Geometry / Helmholtz

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Geometry / Helmholtz

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Author(s): H. Helmholtz

Reviewed work(s):

Source: Mind, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Jul., 1876), pp. 301-321

Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the Mind Association

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2246591 .

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http://www.jstor.org

No. 3.1 [JulyI876.

A QUARTERLY REVIEW

OF

AXIOMS.

MY object in this article*is to discussthe philosophical

bearinigof recent inquiriesconcerniniggeometricalaxioms and

the possibilityof working out analyticallyother systems of

geometrywithotheraxiomsthaniEtnclid's. The originialworks

on the subject, addressed to experts olnly,are particularly

abstruse,but I will tryto make it plainieven to those who are

not mathematicians. It is of course no part of my plan to

prove the new doctrinescorroctas mathematicalconclusions.

Such proofmustbe soughtin the originalworksthemselves.

A-mongthe firstelementarypropositionsof geometry,from

whichthe studentis led on by continuouischainsof reasoning

to the laws of moreand more complexfigures,are some which

a.re held not to admit of proof, though sure to be granted

by everyone who uniderstands their meaning. These are the

so-called Axioms; for example, the propositionthat if the

shortestline drawnbetweentwo pointsis called straightthere

caii be onlyone such straightline. Again, it is an axiom that

throughany threepoinltsin space, not lying in a straightline,

a plane maybe drawn,i.e., a surfacewhichwill whollyinclude

* The suibstanceof the firsthalf of the articlehas been previously

expoundedby me,in the AcadXmy of Feb, 192,1870, It is here set forth

anew as necessarycontext.

21

302 The Origin and, Meaning of GeometricalAxioms.

every straightline joining any two of its points. Another

axiom, about which there has been much discussion,affirms

that througha point lying withouta straightline only one

straightline can be drawnparallel to the first, two straight

lines that lie in the same plane and never meet,however far

theymay be produced,being called parallel. There are also

axiomsthat determinethe numberof dimensionsof space and

its surfaces,lines and points, showing how they are con-

tinuous; as in the propositions,that a solid is bounded by a

surface,a surface- by a line and a line by a point,thatthe point

is indivisible,that-by the movement of a point a line is

described,by that of a line a line or a surface,by that of a

surfacea surface or a solid,but by the movementof a solid a

solid and nothingelse is described.

Now what is the originof such propositions,unquestionably

trueyet incapable of proof in a sciencewhere everythingelse

is reasoned conclusion? Are they inheritedfromthe divine

source of our reason as the idealisticphilosophersthink,or is it

onlythat the ingenuityof mathematicians has hithertonot been

penetratingenough to find the proof? Every new votary,

comingwithfreshzeal to geometry,naturallystrivesto succeed

whereall beforehim have failed. And it is quite right that

each should make the trial afresh; for, as the question has

hithertostood, it is only by the fruitlessnessof one's own

effortsthat one can be convincedof the impossibility of finding

a proof. Meanwhilesolitaryinquirersare alwaysfromtime to

timeappearingwho become so deeplyentangledin complicated

trainsof reasoningthatthey can no longer discovertheir mis-

takes and believe they have solved the problem. The axiom

of parallelsespeciallyhas called fortha greatnulmber of seeming

demonstrations.

The main difficulty in these inquiriesis and always has beeni

the readinesswithwhichresultsof everydayexperiencebecome

mixed up as apparent necessities of thoughtwith the logical

processes,so long as Euclid's methodof constructive intuitionis

exclusivelyfollowedin geometry. In particularit is extremely

difficult,on this method,to be quite sure that in the steps

prescribedforthe demonstration we ha,venot involuntarily and

unconsciouslydrawn in some most general results of experi-

ence, which the power of executing certain parts of the

operationhas alreadytaught us practically. In drawing any

subsidiaryline for the sake of his demonstration,the well-

trained geometerasks always if it is possible to draw such a

line. It is notoriousthat problems of constructionplay an

essentialpart in the systemof geometry. At firstsight,these

appear to be practical operations,introducedfor the training

The Origin antdMeaning of aeometrical Axioms. 303

of learners; but in realitythey have the force of existential

propositions. They declare that points, straight lines or

circles, such as the problem requires to be constructed,are

possible underall conditions,or theydetermineany exceptions

that there may be. The point on which the investigations

turnthat we are going to consideris essentiallyof this nature.

The foundationof all proof by Euclid's method consists in

establishingthe congruenceoflines,angles,plane figures,solids,

&c. To make the congruenceevident,the geometricalfigures

are supposed to be applied to one another,of course without

changing their form and dimensions. That this is in fact

possible we have all experienced from our earliest youth.

BuLt,when we would build necessities of thought upon this

assumption of the free translation of fixed figures with

unchanged formto everypart of space, we must see whether

the assumptiondoes not involvesome presuppositionof which

no logical proof is given. We shall see later onithat it does

contain one of most serious import. But if so, everyproof

by congruence rests upon a fact which is obtained from

experienceonily.

I offerthese remarksat firstonlyto show what difficulties

attendthe completeanalysisof the presuppositionswe make in

employingthe commonconstructivemethod. We evade them

whenwe apply to the investigationof principlesthe analytical

methodof modern algebraical geometry. The whole process

of algebraical calculationis a purelylogical operation; it can

yield no relationbetweenthe quantitiessubmittedto it thatis

not alreadycontainedin the equationswhich give occasionfor

its being applied. The recent investigationshave accordingly

been conducted almost exclusively by means of the purely

abstractmethodsof analyticalgeometry.

However,afterdiscoveringby the abstractmethodwhat are

the points in question,we shall best get a distinctview of

them by taking a region of narrowerlimits than our own

worldof space. Let us, as we logicallymay,suppose reasoning

beings of onlytwo dimensionsto live and move on the surface

of some solid body. We will assume that theyhave not the

power of perceiving anythingoutside this surface,but that

upon it theyhave perceptionssimilarto ours. If such beings

workedout a geometry,theywould of courseassign onlytwo

dimensionsto theirspace. They would ascertainthata point

in movingdescribesa line, and thata line in movingdescribes

a surface. But they could as little representto themselves

what.furtherspatial constructionwould be generated by a

surfacemoving out of itself,as we can representwhat wbuld

be generated by a solid moving-out of the space we know.

