Professor Julius Sumner Miller


"Why Is It So?"

Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia in the Southern Autumn of 1996


In the very late 1960's Australia had the pleasure of hosting, live from the Physics Laboritories of Sydney University, a series of television programs which featured one Professor Julius Sumner Miller, a professor of Physics from El Camino Colledge, California. You might ask who would watch - out of the Australian public at that time - a series of lectures on Physics on the television? The answer would be surprising ... a very huge audience would switch their TV sets on at the appointed hour to watch these lectures !!!

"Why is it So" you might ask? The reason was quite simple: Professor Julius Sumner Miller was simply intriguing - one would never know what simply household every-day experiment he would dream up next. Massive handwaving, an eloquent American drawl, flashing raised eyebrows (were they singed on Bunsen Burners?) and content matter drawn from the kitchen, the backyard and from nature ensured that his audience would watch as a regularly captivated student as the lively professor asked such questions as:

Of course I have prepared my own answer to this last question about the surf, but I have no doubt in my own mind that the lively Professor Julius Sumner Miller assisted me in the process of getting there. To my way of thinking - he was a gifted man who could find, within the most mundane of everday occurrences something - some questions - which others had failed to ask.

This short account provides - for the present time - none of the answers to these very simple questions. Instead it provides just a little insight into the philosophy of this great and enchanting man who did so much for the Australian public in the later years of his life. This insight is taken from the "What This Book is All About" section of the Professor's little book of "Millergams" - a rather large list of little questions (such as the ones above) concerning the way nature works.

Says Professor Julius Sumner Miller, on the back cover of the second book of Millergrams:

I personally remember the Professor's TV programs quite clearly, as at that time I was attending High School at North Sydney Boys' School where I completed my studies in 1970. Although I cannot recall studying profusely during this time, I seemed to do well at science, and was at one time, selected with another lad in my year - one Paul Stokes of [then] Castlegrag - to be considered for attendance at the Summer Science Courses to be held that year at the Sydney University. Much to his credit, Paul was selected ahead of me [later securing his Ph.D in the field of nuclear physics]. I clearly remembered thinking that this must have been a ruse by the teachers to try and stop me from going surfing too much (instead of attending school). Nevertheless, I do know that my disappointment ended in totallity the moment I returned home, switched on the TV, and watched the professor's next episode of "Why Is It So ?"

I knew that I was simply just lucky to be part of this wonderful world - and this was sufficient for me.

It is for this reason that I now present what I have been able to collate concerning the Philosophy of this great teacher of the wonderful ways of nature, for - and I am sure that the professor would heartily agree with me here - it surrounds our every breath and heartbeart, and is a source of constant wonder and beauty. I hope you enjoy this account as much as I have enjoyed bringing it into form.


PRF Brown
BCSLS {Freshwater}
Mountain Man Graphics, Australia

From the Preface to "Millergrams" - Book II - Australia, 1967








(Prologue to the first book of Millergrams)

written by Professor Julius Sumner Miller

All of a half-century ago-when I was a little boy on the farm in my native New England - I remember asking all kinds of questions. What is the Earth made of? Why is the sky blue? Why is the sunset red? How does a bird soar? Why does a brook gurgle? How does an earthworm crawl? Why is a dewdrop round? Why does corn pop? Why does a wood fire crackle? And a thousand like questions. To a few I got the answers in reading. To some I got the answers in dialogue with my Mama and my Papa and with my teachers. Some I thought out - not too well, to be sure - but I was learning to THINK. By this device - ever questioning - ever uncertain - I gathered up a rather massive body of knowledge.

It is now some fifty years that I have been engaged in this very same gymnastic-asking questions and seeking out their answers. It has all been an extraordinary engagement and it has added abundantly to the fullness of my life-intellectual-emotional-spiritual. lt has freed me from the shackles of a fettered mind and it has brought me ever closer to the Wonderful Things all about us - those Things unnumbered which make up the World of Nature.

At first it was - as Newton said - "a pretty divertisement". But now in my later years I see the great virtue it all possesses. First there was the engaging business of gathering up the Knowledge - by asking questions - by reading abundantly - by dialogue - by trying to SEE when I looked and by trying to HEAR when I listened.

