D O C . 1 7 7 A C C E P T A N C E O F G O L D M E D A L 1 7 7
177. Acceptance Speech on Being Awarded a Gold
Dated: 13 December 1923
Published: 14 January 1924
In: Nederlandsch Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde 68 (1924):128–129.
Esteemed Mr. Mayor, esteemed members of the association, esteemed audience!
Permit me first to give expression to my deep gratitude for the awarding of your
medal, whose importance to me is especially heightened by the fact that it has been
conferred to me together with our highly esteemed master, Mr. Lorentz.[1] I regard
this acknowledgment not only as an encouraging sign of the value you are attaching
to my lifework but, above all, also as a symbol of the old friendship and collabora-
tion that has been bonding me with many fellow specialists of your country for
many years.
My special thanks to our colleague Van der Waals for the genuinely kind words
he addressed to me, which sharply illuminate the profound questions of theoretical
physics today.
The new structures of the theory mentioned there have often been described as
groundbreaking and revolutionary; and yet they arise more out of necessity than
creative free will. The necessity that gives cause to reshape the foundations in the
field of science can either be rooted in internal logical contradictions, that is,
knowledge about theoretical shortcomings of an outdated system, or in the failure
of the latter in the face of new evidence. Yet the astonishing and liberating thing
always is that, in order to overcome the predicament one retains those features of
the existing system that have been essential for tying together the facts already con-
tained within the theory. Thus, Maxwell replaced the mechanical theory of light
with the electromagnetic one because the former could not offer any way to explain
the natural constant described in electrodynamics as the speed of light; in so doing,
however, he conserved all the essential relations of the earlier optics. H. A. Lorentz
renewed from the ground up our conception of the participation of matter in elec-
tromagnetic processes, compelled by optical experiments on moving bodies; but in
so doing he retained Maxwell’s equations for empty space and even revived notions
about electricity that had been forgotten by Maxwell’s school. Thus, the special
[p. 128]
[p. 129]
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