21

304 The Origin and Meaning of GeometricalAciorns.

By the muchabused expression" to represent"or " to be able

to thinkhow somethinghappens" I uniderstalnd-anid I do not

see how anythingelse caln be understoodby it withoutloss of

all meaning-the powerof imaginingthe whole seriesof sen-

sible impressionsthatwould be had in such a case. Now as no

sensible impressionis known relatingto such ani unheard-of

eventas the movementto a fourthdimensioni would be to uss,

or as a moveement to our third dimensionwould be to the

inhabitantsof a surface,sucha "representation"is as impossible

as the "representation"of colourswould be to one bornblind,

thougha descriptionof thenm in general termsmightbe given

to him.

Our surface-beinigswould also be able to draw shortest

lines in their superficialspace. These would not necessarily

be straight lines in our sense, but whatare technicallycalled

geodeticlines of the surfaceon which theylive, lines such as

are described by a tense thread laid along the surfaceand

which can slide upon it freely. I will heniceforth speak of

such lines as the straightestlines of any particularsurfaceor

givenispace, so as to bring out their analogy withthe straight

line in a plane.

Now if beings of thiskind lived on an infiniteplane, their

geometrywould be exactlythe same as our planimetry. They

would affirmthat only one straightline is possible betweeni

two points,that througha third point lying withoutthis line

onlyone line can be drawn parallel to it, that the ends of a

straightline nevermeet thoughit is producedto infinity, and

so on. Their space might be inifinitely extended,but even if

there were limits to their movementand perception,they

would be able to representto themselvesa continuationbeyond

these limits, and thus their space would appear to them

infinitely extended,just as ours does to us,althoughour bodies

calnnotleave the earthand our sight only reaches as faras the

visible fixedstars.

But intelligentbeings of the kind supposed mightalso live

on the surfaceof a sphere. Their shortestor straightestline

between two pointswould then be an arc of the great circle

passing throughthemii.Every great circle passing through

two pointsis by these divided into two parts,and if theyare

unequal the shorteris certainlythe shortestline on the sphere

betweenthe two points,but also the otheror largerarc of the

same great circleis a geodetic or straightestline,'i.e., every

smallerpartofit is the shortestlinebetweenits ends. Thus the

notionof the geodeticor straightestline is not quite identical

withthat ofthe shortestline. If the two given pointsare the

ends of a diameterof the sphere,everyplane passiingthrouigh

TTheOrigin and, Afeaningof G-eom7tetrictlAxiois. 305

this diametercuts semicirclesonlthe surfaceof the sphere all

of which are shortestlines betweelnthe ends; in whichcase

thereis an infinitenumberof equal shortestlines betweenthe

given points. Accordingly,the axiom oftherebeing only one

shortestlille between two points would not hold withouta

certainexceptionforthe dwellerson a sphere.

Of parallel lines the sphere-dwellers would klnownothinig.

They would declare that any two straightestlines, sufficiently

prodtuced, must finallycut, not in, one onl.ybut in two points,

The sum of the angles of a trianglewould be always greater

thantwo rightangles, increasingas the surfaceof the triangle

grew greater. T'heycould thus have no conceptionof geome-

trical similaritybetween greater and smaller figuresof the

same kind,forwiththema greatertrianglemusthave different

angles froma smallerone. Their space would be unlimited,

but would be foundto be finiteor at least representedas such.

It is clear, theni,that such beings must set up a very

different systemof geometricalaxioms fromthatof the inhabi-

talnts of a plalne or from ours with our space of three

dimensions,though the logical powers-of all were the same;

nor are more examples necessary to show that geometrical

axioms must vary accordingto the kind of space inhabited.

But let us proceed still farther.

Let us thinkof reasoniingbeings existingon the surfaceof

an egg-shapedbody. Shortestlines could be drawnibetween

threepoinltsof such a surfaceand a triangleconstructed. But

if the attemptwere made to constructcongruenttrianglesat

differentpartsofthesurface,it wouldbe foundthattwotriangles

withthreepairsof equal sideswouldnothave theirangles equal.

The sumof the angles of a triangledrawnat the sharperpole of

the bodywould departfarther fromtwo rightangles thanif the

triangle were drawn at the bluinterpole or at the equLator.

Henlce it appears that not even such a simple figureas a

trianglecan be moved oln such a surfacewithout change of

form.It would also be foulndthatif circlesof equal radii were

colnstructed at differentparts of such a surface(the lelngthof

the radii being always measured by shortestlines along the

surface)theperipherywould be greaterat the blunterthan at

the sharperend.

We see accordinglythat,if a surface admitsof the figures

lying on it being freelynmovedwithoutchange of any of their

lines and alngles as measured along it, the propertyis a

special one and does not belong to everykind of surface. The

conditiolnuiider which a surface possesses this important

propertywas pointedout by Gauss in his celebratedtreatiseon

306 The Origi?nand Meaning of GeometricalAxioms.

the curvatureof surfaces.* The "meastureof curvature,"as

he called it, i.e., the reciprocalof the productof the greatest

and least radii of curvature,must be everywhereequal over

the whole extentof the surface.

Gauss showedat the same time that this measureof curva-

ture is not chanigedif the surfaceis bent withoutdistensionor

contractionof any part of it. Thus we can roll up a flatsheet

of paper intothe formof a cylinderor of a cone withoutany

change in the dimensionsof the figurestaken along the surface

of the sheet. Or the hemisphericalfundusof a bladder may

be rolledinto a spinidle-shape withoutaltering the dimensions

on the surface. Geometryon a plane will thereforebe the

same as on a cylindricalsurface; only in the latter case we

must imagine that any numberof layersof this suLrface, like

the layersof a rolled sheet of paper, lie one upon anotherand

that after each entire revolutionround the cylindera niew

layeris reached.

These observationsare meantto give the reader a notionof

a kind of surface the geometryof which is on the whole

similarto thatof the plane, but in whichthe axiom ofparallels

does not hold good, namely,a kind of curved surface which

geometricallyis, as it were,the counterpartof a sphere,and

whichhas thereforebeen called the pseuclospherical surfcteby

the distinguishedItalian mathematician,E. Beltrami,who has

investigatedits properties.t It is a saddle-shaped surfaceof

whichonlylimitedpieces or strips can be conilectedlyrepre-

sented in our space, but which may yet be thought of as

infinitelycontinuedin all directions,since each piece lyingat

the limitof the part constructedcaln be colnceivedas drawn

back to the middle of it and theif continued. The piece

displaced mustin the process change its flexuirebut not its

dimensions,just as happens with a sheet of paper moved

about a cone formedout of a plane rolled up. Such a sheet

fitsthe conical surfacein everypart, but must be more bent

near the vertexand cannotbe so moved over the vertex as to

be at the same time adapted to the existing cone and to its

imaginarycontinuationbeyond.

