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Armstrong Article - 1841

John M. Armstrong Article in "The Ladies' Repository", 1841

CALORIC AS AN AGENT. BY J. M. ARMSTRONG. IF we lay our hand upon a substance which has been heated, we feel the sensation of heat. The substance, or principle, which produces this sensation has received the name of caloric-caloric the cause, and heat the effect. We propose to give some of our ideas of the nature and operations of this agent upon matter. Of its intimate nature little is known. We can only say that caloric is a subtil, invisible agent, which pervades all substances in the universe; it has such an affinity, or attraction for matter, that it cannot be entirely separated from it; it interposes itself between the particles of matter, and keeps them from coming in actual contact with each other. It is supposed by some eminent philosophers that the particles of matter are as far separated from each other, in proportion to their size, as the heavenly bodies, and that the spaces between them are filled up by this fluid, or principle. Caloric possesses very different properties from common matter. It has the power to originate motion of itself; in fact, it is never at rest, but is constantly moving from particle to particle, and flying from body to body, from world to world, and from system to system, with a velocity far exceeding that of light. There are good reasons to suppose that it is the agent which conducts light. It, therefore, not only pervades all matter, but all space. Heat, or caloric, may be said to exist in two states, free and latent. Let us illustrate this. If we take a piece of wood in our hand it does not burn us, although the heat is contained in it, being latent; but if we ignite the wood, combustion takes place, and its latent caloric is given out, and rendered sensible. The atmosphere which surrounds us will afford us a more striking example. It, perhaps, contains more than a thousand times as much caloric as a piece of wood, or any other solid substance; yet it is insensible to us, for the reason that it is held in a latent state; but should the Creator command it to be liberated, the elements would indeed "melt with fervent heat." Caloric is further distinguished by its being repulsive of its own particles. These being some of the most obvious attributes of its nature, we will now follow it in some of its operations and effects on matter; and in the course of our observations, we may advance opinions, and make deductions entirely different from any yet advanced. At the same time, we hope to show that they are based upon well ascertained facts and experiments. As a general rule, the great Dispenser of all good governs and brings about moral effects by the use of means. It is equally true, in His physical government of the universe, that means are made use of; it is said too "that nature delights in simplicity:" she never employs more agents than are necessary to accomplish her ends. A writer very justly observes 3 that, "' hould we be permitted to look into the grand arcana of nature, there would be nothing which would astonish us more than its simplicity." We, therefore, set out with this proposition, that caloric is the grand sub-agent by wthich all the operations of nature are carried on. We do not expect to follow it in all its operations upon matter, for this would embrace the whole of the physical sciences, and require volumes-neither do we consider ourselves adequate to the task. Caloric may be considered the principle which originates all motion-it is the only principle in nature which possesses force of itself. The motions of the heavenly bodies will first claim our attention. Newton discovered that the same force which caused an apple to fall to the ground, held the planetary worlds in their orbs. He called it the attraction of gravitation, and demonstrated its laws, but has failed to assign the cause, further than that it was natural for bodies to tend, or d(raw toward each other. This is erroneous, and contradictory. It may be proper to state here that philosophers generally, in giving to matter its inherent, or essential properties, have run into the same contradiction, by attributing to matter both attraction and inertia. They are diametrically opposed to each other. Attraction gives it power, and inertia takes all power away. Both of these propositions cannot be true. It is said that the earth, at its creation, received from the hand of its Creator a projectile force, which impelled it to move in a straight line. It would have continued to fly in this direction for ever, if some other force had nriot changed its direction. We are told that the matter of the sun performs this office, or draws the earth toward it, which causes it to move in a curve line. Here matter is made to move matter, and the principle of inertia contradicted. Of the two properties, we shall assume that inertia belongs to matter; but from the foregoing facts we must infer that attraction is not essential to matter, but, like light, a mere accidental property. We must attribute it to the presence or agency of some other principle; and what other agent better calculated to perform this office than caloric? Attraction is universal. Caloric