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Second Scientific Lecture-Course: Warmth CourseGA 321

Lecture I

1 March 1920, Stuttgart

My dear friends,

The present course of lectures will constitute a kind of continuation of the one given when I was last here. I will begin with those chapters of physics which are of especial importance for laying a satisfactory foundation for a scientific world view, namely the observations of heat relations in the world. Today I will try to lay out for you a kind of introduction to show the extent to which we can create a body of meaningful views of a physical sort within a general world view. This will show further how a foundation may be secured for a pedagogical impulse applicable to the teaching of science. Today we will therefore go as far as we can towards outlining a general introduction.

The theory of heat, so-called, has taken a form during the 19th century which has given a great deal of support to a materialistic view of the world. It has done so because in heat relationships it is very easy to turn one's glance away from the real nature of heat, from its being, and to direct it to the mechanical phenomena arising from heat.

Heat is first known through sensations of cold, warmth, lukewarm, etc. But man soon learns that there appears to be something vague about these sensations, something subjective. A simple experiment which can be made by anyone shows this fact.

Imagine you have a vessel filled with water of a definite temperature, $$t$$; on the right of it you have another vessel filled with water of a temperature $$t-t_1$$, that is of a temperature distinctly lower than the temperature in the first vessel. In addition, you have a vessel filled with water at a temperature $$t+t_1$$. When now, you hold your fingers in the two outer vessels you will note by your sensations the heat conditions in these vessels. You can then plunge your fingers which have been in the outer vessels into the central vessel and you will see that to the finger which has been in the cold water the water in the central vessel will feel warm, while to the finger which has been in the warm water, the water in the central vessel will feel cold. The same temperature therefore is experienced differently according to the temperature to which one has previously been exposed. Everyone knows that when he goes into a cellar, it may feel different in winter from the way it feels in summer. Even though the thermometer stands at the same point circumstances may be such that the cellar feels warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Indeed, the subjective experience of heat is not uniform and it is necessary to set an objective standard by which to measure the heat condition of any object or location. Now, I need not here go into the elementary phenomena or take up the elementary instruments for measuring heat. It must be assumed that you are acquainted with them. I will simply say that when the temperature condition is measured with a thermometer, there is a feeling that since we measure the degree above or below zero, we are getting an objective temperature measurement. In our thinking we consider that there is a fundamental difference between this objective determination in which we have no part and the subjective determination, where our own organization enters into the experience.

For all that the 19th century has striven to attain it may be said that this view on the matter was, from a certain point of view, fruitful and justified by its results. Now, however, we are in a time when people must pay attention to certain other things if they are to advance their way of thinking and their way of life. From science itself must come certain questions simply overlooked in such conclusions as those I have given. One question is this: Is there a difference, a real objective difference, between the determination of temperature by my organism and by a thermometer, or do I deceive myself for the sake of getting useful practical results when I bring such a difference into my ideas and concepts? This whole course will be designed to show why today such questions must be asked. From the principal questions it will be my object to proceed to those important considerations which have been overlooked owing to exclusive attention to the practical life. How they have been lost for us on account of the attention to technology you will see. I would like to impress you with the fact that we have completely lost our feeling for the real being of heat under the influence of certain ideas to be described presently. And, along with this loss, has gone the possibility of bringing this being of heat into relation with the human organism itself, a relation which must be all means be established in certain aspects of our life. To indicate to you in a merely preliminary way the bearing of these things on the human organism, I may call your attention to the fact that in many cases we are obliged today to measure the temperature of this organism, as for instance, when it is in a feverish condition. This will show you that the relation of the unknown being of heat to the human organism has considerable importance. Those extreme conditions as met with in chemical and technical processes will be dealt with subsequently. A proper attitude toward the relation of the unknown being of heat to the human organism has considerable importance. Those extreme conditions as met with in chemical and technical processes will be dealt with subsequently. A proper attitude toward the relation of the heat-being to the human organism cannot, however, be attained on the basis of a mechanical view of heat. The reason is, that in so doing, one neglects the fact that the various organs are quite different in their sensitiveness to this heat-being, that the heart, the liver, the lungs differ greatly in their capacity to react to the being of heat. Through the purely physical view of heat no foundation is laid for the real study of certain symptoms of disease, since the varying capacity to react to heat of the several organs of the body escapes attention. Today we are in no position to apply to the organic world the physical views built up in the course of the 19th century on the nature of heat. This is obvious to anyone who has an eye to see the harm done by modern physical research, so-called, in dealing with what might be designated the higher branches of knowledge of the living being. Certain questions must be asked, questions that call above everything for clear, lucid ideas. In the so-called “exact science,” nothing has done more harm than the introduction of confused ideas.

What then does it really mean when I say, if I put my fingers in the right and left hand vessels and then into a vessel with a liquid of an intermediate temperature, I get different sensations? Is there really something in the conceptual realm that is different from the so-called objective determination with the thermometer? Consider now, suppose you put thermometers in these two vessels in place of your fingers. You will then get different readings depending on whether you observe the thermometer in the one vessel or the other. If then you place the two thermometers instead of your fingers into the middle vessel, the mercury will act differently on the two. In the one it will rise; in the other it will fall. You see the thermometer does not behave differently from your sensations. For the setting up of a view of the phenomenon, there is no distinction between the two thermometers and the sensation from your finger. In both cases exactly the same thing occurs, namely a difference is shown from the immediately preceding conditions. And the thing our sensation depends on is that we do not within ourselves have any zero or reference point. If we had such a reference point then we would establish not merely the immediate sensation but would have apparatus to relate the temperature subjectively perceived, to such a reference point. We would then attach to the phenomenon just as we do with the thermometers something which really is not inherent in it, namely the variation from the reference point. You see, for the construction of our concept of the process there is no difference.