Like the plane and the sphere,pseudosphericalsurfaceshave

theirmeasureof curvatureconstant,so thateverypiece of them

* Gauss, Wlerke, Bd. IV., p. 215, firstpublishedin Commentationes

Soc. Req. Scientt.Gottingersis

recentiores, vol. vi., 1828.

tSa,gio di Interpretazionedellat.GeometriaNon-EPclideat,Napoli,

1868.-Teoria fondamentale deyli %paziidi CtOrvatusra costante,Annwali

di Miatematica,Ser. :I., Tom. II., pp. 232-55. Both have beenitrans-

lated intoFrenchbyJ. Hoiiel,AnnalesScientifiques de 1'PEole Normale,

Tom.V., 1869.

The Origin and Meaning of aeornetricalAxiomns. 307

can be exactlyapplied to everyother piece, and thereforeall

figuresconstructedat one place on the surfacecan be trans-

ferredto any other place with perfectcongruityof form and

perfectequality of all dimensionslying in the surfaceitself.

The measure of curvatureas laid down by Gauss, which is

positiveforthe sphere and zero for the plane, would have a

constantnegative value forpseudosphericalsurfaces,becanse

the two principal curvaturesof a saddle-shaped surfacehave

theirconcavityturnedoppositeways.

A strip of a pseudosphericalsurface may,for example,be

representedby the innersurface(turnedtowardsthe axis) of a

solid anchor-ring. If the plane figure aabb (Fig. 1) is made

to revolve on its axis of symmetry AB, the two arcs ab will

A A

Ft ~~~a

FIG, 1. FIG. 2.

describe a pseudospherical concave-convexsurface like that

of the ring. Above and below, towards aa and bb, the

surfacewill turn outwardswith ever-increasingfiexure,till it

becomes perpendicular to the axis and ends at the edge

with one curvature infinite. Or, again, half of a pseudo-

spherical surface may be rolled up into the shape of a

champagne-glass (Fig. 2) with tapering stem infinitelypro-

longed. But the surface is always necessarilybounded by

a sharp edge beyond which it cannot be directly-continued.

Onllyby supposin1geach-single piece of the edge cut loose and

drawnalong the surfaceof the ring or glass, can it be brought

to places of different flexureat which farthercontinuationof

the piece is possible.

In this way too the straightestlines of the pseudospherical

surfacemay be infinitely produced. They do not like thoseon

a spherereturnupon themselves,but, as on a plane, onlyone

shortestline is possiblebetweentwo given points. The axiom

of parallels does not howeverhold good. If a straightestline

is given on the surfaceand a pointwithoutit, a whole pencil

308 ThteOrigin and MeaninRtg

of GeometricalAaxioins.

of straightestlines mlaypass throughthepoint,no onieof which,

thoughinfinitely produced,cuts the firstline; the pencil itself

being limitedby two straightestlines, one of whichintersects

one of the enidsof the given line at an infinitedistance,the

otherthe otherend.

As it happened, a systemof geometryexcludingthe axiom

of parallels was devised on Euclid's syntheticmethod, as far

back as the year 1829, by N. J. Lobatschewsky,professorof

mathematicsat Kasan,* and it was proved that this system

could be carried out as consistentlyas Euclid's. It agrees

exactly with the geomnetry of the pseudospherical surfaces

workedout recentlyby Beltrami.

Thus we see that in the geometryof two dimensionsa sur-

face is markedout as a plane or a sphere or a pseudosplherical

surfaceby the assumptioni that any figuremaybe movedabout

in all directionswithoutchalngeof dimensions. The axiom

thatthere is only one shortest liniebetween any two points

distinguishesthe plane anldthe pseudospherical surfacefrom

the sphere,and the axiom of parallels marksoffthe plalnefrom

the pseudosphere. These three axioms are in fact necessary

and sufficientto defineas a planiethe surfaceto whichEuclid's

planimetry has reference,as distinguishedfromall othermodes

of space in two dimensions.

The difference between plane anld spherical geometryhas

been long evident,but the meaningof the axiom of parallels

couLldnot be understoodtill Gauss had developed the notionof

surfaces flexiblewithoutdilatationand consequentlythat of

the possibly infinitecontinuationof pseudosphericalsurfaces.

Inhabiting a space of three dimensionsand endowed with

organs of sense fortheirperception,we can representto our-

selves the variouscases in which beings on a surface might

have to develop theirperceptioln of space; for we have only

to limitour own perceptionsto a narrowerfield. It is easy to

thinkaway perceptionsthatwe have; but it is verydifficult to

imagineperceptionsto whichthereis nothinganalogous in our

experience. When, therefore, we pass to space of three

dimensionswe are stopped in our power of representationby

the structureof our organs and the experielncesgot through

themwhichcorrespondonllyto the space in whichwe live.

There is howeveranotherway of treatinggeometryscientifi-

cally. All knownspace-relationsare measurable,that is they

may be broughtto determination of magnitudes(lines,angles,

surfaces,volumes). Problems in geometrycan thereforebe

solved by findingmethods of calculationfor arrivingat un-

* Pr incpiet der Geometrie,

Kasan, 1829-90.

ThleOrigincand 3eaninig of GeometricalAxiowm. 309

knlownmagnitudesfromknownones. Tlhisis done 'inanalytical

geometry, where all forms of space are treated only as

quantitiesanlddetermlined by means of otherquantities. Even

the axioms themselvesmake referenceto magniitudes. The

straightline is definedas the shortestbetween two poilnts,

whichis a determination of qua.ntity. The axiom of parallels

declares thatif two straightlines in a plane do not intersect

(are parallel),the alternateangles,or the correspondingangles,

made by a thirdline intersecting them,are equal; or it may be

laid down instead that the sum of the alnglesof any triangle

is equal to two right angles. These are determinationsof

quantity.

