What’s the go of it? – James Clerk Maxwell

James Clerk Maxwell - man who changed everythingRecently read this book on a flight. It’s a very quick read. What struck me especially was how he built an ‘imaginary’ mechanical model to explain electromagnetic results, that ultimately led to the famous maxwell equations.

I took a snapshot of a page that I particularly liked.

maxwell model - equations

This is something that strikes a personal chord – sometimes it is so useful to visualize complex things and imagine analogies and it’s cool to read that one of the greatest minds of the 19th century, employed it to derive equations that impacted the world so widely.

The other thing about Maxwell that you see at once, is his curiosity – apparently his first question to anything the moved or sparkled was – What’s the go of it?
His determined efforts to understand ‘the go’ of things is reflected in his insightful contributions to the fundamental working of many phenomena: kinetic theory of gases, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, motion of planetary bodies (Saturn’s rings).


Here are a few quotes that I really liked:

I have also a paper afloat, with an electromagnetic theory of light, which, till I am convinced to the contrary, I hold to be great guns. (he wrote this in a letter after discovering ‘Maxwell’s equations. Great gun’s indeed!!)

In every branch of knowledge the progress is proportional to the amount of facts on which to build, and therefore to the facility of obtaining data.

And quotes on James Maxwell by Einstein and Feynman.

If the idea of physical reality had ceased to be purely atomic, it still remained for the time being purely mechanistic; people still tried to explain all events as the motion of inert masses; indeed no other way of looking at things seemed conceivable. Then came the great change, which will be associated for all time with the names of Faraday, Clerk Maxwell, and Hertz. The lion’s share in this revolution fell to Clerk Maxwell. – Einstein

From a long view of the history of mankind — seen from, say, ten thousand years from now — there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell’s discovery of the laws of electrodynamics. The American Civil War will pale into provincial insignificance in comparison with this important scientific event of the same decade.  –Feynman


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