The displacement of the idea that facts and evidence matter by the idea that everything boils down to subjective interests and perspectives is -- second only to American political campaigns -- the most prominent and pernicious manifestation of anti-intellectualism in our time.
In this paper I investigate two views of theoretical explanation in quantum chemistry, advocated by John Clarke Slater and Charles Coulson. Slater argued for quantum‐mechanical rigor, and the primacy of fundamental principles in models of chemical bonding. Coulson emphasized systematic explanatory power within chemistry, and continuity with existing chemical explanations. I relate these views to the epistemic contexts of their disciplines.
The physicist not only observes phenomena, but he also has an active role in the formulation of some laws. For instance, laws involving irreversibility refer explicitly to what can or cannot be done by physicists. As the abilities of the latter may vary, we obtain sequences of laws, the convergence of which is discussed.
Kernphysiker in einer neuen Welt: Die Emigranten der dreißiger Jahre in Amerika. - Unter der großen Anzahl derjenigen, die durch Nationalsozialismus zur Emigration gezwungen wurden und zwischen 1933 und 1941 in die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika einwanderten, befanden sich auch mehr als hundert Physiker, und unter ihnen einige der genialsten Kernphysiker der Welt. Die Physik in Amerika hatte damals den Status einer voll ausgereiften Wissenschaft erreicht, und so kam es zu einem bedeutsamen und facettenreichen Zusammenwirken zwischen den emigrierten und den (...) einheimischen Kernphysikern, zumal sie die verschiedenen Forschungsgebiete vertraten, die sich durch die Entdeckungen und Erfindungen des Jahres 1932 aufgetan hatten. Von besonderer Bedeutung Für die Konsolidierung und Entwicklung der gesamten Kernphysik war dabei die Veröffentlichung von drei Artikeln in den Reviews of Modern Physics von 1936 und 1937, bekannt als die „Bethe-Bibel”. Nach der Entdeckung der Kernspaltung von 1938 und dem Ausbruch des Krieges 1939 in Europa wirkte die Befürchtung, daß Hitler eine Atomwaffe erhalten könnte, als mächtige, Emigranten und Nicht-Emigranten gleichermaßen erfassende einigende Kraft unter den Atomphysikern in Amerika, und die meisten von ihnen stellten ihre Fähigkeiten in den Dienst der US-Regierung und arbeiteten am Manhatten-Projekt und an anderen militärischen Forschungsvorhaben mit. Bei Kriegsende waren die in den dreißiger Jahren emigrierten Kernphysiker wie so viele Flüchtlinge vor ihnen Amerikaner geworden, und keiner von ihnen kehrte in sein Geburtsland zurück.Among the large number of refugees from Nazism and Fascism entering the United States between 1933 and 1941 were more than 100 physicists, including some of the most gifted nuclear physicists in the world. By that time physics in America had come of age, and a remarkable and multifaceted symbiosis occurred between the émigré and native-born nuclear physicists as they pursued the many avenues of research opened up by the discoveries and inventions of 1932 . Of particular importance for the consolidation and development of the entire field of nuclear physics was the publication in 1936–37 of the three articles in the Revieus of Modern Physics known as the „Bethe Bible”. With the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938 and the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the fear that a nuclear weapon might fall into Hitler's hands served as a powerful unifying force among nuclear physicists in Amerika, émigrés and non-émigrés alike, and most placed their talents in the service of the United States Government working on the Manhattan Project and other wartime research. By the end of the war, like so many refugees before them, the émigré nuclear physicists of the 1930s had become Americans, and not one of them returned to the country of his birth. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to refute the hypothesis that the observer’s consciousness is necessary in the quantum mechanics measurement process. In order to achieve our target, we propose and investigate a variation of the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment called “DAP”, short for “Dead-Alive Physicist”, in which a human being replaces the cat. This strategy enables us to logically disprove the consistency of the above hypothesis, and to oblige its supporters either to be trapped in solipsism or to rely (...) on an alternative interpretation of quantum mechanics in which the conscious observer plays the sole role of acknowledging the experimental results. Our analysis hence provides support to clarify the relationship between the observer and the objects of her/his experimental observation; this and a few other implications are discussed in the fourth section and in the conclusions. (shrink)
This book explores the rise of theoretical physics in 19th century Germany. The authors show how the junior second physicist in German universities over time became the theoretical physicist, of equal standing to the experimental physicist. Gustav Kirchhoff, Hermann von Helmholtz, and Max Planck are among the great German theoretical physicists whose work and career are examined in this book. Physics was then the only natural science in which theoretical work developed into a major teaching and research specialty in (...) its own right. Readers will discover how German physicists arrived at a well-defined field of theoretical physics with well understood and generally accepted goals and needs. The authors explain the nature of the work of theoretical physics with many examples, taking care always to locate the research within the workplace. The book is a revised and shortened version of Intellectual Mastery of Nature: Theoretical Physics from Ohm to Einstein, a two-volume work by the same authors. This new edition represents a reformulation of the larger work. It retains what is most important in the original work, while including new material, sharpening discussions, and making the research more accessible to readers. It presents a thorough examination of a seminal era in physics. (shrink)