Now we may start with this view of space,,according to

which the positionof a point uiay be determinedby measure-

ments in relationlto any given figure (system of co-ordi-

nates), taken as fi-xed,and theniinquirewhat are the special

characteristics of our space as manifestedin the measurernents

that have to be made, and how it differsfromotherextended

quantitiesof like variety. This path was firstentered by onie

too early lost to science,B. Riemanniof G6ttingen.* It has

the peculiaradvantage that all its operations consist in pure

calculationof quantities,which quite obviates the dalngerof

habitualperceptionis beinlgtaken forlnecessitiesof thought.

The lnumberof measurementsniecessary to give the position

of a point is equal to the numberof dimelsionisof the space

in question. In a line the distance fromolnefixed point is

sufficient,thatis to say,one quantity; in a surfacethe distances

fromtwo fixed points must be given; in space, the distances

fromthree; or we require as oln the earthlongitude,latitude

and heightabove the sea, or,as is usual in analyticalgeometry,

the distances fromthreeco-ordinateplanes. Riemannicalls a

systemof differences in whichone thingcan be determinedby

nmeasurementsan "infoldextendedaggregate" or an "aggre-

gate of nbdimensiolns." Thus the space in whichwe live is a

three-fold, a surfaceis a twofoldand a line is a simpleextended

aggregateof poinats. Time also is an aggreglateof one dimen-

sionl. The systemofcoloursis alnaggregateofthreedinmenisions,

inasmuchas each colour,accordingto the investigationsof Tb.

Young and Clerk Maxwell,may be representedas a mixture

of three primarycolours, takelnin definitequantities. The

particularmixturescan be actuallymadlewiththe colouIr-tOp.

In the sameway we maycon-sider the systemof simpletones

as all aggregate of two dimenisionis,if we distinguishonlypitch

Ueber die Hypothesenwelche der Geometriezu Grtindeliegen,

U

vom 10 Juni 1854. (Abhanldl.der k6nigl.Gesedllch.

Habilitationsschrift

Vt Gdttingen,Bd. XIII.),

310 Axioms.

the Ortginand Meaningof Geometrbcal

and intensity and leave out of accountdifferences of timbre.

Thisgeneralisation of theidea is well-suitedto bringout the

distinctionbetweenspaceofthreedimensions andotheraggre-

gates. We can, as we knowfromdailyexperience,compare

theverticaldistanceof twopointswiththehorizontal distance

of twoothers,becausewe can applya measurefirstto theone

pairand thento the other. But we cannotcomparethe dif-

ference betweentwotonesofequalpitchand different intensity

withthatbetweentwo tonesof equal intensity and different

pitch. Riemannshowedby considerations of this kindthat

the essentialfoundation of any systemof geometry is the

expressioni thatit gives forthe distancebetweentwo points

lyingin anydirectionfromone another, beginningwiththe

intervalas infinitesimal. He took fromanalyticalgeometry

themostgeneralformforthisexpression, that,namely,which

leavesaltogether openthekindof measurements by whichthe

positionofanypointis given.* Thenhe showedthatthekind

of free mobilitywithoutchangeof formwhichbelongsto

bodies in our space can onlyexistwhen certainquantities

yielded by the calculationt-quantities that coincidewith

Gauss'smeasureof surface-curvature whentheyare expressed

forsurfaces-haveeverywhere an equalvalue. For thisreason

Riemanncallsthesequantities, whentheyhavethesamevalue

in all directions fora particularspot,themeasureof curvature

ofthespaceat thisspot. To preventmisunderstanding I will

once more observethat this so-calledmeasureof space-

curvature is a quantityobtainedby purelyanalyticalcalculation

and thatits introduction involvesno suggestion of relations

thatwouldhave a meaningonlyforsense-perception. The

name is merelytaken,as a shortexpressionfora complex

relation,fromthe one case in whichthe quantity designated

admitsof sensiblerepresentation.

Nowwhenever thevalueofthismeasureofcurvature in any

space is everywhere zero,that space everywhere conforms to

theaxiomsof Euclid; and it maybe calleda flat (homaloid)

space in contradistinction to otherspaces,analytically con-

structible,thatmaybe calledcurvedbecausetheirmeasureof

curvature has a valueotherthan zero. Analyticalgeometry

may be as completely and consistently workedout forsuch

spacesas ordinary geometry forouractuallyexistinghomaloid

space.

* For the squareof the distanceof two infinitely

nearpointsthe

is a homogeneous

expression quadricfunctionofthedifferentials

oftheir

co-ordinates.

t Theyarealgebraical

expressions

compounded from of

theco-efficients

thevarioustermsintheexpressionforthesquareof thedistanceoftwo

pointsandfrom

contiguous theirdiflerential

quotients.

Axioms. 311

The Origin and Meaning of GReometrical

If the measure of curvatureis positive we have spherical

space, in which straightestlines returnupon themselvesand

there.are nioparallels. Such a space would,like the surfaceof

a sphere,be unlimitedbut not infinitelygreat. A constant

niegativemeasureof curvatureon the otherhand gives pseudo-

sPherical space, in which straightestlines run out to infinity

and a pencil of straightestlines may be drawn in any fattest

surfacethroughany pointwhichdo not intersectanothergiven

straightestline in that surface.

Beltrami* has renderedthese last relationsimaginable by

showing that the points, lines and surfaces of a pseudo-

spherical space of three dimensions can be - so portrayed

in the interior of a sphere in Euclid's homaloid space,

that everystraightestline or flattestsurfaceof the pseudo-

spherical space is representedby a straight line or a plane,

respectively,in the sphere. The surfaceitself of the sphere

corresponds to the infinitelydistant points of the pseudo-

sphericalspace; and the differentpartsof this space, as repre-

sentedin the sphere,become smallerthe nearertheylie to the

sphericalsurface,diminishingmorerapidlyin the directionof

the radii than in that perpendicularto them. Straightlines in

the spherewhichonlyintersectbeyond its suLrface correspond

to straightestlines of the pseudosphericalspace whichnever

intersect.

Thus it appeared that space, colnsideredas a region of

measurablequantities,does not at all correspondwiththe most

general conceptionof an aggregate of three dimensions,but

involves also special conditions,depending on the perfectly

free mobility of solid bodies without change of form to

all parts of it and with all possible changes of direction,

and, farther,on the special value of the measureof curvature

whichforour actual space equals, or at least is not distinguish-

able from,zero. This latter definitionis given in the axioms

of straightlines and parallels.

