“James Watt: Barometer of Juvenile Talent”
Department of History of Science
James Watt appears frequently in nineteenth-century British science books for children, in both text and images. This paper is an exploration of some of the reasons Watt was chosen to be the subject of study for children, as well as a description of the image of Watt constructed for the juvenile audience. Why is he often presented as a “man of science,” not one of technology or invention? Why does an eighteenth-century figure appear so frequently in the nineteenth century, and how does a Scotsman make his way into the company of those labeled British and in some cases, even English men of genius? The example of Watt indicates not only the status of the concept of “genius” over the course of the century, but also the evolving image of the scientist in juvenile literature as it was tied to educators’ views concerning the nature of scientific talent. Watt’s image serves as a barometer of these, as well as other, trends.
“E.T. Bell and the Genealogy of Genius”
Department of Mathematics
University of Chicago
A particularly important source for understanding the power of the genius ideal in stories about mathematicians is Men of Mathematics, the much-cited biographical anthology by CalTech number theorist E.T. Bell. In it, he updates many of the features (and contradictions) of the Romantic genius in the service of undermining the image of the sissified academic, producing headstrong, volatile, misunderstood, and sexually mainstream men. The book is known to be riddled with falsehoods and exaggerations, but its enormous readership since its publication in 1937 has secured its stories an enduring dominance—in fact, reading Bell's book has been documented surprisingly often as having been influential in mathematicians' choice of career.
More recent popular sources are considered in this paper as well, including the memoirs of Richard Feynman and accounts of the lives of Paul Erdos, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and Stephen Hawking. The goal is to undertake a descriptive definition of the genius ideal in and near mathematics, and to argue the impossibility of a normative definition that meets the same narrative and social needs
“The Post-mortem Construction of the Iconic Einstein”
Department of History of Science
University of Wisconsin
Although Einstein did not completely succeed in controlling his public image during his life, he nonetheless inhibited the progress of those who would prematurely entomb him in mythology or too boldly claim a share of the cultural capital he had accumulated during 35 years of fame. His death in 1955, however, was the starting gun in a race in which constituencies ranging from magazines to nations competed to define the terms in which he would be remembered. This first major refurbishment of the Einstein icon rendered him abruptly more palatable to the public by providing apologies for his political and social views where the living Einstein had offered only apologia. A comparison of the Einstein necrology with the terms in which he was described while living suggests the magnitude of the difference between characterizations of Einstein pre- and post-mortem, and serves as a baseline against which to evaluate subsequent changes in the public's understanding of Einstein.
“Einstein’s Miraculous Year”
Founding Editor of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein
Professsor of Physics Emeritus and Director of the Center for Einstein Studies, Boston University
In 1905, his year of wonders, Einstein 1) made major contributions to the classical kinetic theory of atoms and molecules; 2) resolved the conflict between classical mechanics and the optics and electrodynamics of moving bodies; and 3) laid the foundations for the quantum theory of light and matter. I shall look briefly at the state of physics at the turn of the twentieth century, the nature of Einstein’ contributions in each area, and their influence on the course of modern physics.
“O Male Factum! Gilbert, Kepler, and the 'Discovery' of Cosmic Linearity”
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh
From classical times until the early modern period, philosophers believed that the universe consisted, more or less, of concentric spheres, centered on a single point. This constituted a geometrical conception of the cosmos in which lines played a fleeting, finite, and secondary role. In 1600, however, William Gilbert suggested the earth was a giant magnet that could orient itself along magnetic lines of force filling the cosmos. Then, in 1605, as he struggled to find the true path of planetary motions, Johannes Kepler found inspiration in Gilbert's suggestion of magnetic linearity. Only when Kepler assumed a direction - a line - could he construct an ellipse, the correct solution of planetary orbits. Thus, Gilbert's magnetic linearity was the key to Kepler's discovery of the elliptical paths of the planets. Kepler's "First Law," published in the Astronomia Nova (1609), led to the ultimate rejection of the classical, spherical framework and became the foundation of Newtonian physics and modern astronomy.
This paper examines Kepler's development of the ellipse, eliciting Kepler's remarkable genius, his debt to Gilbert, and the crucial importance of linearity. I focus especially on a long letter written in 1605, which follows the gyres and gimbles of Kepler's thought.
(The paper is also part of a larger project concerning the introduction of linearity into the conceptual frameworks underpinning seventeenth century physics and astronomy.)
