Sympathetic Vibratory Physics - It’s a Musical Universe
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Dr. Plums Visit to Keely's Laboratory
(sometime in late 1893)

"I have seen a spectacle I would have pronounced impossible according to all accepted theories of physics with which I am familiar. Without apparent exhibition of heat, electricity, or any other form of energy hitherto operated by man, I have seen a strong metallic wheel, weighing seventy-two pounds, in swift and steady revolution by the hour, and absolutely without cost. It is but a subsidiary engine, made and used simply to help equip with similar mysterious capacity of movement the large commercial engine by its side. And that is a most strange and complex mechanism, which perhaps no one but the inventor can even understand at present, and which, but for too frequent previous unauthorized fixing of dates, might be said to give promise of being itself in motion very soon. What is very soon in such an undertaking? Another thirty years of patient, lonely plodding on this labyrinth path would be nothing, if then this explorer could reach his goal. How long after Franklins kite did the world wait, and how many hundred great experimenters, before a dynamo engine kindled our lamps and whirred our wheels? Yet this solitary pioneer, grown half blind by groping in these dim intricacies so long, again and again hurled aside, broken and almost dying by the terrific force with which he is seeking to cope, is met with the sneer, Why don't you do something? He has done much, of ignorant, senseless, and cruel abuse. His immortality, however, is sure. For the world at length honors an honorable purpose, persistently pursued in a high undertaking. And he has already so enlarged the domain of human knowledge, he has lifted man into such a new world of facts, the truths his experiments unveil are so novel, suggestive, and inspiring, that whether all this is ever turned to practical account or not, his name will never die. But if he should turn out to be a prophet, if he is a seer, and does really discern a promised land of lightened toil into which mankind will eventually enter, even though he may not live to lead them in, then the world will gratefully build his tomb.

But the world asks, who is the witness that testifies so boldly to these surprising things? Is he competent and worthy of trust? The witness is not a capitalist, and he has no relations with investors, and is free to say that if Keely were to die tomorrow, it might be a hundred years before another mind would arise able to complete his work; if indeed, it is capable of being completed at all, which no one at present knows. Impelled by a lifelong interest in the wonders of natural science, and honored by the personal friendship of Keely and a few of his advisers, I have followed the course of this investigator for years with the intensest interest and sincerest admiration. I spent more of my vacation this season in the Philadelphia laboratory, and saw greater wonders there, than in the Chicago Fair.

In whose judgment greater? Is a layman in physical science competent to judge in such matters? Confessedly not, on some questions. To most men the learned physicists speak an unknown tongue. Too profound for the common apprehension are the mathematical formulas, even, with which their works abound, though their theories and arguments are full of interest. And many would confess also that they can no more understand the ground of Keelys assertions concerning the number of millions of oscillations taking place in a given substance each second, nor his fluent discourse upon clustered thirds and introductory ninths, upon nodal transmitters and neutral centers, and upon streams and waves of polar and depolar influence. On these declarations this witness has no testimony to offer. In electrical science the world gladly accepts the terminology and the philosophy by which the specialists creditably seek to gain some practical apprehension of the elusive mystery with which they deal; elusive, for through all their technical terms and fine-spun theories, the futility of their endeavor to gain any exhaustive comprehension of it plainly appears. Experts have their field, but as Mr. Gladstone says of the Hebraist and the scientist in reference to the higher criticism and the scriptural cosmogony, their title to speak with authority is confined to their special province, nor are they inerrable there; and if we allow them to go beyond it, and still to claim their authority, when they are what is called at school "out of bounds," we are much to blame, and may suffer for our carelessness. My contention is, he says, that there is a ground which the specialist is not entitled to occupy in his character as a specialist, and on which he has no warrant for entering, except in so far as he is a just observer and reasoner in a much wider field.