Whilst Riemann entered upon this new field fromthe side

of the most general and fundamentalquestions of analytical

geometry,I myself arrived at similar conclusions,t partly

from seelkingto representin space the system of colours,

inivolvingthe comparisonof one threefoldextendedaggregate

with another,and paYtlyfromilnquirieson the origin of our

ocular measure fordistancesin the field of vision. Riemann

startsby assumingthe above-mentionedalgebraicalexpression,

which represents in the most general form the distance

* Teoriafondacnentale, utsup.

41c.,

t Ueber die Thatsachendie derGeometriezum Grundeliegen (Nacka

vonder konigi.Ges. d. Wiss. zu Gbttingen,

vichten Juni3, 1868).

312 Axioms.

The Origintand Mleaning of Geomiietrical

conditionis of mobilityof rigid figures. I, on the other hand,

startingfrom the observed fact that the maovement of rigid

figuresis possible,in our space, with the degree of freedom

that,we know,deduce the necessityof the algebraic expression

taken by Riemann as an axiomn. The assumptionsthat I had

to make as the basis of the calculationwere the following.

First, to make algebraical treatmentpossible, it must be

assumed thatthe positiolnof any pointA can be determined,

in relatiolnto certainigiveni figures taken as fixed bases,

by measurementof some kind of magnitudes,as linles,angles

between linies,angles between surfaces and so forth. The

measurementsnecessaryfordetermininig the-positionof A are

known as its co-ordinates. In general the nnmberof co-

ordinates n-ecessaryto the complete determinationof the

positioniof a poinltmarksthe niumberof the dimenisions of the

space in question. It is furtherassumed that with the move-

menltof the poinitA the magnittudes used as co-ordinatesvary

continuLously.

Secondly,the definitioni of a solid body, or rigid systemof

points,mustbe made in such a way as to admitof magnitudes

being comparedby congruenice. As we mustnot at this stage

assume any special methods for the measurementof magni-

tudes, our definitioni cani,in the firstinistance,rul only as

follows: Betweenthe co-ordinatesof anlytwo poinltsbelonging

to a solid body, theremustbe an equationwhich,lhoweverthe

body is moved,expressesa constant spatial relation(proving

at last to be the distanice)betweenthe two poinlts,and which

is the same for congruentpairs of poinlts,that is to say, such

pairs as can be made successivelyto coincidein space withthe

same fixedpair of points.

Howeverindeterminate in appearance,thisdefinitioniinvolves

most importanitconsequences, because with increase in the

number of points the niumberof equations increases niuch

more quickly thanithe number of co-ordinates which they

determinie. Five points, A, B, C, D, E give ten different

pairs of points (AB, AC, AD, AE, BC, BD, BE, CD, CE, DE)

anid thereforeten equatiolns,involvilngin space of three

dimensionsfifteenvariable co-ordinates. But of these fifteen

six must remainiarbitraryif the systemof five points is to

admit of free movement anid rotation, and thus the ten

equationscan determineonlynine co-ordinatesas functionsof

the six variables. With six poinltswe obtain fifteenequations

fortwelve quanitities,with sevell poinltstwenity-one equations

forfifteen, and so oln. Now fromn indepelndent equationswe

can determinen contained quantities,and if we have more

Axio)ns. 313

The Origin antdMeaning of Geomnetr'leal

thanin equations,the superfluousones mustbe deduciblefrom

the firstn. Hence it followsthat the equationswhichsubsist

betweenthe co-ordinatesof each pair of points of a solid body

nmusthave a special character,seeinogthat,wvhenin space of

threedimensionstheyare satisfiedfornine pairs of poinitsas

formedout of any fivepoints,the equ:ationifor the tenithpair

follows by logical colnsequen-ce. Thus our assumptionlfor

the definitioni to determine

of soliditybecomes quite sufficienlt

the kind of equationsholdingbetweenthe co-ordinatesof two

pointsrigidlyconniiected.

Thirdly,the calculationmustfurtherbe based on the factof

a peculiarcircumstancein the movementof solid bodies, a fact

so familiarto us thatbut forthis inquiryit mightneverhave

been thoughtof as somethingthat need not be. When in our

space of threedimensiolns two points of a solid body are kept

fixed,its movementsare limitedto rotationsrounidthe straight

line colnniecting them. If we turnit completelyround once,

it again occupies exactly the position it had at first. This

factthat rotationin one directionalways brinigsa solid body

back into its original positionilneeds special menition. A

systemof geometryis possible withoutit. This is most easily

seen in the geometryof a plane. Suppose that with every

rotationof a plane figureits linear dimensionsincreased in

proportionto the angle of rotation,the figureafterone whole

rotation through 360 degrees would no longer coincidewith

itself as it was originally. But any second figurethat was

congruentwiththe firstin its originalpositionmightbe made

to coincidewithit in its second position by being also turneed

through 360 degrees. A consistent system of geometry

would be possible upon this supposition,whichdoes not come

underRiemaln's formula.

On the otherhand I have shown that the threeassumptions

taken togetherforma sufficient basis for the starting-pointof

Riemann's investigation,and thence forall his furtherresults

relating to the distinctionof differentspaces according to

theirmeasureof curvature.

It still remainedto be seen whetherthe laws of motion as

dependenton movingforces could also be consistentlytrans-

ferredto sphericalor pseudosphericalspace. This investigation

has been carried out by ProfessorLipschitz of Bonn.* It is

found that the comprehensiveexpression for all the laws of

dynamics,Hamilton'sprinciple,may be directlytransferred to

* Untersuchungenfiberdie ganzen homogenenFunctionenvon n

Diferentialen(Borchardt'sJournalfii Miathematik,Bde. 1xx. 3, 71;

eines Problemsder Variationsrechnung

lxxiiii. 3, 1); UJnterstclihung

(Ibid. Bcl lxxiv.)

814 Axcioms.

The Origii and Meaning of Geomnetrical

spaces of which the measure of curvatureis otherthan zero.

Accordingly,in this respect also the disparate systems of

geometrylead to no contradiction.