pervades all matter, and all space. Attraction is power. There is no other principle but caloric, which possesses force of itself to originate motion. May it not be the cause of the attraction of gravitation? It is a well known fact that a current of electricity, or caloiic, will produce attraction. Can it be supposed for a moment that all the different kinds of attractions are produced by different causes? The idea is altogether inconsistent with the order and simplicity of nature. It can be clearly proven that caloric is capable of producing attraction; and for this purpose let us detail the experiments of Professor Mole, a Dutch philosopher of distinction, at Utrecht. He bent a piece of iron, of several pounds weight, in the shape of a horse-shoe, and wrapped it with several strands of copper wire, which he covered with silk thread. He then connected the ends of the wire with the pale of a voltaic battery, composed of two very small coils of zink and copper. When the iron, thus bent and wrapped, was immersed in an acid, it rapidly developed a thermo-electric fluid, and very nearly resembled an ordinary combustion. While the heat thus produced was conducted along the wires to the horse-shoe, it lifted a bar of iron attached to its poles, with 150 pounds suspended from it. This experiment, we are told, has been improved upon, until a power equal to 4000 pounds has been created. It is stated that when the action of the battery was interrupted, the power uniformly ceased. Now, this may be called artificial attraction; and who can doubt that caloric was the agent by which it was produced? The experiment may be explained in the following manner: When the iron was immersed in the acid it was decomposed, its latent caloric given out, which was conducted along the wires and poles of the battery, forming a copious and rapid current. This, then, was the cause of its lifting so prodigious a weight; and we are thus furnished a key with which to unlock the mystery of attraction. A great current of this subtil fluid is kept up between the sun and planets, which holds them in their orbits. This is in accordance with our opinion of the principles of cause and effect. We are persuaded that no physical effect can be produced without the application of physical force; consequently, it would be impossible for bodies to exert an influence upon each other, unless something actually passed from one to the other. This is even true with regard to our senses, no one of which can be affected unless operated upon physically; and in the case of attraction we have (by well founded deduction) shown this something to be caloric. We think that it can be fairly deduced that all the different kinds of attraction are but modified effects of the same cause, and all depend upon the self-originating motions of this invisible agent. Let us see by what facts we can infer that caloric is the cause of cohesive attraction. We are taught that it is the antagonist principle of this kind of attraction; that it causes the particles of bodies to separate from each other. This we shall not deny; yet we think it not inconsistent with the idea that it also holds them together. We suspect that the facility with which bodies conduct caloric, determines the degree of tenacity with which their particles cohere. A stone, for instance, is a much harder substance than a piece of wood, and it is by so much the better conductor of heat. The metals are the best conductors of the substance known, and, as a general thing, their particles cohere with the greatest degree of tenacity. There are partial exceptions to this rule, not enough, however, to destroy the general law. Glass, for instance, is a very bad conductor, yet its particles cohere with considerable force. It will be noticed, however, that those non-conductors which possess any degree of cohesion are very brittle. This may arise from the shape of their particles. We infer, then, that hardness, or the degree of cohesion, depends on two circumstances; the first and primary of which is the facility with which caloric passes between the particles of bodies; and, secondly, the shape of their particles. An additional quantity of caloric, over and above its natural capacity, admitted into a body, will, of course, cause its particles to separate, and their susceptibility of motion among each other will be increased-it will be ratified, but then its conducting power will be diminished. In this way it may be said to act in opposition to cohesive at traction. This agrees with the well known fact that our most rarified substances are the poorest conductors of caloric. It is a fact worthy of notice that those substances which are the best conductors of caloric gravitate with the greatest force. This is what we should expect from our explanation of the cause of the attraction of gravitation. Substances do not, however, gravitate in exact proportion to their conducting power; they may be affected by other circumstances; density, for instance, diminishes the resistance of the atmosphere. The rule is general, and all the exceptions are but partial. Enough is seen to convince us that cohlesion and gravitation are but modified effects of the same cause.

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