Today, heat and cold in Rouen. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
A cold rainy day in Rouen,
France; we've ducked out of the wet, into a
bookstore across the street from Rouen Cathedral.
By the time the rain ebbs, I've picked up a fine
old book on heat phenomena by Achille Cazin. 1866.
Later, I find an American translation, published
two years later. But now I hold the lovely French
original, as I walk through the Cathedral -- still
being restored from WW-II bomb damage.
Cazin wrote the book just as the old caloric theory
of heat -- last of the alchemical essences -- was
giving way to a new idea. We'd finally realized
that heat is not an airy aether flowing from hot
bodies to cold ones. Rather, it's the passing on of
molecular agitation. Cazin fully understands the
new mechanical theory of heat, but he's not about
to be tangled in philosophy. He says,
The kind of reasoning adopted by many authors
who have written on the mechanical theory of Heat,
might lead one to suppose they were the disciples
of some peculiar school of Philosophy.
So, don't expect to find the
mathematical science of thermodynamics here. He
stays in the realm of description as he writes
about heat phenomena. And there, he is a master. He
explains thermal expansion, melting, freezing,
crystallization, every kind of thermometer, prisms,
arc-lights, specific heats. He explains steam
engines and the embryonic new technology of
Cazin gives remarkably advanced descriptions of
atmospheric convection, and the processes that go
on when water boils. It is a stunning achievement.
None of the old descriptive science books that I've
read display such depth.
He finishes with thermal questions about the global
climate. Global warming was not yet on his horizon,
but he says a lot about long-term matters -- the
cooling of Earth's core and thermal results of our
slowing rotation about the Sun.
Yet (and here I'm back in Rouen Cathedral) Cazin
clearly expresses his French Catholicism. The
long-term future of Earth may be too complex to
know, right now, but he finishes the book with
[Science] fortifies in our souls the sentiment
of adoration for the Divine, and raises us by
degrees from the physical to the the moral world.
Thus science and religion may truly be called
The American translator makes science and religion
into sister spirits, not
just sisters. And there he misses the
point by putting both back on a pedestal.
Cazin has taken them off that pedestal. Neither
science nor religion is a spirit. Nothing
spooky here! For him they are both plain contingent
facts of daily life.
This clear, straightforward account draws its fine
narrative power from that stance. It calls up
Wordsworth's wonderful line, For nature then
... To me was all in all. Cazin will no more
accept any science/religion conflict than
Wordsworth would. Science and religion were -- and
they'd better remain -- all of a piece.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
A. Cazin, La Chaleur, Paris: Librairie
Hachette et Cie, 1873. (This is actually a third
edition of a Cazin's book. The first edition came out
in 1866. Since he does not add any updated Prefaces,
it is unlikely that he changed much between
A. Cazin, Phenomena and Laws of Heat.
(transl. and ed. By Elihu Rich) New York: Charles
Scribner & Co., 1868. The closing words by the
translator add a good deal of baggage to Cazin's
simpler statement. He writes:
Scientific investigation fortifies within our
soul the sentiment of adoration for the Divine
Power, and raises us by degrees from the slavery of
the physical to the freedom of the moral and
spiritual world. Thus science and religion may
truly be called sister spirits.
Cazin's description of the way a droplet floats
above an incandescent plate and evaporates away
very slowly (The so-called Leidenfrost
-- or the way a droplet behaves on
a red-hot stove.)
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2003 by John H.