We have now to seek an explanationof the special charac-

teristicsof our own flatspace, since it appears that theyare

not implied in the general notionof an extendedquantityof

threedimensionsand of the freemobilityof bounded figures

therein. Necessitiesof thought,involvedin such a coniception,

theyare not. Let us then examinethe oppositeassumptionas

to theiroriginbeing empirical,and see if they can be inferred

fromfacts of experienceand so established,or if,when tested

by experience,they are perhaps to be rejected. If they are

of empiricaloriginwe must be able to representto ourselves

connected series of facts indicatinga different value for the

measureof curvaturefromthat of Euclid's flatspace. But if

we can imaginesuch spaces of othersorts,it cannot be main-

tained thatthe axiomsof geometryare necessaryconsequences

of an a' jpriori transcendentalform of intuition,as Kant

thought.

The distinction between spherical, pseudospherical and

Euclid's geometrydepends, as was above observed, on the

value of a certainconstant called by Riemannthe measure of

curvatureof the space in question. The value must be zero

for Euclid's axioms to hold good, If it were not zero, the

sum of the angles of a large trianglewould differfromthat of

the angles of a small one, being largerin spherical,smallerin

pseudosphericalspace. Again, the geometricalsimilarityof

large and small solids or figuresis possible only in Euclid's

space. All systemsof practical mensurationthat have been

used forthe angles of large rectilineartriangles,and especially

all systems of astronomicalmeasurementwhich make the

parallax of the immeasurablydistantfixed stars equal to zero

(in pseudosphericalspace the parallax even of infinitelydistant

points would be positive), confirmempiricallythe axiom of

parallels and show the measureof curvatureof our space thus

farto be indistinguishable fromzero. It remains,however,a

question,as Riemannobserved,whetherthe result might not

be different if we could use otherthan our limitedbase-lines,

the greatestof whichis the major axis of the earth's orbit.

Mea-nwhile, we mustnot forgetthatall geometricalmeasure-

mentsrest ultimatelyupon the principle of congruence. We

measurethe distance between points by applyingto themthe

compass,rule or chain. We measure angles by bringingthe

divided circle or theodoliteto the vertex of the angle. We

also determinestraightlines by the path of rays of lightwhich

in our experienceis rectilinear;but thatlighttravelsin shortest

Ple Origin and Meaning of Geometri,cal

Axrioms. 315

lines as long as it continuesin a mediumof constantrefraction-

would be equally true in space of a differentmeasure of

curvature. Thus all our geometricalmeasurementsdepend on

our instrumentsbeingereally,as we considerthem,invariable

in form.,or at least on theirundergoingno otherthanthe small

changes we know of as arising fromvariationof tenmperature

or fromgravityacting differently at differentplaces.

In measuringwe onlyemploythe best and surestmeans we

know of to determinewhat we otherwiseare in the habit of

makingout by sightand touch or by pacing. Here our own

body withits organsis the instrument we carryabout in space.

Now it is the hand, now the leg that serves fora compass,or

the eye turningin all directionsis ourtheodoliteformeasurinig

arcs and angles in the visual field.

Every comparativeestimate of magnitudesor measurement

of theirspatial relationsproceedsthereforeupon a supposition

as to the behaviour of certain physical things, either the

humanbody or otherinstrumentsemployed. The supposition

may be in the highestdegree probableand in closestharmony

withall otherphysicalrelationsknownto us, but yet it passes

beyondthe scope of pure space-intuition.

It is in fact possible to imagineconditionsfor bodies appa-

rentlysolid such that the measurementsin Euclid's space be-

comewhattheywould be in sphericalor pseudosphericalspace.

Let me firstremindthe readerthatif all the linear dimensions

of otherbodies and our own at the same timewere diminished

or increasedin like proportion,as forinstanceto half or double

theirsize, we should with our means of space-perceptionbe

utterlyunawareof the change. This would also be the case

if the distension or contractionwere differentin different

directions,provided that our own body changed in the same

mannerand furtherthat a body in rotatingassumed at every

moment,withoutsuffering or exertingmechanicalresistance,the

amountof dilatationin its different dimensionscorresponding

to its position at the time. Think of the image of the world

in a convex mirror. The common silvered globes set up in

gardens give the essential features,only distortedby some

opticalirregularities.A well-madeconvex mirrorof moderate

aperture representsthe objects in frontof it as apparently

solid and in fixedpositionsbehindits surface. But the images

of the distanthorizonand of the sun in the sky lie behind the

mirrorat a limiteddistance,equal to its fQcallength. Between

these and the surfaceof the mirrorare foundthe images of all

the other objects beforeit, but the images are diminishedand

flattenedin proportionto the distanceof theirobjects fromthe

mirror. The flattening, or decrease in the thirddimension,is

316 ThLeOrigin and Meaning of GeometricalAxiorns.

relativelygreaterthanthe decrease of the surface-dimensions.

Yet everystraightline or every plane in the outer world is

representedby a straightline or a plane in the image. The

image of a nmanmleasuring witha rule a straightline fromthe

mirrorwould contractmore and morethe fartherhe went,but

with his shrunkenrule the man in the image wouildcountout

exactly the same nuLmberof centimetresas the real man.

And, in general, all geometrical measurementsof lines or

angles made withregularlyvaryingimages of real instruments

would yield exactlythe samne resultsas in the outerworld,a11

congruent bodies would coincide on being applied to onie

another in the mirroras in the outerworld,all lines of sight

in the outerworld would be representedby straightlines of

sight in the mirror. In short I do not see how men in the

mirrorare to discoverthat theirbodies are not rigid solids and

theirexperiencesgood examplesof the correctnessof Euclid's

axioms. But if theycould look out uponiour worldas we can

look into theirs,withoutoversteppingthe boundary,theymust

decla-reit to be a picturein a sphericalmirror,and wouLldspeak

of us just as we speak of them; and if two inihabitanits of the

different worldscould communicatewith one another,neither,

so faras-I can see, would be able to convincetlheotherthat he

had the truLe,the other the distortedrelationis. Indeed I

cannot see that such a question would have any meaning

at all so 'long as mechaniicalconsiderationsare not mixed up

withit.

