Wednesday, 30 December 2009

California!

I imagine that at some point in the future I'll want to write a narrated version, but right now, all I'm aiming to do is actually list everything we did.  There was a lot.  It's hard to keep track.

*We checked out the boat show at Balboa Boat Parade.

*We visited the Hearst Castle.

*We drove all along the California Coast via the Pacific Coast Highway.

*We stayed in the Club Suite at the Parc 55 in San Francisco! We had an awesome view of the city.

*In San Fran, we rode the trolley, did a tour of Alcatraz, got a private tour of PIXAR, went shopping, did a double-decker bus tour of the city, visited the Aquarium On The Bay, looked at the seals, and generally just spent time at Fisherman's Wharf, and shopping downtown at Union Square.

*I drove from San Francisco to Orange County.  The scenery was much more beautiful than I had expected.  It was fun flying by it all going 160km/hr.  Oh yeah!

*We had Christmas dinner in the hotel lounge.  It was sad.

*We made up for it by playing Secret Santa!  It was fun.

*We spent Christmas Day at Disneyland!

*We did a tour of L.A. which included fun stuff like walking on the Walk of Fame, taking photos by the HOLLYWOOD sign, shopping on Rodeo Drive, and lunch at Venice Beach.

*We had purchased a 2-day pass for Disneyland, so we went back for a second day.  I got to go on a lot of cool rides.  By far, the Tower of Terror and the Indiana Jones ride were the best!

*We did a day trip to Tijuana!  We shopped and drank tequila on Revolucion St.

There's probably a lot that I'm missing, but I just wanted to get as much down as I could remember.  I'll probably remember even less tomorrow...

Monday, 14 December 2009

Ontology of the Atom

Realism vs. Anti-Realism and Models of The Atom


Introduction


Did physicists believe in the reality of their atomic models? To answer this question, one has to look first at what it means to say that one ‘believes in the reality’ of something, and then also understand what is meant by a scientific ‘model’.  (From this point forward, I will refer scientific realism and scientific anti-realism as “realism” and “anti-realism”, respectively.)  “Discerning the aims of physical theory has been an important goal since the Greeks, with realist rather than positivist or instrumentalist views dominating at one time or another.”[i] “For nearly all practicing scientists—not all, to be sure—realism is an unequivocal commitment, rarely reflected upon very deeply.  Science, according to this view, is not merely another cultural activity, not simply fashion or metaphor, not simply an alternative way of viewing the world.  The success of science, its efficacy, its law-giving character—indeed the “progress” of science—clearly distinguishes it from other, no less important, areas of human inquiry.”[ii] The realist makes two claims:

  1. “Scientists ought to seek to formulate true theories that depict the structure of the universe...[and oppose] instrumentalists...who sought to restrict science to the “saving of appearances”.[iii]


and

  1. “The record of progress indicates that the universe has a structure (largely) independent of human theorizing and that our theories have provided an increasingly more accurate picture of that structure.”[iv]


There are other forms of realism, such as Entity Realism as propounded by Ian Hacking, and Structural Realism by John Worral, that are weaker versions of the realist position.  They don’t require that all of scientific practice aims for and attains truth and knowledge of reality in itself, and that the development is science is progressive.  They just pick out parts that could be so – such as putative entities, and structures.  Anti-realism can take many forms, but at the very least an anti-realist “seek(s) to uncouple the notions of predictive success and truth.”[v] Instrumentalism is a form of anti-realism that says that “scientific theories are calculating devices that facilitate the organization and prediction of statements about observations. [...] Theories are merely “useful” or “not useful”.”[vi] Bas Van Fraassen is a Constructive Empiricist which is a form of Instrumentalism, and he maintains that the goal of science is to “formulate empirically adequate theories... [not to] ... establish the truth of claims about theoretical entities.”[vii] Models can be both realist and anti-realist.  They “have two main functions in physics: they may be proposed either as putatively true representations of the physical characteristics of the objects treated by some theory, or as purely imaginary devices, heuristic fictions (a formal model).”[viii] In either case, whether proposed as putatively true or as a heuristic device, models are suggestive.

In the case of the atom, there was a full range of ontologies that were adopted by practicing physicists.  Developments in the nineteenth century culminated in the development of electromagnetic field theory with Maxwell, and statistical mechanics with Boltzmann.  These two physicists were realists – they believed that their models of the atoms mapped onto reality.  They did have opposition among their contemporaries, such as anti-realist Ernst Mach.  Mach was an anti-realist about unobservable entities.  He had a positivistic approach to the science, and since physical theory during their time did not require the existence of the atom, he did not adopt belief in it.  As regards twentieth century physics, following the Quantum Revolution, there were two main interpretations of Quantum Mechanics that provided models for interpretation of the mathematics, and consequently the atom.  However, following the Solvay Congress in October 1927, the Copenhagen Interpretation as given by Bohr and Heisenberg came to dominate as the most accepted one.[ix] In my paper, I will argue that the question of the ontological status of the atom changed from “does it exist at all (Maxwell/Boltzmann)?”  to a question of “given the atom, what is its nature?” (Bohr/Heisenberg).  Particularly, that there was a shift after 1905 from realist to antirealist attitudes towards the ontological status of the atom.

Nineteenth Century Atomism


Positivist thought “began to be felt at the end of the nineteenth century, promoted by Comte, the Vienna Circle, and the scientist-philosopher-historians such as Pierre Duhem and Ernst Mach.”[x] And this made sense because “before atomic theory became firmly established, and when physics could study only macroscopic phenomena, mechanical models and speculative hypotheses about underlying structure could be counterproductive.  A theory might fail because of such a model, while a macroscopic model only had to describe or reproduce the phenomena.”[xi] “In a loose sense, the distinction between dynamists and mechanists was one between positivists and realists, even though the ideas are not equivalent.  A positivist essentially sees the aim of physical theory as economically summarizing empirical results: as the Greeks saw it, “saving the appearances.”  No mechanical hypotheses are introduced that are not justified by what is observable.  The realist, of course sees the entities introduced to explain the experimental results as objectively real.  The mechanist, in trying to explain the properties of matter on the basis of the nature of its smallest parts, often has recourse to entities that are not accessible to observation.  In some cases entities may ultimately be observed and become part of the empirical world; in others they may disappear from the literature or survive only as heuristic elements.  In some cases, of course, the entities are not intended to be real and serve only as analogy, as an aid in reasoning.  This is sometimes the case in Maxwell’s use of models, which included elements that he never claims to exist fully.  Yet this is no doubt of Maxwell’s commitment to the reality of the molecular vortices on which much of theory of electromagnetism was based.”[xii]

James Clerk Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann were realists.  They “did believe in the [realty of their atomic] model(s), particularly in [...] the molecular vortical model.”[xiii] Their collaboration led to the development of a model of the atom where “the particularly simple properties of a molecular model, according to which the molecules are point masses (thus not hard sphere) which interact with a repulsive force inversely proportional to the fifth power of their distance.”[xiv] Their model was visualizable, and was explainable within the current paradigm.  With a visualizable model, they were able to use of analogy to guide their investigations.  “The role of analogy in nineteenth-century physics [...]was used deliberately and self-consciously by some of the most important scientific figures of the time, especially [...] Maxwell.  Indeed, Maxwell not only used a method of physical analogy with great success but also speculated extensively about it, especially the question of whether analogies in the natural world or the human mind. [...] Maxwell employed mechanical models to whose reality he was committed in differing degrees at different times.”[xv] As for Boltzmann’s commitment to his atomic model, in a letter, he wrote: “The realist compares the assertion that he could never imagine how the mental could be represented by the material let alone by the interaction of atoms with the opinion of an uneducated person who says that the Sun could not be 93 million miles from the Earth, since he cannot imagine it.  Just as the ideology is a world picture only for some but not for humanity as a whole, so I think that if we include animals and even the Universe the realist mode of expression is more appropriate.”[xvi]

Twentieth Century


Philosophical positivism was evident in the late nineteenth century practice of physics in the opinions of such physicist/philosophers such as Ernst Mach, and his rejection of atomism.  However, it was the operationalist character of quantum ontology of Neils Bohr’s in the twentieth century that also reflects philosophical positivism.[xvii] An operationalist says that “it is the operations by which values are assigned that give empirical significance to a scientific concept.”[xviii] “Though they were verbally opposed to several theses of the positivism of the philosophers [in the Vienna Circle], the physicists of the Copenhagen School, for their part, built up a quantum mechanics in which certain lines of reasoning when followed closely suggested ... rather similar views.”[xix] And although it was not the only interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, following the Solvay Congress of 1927, the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics was the dominant one.