It is into this wider field of fact, where any can go whose general training fits him to be in any wise a just observer and reasoner, that this witness deems it not improper to enter, especially as he follows in the wake of not a few who rank high as experts in mechanical engineering, in chemistry, in electricity, and other departments of superior culture. For, not only has Keelys legal counselor, Charles B. Collier, an experienced patent lawyer, acute, cultured, and discerning, given him from the first his sincere and hearty support, but numbers of other men of honorable character and position, many of them eminent for scientific attainments, have given their unqualified testimony that Keely is an original and able investigator in an interesting and promising, though wholly novel, field - a wonder-worker, whose work seems to overturn certain accepted theories, and has puzzled and baffled their learned advocates. Yet, partly, perhaps, because Keely is not in the fraternity of college bred men, but has educated himself (though his writings show familiarity with scholarly works), partly because his claims are so astonishing and his methods so incomprehensible, and partly because of premature predictions of a practical issue of his labors, and because also of unfortunate differences reported in respect to the business side of his enterprise, there are comparatively few men of public prominence who seem to be willing to be known as believers in the importance of his investigations, or even in the integrity of the man. At any rate, ridicule and contempt continue to be thrown at him and at the faithful friends who have long and nobly stood by him. Only lately a prominent journal intimated that an interruption of Keelys personal freedom ought to result from what it calls his gigantic jugglery. It is these unworthy flings, together with a sense of the public importance of the whole matter, which have prompted my voluntary and unsolicited testimony in the interest of truth.

For though scores of assemblies, comprising learned scientists, skillful engineers, and men of large success in the practical conduct of affairs, have witnessed various experiments by Keely during the past dozen years, and although their clear and positive statements of the interest and value of his researches have been repeatedly published in leading newspapers, with the names and professional titles of the witnesses given, yet the general public appears either to overlook or forget all these testimonies, and to be rudely impatient of every undertaking that does not immediately issue in commercial success. Seldom does any public journal refer to Keely in terms of appreciation and respect. As his labors have now reached some new results which only a few persons have witnessed, this further testimony is proffered as information upon a matter of scientific interest, certainly, and with a possible bearing upon industrial advance.

What, then, is the testimony that the present witness has to give? After some ten years of acquaintance with Keely, and after personally seeing many of his experiments, witness deposeth and saith, that Keely appears to him to be a man of sublime patience and persistence in his high purpose, modestly esteeming himself an agent of Divine Providence in the accomplishment of one of the most beneficent revolutions in the history of human progress; a man of wonderful insight and truly amazing fertility of inventive genius in overcoming obstacles and in contriving appliances for attaining his mechanical ends; that he is dealing with and trying to employ in practical mechanics a force absolutely new among all the forces hitherto handled by man, although its presence in nature is affirmed by the theories of scientists, and demonstrated by various observed phenomena; a force of mysterious and awful energy, boundless in extent, and literally costless as the air. Electricity is subtle and powerful and illimitable in supply, but it requires constant and costly expenditure of energy to call it into exercise and keep it at work. This new force, beyond the curious and complicated mechanism which this wonderful wizard has contrived for it to employ, the harness he has fashioned for it to wear, seems to require but a few slight musical sounds, the sonorous vibrations of certain metallic appliances, to set it in motion, and then it will keep in motion - for all that at present appears, in steady, noiseless, and almost resistless motion - till the solid metals of which it is composed wear out.

What! one and all exclaim, is the absurdity of perpetual motion to be revived again? But the physicists tell us there is perpetual motion all around us in nature, intense and all-pervading, and always has been, since the hour when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. Here we touch the robe of the Infinite One, who upholdeth all things by the word of his power. Of him the Unerring One declared, My Father worketh hitherto and I work. Aye, works unceasingly now, in the incessant and intense molecular vibration all the time going on in all matter; in the solid table by which we sit, in the firm granite of the building which encloses us. Action, motion in everything, by everything, everywhere, all the time, and swift, more nimble-footed sometimes than thought almost, but with such a soft and easy pace that no footfall is heard, no movement discerned save as we take observation by the distant heavenly orbs among which we all here on the earth are traveling, hurled along our pathway over a thousand miles a minute. Movement of everything from here to there, and movement in everything while here or there. And so harmonious is the movement, on such delicate anti-friction cushions do the bearings rest, that it is all inaudible, save to that One alone whose ear discerns the music of the spheres - the spheres immensely great and infinitesimally small -

Forever singing as they shine,

The hand that made us is divine.