"Astronomical Ages and Genesis: Starlight Transit Time and Its Theological Reception"
Program in History and Philosophy of Science
University of Notre Dame
The multibillion year accounts given by contemporary astrophysicists and geologists are in tension with the traditional reading of the Bible, especially Genesis, with its terrestrial history of a few millennia. Stories about Genesis and geology have been told, but the analogous issue of Genesis and the timescales of modern astronomy has rarely been considered in histories of astronomy and religion, which focus on the Copernican controversy and the nebular hypothesis. Starlight transit times appear to provide a lower bound on astronomical ages using simple physics, so even laymen could ponder how such time scales fit with Biblical chronology. William Herschel's 1802 claim to see stars whose light was emitted nearly 2,000,000 years ago was the most dramatic event in the story, but crucial steps beforehand and important events afterward must be considered. This paper aims to give an outline of this story, especially attending to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
“Liberal Unities of Mind and Knowledge: Hermann von Helmholtz’s and Ernst Mach's Images of Science and Knowledge”
Department of History
University of Illinois at Chicago
Presenting an analysis of their wide-ranging works, I argue that the leading German and Austrian scientist-philosophers Hermann Helmholtz and Ernst Mach drew extensively from the cultural resources of German liberalism, but turned these resources to different ends. Not only did they employ upon key liberal notions such as freedom and law in their public addresses; they also pursued a particularly liberal form of scientific practice. They consciously acted in accord with particular rules when engaging colleagues and foes, and developed a correlated set of epistemological standards for determining and framing knowledge and theories.
However, Helmholtz and Mach turned common liberal values to different ends, in part due to the differing political and cultural situations in the German states and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In particular they differed in the kinds of unity that they promoted for the fields of science in which they worked, and for the scientific community more generally. Their approaches in similar fields diverged and they sought opposed foundations within the same fields of research. This talk will link these figures' scientific practice to their epistemologies and to their differing social visions. Arguing the importance of methods and methodology, the conclusion will suggest how their different approaches to science cast light upon the work of other physical scientists and that of Max Planck in particular.
“Einstein – Light Quanta and State Independence”
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh
In his "radical" light quantum paper of 1905, Einstein argues that when light is behaving in certain ways, e.g., emission, its behavior is (at least heuristically) best understood on a discrete model. As is well known his argument is not presented deductively (in any sense of the term), but rather appears to be another kind of inference. In this paper, I present this inference as an analogy by drawing on Gentner's structure-mapping theory of analogical inference. In the process, I also draw on some work by Dorling in which he attempts to "reverse" Einstein's argument, i.e., convert it into a "deduction from the phenomena". I conclude by hinting at an exploration of Einstein's consistently used assumption about the independence of the statistical evolution of the different states and its possible relation to some of Tsallis' work on reformulating our understanding of entropy.
“Satyen Bose: The Unsung Hero of India”
Department of Physics
University of Arkansas
Satyendra Nath Bose's name is preserved for posterity in one of the most important terms in physics "boson" yet most people have no idea who he was. Bose was a great physicist of India whose work has never been appreciated at home or abroad. Bose deserves credit for taking the first step in the development of quantum statistics, credit that was unstintingly granted to him by Einstein, and by Dirac who coined the word "boson".
18th-century Bengal was remarkable for an awakening in various areas of the society. The Bengal Renaissance brought about a drastic change in the Indian intelligentsia. Here I will discuss Bose's role in intellectually awakening the people of Bengal through his relentless efforts in the field of science, which includes his correspondences with Einstein, and how his inadvertent isolation from the physics community of Europe led him to innovate his new statistics for photons.
“Consistency and Complementarity in 20th-Century Physics”
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The development of theoretical physics in the 20th century was marked by important arguments over the consistency of quantum theory and interpretations of that theory. Bohr's complementarity made a significant theoretical virtue of the match (or "harmony") between the extent to which a quantity can be defined within a theory and the extent to which the value of that quantity can be discovered in an ideal measurement. In 1933, Bohr and Rosenfeld defended the newly developed theory of quantum electrodynamics from the charge that it fell short with respect to this virtue. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, DeWitt argued that an investigation of the possibilities of ideal measurements of gravitational field values could be used to establish the commutator of a quantum theory of gravity. Rosenfeld rebuffed this project, claiming that arguments of the sort found in Bohr and Rosenfeld's paper could only establish the consistency of the interpretation of a theory, not the necessity of quantum formalism. In this paper, I draw out the interpretive principles that undergird this debate, and I argue that those involved did not always apply these principles consistently.