As stated, Bohr was a positivist.  He took an instrumentalist’s viewed toward his atomic model.  He was “extremely cautious.  He believe(d) that the models of atomic structure have some realistic significance, but he is acutely conscious of the negative analogy of the models; indeed he doubts whether a complete, realistic model of atomic processes is obtainable. [...] His own anti-realism was inspired by his commitment to Machian positivism. [...] Models help us to construct theories which enable us to explain and predict the course of our sensory experience.  Highly successful models may owe their success to the fact that they faithfully represent at least some aspects of the real entites which lie beneath the appearances.  ... We ought not to put too much  faith in the realistic performance of models.”[xx] In a letter to Hoffding, he very tellingly wrote:

“The question of the role of analogy in scientific investigations which you stressed is undoubtedly an essential feature of every study in the natural sciences, even if it does not always stand out.  It is often quite possible to make use of a picture of a geometrical or arithmetical sort which covers the problem in question in such a clear way that the considerations almost acquire a purely logical character.  In general, and particularly in some new fields of research, one must however constantly keep in mind the obvious or possible inadequacy of the picture, and , so long as the analogies make a strong showing, be content if the usefulness or rather fruitfulness in the area they are used is beyond doubt.  Such a state of affairs holds not least from the standpoint of the present atomic theory.  Here we are in the peculiar situation that we have gained some information about the structure of the atom which may safely be considered just as certain as any of the facts of natural science.  On the other hand we meet with difficulties of such a profound nature that we cannot see any way of solving them; in my personal opinion these difficulties are of such a kind that they scarcely allow us any hope of carrying through in the atomic realm a description in time and space of the kind that matches our ordinary sense impressions.  In these circumstances one must naturally bear in mind that one is operating with analogies, and the point, that the areas of use of these analogies in the individual case are restricted, is of decisive importance for progress.”[xxi]

He wrote this during the decline of his original atomic model, which was already being found to be flawed.

Bohr and Heisenberg’s model Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics depicted the atom as no longer visualizable.  In this interpretation, there is no quantum world that exists independently of our observation.  The observer and observed are inseparable, and that to make a measurement is to define the operation performed in making that measurement.  All that is knowable is what you observe, and what you observe is affected by your action of making the observation.  In adopting instrumentalist views toward their atomic model, they acknowledged the failures of using a model for visualization.  This sort of limitation of a model is analogous to the failures of using a tesseract or hypercube as a 3-dimensional representation of a 4-dimensional object.  Where some useful inferences can be drawn, there may also be ones that fail simply because the model failed.

Concluding Remarks


Nineteenth century and twentieth century physics had entirely different climates.    We’ve looked at nineteenth century realists, and twentieth century instrumentalists, but “there is no single scientific method that [was] applicable in all fields and at all times or to both theorists and experimentalists”[xxii] There were nineteenth century anti-atomists such as Pierre Duhem and Ernst Mach and twentieth century realists such as Einstein.  But there was definite change in attitude with the Quantum Revolution.  Older texts wrote of the way that “independent reality refuses to tell us what it is – or what it is like – it at least condescends to let us know, to some extent, what it is not.  It does not conform to the classical schemes of mechanics, of atomistic materialism, or of objectivist realism – in short, to any variant of ‘near realism’.[xxiii] And textbooks on twentieth century physics stress that “most [scientists] assign a more modest goal to physics, and to knowledge in general.  Science, they say, (and ordinary knowledge as well) is indissolubly linked with human experience.  Once and for all it must therefore give up the unattainable goal of describing whatever some thinkers may mean when they speak of ‘reality in itself’ or ‘reality as it really is’.  The task of science can only be a description of the phenomena, that is, of things, events and so on, as they are organised by human collective experience.”[xxiv]

It was the kinetic theory of gases that changed the ontological status of the physical atom from speculation to reality, and “the understanding of atomic and molecular spectra achieved by the 1860’s and 1870’s, which made possible the use of spectroscopy in chemical analysis, went far toward bridging the gap between the two manifestations of the microscopic structure of matter.  The final resolution came only with a detailed theory of atomic structure, which had to wait for...the quantum revolution.”[xxv]

“But for the most part, the nineteenth century ended the [...] debates about the microscopic structure of matter and provided convincing proof of the reality of the atoms. [...] Models of the internal structure of the atom were being seriously proposed. [...] Some would say that the final blow to the opponents of atomism was Einstein’s 1905 paper on Brownian motion, which showed that it was due to the motion of molecules.”[xxvi] “It is not too much to say that the great revolution in twentieth-century physics—the quantum theory—owes its birth to atomism, not merely in the strict historical sense but because the nineteenth-century success of the corpuscular theory prepared the way for the discontinuities and quantization that lie at the heart of quantum theory.”[xxvii] In this way, we can say that the realist attitudes of Maxwell and Boltzmann paved the way for the instrumentalism of Bohr and Heisenberg that were to come.

Bibliography


Bowler, Peter J. 2005. Making modern science : A historical survey, ed. Iwan Rhys Morus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Buchwald, J. Z. A Brief History of Electric and Magnetic Science (unpublished)

Cassidy, David C. 2008. Beyond uncertainty : Heisenberg, quantum physics, and the bomb. New York: Bellevue Literary Press.

Cercignani, Carlo. 1998. Ludwig boltzmann : The man who trusted atoms. New York: Oxford University Press.

Espagnat, Bernard d. 1989. Reality and the physicist : Knowledge, duration, and the quantum world. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Great experiments in physics : Firsthand accounts from galileo to einstein(1987). In Shamos M. H. (Ed.), . New York: Dover Publications.

Kevles, D. J. (1978). The physicists : The history of a scientific community in modern america. New York: Knopf.

Kragh, H. (1999). Quantum generations : A history of physics in the twentieth century. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Losee, John. 1980. A historical introduction to the philosophy of science. 2d ed. -- ed. London: Oxford University Press.

Murdoch, Dugald. 1987. Niels bohr's philosophy of physics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Purrington, R. D. (1997). Physics in the nineteenth century. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Wilson, David. 1983. Rutherford, simple genius. London: Hodder and Stoughton.


[i] Purrington, Pg. 19

[ii] Purrington, Pg xi

[iii] Losee. Pg. 253

[iv] Losee. Pg. 253

[v] Losee, Pg. 254

[vi] Losee, Pg. 257

[vii] Losee, Pg. 257

[viii] Murdock, Pg. 74

[ix] Kragh, pg.212-215

[x]Purrington, g. 7

[xi] Purrington, Pg. 21

[xii] Purrington, Pg. 22

[xiii] Purrington, Pg. 67

[xiv] Cercignani, Pg. 199

[xv] Purrington, Pg. 28

[xvi] Cercignani, pg 174

[xvii]Purrington, g. 7

[xviii] Losee, Pg. 160

[xix] D’Espagnat, Pg. 200

[xx] Murdoch, pg 76-77

[xxi] Murdoch, pg 76

[xxii] Purrington, Pg xii

[xxiii] D’Espagnat, Pg. 208

[xxiv] D’Espagnat, Pg. 232

[xxv] Purrington, pg. 131

[xxvi] Purrington, pg. 131

[xxvii] Purrington, Pg. 131

Realism vs. Anti-Realism and Models of The Atom


Introduction


Did physicists believe in the reality of their atomic models? To answer this question, one has to look first at what it means to say that one ‘believes in the reality’ of something, and then also understand what is meant by a scientific ‘model’.  (From this point forward, I will refer scientific realism and scientific anti-realism as “realism” and “anti-realism”, respectively.)  “Discerning the aims of physical theory has been an important goal since the Greeks, with realist rather than positivist or instrumentalist views dominating at one time or another.”[i] “For nearly all practicing scientists—not all, to be sure—realism is an unequivocal commitment, rarely reflected upon very deeply.  Science, according to this view, is not merely another cultural activity, not simply fashion or metaphor, not simply an alternative way of viewing the world.  The success of science, its efficacy, its law-giving character—indeed the “progress” of science—clearly distinguishes it from other, no less important, areas of human inquiry.”[ii] The realist makes two claims:

  1. “Scientists ought to seek to formulate true theories that depict the structure of the universe...[and oppose] instrumentalists...who sought to restrict science to the “saving of appearances”.[iii]


and

  1. “The record of progress indicates that the universe has a structure (largely) independent of human theorizing and that our theories have provided an increasingly more accurate picture of that structure.”[iv]


There are other forms of realism, such as Entity Realism as propounded by Ian Hacking, and Structural Realism by John Worral, that are weaker versions of the realist position.  They don’t require that all of scientific practice aims for and attains truth and knowledge of reality in itself, and that the development is science is progressive.  They just pick out parts that could be so – such as putative entities, and structures.  Anti-realism can take many forms, but at the very least an anti-realist “seek(s) to uncouple the notions of predictive success and truth.”[v] Instrumentalism is a form of anti-realism that says that “scientific theories are calculating devices that facilitate the organization and prediction of statements about observations. [...] Theories are merely “useful” or “not useful”.”[vi] Bas Van Fraassen is a Constructive Empiricist which is a form of Instrumentalism, and he maintains that the goal of science is to “formulate empirically adequate theories... [not to] ... establish the truth of claims about theoretical entities.”[vii] Models can be both realist and anti-realist.  They “have two main functions in physics: they may be proposed either as putatively true representations of the physical characteristics of the objects treated by some theory, or as purely imaginary devices, heuristic fictions (a formal model).”[viii] In either case, whether proposed as putatively true or as a heuristic device, models are suggestive.

In the case of the atom, there was a full range of ontologies that were adopted by practicing physicists.  Developments in the nineteenth century culminated in the development of electromagnetic field theory with Maxwell, and statistical mechanics with Boltzmann.  These two physicists were realists – they believed that their models of the atoms mapped onto reality.  They did have opposition among their contemporaries, such as anti-realist Ernst Mach.  Mach was an anti-realist about unobservable entities.  He had a positivistic approach to the science, and since physical theory during their time did not require the existence of the atom, he did not adopt belief in it.  As regards twentieth century physics, following the Quantum Revolution, there were two main interpretations of Quantum Mechanics that provided models for interpretation of the mathematics, and consequently the atom.  However, following the Solvay Congress in October 1927, the Copenhagen Interpretation as given by Bohr and Heisenberg came to dominate as the most accepted one.[ix] In my paper, I will argue that the question of the ontological status of the atom changed from “does it exist at all (Maxwell/Boltzmann)?”  to a question of “given the atom, what is its nature?” (Bohr/Heisenberg).  Particularly, that there was a shift after 1905 from realist to antirealist attitudes towards the ontological status of the atom.

Nineteenth Century Atomism


Positivist thought “began to be felt at the end of the nineteenth century, promoted by Comte, the Vienna Circle, and the scientist-philosopher-historians such as Pierre Duhem and Ernst Mach.”[x] And this made sense because “before atomic theory became firmly established, and when physics could study only macroscopic phenomena, mechanical models and speculative hypotheses about underlying structure could be counterproductive.  A theory might fail because of such a model, while a macroscopic model only had to describe or reproduce the phenomena.”[xi] “In a loose sense, the distinction between dynamists and mechanists was one between positivists and realists, even though the ideas are not equivalent.  A positivist essentially sees the aim of physical theory as economically summarizing empirical results: as the Greeks saw it, “saving the appearances.”  No mechanical hypotheses are introduced that are not justified by what is observable.  The realist, of course sees the entities introduced to explain the experimental results as objectively real.  The mechanist, in trying to explain the properties of matter on the basis of the nature of its smallest parts, often has recourse to entities that are not accessible to observation.  In some cases entities may ultimately be observed and become part of the empirical world; in others they may disappear from the literature or survive only as heuristic elements.  In some cases, of course, the entities are not intended to be real and serve only as analogy, as an aid in reasoning.  This is sometimes the case in Maxwell’s use of models, which included elements that he never claims to exist fully.  Yet this is no doubt of Maxwell’s commitment to the reality of the molecular vortices on which much of theory of electromagnetism was based.”[xii]

James Clerk Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann were realists.  They “did believe in the [realty of their atomic] model(s), particularly in [...] the molecular vortical model.”[xiii] Their collaboration led to the development of a model of the atom where “the particularly simple properties of a molecular model, according to which the molecules are point masses (thus not hard sphere) which interact with a repulsive force inversely proportional to the fifth power of their distance.”[xiv] Their model was visualizable, and was explainable within the current paradigm.  With a visualizable model, they were able to use of analogy to guide their investigations.  “The role of analogy in nineteenth-century physics [...]was used deliberately and self-consciously by some of the most important scientific figures of the time, especially [...] Maxwell.  Indeed, Maxwell not only used a method of physical analogy with great success but also speculated extensively about it, especially the question of whether analogies in the natural world or the human mind. [...] Maxwell employed mechanical models to whose reality he was committed in differing degrees at different times.”[xv] As for Boltzmann’s commitment to his atomic model, in a letter, he wrote: “The realist compares the assertion that he could never imagine how the mental could be represented by the material let alone by the interaction of atoms with the opinion of an uneducated person who says that the Sun could not be 93 million miles from the Earth, since he cannot imagine it.  Just as the ideology is a world picture only for some but not for humanity as a whole, so I think that if we include animals and even the Universe the realist mode of expression is more appropriate.”[xvi]

Twentieth Century


Philosophical positivism was evident in the late nineteenth century practice of physics in the opinions of such physicist/philosophers such as Ernst Mach, and his rejection of atomism.  However, it was the operationalist character of quantum ontology of Neils Bohr’s in the twentieth century that also reflects philosophical positivism.[xvii] An operationalist says that “it is the operations by which values are assigned that give empirical significance to a scientific concept.”[xviii] “Though they were verbally opposed to several theses of the positivism of the philosophers [in the Vienna Circle], the physicists of the Copenhagen School, for their part, built up a quantum mechanics in which certain lines of reasoning when followed closely suggested ... rather similar views.”[xix] And although it was not the only interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, following the Solvay Congress of 1927, the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics was the dominant one.

As stated, Bohr was a positivist.  He took an instrumentalist’s viewed toward his atomic model.  He was “extremely cautious.  He believe(d) that the models of atomic structure have some realistic significance, but he is acutely conscious of the negative analogy of the models; indeed he doubts whether a complete, realistic model of atomic processes is obtainable. [...] His own anti-realism was inspired by his commitment to Machian positivism. [...] Models help us to construct theories which enable us to explain and predict the course of our sensory experience.  Highly successful models may owe their success to the fact that they faithfully represent at least some aspects of the real entites which lie beneath the appearances.  ... We ought not to put too much  faith in the realistic performance of models.”[xx] In a letter to Hoffding, he very tellingly wrote:

“The question of the role of analogy in scientific investigations which you stressed is undoubtedly an essential feature of every study in the natural sciences, even if it does not always stand out.  It is often quite possible to make use of a picture of a geometrical or arithmetical sort which covers the problem in question in such a clear way that the considerations almost acquire a purely logical character.  In general, and particularly in some new fields of research, one must however constantly keep in mind the obvious or possible inadequacy of the picture, and , so long as the analogies make a strong showing, be content if the usefulness or rather fruitfulness in the area they are used is beyond doubt.  Such a state of affairs holds not least from the standpoint of the present atomic theory.  Here we are in the peculiar situation that we have gained some information about the structure of the atom which may safely be considered just as certain as any of the facts of natural science.  On the other hand we meet with difficulties of such a profound nature that we cannot see any way of solving them; in my personal opinion these difficulties are of such a kind that they scarcely allow us any hope of carrying through in the atomic realm a description in time and space of the kind that matches our ordinary sense impressions.  In these circumstances one must naturally bear in mind that one is operating with analogies, and the point, that the areas of use of these analogies in the individual case are restricted, is of decisive importance for progress.”[xxi]

He wrote this during the decline of his original atomic model, which was already being found to be flawed.

