In terminology, recant (TR:27) refers to a statement or belief formally and publicly renounced or revoked; an open confession of error.

In 1824, French physicist Sadi Carnot employed and believed in caloric theory; in his posthumous papers he indicated that he corrected his view. [1]

In 1865, Scottish engineer and physicist William Rankine was the last of thinkers to believe in some variant of the material theory of heat or that heat is of material essence. [2] In 1869, Rankine, recanted, and admitted to the impossibility of this logic. [3]

In 1887, German physical chemist Wilhelm Ostwald was of the firm belief that “matter is only a mirage, which the mind creates to comprehend the workings of energy.” [4] In 1909, he famously accepted atomic theory, and recanted on his earlier views as follows: [5]

“I am now convinced that we have recently become possessed of experimental evidence of the discrete or grained nature of matter, which the atomic hypothesis sought in vain for hundreds and thousands of years. The isolation and counting of gaseous ions, on the one hand, which have crowned with success the long and brilliant researches of J.J. Thomson, and, on the other, agreement of the Brownian movement with the requirements of the kinetic hypothesis, established by many investigators and most conclusively by J. Perrin, justify the most cautious scientist in now speaking of the experimental proof of the atomic nature of matter, the atomic hypothesis is thus raised to the position of a scientifically well-founded theory, and can claim a place in a text-book intended for use as an introduction to the present state of our knowledge of general chemistry.”

In 2014, Libb Thims tried to get Mirza Beg to recant in his position that the will of Allah was behind Gibbs energy in social and interpersonal chemical reactions, explaining to hims that Islam was a mythology-based belief, and that he would be wise to side with modern science (see: Beg-Thims dialogue); the effort, however, was to no avail.

The following are related quotes:

“It is only lately, under the conduct of professor Willard Gibbs that I have been led to recant an error which I had imbibed from your θΔcs namely that the entropy of Clausius is unavailable energy while that of T’ [Tait] is available energy. The entropy of Clausius is neither the one nor the other it is only Rankine’s thermodynamic function.”
— James Maxwell (1873), “Letter to Peter Tait”, Dec 1 [6]

1. Garrison, Fielding H. (1909). “Josiah Willard Gibbs and his Relation to Modern Science, Parts I-IV” (pdf) (§1:475), Popular Science Monthly, Part I: 74(27):470-84, May; Part II: 74:551-61, Jun; Part III: 75:41-48, Jul; Part IV: Vol #:191-203, Aug.
2. (a) Rankine, William. (1865). “On the Second Law of Thermodynamics”, Philosophical Magazine (pg. 241-45; esp. 244), Oct.
(b) Garrison, Fielding H. (1909). “Josiah Willard Gibbs and his Relation to Modern Science, Parts I-IV” (pdf) (§1:475), Popular Science Monthly, Part I: 74(27):470-84, May; Part II: 74:551-61, Jun; Part III: 75:41-48, Jul; Part IV: Vol #:191-203, Aug.
3. Rankine, William. (1869). “On the Thermal Energy of Molecular Vortices”, Trans. R. S. Edin, xxv. pg. 557.
4. Holt, Niles R. (1977). “Wilhelm Ostwald’s ‘The Bridge’” (abs), The British Journal for the History of Science, 10(2):146-50.
5. Ostwald, Wilhelm. (c.1908). “Quote” (ΡΊ), in: Grundriss der allgemeinen Chemie (4th ed., 1909), Preface, as cited by Erwin N. Hiebert and Hans-Gunther Korber in article on Ostwald in Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography Supplement 1, Vol 15-16, 464.
6. (a) Maxwell, James, (Harman, Peter (editor)). (1990). The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell: 1874-1879 (Numbers 557 Letter to James Thomson, 27 March 1875, note (2) (pg. 205), 587 Draft of ‘On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances, circa February 1876, note (7) (pg. 283), and 623 Letter to Peter Guthrie Tait, note (4) (pg. 397)). Cambridge University Press.
(b) See: J. Willard Gibbs, “Graphical Methods in the Thermodynamics of Fluids”, (Gibbs quote: “the term entropy, it will be observed, is here used in accordance with the original suggestion of Clausius, and not in the sense in which it has been employed by Professor Tait and others after his suggestion. The same quantity has been called by Professor Rankine the Thermo-dynamic function.”) Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2 (1873): 309-42, esp. 310n.

TDics icon ns

More pages