In the beginning, the field concept was no more than a means of facilitating the understanding of phenomena from the mechanical point of view. In the new field language it is the description of the field between the two charges, and not the charges themselves, which is essential for an understanding of their action. The recognition of the new concepts grew steadily, until substance was overshadowed by the field. It was realized that something of great importance had happened in physics. A new reality was created, a new concept for which there was no place in the mechanical description. Slowly and by a struggle the field concept established for itself a leading place in physics and has remained one of the basic physical concepts. The electromagnetic field is, for the modern physicist, as real as the chair on which he sits. But it would be unjust to consider that the new field view freed science from the errors of the old theory of electric fluids or that the new theory destroys the achievements of the old. The new theory shows the merits as well as the limitations of the old theory and allows us to regain our old concepts from a higher level. This is true not only for the theories of electric fluids and field, but for all changes in physical theories, however revolutionary they may seem. In our case, we still find, for example, the concept of the electric charge in Maxwell's theory, though the charge is understood only as a source of the electric field. Coulomb's law is still valid and is contained in Maxwell's equations from which it can be deduced as one of the many consequences. We can still apply the old theory, whenever facts within the region of its validity are investigated. But we may as well apply the new theory, since all the known facts are contained in the realm of its validity. To use a comparison, we could say that creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting-point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.
—from The Evolution of Physics, a book by
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