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- Mathematics, from the points of view of the Mathematician and of the Physicist
In the history of Science it is possible to find many cases in which the tendency of Mathematics to express itself in the most abstract forms has proved to be of ultimate service in the physical order of ideas. Perhaps the most striking example is to be found in the development of abstract Dynamics. The greatest treatise which the world has seen, on this subject, is Lagrange's Mécanique Analytique, published in 1788. ...conceived in the purely abstract Mathematical spirit ...Lagrange's idea of reducing the investigation of the motion of a dynamical system to a form dependent upon a single function of the generalized coordinates of the system was further developed by Hamilton and Jacobi into forms in which the equations of motion of a system represent the conditions for a stationary value of an integral of a single function. The extension by Routh and Helmholtz to the case in which "ignored co-ordinates" are taken into account, was a long step in the direction of the desirable unification which would be obtained if the notion of potential energy were removed by means of its interpretation as dependent upon the kinetic energy of concealed motions included in the dynamical system. The whole scheme of abstract Dynamics thus developed upon the basis of Lagrange's work has been of immense value in theoretical Physics, and particularly in statistical Mechanics... But the most striking use of Lagrange's conception of generalized co-ordinates was made by Clerk Maxwell, who in this order of ideas, and inspired on the physical side by... Faraday, conceived and developed his dynamical theory of the Electromagnetic field, and obtained his celebrated equations. The form of Maxwell's equations enabled him to perceive that oscillations could be propagated in the electromagnetic field with the velocity of light, and suggested to him the Electromagnetic theory of light. Heinrich Herz, under the direct inspiration of Maxwell's ideas, demonstrated the possibility of setting up electromagnetic waves differing from those of light only in respect of their enormously greater length. We thus see that Lagrange's work... was an essential link in a chain of investigation of which one result... gladdens the heart of the practical man, viz. wireless telegraphy.