And only now, after thousands of years of unheard song, this great magician arises and strikes the chord of sympathy to which this vibrating force responds, and lo! it comes forth from its secret chambers like the mighty Genius unloosed by the Arabian fishermen from the copper flask, and waits on man to do his bidding, bending its tough sinews and plying its facile fingers to perform his humblest tasks.

And what proof can there be that this dream of poetry and fancy of story is in any degree an accomplished fact? Look and see. Here is a wooden table, sometimes covered by a heavy slab of glass. Standing on the glass or on the wood, and capable of being moved freely upon it, is a metal standard say a foot high, bearing a copper globe about a foot in diameter. Around the base of the standard project horizontally numbers of small metal rods a few inches long, of different sizes and lengths, vibrating like tuning forks when twanged by the fingers. In the hollow globe is a Chladni plate and various metal tubes, the relation which can be altered by turning a projection like a doorknob, on the outside of the globe, at the outer end of a small shaft, round and round to the right or left. This construction is called a sympathetic transmitter. Some two or three feet distant on the table stands a movable metallic cylindrical case, some six inches by eight in size, composed of certain metal resonating tubes, and certain other metal fixtures. You take it all apart and see there is no magnet there. You place on top of this cylinder a small pocket compass, a brass cup of two inches in diameter with its glass face. The needle points north. From the periphery of the globe of the sympathetic transmitter extends a wire of the size of a common knitting-needle, made of gold and silver and of platinum. The free end of this wire is now attached to the cylinder. The needle is still true to the pole. Then the vibrating rods are twanged, the knob is turned, and on a rude harmonicon trumpet for a moment or two certain sounds are made, when lo! the needle is invisible, it is whirling on its pivots fast. The operator talks of the variant length of waves and of a continuous stream, and in some instances it is half a minute, sometimes three minutes, before the needle comes to rest, and it has kept in swift revolution for many hours; but when it pauses it points no longer to the north, but to a particular part of the mechanism. You leave it there, and are busy with other wonders for an hour or so. Returning, you find the needle still points to its new master. You lift the compass off, and at once it resumes its normal position. You slowly lower it towards the silent cylinder, and when within an inch or two it obeys the new impulse again, and points as before. So also it veers from the north when you carry it near the knob of the copper globe. As Gladstone says, Our hands can lay hold of truths that our arms cannot embrace, and though it takes a physicist to comprehend this miracle, any careful observer can apprehend it, and, after seeing it repeated many times, if he is measurably well read, is competent to testify that here is a new, subtle, silent, continuous influence, and that it is called into exercise in connection with certain brief musical sounds.

Look again. On this rude harmonicon trumpet this magician blows through a small window into the next room towards a common zither some ten feet distant, held upright on a table by a small standard composed of a group of metal tubes. The two musical instruments have been carefully attuned to each other. Attached to the back of the zither is a common silk thread loosely hanging and extending some eight feet away, where it is tied to a movable framework of half-inch iron rods, supporting and bracing in position, on an isolated table of glass, a metal globe, fifteen inches in diameter, capable of turning freely in either direction, on its axis, which bears inside the globe certain resonant tubes and plates, the table standing at an angle of 45 degrees from the face of the zither. Louder sounds the horn, till in a minute or two the metal globe begins to revolve. The horn stops, the globe stops. Again the horn resounds, again the globe turns, and the stronger and more continuous the blast, the more swiftly whirls the globe. You snip the thread apart with your scissors, and the ear of the globe has grown dull; no sound can awake it to motion again. Does a man need to be an expert in physics after he has seen that marvel repeated a few times, and has moved all that apparatus freely hither and thither, to testify that the rapid revolution of that metal globe was not caused by compressed air, coming in concealed tubes from a hidden reservoir, or that a silk thread is not the highway usually cast up for electricity to travel? But these are philosophical toys. What about an engine with power to help human toil?

