With over 150 alphabetically arranged entries about key scientists, concepts, discoveries, technological innovations, and learned institutions, the Oxford Guide to Physics and Astronomy traces the history of physics and astronomy from the Renaissance to the present. For students, teachers, historians, scientists, and readers of popular science books such as Galileo's Daughter, this guide deciphers the methods and philosophies of physics and astronomy as well as the historical periods from which they emerged. Meant to serve the lay reader (...) and the professional alike, this book can be turned to for the answer to how scientists learned to measure the speed of light, or consulted for neat, careful summaries of topics as complicated as quantum field theory and as vast as the universe. The entries, each written by a noted scholar and edited by J. L. Heilbron, Professor of History and Vice Chancellor, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, reflect the most up-to-date research and discuss the applications of the scientific disciplines to the wider world of religion, law, war, art and literature. No other source on these two branches of science is as informative or as inviting. Thoroughly cross-referenced and accented by dozens of black and white illustrations, the Oxford Guide to Physics and Astronomy is the source to turn to for anyone looking for a quick explanation of alchemy, x-rays and any type of matter or energy in between. (shrink)
Relying on an analysis of the case of gravitational lensing, Hacking argues for a "modest antirealism" in astronomy. It is shown here that neither his scientific arguments nor his philosophical doctrines imply an antirealist conclusion. An alternative, realistic interpretation of gravitational lensing, and of the nature and history of astronomy more generally, is suggested.
This paper considers the role of mathematics in the process of acquiring new knowledge in physics and astronomy. The defining of the notions of continuum and discreteness in mathematics and the natural sciences is examined. The basic forms of representing the heuristic function of mathematics at theoretical and empirical levels of knowledge are studied: deducing consequences from the axiomatic system of theory, the method of generating mathematical hypotheses, “pure” proofs for the existence of objects and processes, mathematical modelling, the (...) formation of mathematics on the basis of internal mathematical principles and the mathematical theory of experiment. (shrink)
: We question the claim, common since Duhem, that sixteenth century astronomy, and especially the Wittenberg interpretation of Copernicus, was instrumentalistic rather than realistic. We identify a previously unrecognized Wittenberg astronomer, Edo Hildericus (Hilderich von Varel), who presents a detailed exposition of Copernicus's cosmology that is incompatible with instrumentalism. Quotations from other sixteenth century astronomers show that knowledge of the real configuration of the heavens was unattainable practically, rather than in principle. Astronomy was limited to quia demonstrations, although (...) demonstration propter quid remained the ideal. We suggest that Osiander's notorious preface to Copernicus expresses these sixteenth century commonplaces rather than twentieth century instrumentalism, and that neither `realism', nor `instrumentalism', in their modern meanings, apply to sixteenth century astronomy. (shrink)
: The Hellenistic reception of Babylonian horoscopic astrology gave rise to the question of what the planets really do and whether astrology is a science. This question in turn became one of defining the Greco-Latin science of astronomy, a project that took Aristotle's views as a starting-point. Thus, I concentrate on one aspect of the various definitions of astronomy proposed in Hellenistic times, their demarcation of astronomy and physical theory. I explicate the account offered by Geminus and (...) its subordination of astronomy to arguments made in physical theory about what really is the case. I then show how Ptolemy treats the same topic but maintains that this science is sufficient on its own to determine the realia it studies. In this way, I identify two moments in an obvious process of intellectual change that had profound consequences for the history of astronomy and cosmology over the next 1500 years. My hope is that this will advance our understanding of the reception of horoscopic astrology in Hellenistic times and also serve to locate Ptolemy more fully in his intellectual context. (shrink)
In the first part of chapter 2 of book II of the Physics Aristotle addresses the issue of the difference between mathematics and physics. In the course of his discussion he says some things about astronomy and the ‘ ‘ more physical branches of mathematics”. In this paper I discuss historical issues concerning the text, translation, and interpretation of the passage, focusing on two cruxes, ( I ) the first reference to astronomy at 193b25–26 and ( II ) (...) the reference to the more physical branches at 194a7–8. In section I, I criticize Ross’s interpretation of the passage and point out that his alteration of ( I ) has no warrant in the Greek manuscripts. In the next three sections I treat three other interpretations, all of which depart from Ross's: in section II that of Simplicius, which I commend; in section III that of Thomas Aquinas, which is importantly influenced by a mistranslation of ( II ), and in section IV that