For the rest of my life, whenever a research project doesn’t work out or I think back over the questions on which I failed to make progress, I will at least be able to say, “Hey, I didn’t try to do psychology research on a chatbot.”
A couple years ago, I became an official textbook author.
For reasons that made sense at the time, I gathered all the homework problems together at the end into a chapter called, well, “Exercises”. And now I keep getting spam invitations to conferences and special issues of journals no one has ever heard of, asking me to share my pivotal work “in the field of Exercises”.
Wikipedia claims that Arthur C. Lunn discovered what we now call the Schrödinger equation some years before Schrödinger. I wonder if there is more to say about this than what the references cited there provide (they have the feel of being faithful recollections, but are light on specifics).
In a 1964 interview, the physicist Karl Darrow calls the story “impossible to check”. And in another interview, Robert Mulliken (not to be confused with Robert Millikan) shares the story of Lunn having “sent a paper to the Physical Review which was turned down and which anticipated the quantum mechanics”. Mulliken heard the story from the physical chemist William Draper Harkins. Similarly, Leonard Loeb told Thomas Kuhn that Lunn “was probably a misunderstood genius, and who was completely frustrated, because his one great paper with his one great idea was turned down by a journal”.
Lunn did apparently try to present what sounds like a grandiose paper (“Relativity, quantum theory, and the wave theories of light and gravitation”) at the American Physical Society meeting in April 1923, but his paper was only “read by title”. The abstract ran as follows:
This paper is a preliminary report on a theory originally sought in order to meet the recognized need for a reconciliation between wave theory and quantum phenomena; its scope of adaptation proves to be quite wide. It includes (1) a wave theory of gravitation in quantitative connection with optical, electronic, and radioactivity data; (2) a related general suggestion of a theory connecting molecular properties with properties of matter in bulk; (3) alternatives for some of the current features in the theories of atomic structure; (4) a new interpretation and deduction of formulas for series and band spectra, using in lieu of the quantum condition a substitute directly related to long familiar physical notions; (5) a modification of Lagrangian dynamics which promises to be of service in the study of complex atomic and molecular structures; (6) a non-quantum theory of specific heat and black radiation. Results so far reached deal mostly with problems approachable by elementary methods or approximate computations. A set of formulas has been obtained which yield computation of the electron constants $e$, $h$, $m$ and mass ratios, assuming from observation only the Rydberg constant, velocity of light, gravitation constant, and Faraday constant, with results in each case in practical agreement with measured values.
Darrow says, “I know that in 1924 he wanted to give a twenty or a thirty minute paper before the American Physical Society in Washington, but then authorities of the Society refused him more than ten minutes”.
Lunn’s abstract in the 1924 proceedings has a similar explain-everything atmosphere:
Relativity, the quantum phenomena, and a kinematic geometry of matter and radiation. A. C. LUNN, University of Chicago. The theory indicated in an earlier paper (Phys. Rev. 21, 711, 1923), has since been developed, extended in scope, and so ordered as to permit of treatment as a deductive space-time geometry. It unites the treatment of the quantum phenomena with the rest of physical theory in a way that yields to illustration by familiar physical images. It resolves into matters of choice a number of hitherto controversial alternatives in the interpretation of phenomena, and allows freedom of use of a range of concrete types of representation including many other concepts commonly discarded. Among special topics more recently found to affiliate with the scheme may be mentioned the Stark and Zeeman effects and fine structure, resonance potentials, and the intensity and distribution of general x-radiation. Improvements have been made in the setting of the formulas connecting $e$, $h$, and $m$ with pre-electron data. A program has emerged for the foundation of a trial mathematical chemistry by determination of types of atoms, valence, number of isotopes, atomic weights, and spectrum levels.
I can easily imagine a paper with that attempted scope being incomprehensible to whoever had the task of evaluating it, and so any really good morsels within it would have been lost.
UPDATE (4 November): I wrote to the Physical Review offices on the chance that they had more information and received this reply from Robert Garisto, the Managing Editor of Physical Review Letters.
Thank you for your query. Our records from the early 20th century are fragmentary. I am not sure if we have any from before 1930, much less a complete set that could answer your question.
But I see that Arthur C. Lunn published 7 papers in the Physical Review from 1912-1922. So he was a known author to the editors. Those were different times, and while it is possible that he submitted a paper that was rejected and never published elsewhere, for what it’s worth, it strikes me as unlikely.
An underappreciated aspect of the original Dracula story is that the way he goes out is basically, “And this is how we do things in Texas.”
Continue reading Underappreciated