James Clerk Maxwell, Physicist and Philosopher
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) was the Einstein and the Newton of 19th
century science. Maxwell's name is
well known by every modern physicist
and physics student. Maxwell's equations provide the unifying basis for
electromagnetism and light, and he also made fundamental contributions to
statistical thermodynamics (the Maxwellian distribution, etc.) and the
essential ideas involved in chaos theory. Thus he helped lay the
groundwork in the areas of physics which are essential in my own fields of
study: plasma physics, turbulence, and the quest for fusion energy.
Indeed, the highest award given for research in this field is the
American Physical Society's
James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics.
It is awesome to consider that a man born in the primitive world of 1831
could have been so close to also discovering the mind-bending time
puzzles of Relativity, as Maxwell's electromagnetic equations contain the
seeds of Einstein's later theory...
Maxwell was a careful thinker, who also wrote about the broader
philosophical and theological implications of his work. He was a devout
and thoughtful Christian. Below are excerpts from some of his writings, as
The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, with selections from his
correspondence and occasional writings, by Lewis Campbell and William
Garnett (MacMillan and Co., London, 1884).
An essay on Determinism and Free Will
(1873), which contains the essential ideas of modern chaos theory and
"sensitive dependence to initial conditions", and the implications this has
for developing a world-view which includes free will.
An online bio
Another online bio,
including a digitized version of the 1882 biography by Campbell and
Garnet. (Caution: the page numbering the pdf file and the original
1882 table of contents is different.)
The Poetry of
James Clerk Maxwell