I have in my study a paper weight - a disc, said to be composed of an alloy of three metals. It looks like steel, measures two and a half inches by three-quarters of an inch, weighs about a pound, is enclosed in a brass ring, and exhibits no magnetic power. I am told that shut up in a glass chamber and connected with the wire which seemed to affect the compass, it absorbed some seven pints of hydrogen gas. The story runs that it was also rapidly whirled by a steam engine a certain number of hours, still in connection with the apparatus from which seemed to flow that subtle influence which the needle of the compass obeyed. Whatever may be thought of this, it is a fact that the disc thus vitalized in its atomic or molecular constitution adheres to the under side of a certain metallic resonant structure as if held there by magnetic attraction, and also supports a weight hung to itself of over two hundred and thiry pounds. Dissociated from the peculiar vibrating apparatus, it falls like any other heavy body, and though that apparatus attracts the disc, even with the attached weights, it is incapable of attracting anything else; it will not support the smallest iron filing. Here then is a strong pulling power in exercise in certain circumstance when two bodies are in contact. Can it pull bodies together which are not in contact?

I see before me on a table a glass jar, ten inches in diameter and forty-eight inches high, filled with water. At the bottom lie three metal balls like the one I hold in my hand, which weighs about two pounds. The jar has a metal cap to which is attached the gold and platinum wire reaching from the copper globe. I am told each ball, like every mass of matter, has its peculiar musical chord. I am reminded of well-known facts of sympathetic vibration; e.g., a large mill trembling in response to the note of a neighboring waterfall, and only quieted and rendered safe by building on an addition, changing its musical chord. And now again the rods are twanged, the knob is turned, the trumpet sounds and keeps sounding till, in a moment or two, I see one ball begin to sway from right to left, then slowly leave the bottom of the jar and rise through the water till with a bump it strikes the metal cap, rebounds a few inches and comes to rest in contact with it on the surface of the water. Still the horn blows, and by this time the second ball responds in like manner, and then the third. Then the music ceases, and we turn to other experiments, but as long as I stayed in the shop that day something made that metal swim. My companion said he had often seen the weights brought slowly down, or held midway, as shown by photographs, by sounding other chords. On the top of the jar lay certain pieces of metal. Keely said, Do not remove those. I once did that, and crash went the balls through the bottom of my jar. Now here was a pulling power acting at a distance of four feet, not capable of lifting the weights through the air, but before all eyes lifting them through water. Can this pulling power turn a wheel?

Here is a wheel of stout metal weighting, as stated, seventy-two pounds, free to move either way on its stationary axis. Its hub is a cylinder containing certain resonant tubes parallel to the axis. It has eight spokes, each carrying one of the vitalized discs at its outer end, the face of the disc at right angles with the spoke. There is no rim to the wheel, but there is a stationary metal rim some six inches wide and thirty-two inches in diameter, within which the wheel turns without touching it. This rim carries on its inner surface nine similar discs, and on the outside, attached to each disc, a resonating cylinder. The requisite amount of the metallic volume of this cylinder is obtained by inclosing in its tubes a few cambric needles, more or less as required, and curiously enough, some of these needles at length become magnetic. Attached to this engine is a gold and platinum wire, some ten feet in length, running through the small window to the copper globe in the other room, where sits the man who has fashioned all this. He twangs the rods of the sympathetic transmitter on the table at his side, he turns its knob, the musical instruments sound for a moment, and peering through the window along the line of the wire his face lights up with a smile of triumph. He settles back in his chair, and all is still. That wheel at the end of the wire is in rapid revolution before your eyes. You turn and look with amazement upon Orpheus returned to earth again and outdoing his fabled exploits of old. For by the enchantment of the subtle harmonies he evokes, too fine for human ear to catch, you see the untamed forces of nature obey his behest; that most constant of all things, the magnetic needle, you see charmed into fickleness by his magic spell; you see balls of iron swim; you see insenate matter - as you thought it, but sensitive now to his call - leap forward into instant rotation, continuous and swift. Long we stand around that flying wheel. The friend who photographed it at rest again levels his camera upon it. In vain; its spokes cannot tarry long enough to be caught by his snare. It is still as death, and almost as mysterious. We listen to long dissertations upon the reason for the relative position of the eight discs on the wheel and the nine on the stattionary rim, and how the adjustment can be so altered that, instead of a revolution, there will be a violent oscillation back and forth.