Now Beltrami'srepresentationof pseudosphericalspace in a

sphereof Euclid's space is quite similarexcept that the bac-k-

ground is not a plane as in the convex mirror,but the surface

of a sphere,and that the proportionin which the images as

theyapproach the spherical surface contract,has a different

mathematicalexpression. If we imagine then, conversely,

that in the sphere,forthe interiorofwhichEuclid's axiomshold

good, movinigbodies contractas theydepart fromthe centre

like the images in a convex mirror,and in such a way that

their representatives in pseudospherical space retain their

dimensionsunchanged,-observerswhosebodies wereregularly

subjected to the same change would obtain the same results

fromthe geometricalmeasurementstheycould make as if they

lived in pseudospheriealspace.

We can even go a step further,and iniferhow the objects in

a pseudosphericalworld,were it possible to enter one, would

appear to an observerwhose eye-measureand experiences of

space had been gained like ours in Euclid's space. Such an

observerwould continueto look upon rays of light or the lines

of vision as straightlinies,sui-chas are met withiin flat space

ThteOrigin aiut7 JIfectingof GeometricalAxiovm. 317

and as they really are in the spherical representationof

pseudospherical space. The visual image of the objects in

pseudosphericalspace would thus make the same impression

upon him as if he were at the centreof Beltrami'ssphere. He

would think he saw the mostremoteobjects round about him

at a finitedistance,*let us suppose a hundredfeetoff. But as

he approached these distant objects, theywould dilate before

him, though more in the third dimensionthan superficially,

while behind him they would: contract. He would know

that his eye judged wrongly. If he saw two straightlines

which in his estimateran parallel forthe hundredfeetto his

world's end, he would findon followingthemthat the farther

he advanced the morethey diverged,because of the dilatation

of all the objects to whichhe approached. On the otherhanid

behindhim theirdistancewould seen to diminish,so thatas he

advanced theywoutldappear always to divergemoreand more.

But two straightlines whichlfromhis firstpositionseemed to

converge to onie and the same point of the background a

h-uLndred feet distalnt,would continue,to do this however far

he went,and he wotuldneverreach their point of intersectioni.

Now we can obtain exactlysimilarimages of our real world

if we look through a large convex lenis of corresponding

negative focal length,or even througha pair of convex spec-

tacles if ground somewhatprismaticallyto resemblepieces of

one continuous larger lens. With these, like the convex

mirror,we see remoteobjects as if near to us, the mostremote

appearing no fartherdistant than the focus of the lens. In

going about with this lens before the eyes, we find that the

objects we approach dilate exactly in the manner I have

described for pseudosphericalspace. Now any one using a

len-s,were it evelnso strongas to have a focal length of only

sixtyinches,to say nothingof a hundred feet,would perhaps

observe for the firstmoment that he saw objects brought

nearer. But after going about a little the illusion would

vanish,and in spite of the false images he would judge of the

distances rightly. We have every reason to suppose that

what happens in a few hours to any one beginning to wear

spectacles would soon enough be experienced in pseudo-

spherical space. In short,pseudosphericalspace would not

seem to us very strange,comparativelyspeaking; we should

only at firstbe subject to illusions in measuringby eye the

size and distanceof the moreremoteobjects.

There would be illusionsof an opposite description,if,with

of the squareofthisdistance,

* Tlhereciprocal expressedinnegative

wouldbe the measureof curvature

quantity, of the pseudospherical

space. 22

318 Axioms.

The Origqnand Meaninngof Geoinet'ri'eai

sphericalspace of three dimensions. We should suppose the

moredistant-objects to be moreremoteand largerthan they

are, and should find-on approachingthem that we reached

them more quicklythan we expected fromtheir appearance.

But we should also see before us objects that we can fixate

.only with diverging lines of sight, namely, all those at a

greaterdistancefromus than the quadrant of a great circle,

Such an aspect of thingswould hardlystrikeus as veryextra-

ordinary,for we can have it even as things are if we place

beforethe eye a slightlyprismaticglass with the thickerside

towards the lnose: the eyes must then become divergentto

take in distant objects. This excites a certain feeling of

unwonted strain in the eyes but does not perceptiblychange

the appearanceof the objects thus see;n. The strangestsight,

however,in the sphericalworldwould be the back of our own

head, in which all visual lines not stopped by other objects

would meetagain, and whichmustfillthe extremebackground

of the wholeperspectivepicture.

At the same time it must be noted that as a small elastic

flat disc, say of india-rubber,can onlybe fittedto a slightly

curvedspherical-surfacewithrelativecontractionof its border

and distension of its centre, so our bodies, developed in

Euclid's flat space, could not pass into curved space without

undergoingsimilardistensionsand contractionsof theirparts,

their coherencebeing of course maintainedonlyin as far as

theirelasticitypermittedtheirbendingwithoutbreaking. The

kind of distensionmiustbe the same as in passing froma small

bodyimaginedat the centreofBeltrami'ssphereto its pseudo-

spherical or spherical representation. For such passage to

appear possible, it will always have to be assumed that the

body is sufficiently elastic and small in comparisonwith the

real or imaginaryradius of curvatureof the curved space into

whichit is to pass.

These remarkswill sufficeto show the way in whichwe can

inferfrom the known laws of our sensible perceptionsthe

series of sensible impressionswhich a sphericalor pseudo-

sphericalworldwould give us, if it existed. In doing so we

nowhere meet with inconsistencyor impossibilityany more

than in the calculationof its metrical proportions. We can

representto ourselvesthe look of a pseudosphericalworld in

all directions just as we can develop the conceptionof it.

Thereforeit cannotbe allowed that the axioms of our geometry

depend on the nativeformof our perceptivefaculty,or are in

any way connectedwithit.

It is different withthe three dimensionsof space. As all

The Origin and Meaning of GeometricalAxrioms. 319

our means of sense-perceptionextend onlyto space of three

dimensions,and a fourthis not merelya modificationof what

we have but somethingperfectlynew, we find ourselves by

reason of our bodilyorganisationquite unable to representa

fourthdimension.

In conclusion I would again urge that the axioms of

geometryare not propositionspertaining only to the pure

doctrineof space. As I said before,theyare concernedwith

quantity. We can speak of quantitiesonly when we know

of some way by which we can compare, divide and measure

them. All space-measurementsand thereforein general all

ideas of quantitiesapplied to space assume the possibilityof

figures moving without change of form or size. It is

true we are accustomed in geometryto call such figures

purely geometricalsolids, surfaces,angles and lines, because

we abstract from all the other distinctionsphysical and

chemical of natural bodies; but yet one physical quality,

rigidity,is retained. Now we have no othermark of rigidity

of bodies or figuresbut congruence,whenevertheyare applied

to one alnotherat any time or place, and afterany revolution.