of Ibn Rushd, which is based on an Arabic text corresponding to that printed by Ross. In the concluding section of the paper I describe the modern history of the Greek text of our passage and translations of it from the early twelfth century until the appearance of Ross's text in 1936. (Published Online August 10 2006) Footnotes1 This paper was prepared as the basis of a presentation at a conference entitled “Writing and rewriting the history of science, 1900–2000,” Les Treilles, France, September, 2003, organized by Karine Chemla and Roshdi Rashed. I have compared Aristotle's and Ptolemy's views of the relationship between astronomy and physics in a paper called “Astrologogeômetria and astrophysikê in Aristotle and Ptolemy,” presented at a conference entitled “Physics and mathematics in Antiquity,” Leiden, The Netherlands, June, 2004, organized by Keimpe Algra and Frans de Haas. For a discussion of Hellenistic views of this relationship see Ian Mueller, “Remarks on physics and mathematical astronomy and optics in Epicurus, Sextus Empiricus, and some Stoics,” in Philippa Lang (ed.), Re-inventions: Essays on Hellenistic and Early Roman Science, Apeiron 37, 4 (2004): 57–87. I would like to thank two anonymous readers of this essay for meticulous corrections and thoughtful suggestions, almost all of which I readily adopted. (shrink)
Plato's comments on astronomy and the education of the guardians at Republic 528e ff have been hotly disputed, and have provoked much criticism from those who have interpreted them as a rejection or denigration of observational astronomy. Here I argue that the key to interpreting these comments lies in the relationship between the conception of enquiry that is implicit in the epistemological allegories, and the programme for the education of the guardians that Plato subsequently proposes. We have, I (...) suggest, been too eager to stress the similarities here, when recognition of the differences may supply us with the tools required for a better understanding of 528e ff, one that to a large extent disarms the anti-empirical critique. My discussion proceeds in three stages. Firstly, Plato takes great care to place his comments on astronomy in the context of the preceding epistemological allegories. Is there any evidence here, where Plato might be thought to discuss enquiry in general, that he rejected or denigrated observation? I argue that even if Plato advocated a 'Two Worlds' (TW) ontology, he still envisaged a dynamic process of enquiry, interrelating sensibles and intelligibles, the investigation of each being necessary but not sufficient to achieve the overall aim. Secondly, Plato appears to be deriving how we ought to go about educating the guardians from how we ought to conduct our enquiries. While the two are intimately related there are important differences, recognition of which turns the supposed rejection of observation into an affirmation of the need for an initial empirical approach. I contend that this makes good sense of the internal structure of 528e ff, and of its relations to other parts of the Republic. Thirdly, I discuss the Republic in relation to the evidence offered by later works on the question of astronomy and observation, and raise the question of whether Plato's views on the imperfection of the sensible world necessarily lead to the denigration of careful and prolonged empirical work. (shrink)
We discuss the extent to which the visibility of the heavens was a necessary condition for the development of science, with particular reference to the measurement of time. Our conclusion is that while astronomy had significant importance, the growth of most areas of science was more heavily influenced by the accuracy of scientific instruments, and hence by current technology.
This paper traces the reception of Babylonian astronomy into the history of science, beginning in early to mid twentieth century when cuneiform astronomical sources became available to the scholarly public. The dominant positivism in philosophy of science of this time influenced criteria employed in defining and demarcating science by historians, resulting in a persistently negative assessment of the nature of knowledge evidenced in cuneiform sources. Ancient Near Eastern astronomy (and astrology) was deemed pre- or non-scientific, and even taken (...) to reflect a stage in the evolution of thought before the emergence of science (in ancient Greece). Two principal objections are examined: first, that the Near East produced merely practical as opposed to theoretical knowledge and, second, that astronomy was in the service of astrology and religion. As the notion of a universal scientific method has been dismantled by post-positivists and constructivists of the second half of the twentieth century, an interest in varieties of intellectual and cultural contexts for science has provided a new ground for the re-consideration of Babylonian astronomical texts as science developed here. (shrink)
Mathematical Astronomy as the most developed branch of ancient exact sciences has been widely discussed - especially epistemological issues e.g. concerning astronomy as a prime example of the distinction between instrumentalist and realist understanding of theories. In contrast to these the very methodology of ancient astronomy has received little attention. Following the work of Jaakko Hintikka and Unto Remes Aristarchus' method of determining the distance of the Sun is sketched and Ptolemy's solar model is discussed in detail.
