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I have found a great difficulty in conceiving of the existence of vortices in a medium, side by side, revolving in the same direction about parallel axes. The contiguous portions of consecutive vortices must be moving in opposite directions; and it is difficult to understand how the motion of one part of the medium can coexist with, and even produce, an opposite motion of a part in contact with it.The only conception which has at all aided me in conceiving of this kind of motion is that of the vortices being separated by a layer of particles, revolving each on its own axis in the opposite direction to that of the vortices so that the contiguous surfaces of the particles and the vortices have the same motion.In mechanism, when two wheels are intended to revolve in the same direction, a wheel is placed between them so as to be in gear with both, and this wheel is called an "idle wheel." The hypothesis about the vortices which I have to suggest is that a layer of particles, acting as idle wheels, is interposed between each vortex and the next, so that each vortex has a tendency to make the neighboring vortices revolve in the same direction with itself.... according to our hypothesis, an electric current is represented by the transference of the movable particles interposed between the neighboring vortices. We may conceive that these particles are very small compared with the size of the vortex, and that the mass of all the particles together is inappreciable compared with that of the vortices, and that a great many vortices, with their surrounding particles, are contained in a single complete molecule of the medium. The particles must be conceived to roll without sliding between the vortices which they separate, and not to touch each other, so that, as long as they remain within the same complete molecule, there is no loss of energy by resistance.On Physical Lines of Force by J. C. Maxwell, 1861.
... Hertz seems to have relied chiefly on the introduction of cyclical systems with invisible motions.English physicists - e.g. Lord Kelvin, in his theory of vortex-atoms, and Maxwell, in his hypothesis of systems of cells with rotating contents, on which he bases his attempt at a mechanical explanation of electromagnetic processes - have evidently derived a fuller satisfaction from such explanations than from the simple representation of physical facts and laws in the most general form, as given in systems of differential equations. For my own part, I must admit that I have adhered to the latter mode of representation and have felt safer in so doing; yet I have no essential objections to raise against a method which has been adopted by three physicists of such eminence.It is true that great difficulties have yet to be overcome before we can succeed in explaining the varied phenomena of physics in accordance with the system developed by Hertz. But in every respect his presentation of the Principles of Mechanics is a book which must be of the greatest interest to every reader who can appreciate a logical system of dynamics developed with the greatest ingenuity and in the most perfect mathematical form. In the future this book may prove of great heuristic value as a guide to the discovery of new and general characteristics of natural forces.