Bohr and Heisenberg’s model Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics depicted the atom as no longer visualizable.  In this interpretation, there is no quantum world that exists independently of our observation.  The observer and observed are inseparable, and that to make a measurement is to define the operation performed in making that measurement.  All that is knowable is what you observe, and what you observe is affected by your action of making the observation.  In adopting instrumentalist views toward their atomic model, they acknowledged the failures of using a model for visualization.  This sort of limitation of a model is analogous to the failures of using a tesseract or hypercube as a 3-dimensional representation of a 4-dimensional object.  Where some useful inferences can be drawn, there may also be ones that fail simply because the model failed.

Concluding Remarks


Nineteenth century and twentieth century physics had entirely different climates.    We’ve looked at nineteenth century realists, and twentieth century instrumentalists, but “there is no single scientific method that [was] applicable in all fields and at all times or to both theorists and experimentalists”[xxii] There were nineteenth century anti-atomists such as Pierre Duhem and Ernst Mach and twentieth century realists such as Einstein.  But there was definite change in attitude with the Quantum Revolution.  Older texts wrote of the way that “independent reality refuses to tell us what it is – or what it is like – it at least condescends to let us know, to some extent, what it is not.  It does not conform to the classical schemes of mechanics, of atomistic materialism, or of objectivist realism – in short, to any variant of ‘near realism’.[xxiii] And textbooks on twentieth century physics stress that “most [scientists] assign a more modest goal to physics, and to knowledge in general.  Science, they say, (and ordinary knowledge as well) is indissolubly linked with human experience.  Once and for all it must therefore give up the unattainable goal of describing whatever some thinkers may mean when they speak of ‘reality in itself’ or ‘reality as it really is’.  The task of science can only be a description of the phenomena, that is, of things, events and so on, as they are organised by human collective experience.”[xxiv]

It was the kinetic theory of gases that changed the ontological status of the physical atom from speculation to reality, and “the understanding of atomic and molecular spectra achieved by the 1860’s and 1870’s, which made possible the use of spectroscopy in chemical analysis, went far toward bridging the gap between the two manifestations of the microscopic structure of matter.  The final resolution came only with a detailed theory of atomic structure, which had to wait for...the quantum revolution.”[xxv]

“But for the most part, the nineteenth century ended the [...] debates about the microscopic structure of matter and provided convincing proof of the reality of the atoms. [...] Models of the internal structure of the atom were being seriously proposed. [...] Some would say that the final blow to the opponents of atomism was Einstein’s 1905 paper on Brownian motion, which showed that it was due to the motion of molecules.”[xxvi] “It is not too much to say that the great revolution in twentieth-century physics—the quantum theory—owes its birth to atomism, not merely in the strict historical sense but because the nineteenth-century success of the corpuscular theory prepared the way for the discontinuities and quantization that lie at the heart of quantum theory.”[xxvii] In this way, we can say that the realist attitudes of Maxwell and Boltzmann paved the way for the instrumentalism of Bohr and Heisenberg that were to come.

Bibliography


Bowler, Peter J. 2005. Making modern science : A historical survey, ed. Iwan Rhys Morus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Buchwald, J. Z. A Brief History of Electric and Magnetic Science (unpublished)

Cassidy, David C. 2008. Beyond uncertainty : Heisenberg, quantum physics, and the bomb. New York: Bellevue Literary Press.

Cercignani, Carlo. 1998. Ludwig boltzmann : The man who trusted atoms. New York: Oxford University Press.

Espagnat, Bernard d. 1989. Reality and the physicist : Knowledge, duration, and the quantum world. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Great experiments in physics : Firsthand accounts from galileo to einstein(1987). In Shamos M. H. (Ed.), . New York: Dover Publications.

Kevles, D. J. (1978). The physicists : The history of a scientific community in modern america. New York: Knopf.

Kragh, H. (1999). Quantum generations : A history of physics in the twentieth century. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Losee, John. 1980. A historical introduction to the philosophy of science. 2d ed. -- ed. London: Oxford University Press.

Murdoch, Dugald. 1987. Niels bohr's philosophy of physics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Purrington, R. D. (1997). Physics in the nineteenth century. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Wilson, David. 1983. Rutherford, simple genius. London: Hodder and Stoughton.


[i] Purrington, Pg. 19

[ii] Purrington, Pg xi

[iii] Losee. Pg. 253

[iv] Losee. Pg. 253

[v] Losee, Pg. 254

[vi] Losee, Pg. 257

[vii] Losee, Pg. 257

[viii] Murdock, Pg. 74

[ix] Kragh, pg.212-215

[x]Purrington, g. 7

[xi] Purrington, Pg. 21

[xii] Purrington, Pg. 22

[xiii] Purrington, Pg. 67

[xiv] Cercignani, Pg. 199

[xv] Purrington, Pg. 28

[xvi] Cercignani, pg 174

[xvii]Purrington, g. 7

[xviii] Losee, Pg. 160

[xix] D’Espagnat, Pg. 200

[xx] Murdoch, pg 76-77

[xxi] Murdoch, pg 76

[xxii] Purrington, Pg xii

[xxiii] D’Espagnat, Pg. 208

[xxiv] D’Espagnat, Pg. 232

[xxv] Purrington, pg. 131

[xxvi] Purrington, pg. 131

[xxvii] Purrington, Pg. 131

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Holidays

In high school, I would always be sad after the end of each term. Either it was Christmas or it was Summer break, but whichever one it was, when it came, it meant that until classes resumed, I'd have no life.  Not that I had a life... School was my life.  It became clear to me after high school graduation that I invested way too much time in school and extra-curricular activities (such as Concert Band, Peer Ministry, Math League, math contest writing, etc...).  Nobody else cared.  I cared.  And when the school shut down, I shut down.

Anyway, the ring of the final bell signaled freedom!  Everyone would go running out into the streets jumping for joy ...and I would take my time as I walked slowly toward the exit.  I would watch all of the students excitedly run out the front doors while the teachers remained for a little while longer to pack up their things.  I'd peek into classrooms, and wave good-bye to anyone inside.  I'd carefully examine what remained: the decorations on the walls, all of the new plaques and pictures that were put on display in the showcases, the mess that served as proof that it was indeed a place where teenagers dwelt, but most overwhelming of all was the silence.

It always felt so lonely being the last student to step outside.  But I always did it.  No one would wait with me.  I used to take one last look back just before I pushed open the front doors to let myself out.  Emptiness.  Silence.

It didn't matter that I didn't want to leave.  There was no reason to stay.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Monday, 7 December 2009

Symbolism

Ever since I watched Who's The Boss?, I wanted to own a Jag.  I didn't know what a Jag was, or how it looked, but Angela Bower had one, and she epitomized everything I wanted to grow up to be: beautiful, intelligent, successful and independent.

I'm twenty-seven, and I drive a silver 2004 Nissan Altima. When I started my search, I was looking for fuel economy, but I walked out with an affordable car that felt luxurious because of its size and features.  I fell in love with her during the test drive.

I guess we never really know what we want until we get out there and take test drives.  Some of it is foreseeable, but a lot of it is pleasant surprise.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Crucial Experiment

The Influence of Newton and Goethe on Nineteenth Century Physics

In The Experiment As Mediator between Object and Subject, Goethe argued that it is not possible to use a single experiment to arrive at a conclusive result regarding the truth of a theory.  Goethe proposed that the issue was in the determination of the link between these phenomena.  He warned of the dangers of human creativity in devising theory choices and encouraged a holistic approach that was characteristic of German Naturphilosophie. Goethe expounded the notion of “a series of contiguous experiments derived from one another”[1] that would serve better than Newton’s “crucial experiment” in the determination of the theory behind observable phenomena.  “An experiment would be “crucial” only if it conclusively eliminated every possible set of explanatory premises save one.”[2] In contrast, a series of experiments would be more effective than because more information about the phenomena could be shown.  Each experiment within the series would lead to the next, and taken all together, would provide a greater theory.

In the nineteenth century, a lot of scientific experimentation was carried out in the areas of optics, electricity and magnetism.  Where scientific research in this century began with light, electricity, and magnetism considered as separate phenomena, it culminated in the development of the theory of electromagnetism which unified the three.[3] The experimental work of Thomas Young, Augustin Jean Fresnel, and Dominique Francois Jean Arago aimed for and saw the victory of the undulatory [wave] theory of the nature of light over the corpuscular [particle] theory, its only competitor.  The experimental work of Hans Christian Oersted, Andre Marie Ampere, and Michael Faraday led to the connection between electricity and magnetism, and the idea of the field.  Oersted was known to be strongly influenced by Goethe, and Ampere by Kant’s metaphysics.[4] Although Michael Faraday’s commitment to experimentation was not as explicitly attributable to Goethe’s influence as Oersted’s, we could argue that it mimicked it.  In this paper, I will argue that 19th century experimentalists in optics and electromagnetism were inspired by both Newton’s “crucial experiment” and Goethe’s “series of experiments.”  Overall, there was no one more prevalent than the other.  Experiment design, and the interpretations of it followed both streams.