We are shown the corresponding wheel and the rim of the large engine close by, which is to bear the discs not singly, but in groups, the steel resonating drums with their circles of tubes inside, and thirty-five inch Chladni plate underneath the sympathetic transmitter on top; the extra wheel bearing on its spokes cylindrical cases, each filled solid with a hundred thin-carved plates of steel, to get the utmost superficial area, we are told, and it is all so utterly beyond comprehension, that we can see no reason why it should have been made as it is, or how any one can be sure it will ever run. But we turn around and look again on that noiseless wheel, still running rapidly all alone, and confess we should have said the same thing about that. And we are inclined then to trust the word of the inventor when he says the running of the smaller insures the running of the larger; that the wheel you see spinning so fast cannot be stopped by any force except one that would tear it into fragments, unless with thumb and finger you loosen that golden wire along which the stream of sympathetic vibration is said to flow, and that there is no reason why the wheel should not keep in motion till the bearings wear out.

I say nothing now of the wonders of which other witnesses can speak, and which are said to have appeared in the slow progress this incomprehensible man has been making all these years; of a pressure obtained from the disintegration of water by vibration of twenty thousand pounds to the square inch; of a slowly revolving drum which went no slower when winding tightly upon itself a stout inch and a half rope fastened to a beam, and no faster when the rope parted under the strain; of the disintegration of rock into impalpable powder; of raising heavy weights by aid of a vibratory lift, recalling the negative gravity of our modern story-teller.

The engine you have been looking upon requires as part of itself for some mysterious purpose certain heavy tubular copper rings. Skilful artisans failed in various endeavors, by electrical deposit and otherwise, to make them right. The inventor contrived machinery for bending into semicircles sections of copper tube, one and a half inch bore, three-eights of an inch thick, forcing a steel ball through them to keep the tube in shape. To make a ring, he placed two of those half-circles together and joined the ends in some way (without heat), by what he calls sypathetic attraction, so the resonant properties of the ring are satisfactory, and though you see the line of union, the two parts cannot be severed. You see one of these rings, some fifteen inches in diameter, hanging by block and tackle from the ceiling, and lashed to the lower half swings a big iron ball weighing five hundred and fifty pounds, and there it has swung for weeks. Has the man who has done simply that, and done it merely to furnish a subsidiary adjunct to his main contrivance, won no place among the great artificers? Is it worthy business to revile him as a swindling charlatan? The end is not yet. We shall see what we shall see, or some one will. One thing, however, we see clearly now, and that is that John Worrell Keely deserves the esteem and admiration of his fellow-men. Who does not hope that he has solid grounds for the persistent belief which has been his star of hope these many years; that a merciful Providence is about to confer a new boon upon the suffering industries of mankind; that the time at length has come when man is wise enough to fashion and strong enough to handle the beneficent gift of a costless motor to ease the burdens of human toil? Wise enough and strong enough, perhaps, some may say, but is man trusty? For the question has arisen whether a force of such fearful energy as some of these experiments disclose can safely be entrusted to such a being as man, who can destroy as well as build. But why should man have been set to discover and harness it?

I take great comfort in God, said James Russell Lowell, in one of his recently published letters, I think. ... He would not let us get at the match-box as carelessly as he does unless he knew that the frame of his universe was fireproof.

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