In this paper, I provide the first in-depth discussion of Susan Stebbing’s views concerning our experience of the passage of time – a key issue for many metaphysicians writing in the first half of the twentieth century. I focus on Stebbing’s claims about the passage of time in Philosophy and the Physicists and her disagreement with Arthur Eddington over how best to account for that experience. I show that Stebbing’s concern is that any attempt to provide a scientific account (...) of the passage of time will face problems, since the events described by physics are necessarily measured against the passage of time. I then identify views elsewhere in her philosophical corpus that can help shed light on this claim. Ultimately, I argue, Stebbing’s views on time should be construed as part of her wider commitment to ‘realism’. To be a realist, for Stebbing, is to accept a set of propositions which are a pre-requisite for even beginning to analyse the world around us. For Stebbing, I argue, part of what it means to be a realist is to accept our experience of the passage of time as something fundamental that cannot itself be subject to analysis. (shrink)
The central thesis of this paper is that physicists have as much to learn from scientifically oriented philosophy as philosophers have to learn from physics. To begin with, any discussion of basic physical ideas and procedures is bound to be conducted in the light of some philosophy or other. Now, the standard philosophy of physics of our century is operationism. And philosophers, with the help of recent developments in semantics, epistemology and the theory of scientific inference, have shown that (...) operationism is untenable. Thus most physicists are dragging a dead philosophy that may not be of any help in conceiving of new ideas and procedures. This, then, is a first contribution philosophy can make to physics, namely to overhaul its philosophy. A second contribution is to the organization of physics, in particular to the axiomatic reconstruction of physical theories and the analysis and validation of empirical procedures. The various theses and antitheses discussed in the article are illustrated with examples taken from contemporary physics. (shrink)
When the layman reads a book or two of popularized physics and then moves solemnly forth, as occasionally happens, to expound some comprehensive doctrine purporting to be built directly out of the materials he has picked up, the type of comment which the physicist will make is plain enough in advance. But why does it so rarely occur to the physicist that others may think of his epistemologizing much what he is sure to think of their quantizing?
This article explores intellectual mobility among physicists in terms of: changes in the questions posed by scientists during their research career; changes in categories of research instruments; and the materials on which research is done. We argue that elements of Laboratory structure act to either stimulate or inhibit intellectual mobility. Four elements prove particularly important: laboratory size; laboratories' systems of internal authority and management; the character and number of linkages between laboratories and outside institutions or interests; the objectives and (...) philosophy of laboratories' founding fathers. (shrink)
L’un des philosophes les plus importants de l’histoire, Friedrich Nietzsche, est presque ignoré par les physiciens. L’auteur qui a déclaré la mort de Dieu au xixe siècle était enthousiasmé par la science, principalement durant la deuxième partie de son œuvre. À l’aide de la notion physique de force, Nietzsche a créé son concept de volonté de puissance. En pensant à la conservation de l’énergie, le philosophe allemand a eu une certaine inspiration pour créer son concept de l’éternel retour. Dans cet (...) article, on souligne certaines influences de la physique sur Nietzsche et on discute de l’actualité de sa position épistémologique—le perspectivisme. À partir du concept de volonté de puissance, je propose que le perspectivisme conduise à l’interprétation où la physique et la science en général sont considérées comme un jeu. (shrink)
Sextus Empiricus' Against the Physicists examines numerous topics central to ancient Greek inquiries into the nature of the physical world, covering subjects such as god, cause and effect, whole and part, bodies, place, motion, time, number, coming into being and perishing and is the most extensive surviving treatment of these topics by an ancient Greek sceptic. Sextus scrutinizes the theories of non-sceptical thinkers and generates suspension of judgement through the assembly of equally powerful opposing arguments. Richard Bett's edition provides (...) crucial background information about the text and elucidation of difficult passages. His accurate and readable translation is supported by substantial interpretative aids, including a glossary and a list of parallel passages relating Against the Physicists to other works by Sextus. This is an indispensable edition for advanced students and scholars studying this important work by an influential philosopher. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to invalidate the hypothesis that human consciousness is necessary in the quantum measurement process. In order to achieve this target, I propose a considerable modification of the Schrödinger’s cat and the Dead-Alive Physicist thought experiments, called “PIAR”, short for “Physicist Inside the Ambiguous Room”. A specific strategy has enabled me to plan the experiment in such a way as to logically justify the inconsistency of the above hypothesis and to oblige its supporters to rely (...) on an alternative interpretation of quantum mechanics in which a real world of phenomena exists independently of our conscious mind and where observers play no special role. Moreover, the description of the measurement apparatus will be complete, in the sense that the experiment, given that it includes also the experimenter, will begin and end exclusively within a sealed room. Hence, my analysis will provide a logical explanation of the relationship between the observer and the objects of her/his experimental observation; this and a few other implications will be discussed in the fourth section and in the conclusions. (shrink)
This slight volume contains three short essays by the author: “The Idea of Nature In Contemporary Physics”, “Atomic Physics and Causal Law”, and “Classical Education”. Much more than half of the book is given over to a selection of brief readings from Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Huygens, D’Alembert, De la Mettrie, Ostwald, Hertz, and a short historical review by de Broglie of the evolution of quantum mechanics. These readings are meant to illustrate the author’s overall theme which appears to be this: (...) the development of modern science has been marked by a progressive change in the concept of nature. The mediaevals regarded Nature as God’s handiwork: “it would have been thought senseless to ask questions about the material world without reference to God”, Between Galileo and Newton a quite new outlook arose which encouraged the belief that an accurate and exhaustive account of Nature could be made in mathematical terms which made reference only to matter and motion. This was the mechanist view of Nature, which led logically to materialism. But modern physics has shown the inadequacy of this view. “The object of research is no longer nature itself, but man’s investigation of nature”. “Nature itself cannot be known”, only “man’s relationship with nature”. The uncertainty principle proves that an “objective” picture of Nature is impossible. The observer and the observed system cannot be clearly separated, and thus we must give up the “Cartesian” distinction between a world of “objective processes in space and time and a mind in which these processes are mirrored”. Thus, we no longer regard “nature” as God’s handiwork nor as an objective space-time-matter manifold but either as the “footprint of man” upon an unknowable substratum, or else as “the transparent clarity of a mathematics that no longer describes the behaviour of elementary particles but only our knowledge of this behaviour”. There is no “philosophy of nature” properly speaking; our knowledge of “nature”, such as it is, is derived from a philosophical consideration of science. (shrink)
Contemporary physics, especially quantum theory, has raised profound questions about the relationship between the methods of science and the reality these methods seek to investigate. D'Espagnat investigates these questions as well as how we should answer them. Part I examines the practices of contemporary physicists and addresses the criticism philosophers of science have made of these practices. The doctrine of physical realism, adopted by most physicists and many philosophers of science, comprises Part II. Part III explores the consequences (...) of physical realism for our understanding of what science can seek to know of reality, and concludes by outlining the position contemporary physics indicates we should take. (shrink)
Traditionally, historians have taken it for granted that Britain’s National Physical Laboratory was created as the result of demands from a “professional” body of university-based physicists for a state-funded scientific institution. Yet paying detailed attention to the history of the NPL’s originating institution, Kew Observatory, shows that the story is not so clear-cut. Starting in the 1850s, Kew Observatory was partly a center for testing meteorological instruments and other scientific equipment in return for fees. Long after the 1850s, the (...) observatory was run by self-funded devotees of science. Paid university physicists only assumed a dominant role on its governing committee in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, by which time instrument-testing was already the observatory’s main role. This paper argues that the rise of the university physicists – together with the desire of some of these physicists for a national institution that tested electrical standards – can only partially explain the origins of the NPL, and that Kew was in some ways a national physical laboratory before there were many physics teaching posts in British universities. This paper is a case study that illustrates a need to reassess the importance of university physicists in shaping British science at the end of the nineteenth century. (shrink)
This contribution is a translated, edited and much abbreviated version of chapter 2 in Andreas Losch, Jenseits der Konflikte. I thank the publisher Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht for the permission to make use of the material.