We cannot however decide by pure geometryand without

mechanical considerationswhether the coincidingbodies may

not both have varied in the same sense.

If it were useful for any purpose,we mightwith perfect

consistencylook upon the space in which we live as the

apparentspace behinda convex mirrorwith its shortenedand

contractedbackground; or we might consider a bounded

sphere of our space, beyond the limitsof whichwe perceive

nothingfurther,as infinitepseudosphericalspace. Only then

we should have to ascribe to the bodies whichappear as solid

and to our own body at the same time correspondingdis.

tensionsand contractions, and we must change our systemof

mechanicalprinciplesentirely; for even the propositionthat

everypointin motion,if acted upon by no force,continuesto

move withunchangedvelocityin a straightline,is not adapted

to the image of the world in the convex-mirror. The path

would indeed be straight,but the velocitywould depend upon

the place.

Thus the axioms of geometryare not concernedwith space.

relations only but als-oat the same time with the mechanical

deportmentof solidest bodies in motion,. The notionof rigid

geometricalfiguremightindeedbe conceivedas transcendental

in Kant's sense, namely, as formedindependentlyof actual

experience,whichneed not exactlycorrespondtherewith,any

morethan naturalbodies do ever in fact correspondexactlyto

the abstract notion we have obtained of them by induction.

22 *

320 lAte Oig7it actncJ3ieaningof GeometricalAxiioms.

Taking the lnotionof rigiditythus as a mere ideal, a strict

Kantian mightcertainlylook upon the geometricalaxioms as

propositionsgiven 'a prioriby transcendentalintUitionwhich

no experiencecould either confirmor refute,because it must

firstbe decided by them wlhetherany natural bodies can be

considered as rigid. B:1utthen we should have to maintain

that the axioms of geometryare not syntheticpropositiolns,

as Kanit held them: theywould merelydefinewhat qualities

and deportmenta body musthave to be recognisedas rigid.

But if to the geometrical axioms we add propositions

relating to the mechanical propertiesof natural bodies, were

it onlythe axiom of inertiaor the single propositionthat the

mnechanical and physicalpropertiesof bodies and theirmutual

reactionsare, other circumstancesremainingthe same, inde-

pendent of place, suchla system of propositionsbas a real

importwhich calnbe conifirmed or reftutedby experience,but

just forthe same reason can also be got by experience. The

mechanicalaxiomjust cited is in factof the utmostimportance

forthe wlholesys-temi of our mechanicaland physical concep-

tions. That rigid solids, as we call them, which are really

nothingelse than elastic solids of great resistance,retain the

same form in every part of space if no externalforce affects

them,is a single case fallinguniderthe generalprinciple.

For the rest, I do niot,of course, suppose that mankind

firstarrivedat space-intuitionsin agreemenit with the axioms

of Euclid by aniycarefullyexecutedsystemsof exact measure-

ment. It was rather a succession of everyday experiences,

especiallythe perceptionof the geometricalsimnilarity of great

and small bodies, only possible in flat space, that led to the

rejection,as impossible,of everygeometricalrepresentation at

variancewiththis fact. For thisInoknowledgeof the necessary

logical connectionbetween the observed fact of geometrical

similarityand the axioms w.rasneeded, but only an intuitive

apprehensionof the tvpical relations between lines, planes,

angles, &c., obtained by numerousand attentiveobservations

-all intuitionof the kind the artist possesses of the objects

he is to represent,and by means of which he decides surely

and accuratelywhethera new combinationwhichhe trieswill

correspondor not to theirnature. It is true that we have no

word but intuitionto markthis; but it is knowledgeempirically

gained by the aggregationiand reinforcement of similarrecur-

rent impressionisin memory,and not a transcendentalform

given beforeexperience. That othersuch empiricalintuitionas

of fixedtypicalrelations,whennot clearlycomprehended, have

frequentlyenioughbeen taken by metaphysicialns for 'a _rioii

principles,is a pointon whichI need not insist;

AsSOCat(toio[isian

tahVe Or'q[a of Moral Ideas-. 321

thus expressed:-

(1.) The axioms of geometry,taken by themselvesout of all

connectionwithmechanicalpropositions, representno relations

of real things. When thus isolated,if we regard thenm with

Kant as formsof intuitiontranscendentallygiven,theycon-

stitute a forminitowhich any empiricalcontentwhateverwill

fitand which thereforedoes not in any way limitor determiine

l)eforehandthe natureof the content. This is true,however.,

not onlyof ELuelid'saxioms,but also of the axioms of spheric1al

anidpseu-dospherical geometry.

(2.) As soon as certainprinciplesof mechanicsare conjoined

withtlhieaxiomsof geonletrywe obtaina svstemof propositions

whichhas real import,and whichcan be verifiedor overturned

by empiricalobservations,as fromexperienceit can be iniferred.

If such a systemwere to be taken as a transcendentalform of

intuitionand thought,theiremustbe asstumeda pre-established

harmolny betweenformanldreality.

HI.HIELMHOLTZ.

IDEAS.

CAkNthe fact that manidistilnguiliesright fromwronlgbe

explained by-the association of ideas ? This is the question

whichI mean to discuss,and as I feel compelled to aniswerit

in the negative,it is the morerequisitethat I should acknow-

ledge at the outset association to be a great and fruitful

principle,of wide range and powerfulinifluence in the melntal

ecolnomy. It is not confinedto any particularprovince of

humannature,but operatesalike among our thoughts,feelings

and volitions,bringingtheminto the mostvaried combinations.

Its laws are essential conditionsof memoryand reminiscence,

of all the powersof intellectualacquisitivenessand inventive.

ness, of imaginationand reasoniing; they are implied in the

perfectingand pervertingof every perceptive faculty and

emotional capacity; and largely determinethe growth of

characterboth in inidividualsand communities. In a word, it

is mainly through associationthat mentalenergyis accumulated

and mental change effected. It is the sovereign means of

eliciting and educating,of drawing out and developing, the

originalendowmentso the mind,and it is continuallyaltering

forthe betteror worse all temperaments,dispositions,habits,

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