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Jeans, Sir James

Category: Scientist

Sir James Hopwood Jeans OM FRS MA DSc ScD LLDwas born on September 11, 1877 in Ormskirk, Lancashire and died on September 16  1946 aged 69.  He was a physicist, astronomer and mathematician.  He did not use the word spiritual or spirit in his books or papers, but described a separate invisible realm of ‘mind’ and Intelligence which was ultimately mathematical in nature, sharing his views with Pythagoras

Jeans was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood, Wilson's Grammar School,  Camberwell and Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in Mathematics in 1898. He taught at Cambridge, but went to Princeton University in 1904 as a professor of applied mathematics. He returned to Cambridge in 1910.

Jeans made important contributions in many areas of physics, including quantum theory, the theory of radiation and stellar evolution. His analysis of rotating bodies led him to conclude that Laplace's theory, that the solar system formed from a single cloud of gas was incorrect, proposing instead that the planets condensed from material drawn out of the sun by a hypothetical catastrophic near-collision with a passing star.

Jeans, along with Arthur Eddington, is also a founder of British cosmology. In 1928, he was the first to conjecture a steady state cosmology based on a hypothesized continuous creation of matter in the universe.

It may appear that Jeans theories are out of date today and as such are not worthy of consideration as the basis for a study of this sort, however, many of his ideas and the philosophical insights he provides in his books for laymen show him to be acutely aware of our place in the cosmos and also of [as his books suggest] the mystery behind some of the cosmological phenomena.  Whereas many scientists provide a theory with full assurance that they are right, Jeans provides argument both for and against many theories, including his own, which show a deep respect for the insubstantial nature of hypotheses and the extent of unknowns which still exist.

 

Jeans received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1922. He was knighted in 1928. He was a member of the Order of Merit and the crater Jeans on the Moon is named after him, as is the crater Jeans on Mars.

If you glance through the observations they are extraordinary, full of symbolic references and hidden references to spiritual concepts.  He also gave lectures to the Theosophical society, so he clearly had a great interest in all things spiritual – where did it come from?

A very strange mixture of circumstances.

His family were of Scottish descent and a very religious Christian family.  Several stories about his remarkable abilities as a child indicate both an interest and curiosity about numbers and an outstanding memory  - which may not seem to go with spiritual experience until you realise that what he did have was perfect recall.  One biography relates that :-

His interest in numbers was early and deep-seated: he not only factorised cab-numbers, but retained in his memory the numbers that he encountered ... At the age of seven he found his father's book of logarithms, tried to discover what they were for but failed, and learnt the first twenty or so seven-figure logs by heart, and remembered them until near the end of his life.

His First class degree was in Pure mathematics, which is based on classes, functions, entities, attributes,  relationships, function dependencies, systems and in essence the backbone of the systems of the universe.

In the Rede lecture in 1930 which became The Mysterious Universe (1930 he wrote:-

We have already considered with disfavour the possibility of the universe having been planned by a biologist or an engineer; from the intrinsic evidence of the creation, the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician.

 

So he was a naturally gifted mathematician.  He was also a naturally gifted musician. 

He was a great lover of music and in his home he had an organ built which he often played for three or four hours a day. Despite considerable talents, he never played in public, not even playing for his friends

So the evidence so far all points to his genes  - that happy balance between left brain and right brain that often leads to genius.

But there is more.  He suffered from tuberculosis during 1902 and 1903 [aged 25] and he had to go to a sanatorium to recover. He spent some time at a sanatorium in Ringwood, Lyndhurst, then later at a sanatorium in Mundesley. And he smoked.

His high work-load also took its toll, , and in 1917 [aged only 40] Jeans began to show his first signs of heart failure.

Jeans had a heart attack in January 1945 but made a good recovery and, in July 1946 went on holiday with his wife to Montreux. However after a second heart attack in September, Jeans died in his home.

He spent part of his last day listening to music.

References

 

The Mysterious Universe (1930 and 1948) - The book is an expansion of the Rede Lecture delivered before the University of Cambridge in 1930.  I used the revised edition brought out in 1948

Other works

 The Stars in Their Courses (1931)
The Universe Around Us (1929)
Through Space and Time (1934)
The New Background of Science (1933)
Physics and Philosophy (1942/3).
Science and Music (1968)

Observations

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