Experimentation in the study of optics during the early part of the nineteenth century was conducted on the premise that light either had a wave nature or a particle nature.  Huygens advocated the undulatory [wave] nature of light, and Newton, the corpuscular [particle] theory.  The prevailing view going into the century was that of Newton’s, and was based on his experimentation with a prism.[5] It was under this climate that Thomas Young (1773-1829) advanced his wave theory (1801) that was based on his famous 2-slit experiment.  Then in 1816, Francois Arago took what was originally evidence for the particle theory of light –its polarization – and showed how it was possible under a wave model.   Again, with the assumption that light had to either have a wave nature or particle nature, as of this point in time, the two theories were empirically equivalent.  There was phenomena exhibited experimentally that could be explained under both models.  The infamous “blow to the corpuscular theory … in 1819 [when Arago’s] experiment confirmed the prediction based on Fresnel’s wave theory that there should be illumination at the center of the diffraction pattern of a small opaque disc”[6] can then be regarded as a “crucial experiment”.  These experiments were conducted under the premise that there were only two options, and an experiment was devised with the understanding that it would show that one of those options was superior.  Such was the case.

At the start of the nineteenth century, electricity and magnetism were considered separate phenomena, and did not have a history of thorough investigation.[7] The experiments carried out by a number of scientists, notably Hans Christian Oersted, Andre-Marie Ampere, and Michael Faraday contributed towards the understanding of the relationship, and thus the theory, between electricity and magnetism.   In 1820, Hans Christian Oersted showed the link between magnetism and electricity.  He found that a magnetized needle twitched when near an electric-current-carrying copper wire.

“Oersted was an exponent of naturphilosohie – a Romantic philosophy of nature particularly prevalent in German-speaking lands at about the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Followers of naturphilosophie, such as the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, believed in the fundamental unity of nature.  […] Rather than being taken as separate objects of study, the various phenomena and powers of nature were to be understood as different manifestations of a single underlying and all-embracing cause. […] Coming from this perspective, Oersted was convinced that a link between electricity and magnetism must exist in nature.”[8]

Oersted’s result came after Coulomb’s statement that such interaction between magnetism and electricity were impossible.[9] Goethe’s conception of holism guided Oersted’s research, but his experiment was repeated by August de la Rive and Francois Arago to conclusively answer the question: is interaction between magnetism and electricity possible?  In this sense, it served as a crucial experiment between the theory that interaction was not possible (Coulomb, Ampere), and the theory that interaction was possible (Oerstead, Arago).

Ampere’s experimentation led to the development of Electrodynamics.  He studied the force exerted between two current carrying wires.  Ampere’s “procedure was to “observe first the facts, varying the conditions as much as possible, … in order to deduce general laws based solely on experience, and to deduce therefrom, independently of all hypotheses regarding the nature of the forces … the mathematical value of these forces.”[10] Though he was not directly influenced by Goethe’s holism, or German Naturphilosophie, this procedure can be considered Goethean in nature in his attitude toward experiment.  Goethe warned against theories as born from “the creative power of the mind”[11] and encouraged development in how scientists gather and use empirical evidence.[12]

Michael Faraday is known as one of the greatest experimentalists in the history of physics.  In 1831, with the aid of large electromagnets, Faraday finally made the discovery that, while static currents or magnetic fields were not capable of inducing currents, currents were induced when a field was changed or.  “The discovery was less an accident than the outcome of a systematic program of experimentation.”[13] “Faraday possessed extraordinary mathematical intuition, and any reader of his great Experimental Researches in Electricity cannot escape the brilliance of his theoretical imagination and the extent to which it guided his experiments. … [He employed] analogies between electricity and magnetism and his sense of reciprocity or unity in order to design new experiments and predict their outcome.  … Faraday was never cautious or conservative in designing his experiments and generalizing from them.  … [He] had no use for hypotheses that were not fully grounded in the phenomena.

“Near the end of Experimental Researches in Electricity, he wrote: “I feel bound to let experiment guide me into any train of thought which it may justify; being satisfied that experiment like analysis, must lead to strict truth if rightly interpreted.”[14]

Michael Faraday’s experimentalism was Goethean in spirit.  He let his observation from experiment yield ideas for more experimentation for the purpose of developing the theory.  His basis for theory was based on a series of interconnected experiments.

Goethe said that “the greatest discoveries are made not so much by men as by the age. …  As worthwhile as each individual experiment may be, it receives its real value only when united or combined with other experiments.”[15] We see this in the development of the theory of Electromagnetism.  It was the culmination of the experimentation and theorizing carried out in the areas of optics, magnetism, and electricity.  The unification of these three types of phenomena can be considered Goethean: one sort of force manifesting in different forms and that is unified under one theory.  What I want to do is bring to light the equivocation on word “theory”.  We can’t equate “theory of nature of light”, or even Coulomb’s “two-fluid theory” with the “theory of electromagnetism”.  The latter is an interconnected system of ideas developed from dozens of experiments conducted by many scientists to come to understand more and more the electrical and magnetic phenomena that they were observing.  For former two were postulations on the nature of some particular phenomena – light, electricity, or magnetism.  As regards the particular nature of these phenomena, we saw that a “crucial experiment” was devised and conducted and the results were taken as decisive confirmation or disconfirmation of the theory of the nature of light, or electricity, or magnetism.  As regards the development of Electromagnetism overall, nothing could be more Goethean.   There was the work of Oersted which led to work by Ampere which led to work by Faraday to explore deeply into the interaction between magnetism and electricity, but there was also the work of the others.  Volta’s “voltaic pile”, Galvani’s “animal force”, as well as Fresnel’s wave optics.  All taken together, when Maxwell came to formulate his wave equations uniting electricity, magnetism, and light under on theory, the product was the cooperation of many scientists, where each person’s work entailed the need for another’s.  As we can see, then, both Newton and Goethe had influence on the science in the nineteenth century.

Bibliography


Bowler, P. J. (2005). In Morus I. R. (Ed.), Making modern science : A historical survey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Buchwald, J. Z. A Brief History of Electric and Magnetic Science (unpublished)

Fox, Robert (1969), “The rise and fall of Laplacian physics,” Historical studies in the physical sciences, 1 89-136

Goethe, J. W. v. (1987). In Miller D. (Ed.), Scientific studies. New York, N.Y.: Suhrkamp.

Great experiments in physics : Firsthand accounts from galileo to einstein(1987). In Shamos M. H. (Ed.), . New York: Dover Publications.

Losee, J. (2001). A historical introduction to the philosophy of science (4th ed. ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Purrington, R. D. (1997). Physics in the nineteenth century. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.


[1] J. W. Goethe, Scientific studies . (New York: Suhrkamp, 1987), 16

[2] John Losee, A historical introduction to the philosophy of science (4th ed. ed.). (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 149-150

[3] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 32

[4] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 41

[5] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 39

[6] Fox, Robert “The rise and fall of Laplacian physics,” Historical studies in the physical sciences, 1 (1969), 116

[7] Buchwald, J. Z. A Brief History of Electric and Magnetic Science (unpublished), 1-2

[8] P.J. Bowler Making modern science : A historical survey. ( Chicago: University,  of Chicago Press, 2005), 83

[9] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 41

[10] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 46

[11] J. W. Goethe, Scientific studies . (New York: Suhrkamp, 1987), 15

[12] J. W. Goethe, Scientific studies . (New York: Suhrkamp, 1987), 12

[13] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 51

[14] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 48

[15] J. W. Goethe, Scientific studies . (New York: Suhrkamp, 1987), 13
The Influence of Newton and Goethe on Nineteenth Century Physics

In The Experiment As Mediator between Object and Subject, Goethe argued that it is not possible to use a single experiment to arrive at a conclusive result regarding the truth of a theory.  Goethe proposed that the issue was in the determination of the link between these phenomena.  He warned of the dangers of human creativity in devising theory choices and encouraged a holistic approach that was characteristic of German Naturphilosophie. Goethe expounded the notion of “a series of contiguous experiments derived from one another”[1] that would serve better than Newton’s “crucial experiment” in the determination of the theory behind observable phenomena.  “An experiment would be “crucial” only if it conclusively eliminated every possible set of explanatory premises save one.”[2] In contrast, a series of experiments would be more effective than because more information about the phenomena could be shown.  Each experiment within the series would lead to the next, and taken all together, would provide a greater theory.