Now, with a reservoir of knowledge to draw upon, an UNDERSTANDING is slowly coming un-veiled. It has, you see, taken half a century for this. As I am given to say - lots of people know lots of things but our understanding is frightfully weak. And before understanding can emerge a sovereign body of knowIedge must exist to draw upon. There can be no meal without the grain to grind.

Now too I must say a - word of another sort. It is this: The human MIND is designed for-it has for its Purpose most certainly - the Intellectual Process. This can only be nourished and enlivened by Thought and Contemplation.

There lies, I say, in every human creature what is beautifully expressed by the word enthusiasm - which is from the Greek en theos and it means 'a god within', 'possessed by the gods'. It is this Spirit which we all possess but which few ever awaken. Once awakened it grows with unbounded fever and it can drive a boy or a girl or a man or a woman to wondrous things. I have seen it. A tiny spark can set the world aflame and the light of a single candle can pierce the darkness.

Now, how did this book come to be? There are already books no end - big books and little books - the world is full of books - and every one presumably has a message. Homer delivered his beautifully in the Iliad; John Locke did it with consummate skill in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Descartes accomplished it with uncommon strength in Le Discours de la Methode. Plutarch and Chaucer and Rabelais - they all did it magnificently, as did Spinoza and Berkeley and Hume and Adam Smith and Karl Marx and Dostoevski. And you can name a thousand others done as well and still more tlhousands less ably done. And there are others still - countless in number - of much less pretentious cut - in all the bodies of knowledge human kind has gathered up - exercise books in physics - in chemistry - in everything that people know. But I am going astray !

Some months ago one Arnold Earnshaw ('Martin Collins') of The Australian in Canberra invited some questions. The scheme was this: A question today, Professor, with the answer tomorrow along with another question. He named the thing MILLERGRAM and I am beholden to him for this new coin. Now come forth the publishers: Let us put your questions in a book - or maybe a series of books. And for this invitation I am further beholden. It is strange indeed that everywhere in the world my questions have had a contagious appeal and this rewards me in an uncommon way.

So there and here our purpose the same - our message the same: some enchanting questions for enquiring minds - for housewives - merchants - secretaries - clerks - doctors - dentists - boys and girls and PEOPLE.

Mindful then of the many pleasures these things have brought to me - incessantly engaged in question - I am delighted to share with young and old alike these exciting adventures. It is as Leibniz put it: 'I hope that others will add the beauty of their minds to the labor of mine.'

So here we have an array of questions on THINGS - JUST THINGS - some simple - some not so - but all, I hope, of an inviting kind. I urge you to engage yourself with a question, bringing to it the passion which living creatures do in abundance possess but which too often lies hidden for want of a proper stirring. You will, I hope, be as was Pascal, 'inflamed with the desire'. The hope I have here is simply summed up: To stir your imagination, awaken your interest, arouse your curiosity, enliven your spirit - all with the purpose of bringing you to ask, as young Maxwell put it, "What's the go of it?" - or, as Kepler had it, "'why things are as they are and not otherwise". Or, more simply in my own phrase, "WHY IS IT SO?"

Finally, a word on how to tackle a question. Read it. Read it quietly. Read it out loud to yourself or to someone who listens intently. Get your IMAGINATION in gear ! Draw a picture in your mind or a real one on paper or on the sand with your finger or with the toe of your boot. Get into dialogue on it. Use your hands - your arms - gesture - flail them - get excited! - show a passion! Find an analog - what is it like? Talk to yourself. Get 'mad' with it. At the table engage your family - do the experiment - come alive! Soon a faint light emerges - the light grows - an understanding comes forth. Soon too the enthousiasmos - that divine possession - so long fettered by inactivity - blossoms forth. Leonardo put it well: "Quiet water becomes stagnant. Iron rusts from disuse. So doth inactivity sap the vigour of the mind."

And - once again finally - a word of cautionl Do NOT GO TO THE ANSWER until you have felt the joy of your own intellectual gymnastic. It were better indeed that you never had this book if your only purpose is to learn the answers.

I come now at last to my epilogos. I fear that it will avail me little to plead the largeness of my design as an excuse for an imperfect execution of its particulars.

Julius Sumner Miller

My Study
November 1965


Professor Julius Sumner Miller


"Why Is It So?"

Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia in the Southern Autumn of 1996