It is such questions as these that must be raised today if we are to clarify our ideas, or all the present ideas on these things are really confused. Do not imagine for a moment that this is of no consequence. Our whole life process is bound up with this fact that we have in us no temperature reference point. If we could establish such a reference point within ourselves, it would necessitate an entirely different state of consciousness, a different soul life. It is precisely because the reference point is hidden for us that we lead the kind of life we do.

You see, many things in life, in human life and in the animal organism, too, depend on the fact that we do not perceive certain processes. Think what you would have to do if you were obliged to experience subjectively everything that goes on in your organism. Suppose you had to be aware of all the details of the digestive process. A great deal pertaining to our condition of life rests on this fact that we do not bring into our consciousness certain things that take place in our organism. Among these things is that we do not carry within us a temperature reference point—we are not thermometers. A subjective-objective distinction such as is usually made is not therefore adequate for a comprehensive grasp of the physical.

It is this which has been the uncertain point in human thinking since the time of ancient Greeks. It had to be so, but it cannot remain so in the future. For the old Grecian philosophers, Zeno in particular, had already orientated human thinking about certain processes in a manner strikingly opposed to outer reality. I must call your attention to these things even at the risk of seeming pedantic. Let me recall to you the problem of Achilles and the tortoise, a problem I have often spoken about.

Let us assume we have the distance traveled by Achilles in a certain time $$a$$. This represents the rate at which he can travel. And here we have the tortoise $$s$$, who has a start on Achilles. Let us take the moment when Achilles gets to the point marked $$1$$. The tortoise is ahead of him. Since the problem stated that Achilles has to cover every point covered by the tortoise, the tortoise will always be a little ahead and Achilles can never catch up. But, the way people would consider it is this. You would say, yes, I understand the problem all right, but Achilles would soon catch the tortoise. The whole thing is absurd. But if we reason that Achilles must cover the same path as the tortoise and the tortoise is ahead, he will never catch the tortoise. Although people would say this is absurd, nevertheless the conclusion is absolutely necessary and nothing can be urged against it. It is not foolish to come to this conclusion but on the other hand, it is remarkably clever considering only the logic of the matter. It is a necessary conclusion and cannot be avoided. Now what does all this depend on? It depends on this: that as long as you think, you cannot think otherwise than the premise requires. As a matter of fact, you do not depend on thinking strictly, but instead you look at the reality and you realize that it is obvious that Achilles will soon catch the tortoise. And in doing this you uproot thinking by means of reality and abandon the pure thought process. There is no point in admitting the premises and then saying, “Anyone who thinks this way is stupid.” Through thinking alone we can get nothing out of the proposition but that Achilles will never catch the tortoise. And why not? Because when we apply our thinking absolutely to reality, then our conclusions are not in accord with the facts. They cannot be. When we turn our rationalistic thought on reality it does not help us at all that we establish so-called truths which turn out not to be true. For we must conclude if Achilles follows the tortoise that he passes through each point that the tortoise passes through. Ideally this is so; in reality he does nothing of the kind. His stride is greater than that of the tortoise. He does not pass through each point of the path of the tortoise. We must, therefore, consider what Achilles really does, and not simply limit ourselves to mere thinking. Then we come to a different result. People do not bother their heads about these things but in reality they are extraordinarily important. Today especially, in our present scientific development, they are extremely important. For only when we understand that much of our thinking misses the phenomena of nature if we go from observation to so-called explanation, only in this case will we get the proper attitude toward these things.

The observable, however, is something which only needs to be described. That I can do the following for instance, calls simply for a description: here I have a ball which will pass through this opening. We will now warm the ball slightly. Now you see it does not go through. It will only go through when it has cooled sufficiently. As soon as I cool it by pouring this cold water on it, the ball goes through again. This is the observation, and it is this observation that I need only describe. Let us suppose, however, that I begin to theorize. I will do so in a sketchy way with the object merely of introducing the matter. Here is the ball; it consists of a certain number of small parts—molecules, atoms, if you like. This is not observation, but something added to observation in theory. At this moment, I have left the observed and in doing so I assume an extremely tragic role. Only those who are in a position to have insight into these things can realize this tragedy. For you see, if you investigate whether Achilles can catch the tortoise, you may indeed begin by thinking “Achilles must pass over every point covered by the tortoise and can never catch it.” This may be strictly demonstrated. Then you can make an experiment. You place the tortoise ahead and Achilles or some other who does not run even so fast as Achilles, in the rear. And at any time you can show that observation furnishes the opposite of what you conclude from reasoning. The tortoise is soon caught.

When, however, you theorize about the sphere, as to how its atoms and molecules are arranged, and when you abandon the possibility of observation, you cannot in such a case look into the matter and investigate it—you can only theorize. And in this realm you will do no better than you did when you applied your thinking to the course of Achilles. That is to say, you carry the whole incompleteness of your logic into your thinking about something which cannot be made the object of observation. This is the tragedy. We build explanation upon explanation while at the same time we abandon observation, and think we have explained things simply because we have erected hypotheses and theories. And the consequence of this course of forced reliance on our mere thinking is that this same thinking fails us the moment we are able to observe. It no longer agrees with the observation.

You will remember I already pointed out this distinction in the previous course when I indicated the boundary between kinematics and mechanics. Kinematics describes mere motion phenomena or phenomena as expressed by equations, but it is restricted to verifying the data of observation.