In the nineteenth century, a lot of scientific experimentation was carried out in the areas of optics, electricity and magnetism.  Where scientific research in this century began with light, electricity, and magnetism considered as separate phenomena, it culminated in the development of the theory of electromagnetism which unified the three.[3] The experimental work of Thomas Young, Augustin Jean Fresnel, and Dominique Francois Jean Arago aimed for and saw the victory of the undulatory [wave] theory of the nature of light over the corpuscular [particle] theory, its only competitor.  The experimental work of Hans Christian Oersted, Andre Marie Ampere, and Michael Faraday led to the connection between electricity and magnetism, and the idea of the field.  Oersted was known to be strongly influenced by Goethe, and Ampere by Kant’s metaphysics.[4] Although Michael Faraday’s commitment to experimentation was not as explicitly attributable to Goethe’s influence as Oersted’s, we could argue that it mimicked it.  In this paper, I will argue that 19th century experimentalists in optics and electromagnetism were inspired by both Newton’s “crucial experiment” and Goethe’s “series of experiments.”  Overall, there was no one more prevalent than the other.  Experiment design, and the interpretations of it followed both streams.

Experimentation in the study of optics during the early part of the nineteenth century was conducted on the premise that light either had a wave nature or a particle nature.  Huygens advocated the undulatory [wave] nature of light, and Newton, the corpuscular [particle] theory.  The prevailing view going into the century was that of Newton’s, and was based on his experimentation with a prism.[5] It was under this climate that Thomas Young (1773-1829) advanced his wave theory (1801) that was based on his famous 2-slit experiment.  Then in 1816, Francois Arago took what was originally evidence for the particle theory of light –its polarization – and showed how it was possible under a wave model.   Again, with the assumption that light had to either have a wave nature or particle nature, as of this point in time, the two theories were empirically equivalent.  There was phenomena exhibited experimentally that could be explained under both models.  The infamous “blow to the corpuscular theory … in 1819 [when Arago’s] experiment confirmed the prediction based on Fresnel’s wave theory that there should be illumination at the center of the diffraction pattern of a small opaque disc”[6] can then be regarded as a “crucial experiment”.  These experiments were conducted under the premise that there were only two options, and an experiment was devised with the understanding that it would show that one of those options was superior.  Such was the case.

At the start of the nineteenth century, electricity and magnetism were considered separate phenomena, and did not have a history of thorough investigation.[7] The experiments carried out by a number of scientists, notably Hans Christian Oersted, Andre-Marie Ampere, and Michael Faraday contributed towards the understanding of the relationship, and thus the theory, between electricity and magnetism.   In 1820, Hans Christian Oersted showed the link between magnetism and electricity.  He found that a magnetized needle twitched when near an electric-current-carrying copper wire.

“Oersted was an exponent of naturphilosohie – a Romantic philosophy of nature particularly prevalent in German-speaking lands at about the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Followers of naturphilosophie, such as the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, believed in the fundamental unity of nature.  […] Rather than being taken as separate objects of study, the various phenomena and powers of nature were to be understood as different manifestations of a single underlying and all-embracing cause. […] Coming from this perspective, Oersted was convinced that a link between electricity and magnetism must exist in nature.”[8]

Oersted’s result came after Coulomb’s statement that such interaction between magnetism and electricity were impossible.[9] Goethe’s conception of holism guided Oersted’s research, but his experiment was repeated by August de la Rive and Francois Arago to conclusively answer the question: is interaction between magnetism and electricity possible?  In this sense, it served as a crucial experiment between the theory that interaction was not possible (Coulomb, Ampere), and the theory that interaction was possible (Oerstead, Arago).

Ampere’s experimentation led to the development of Electrodynamics.  He studied the force exerted between two current carrying wires.  Ampere’s “procedure was to “observe first the facts, varying the conditions as much as possible, … in order to deduce general laws based solely on experience, and to deduce therefrom, independently of all hypotheses regarding the nature of the forces … the mathematical value of these forces.”[10] Though he was not directly influenced by Goethe’s holism, or German Naturphilosophie, this procedure can be considered Goethean in nature in his attitude toward experiment.  Goethe warned against theories as born from “the creative power of the mind”[11] and encouraged development in how scientists gather and use empirical evidence.[12]

Michael Faraday is known as one of the greatest experimentalists in the history of physics.  In 1831, with the aid of large electromagnets, Faraday finally made the discovery that, while static currents or magnetic fields were not capable of inducing currents, currents were induced when a field was changed or.  “The discovery was less an accident than the outcome of a systematic program of experimentation.”[13] “Faraday possessed extraordinary mathematical intuition, and any reader of his great Experimental Researches in Electricity cannot escape the brilliance of his theoretical imagination and the extent to which it guided his experiments. … [He employed] analogies between electricity and magnetism and his sense of reciprocity or unity in order to design new experiments and predict their outcome.  … Faraday was never cautious or conservative in designing his experiments and generalizing from them.  … [He] had no use for hypotheses that were not fully grounded in the phenomena.

“Near the end of Experimental Researches in Electricity, he wrote: “I feel bound to let experiment guide me into any train of thought which it may justify; being satisfied that experiment like analysis, must lead to strict truth if rightly interpreted.”[14]

Michael Faraday’s experimentalism was Goethean in spirit.  He let his observation from experiment yield ideas for more experimentation for the purpose of developing the theory.  His basis for theory was based on a series of interconnected experiments.

Goethe said that “the greatest discoveries are made not so much by men as by the age. …  As worthwhile as each individual experiment may be, it receives its real value only when united or combined with other experiments.”[15] We see this in the development of the theory of Electromagnetism.  It was the culmination of the experimentation and theorizing carried out in the areas of optics, magnetism, and electricity.  The unification of these three types of phenomena can be considered Goethean: one sort of force manifesting in different forms and that is unified under one theory.  What I want to do is bring to light the equivocation on word “theory”.  We can’t equate “theory of nature of light”, or even Coulomb’s “two-fluid theory” with the “theory of electromagnetism”.  The latter is an interconnected system of ideas developed from dozens of experiments conducted by many scientists to come to understand more and more the electrical and magnetic phenomena that they were observing.  For former two were postulations on the nature of some particular phenomena – light, electricity, or magnetism.  As regards the particular nature of these phenomena, we saw that a “crucial experiment” was devised and conducted and the results were taken as decisive confirmation or disconfirmation of the theory of the nature of light, or electricity, or magnetism.  As regards the development of Electromagnetism overall, nothing could be more Goethean.   There was the work of Oersted which led to work by Ampere which led to work by Faraday to explore deeply into the interaction between magnetism and electricity, but there was also the work of the others.  Volta’s “voltaic pile”, Galvani’s “animal force”, as well as Fresnel’s wave optics.  All taken together, when Maxwell came to formulate his wave equations uniting electricity, magnetism, and light under on theory, the product was the cooperation of many scientists, where each person’s work entailed the need for another’s.  As we can see, then, both Newton and Goethe had influence on the science in the nineteenth century.

Bibliography


Bowler, P. J. (2005). In Morus I. R. (Ed.), Making modern science : A historical survey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Buchwald, J. Z. A Brief History of Electric and Magnetic Science (unpublished)

Fox, Robert (1969), “The rise and fall of Laplacian physics,” Historical studies in the physical sciences, 1 89-136

Goethe, J. W. v. (1987). In Miller D. (Ed.), Scientific studies. New York, N.Y.: Suhrkamp.

Great experiments in physics : Firsthand accounts from galileo to einstein(1987). In Shamos M. H. (Ed.), . New York: Dover Publications.

Losee, J. (2001). A historical introduction to the philosophy of science (4th ed. ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Purrington, R. D. (1997). Physics in the nineteenth century. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.