In recent decades, the concept of coherence has become one of the key concepts in philosophy. Although there is still no consensus about how to explicate coherence, it is widely accepted that the appearance of anomalies significantly lowers the coherence of a propositional or belief system. In this paper, the relationship between coherence and anomalies is analysed by looking at a specific case study from astronomy. It concerns anomalies that occurred in the first half of the twentieth century during (...) the attempt to develop a cosmic distance scale. These anomalies could not be removed until several decades after their appearance, which required a fundamental change in astronomical theory. During this process, the astronomical distance scale had to be adjusted by a factor of about 2. This paper focuses on the role that explanatory relations played with respect to the elimination of these anomalies. Thereby, special attention is paid to the explanatory work of astronomical theories or models that were not especially designed for this task. (shrink)
James Elkins has shaped the discussion about how we—as artists, as art historians, or as outsiders—view art. He has not only revolutionized our thinking about the purpose of teaching art, but has also blazed trails in creating a means of communication between scientists, artists, and humanities scholars. In Six Stories from the End of Representation , Elkins weaves stories about recent images from painting, photography, physics, astrophysics, and microscopy. These images, regardless of origin, all fail as representations: they are blurry, (...) dark, pixellated, or otherwise unclear. In these opaque images, Elkins finds an opportunity to create stories that speak simultaneously to artists and to scientists, and to open both those fields to those of us who have little purchase in either. Regarding each image through the lens of the discipline that produced it, Elkins simultaneously affirms the unique structure of each way of viewing the world and brings those views together into a vibrant conversation. (shrink)
Abstract Centuries of both theologians and astronomers have wondered what the Star of Bethlehem (Matt 2:2, 9) actually was, from miracle to planetary conjunction. Here a history of this search is presented, along with the difficulties the various proposals have had. The natural theories of the Star are found to be a recent innovation, and now almost exclusively maintained by scientists rather than theologians. Current problems with various theories are recognized, as well as general problems with the approach. The interactions (...) between the sciences and religion are categorized and explored. (shrink)
Gaia is a cornerstone European Space Agency astrometry space mission and a successor to the Hipparcos mission. Gaia will observe the whole sky for 5 years, providing a serendipitous opportunity for the discovery of large numbers of transient and anomalous events, e.g. supernovae, novae and microlensing events, gamma-ray burst afterglows, fallback supernovae, as well as theoretical or unexpected phenomena. In this paper, we discuss our preparations to use Gaia to search for transients at optical wavelengths, and briefly describe the early (...) detection, classification and prompt publication of anomalous sources. (shrink)
In this paper I contest Ian Hacking’s claim that astronomers do not experiment. Riding on this thesis is a re-evaluation of his view that astronomers are less justified than other natural scientists in believing in the existence of the objects they study, and that astronomers are not proper natural scientists at all. The defense of my position depends upon carefully examining what, exactly, is being manipulated in an experiment, and the role of experimental effects for Hacking’s experimental realism. I argue (...) that Hacking’s experimental realism is not adequately defended, and even if we accept it in good grace, the case can be still made that astronomers experiment by Hacking’s account. (shrink)
This article charts the development of the modern astronomical observational system. I am interested most acutely in the digitization of this system in general, and in the introduction of adaptive optics in particular. I argue that these features have been critical in establishing the modern observatory as a factory for scientific data, rather than as a center of calculation in its own right. Throughout, the theoretical focus is on the nature of technological evolution in the observational system, understood as inextricably (...) bound up with both the system-internal drive to surpass the limits imposed upon the distributed cognition of the researcher and the boundary at which empirical objects resolve themselves into technical objects. In short, this article explores the historically constituted character of expert astronomical perception, arguing that it is impossible to understand without constant reference to its material substrate. (shrink)
Originally published in 1830, this book can be called the first modern work in the philosophy of science, covering an extraordinary range of philosophical, methodological, and scientific subjects. "Herschel's book . . . brilliantly analyzes both the history and nature of science."--Keith Stewart Thomson, American Scientist.
Exploring the decisive steps taken by Anaximander of Miletus, this book details the transition from the archaic cosmological world-picture of a flat earth with a celestial vault to the Western world-picture of a free floating earth in an ...
In the “Sala dei Mesi” of Palazzo Schifanoia the months and the zodiacal constellations go from right to left, while the decans (three for every sign) go in the opposite direction. This problem was not clarified by Aby Warburg in his well-known essay Italian Art and International Astrology in the Palazzo Schifanoia of Ferrara (1912). The purpose of this paper is to investigate the reasons of this double direction.
Drawing on a half century of scholarship, of Polish studies of Copernicus and Cracow University, and of Copernicus's sources, this book offers a comprehensive re-evaluation of Copernicus's achievement, and explains his commitment to the ...
To assert that the ancient planetary theory proposed by Ptolemy was irrefutable – at least until the telescope discovery – is a bit of a cliché. The aim of this paper is to analyze in what sense it could be said that the epicycle and deferent model proposed by Ptolemy to explain the planetary movement is irrefutable and in what sense it is not. To do this, we will use the conceptual framework developed by the Structuralist Conception, and in particular, (...) the Moulines’ analysis of the “guiding principles”. DOI:10.5007/1808-1711.2010v14n2p211. (shrink)