other than immortal. The great Creator, when He launched the infinite, did not do His work blunderingly, but gave us a system equally perfect, whether it be in the marvellous forces within the minutest atom, the complex structure of organic molecular groupings, the infinity of cosmic dimensions, or the eternity of cosmic duration. There is no flaw in the perfection of the vast design. Atoms clash, combine, and form molecules; and these break up again. Organisms are born and die. Worlds, systems, and universes are evolved, play their part, disintegrate, and disperse, only to be born again in new and complex systems. But the mighty cosmos remains ever rhythmic in its giant energies. Man's mind reels on the brink of the unfathomable as he tries to grasp the mystery even of his own being. Everything around him forces on his mind a feeling of profound humility at his insignificance. At the same time also his surroundings force upon him the most absolute faith in the perfection of the whole creation of which he is so minute a part. In the contemplation of this perfection does not one feel certain that the present disorder and misery of the world is merely that short paroxysm of apparent chaos from which order will evolve? Is it credible that the evolution of mental power, that has enabled man to pierce so far the superb grandeur of the infinite,—has enabled him to harness the forces of nature to serve his needs,—shall suddenly cease? Is it to be conceived that man will remain content to see supine indifference and self-ishness destroy all that is lovely in life? It is incredible. We have but a glimpse of the eternal, but in that glimpse we see such marvellous perfection of action that we cannot fail to feel that if the same profound thought, the same unbiassed judgment, be brought to bear on the tangled affairs of human life they may be as fully unravelled as is the complex mechanism of the cosmos. May it not be that, just as the burnt child dreads the fire, so the awful effect of the selfishness that has produced the present misery amongst humanity may burn its lesson so deeply into the mind as to be ineffaceable in human history? It appears clear that, as Nordau has pointed out, pleasurable emotion alone can be persistent, and pain and misery are indications of those that are decadent. If this be so, what a marvellous gospel of hope is contained in the religion of science! If the so-called unpractical theory of cosmogony should only so awaken human intelligence that mankind sees clearly the perfection of the method of evolution, and acts upon the lesson, such unpractical theories will prove

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themselves to be the agents that will give more joy than most of the results of commerce or business, or any of the material achievements so lauded by practical men. When the perfection of the cosmos is realized, joy will be seen to be the true lot of man, whilst pain and misery will only be suffered long enough to ascertain the alterations in our mode of life that are necessary for their removal.