[1] J. W. Goethe, Scientific studies . (New York: Suhrkamp, 1987), 16

[2] John Losee, A historical introduction to the philosophy of science (4th ed. ed.). (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 149-150

[3] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 32

[4] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 41

[5] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 39

[6] Fox, Robert “The rise and fall of Laplacian physics,” Historical studies in the physical sciences, 1 (1969), 116

[7] Buchwald, J. Z. A Brief History of Electric and Magnetic Science (unpublished), 1-2

[8] P.J. Bowler Making modern science : A historical survey. ( Chicago: University,  of Chicago Press, 2005), 83

[9] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 41

[10] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 46

[11] J. W. Goethe, Scientific studies . (New York: Suhrkamp, 1987), 15

[12] J. W. Goethe, Scientific studies . (New York: Suhrkamp, 1987), 12

[13] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 51

[14] Robert Purrington, Physics in the Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univeristy Press, 1997), 48

[15] J. W. Goethe, Scientific studies . (New York: Suhrkamp, 1987), 13

Nice Guys Finish First

Summary of Nice Guys Finish First, The Selfish Gene

In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins illustrates his answer to the question of what level it is at which “the fittest” survive in Darwin’s process of evolution.  Of Lorenz’s On Aggression, Adrey’s The Social Contract, and Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s Love and Hate, he writes that “they got it wrong…they misunderstood how evolution works.  They made the erroneous assumption that the important thing in evolution is the good of the species (or the group) rather than the good of the individual (or the gene).”[1] That is, an organism is an example of a “survival machine” that evolved to protect and serve as a vehicle for replication of the “selfish gene”.  In the case of humans, we are the first self-aware survival machine.  In Chapter 12, entitled Nice Guys Finish First, Dawkins argues that even though it is the gene that acts “selfishly” for survival, knowledge of this can explain why it is that “nice” behaviour within a human population will not only be observed but tend to “win” over any “nasty” behaviour.  With reference to a set of computer-simulated competitions of strategies for an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma conducted by American political scientist Robert Axelrod, Dawkins illustrates that a set of “nice” and “forgiving” strategies will eventually come to dominate any set, regardless of the initial conditions and other roadblocks that may temporarily put a “nasty” strategy in a dominant position.  He then draws an analogy between the computer simulation and the “nice” behaviours observed in animals, plants and genes.  “The only conditions are that nature should sometimes set up games of Prisoner’s Dilemma, that the shadow of the future should be long, and that the games should be nonzero sum games.  These conditions are certainly met, all around the living kingdoms.”[2]

The crux of Dawkin’s argument is in game theory.  Particularly, he employs the concept of the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.  “To qualify as a true Prisoner’s Dilemma, … the payoffs have to follow a particular rank order.  Both sides must see mutual cooperation (CC) as preferable to mutual defection.  Defection while the other wide cooperates (DC) is even better if you can get away with it.  Cooperation while the other side defects (CD) is worst of all.”[3] The matrix for this game looks like this:






















Prisoner’s Dilemma Game

Outcome Matrix
What you do
CooperateDefect
What I doCooperateREWARD: Fairly goodSUCKER’S PAYOFF: Very bad
DefectTEMPTATION: Very goodPUNISHMENT: Fairly bad

In a one-off game of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the value of the game is mutual defection.  There is no way of guaranteeing trust, and so the best strategy for each player is to Defect.  “Unlike the simple game, which is rather predictable in that DEFECT is the only rational strategy, the iterated version offers plenty of strategic scope.  …  Iteration allows lots of conceivable strategies.”[4] He categorized strategies by certain characteristics:

  1. “nice” strategies never defect first.

  2. “nasty” strategies are opposite to “nice” ones.

  3. “forgiving” strategies, although they may retaliate, do not hold grudges.

  4. “non-envious” strategies occur in nonzero sum games.


He also defined the “climate” as the ratio of nice to nasty strategies, and clarified that it is only a “true” iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma when neither player knows when the game will end; long “shadow of the future”[5] If they think it will end, it will affect their game, and they will treat it not as an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, but rather each game as a one-off Prisoner’s Dilemma in which it is best to defect.

Axelrod’s computer simulated competition of strategies for an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma highlighted the features of successful strategies.  The winning strategies with the largest payouts were “nice”, “forgiving”, and “non-envious”.  A prime example of such a strategy was Tit for Tat: begins by playing COOPERATE on the first move, then copies the previous move of its opponent.  The first two runs of the competition ended after a specific number of runs, and illustrated a very important feature of the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma: that the “climate” of a set of strategies affected the success of any particular strategy against others within the set in a specified number of runs.  “How can we reduce this arbitrariness (of initial conditions)?”[6] Dawkins asked.  The answer is in a phenomenon called “clustering”.

Axelrod’s third run of the computer simulation had a ‘climate’ consisting of equal representations of each strategy, generations were subsequent runs of the game, and winnings were paid out as offspring.  As generations passed, some strategies became scarce/went extinct, and eventually settled.  “Five other nice but provocable strategies ended up nearly as successful (frequent in the population) as Tit for Tat… When all the nasties had been driven extinct, there was no way in which any of the nice strategies could be distinguished from Tit for Tat or from each other, because they all, being nice, simply played COOPERATE against each other.”[7] Tit for Tat can’t be invaded by a nasty strategy because it tends to beat them, but it is indistinguishable within a population of nice strategies because they will all always COOPERATE.  Dawkins treated a combination of nice but retaliatory “Tit for Tat-like” strategies as collectively stable strategy in a given population, but stated that it is possible for a population to have two collectively stable strategies at the same time.  It is a matter of luck when one dominates the other.  This is the arbitrariness that he wanted to reduce.  His example is Tit for Tat and Always Defect: whichever comes to dominate first will tend to stay dominant.  There is a knife-edge that when crossed, the population will either tend to let one or the other quickly dominate.  So, the initial conditions (climate) matter.  To do so, he introduced the property of strategies to be able to “cluster”.  In this case of Tit for Tat vs. Always Defect, with Always Defect dominating, even if it is rare, Tit for Tat’s can be locally common.  Then in those areas, it can prosper and spread outward.  In this way, it is possible for Tit for Tat cross the knife-edge, and become dominant.  It can’t work the other way because Always Defect cannot cluster.  It always DEFECTS.  i.e. even when the initial conditions and luck weren’t optimal for Tit for Tat, its ability to cluster would mean that it *could* cross the knife-edge.  This gives Tit for Tat has a “higher-order stability” than Always Defect because of its ability to cross the knife-edge.

Dawkins’ game theoretical approach to the explanation of altruistic behaviour endows us with a basis to be optimistic about people.  Regardless of initial conditions, climate, and the current dominance of nasty strategies, the analogy we can draw between it and human behaviour means that a nice but retaliatory strategy can cross the “knife-edge” and never go back.   Of course there are limitations of the application of this model to human populations, but it is a useful framework in investigating patterns of altruistic behaviour.

References

The selfish gene. Dawkins, R. (Director). (1978).New York: Oxford University Press.


[1] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York:Oxford University Press, 1978) 2.

[2] Ibid. 229

[3] Ibid. 226

[4] Ibid 208

[5] Ibid. 225

[6] Ibid. 215

[7] Ibid. 216

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Book Review: The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630, Marie Boas Hall

Marie Boas Hall’s The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630 is one volume of the series entitled The Rise of Modern Science.  This book serves as an excellent book of reference for this period, tying the scientific activities during this time together with a theme – “First came uncritical acceptance of new or at least unhackneyed texts; then critical appraisal; finally emancipation and originality.”[1] Boas exploits this recurrent theme as it appeared with the dawn of the humanist movement to the trials against Galileo in 1633.  Humanism plays an integral part of her argument, and she has defined it as such:

“The term humanism is ambiguous; it meant in its own day both a concern with the classics of antiquity and a preoccupation with man in relation to human society rather than to God.”[2]

Her examination takes us thoroughly through the effects on science of the humanist movement as it was paradoxically pitted against the desire for novelty, the rejection of Medieval Scholasticism, the dismissal of the mystical/occult within scientific practice, and the attack on the Ancients which set the stage for genuine novelty.  Most importantly, she discusses the then-current state and development of the numerous sciences – old and new - within this framework, the printing press as a means of dispersion of ideas and record of popularity, the trend towards the mathematization of the sciences, and the elevation of status of the sciences within academia.

M. Boas attacks the subject matter with impartiality, and has strived and succeeded in ascertaining that there exists such a connection among scientific practices, illustrating these trends as they affected particular sciences throughout this period.  She did this by taking us through the older sciences of astronomy, medicine, and navigation, and newer sciences such as chemistry.  By “older”, she determines the science as having (1) a place in academia from the Middle Ages, and (2) Ancient counterparts.  By “newer”, she describes sciences that didn’t have such historical counterparts.  She illustrates, in the case of astronomy, the prevailing medieval conception as that which was put forward by Ptolemy, with reference to what was being taught in schools at this time.  The humanist-scientist, in this case Copernicus, who found fault with this model after having looked at the basis of Eudoxos’ model, considered Plato’s perfection of the celestial realm, and looking at the teachings of the Pythagoreans was illustrated with reference to his own texts.  Similarly, she describes Copernicus’ neo-Pythagorean model, and discusses the design inherent in his work as proof of his desire to exceed the work of Ptolemy’s.  She discussed the controversy that lent itself to the contradictory notion of searching for new ideas in ancient texts – a theme that she drew from each of the sciences.  She discussed the rebellion on formerly held hypotheses (such as the notion of circular orbits), and how this paved the way to a genuinely novel cosmology culminating in the work of Kepler and Galileo.  Finally, she represented the dispersion of knowledge by describing the move away from Latin texts towards texts in the vernacular, and by describing the statistics in publications (i.e. that the number of books published on this subject grew increasingly).  She went on to examine each of the sciences in a similar fashion.

As regards the mathematization of the sciences, Boas uses the spread of mathematics and mathematical tools as proof.  She could have drawn stronger emphasis on the growing interest in making each of the sciences into ‘exact sciences’.  Boas alludes to this with references to the introduction of “error” in measurement by Tycho Brahe, as well as with the quantization of forces in Galileo’s 2 New Sciences.  Instead, she points to the development of technologies in navigation, and geometrical application in the arts as support for the spread of mathematics.  She does refer to the appearance of Chairs in Mathematics popping up in small and large universities, but this served also as proof of the status and elevation of sciences and rationalism within the learned world during this period, as they grew increasingly separate from pure philosophy.

Regarding recurrent themes in the sciences during this time, there was a general trend towards the mechanical philosophy which was not fully exploited in this book.  The chapter entitled Circles Appear on Physiology touched on this subject.  However, Boas focused more on how this trend in physiology fit into her representation of science at this time, and discussed only the significance of the introduction of circles to physiology as another symbol of the primacy of circles and the heart as taken from Ancient science.  Thus, she utilizes the circles that appear in physiology solely as support for the humanist movement and its effects on the sciences.  The mechanization of nature would have been an interesting theme to have interwoven.

This was an excellent book.  Boas presented an unbiased representation of the sciences from the Renaissance period, and did well to unify a vast range of material that ranged from sources and development of ideas, to descriptions of the intellectual back-drop within which these scientific ideas were cultivated, including even succinct biographies on each writer whom she referenced.  She took the time to address issues as they arose, and explained thoroughly her reasons for making any assumptions.  One example of this is in her decision to focus solely on European science when discussing scientific practice during the Renaissance.  She utilized a wide variety of sources appropriately, including original publications texts to ascertain the opinions, ideas and motives of the writers, statistics on publications to illustrate the popularity and spread of opinions, quotations from popular literature of the times indicating the attitude towards the developments in science that were taking place by the public without taking any wildly bold and unfounded steps.



Bibliography

Boas Hull, Marie, The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630, New York, 1962.


[1] Marie Boas Hull, The Scientific Renaissance 1450-1630 (New York, 1962), p.53

[2] Ibid., p.18

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

10 seconds...

...left on the clock.  I just let the opponent score - I'm down by 1.  Inbounded, and I've got possession.  It's tough, but not impossible.  To a pro, 10 seconds is an eternity.  All I have to do is take my time, stay focused, and take the easy shot...

Circles

When I got all wound up in knots planning my future - drawing out all of the possible outcomes, determining probabilities, trying to figure out the "best" course to take - Marlene would always tell me that I'm worrying about nothing.  You have no decisions to make.  Worry when you have a decision to make.

Mostly, she'd say this to shut me up.  But there was still a lot of wisdom in the words.  After all, she was right.  I didn't have any real decisions to make.  Choosing between programs or courses.  Choosing between this entry level job or that one.  It didn't matter.  None of it mattered.  You're looking way too far in advance.  Just do it, then worry.  Even when you are forced to choose between two paths, that's a good thing.  That's where you want to be.

I took her advice.  I took time off school and worked.  I took different jobs.  I tested many different waters.  I stopped thinking and finally trusted that I'd grow and learn in any situation.  That's what it was all about to me, anyway - growing and learning, not wasting time.  I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I've been saying this a lot lately.  I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I must have no decisions to make.  Off to change that!

Monday, 30 November 2009

End of an Era

Where they lacked in talent, they made up in character.  This was always the least I could say about my Raptors, but no longer.  Between Antoine Wright's public criticism of the Raptors' pre-game attitude to their lack of toughness, as far as character goes, what's to be proud of?  On a team with a losing record, pride should have been the minimum.

I can now finally say that I am no longer a fan of the Raptors.  So long as there was effort, there was a reason for me to have hope.  Effort means that steps - be they even tiny ones - are being taken, and that time is meaningful.  Time would come to show the fruits of their labours.  Time.  Time is what I don't want to lose.

It's the end of an era.  Time to move on.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Misguided

Fake it till you make it! A mantra from our high school instructor.  It was a reference to the strange behaviour of the atom.  You may not understand what's going on in the conventional sense, but you're in good company.  You have equations that work - use them.

It takes a lot of faith to fake it till you make it.  It's a blind guiding principle.  You have to either be ignorant or really trust the people who are telling you what to do.

Fake it till you make it! he preached, but not even he made it.  I don't think that some things ever become clearer.  Can you live with yourself knowing that your action was based on blind faith or that your inaction was the debilitating consequence of your skepticism?  The answer really depends on what you prefer: memories of things that you did or a clear conscience, knowing that you were cognizant of the consequences every step of the way.  There is a middle-ground, I know, but each particular decision seems to be an either/or.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Replacement

I miss Misfortunate, but I'm sure that a lot of it is because I'm remembering only the good parts.  But because I'm aware that I do this, I know that it wasn't perfect.  I miss the good parts.  I will always miss the good parts of anything - memories, foods, etc...  This is not to be confused with wishing that I could have it back.  I would never dare say that.

The question came up - even if not intended the way I'd taken it - of whether or not I would be looking to replace Misfortunate.  The prospect never even crossed my mind and now that it has, I realized that the answer is no, I wouldn't.  It is what it is.  I miss it out of a respect for the best of it, but I can't recreate it, and I'm not looking to replace it.  The truth is: I half-lie to myself to justify having invested so much time in it and I'm certain that upon careful and objective examination, I could shatter this happy image of it that I keep in my mind.

There may yet be better fits for me or there may not be, but either way, I will be open to and seize at whatever opportunities come my way.  That's the only way to live.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Competing

Forgive me for I have sinned.  It has been 1 year and 1 month since I last dyed my hair.  But today, I had it all dyed evenly black.  Yes, I had dyed it black the last time (1 year and 1 month ago), but it has been fading ever since.  In fact, it had faded within a month - the blond streaks have been peeking through as brown slash red "highlights" to the faded black hair for over a year.  My natural hair colour is a cross between black and really dark brown, so the outgrowth with the fading black hair dye has looked natural.  And it's not that I disliked it that I dyed it.  It really, quite simply, was the unevenness of the colour.  As I mentioned in Neuroses, unevenness makes me crazy.  And even though I hate spending money and fear that an investment in my looks reflects insecurity, I knew that it would be really satisfying when I finally treated myself to making my hair colour uniform.  Oh, I was right.  It is substantially better than going on any of the vacations I've dreamt up but never got to take (partly for the evenness issue, but actually also because of the cost).

It is always difficult when you have a decision to make, and competing convictions apply.  Our action/inaction reflects our confusion.  (I waited 1 year and 1 month before making myself look neat.)  Hopefully, in the end, we will have represented ourselves and our confusion honestly.   That is all we can aim for.
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