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)
This article describes the experiences of a former astronomer who is making the transition to astronomy education research as an international graduate student in the United States. The article describes the author’s encounters with education research, its methodologies, and his changing research interests as he progresses through the graduate program. It also describes his experiences with the busy life of a graduate student in American academia and his experiences as an international student.
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)
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)
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)
: 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 order to get rid of the contradictions he had identified in Ptolemy’s Astronomy, Ibn al-Haytham abandons cosmology and develops a purely kinematic description of the movement of the wandering stars. This description culminates with the proof that such a star, during its daily movement, reaches exactly one time a maximum height above the horizon and that any inferior height is reached exactly twice. The proofs of these facts necessitates new mathematical tools and Ibn al-Haytham is led to establish (...) very sophisticated statements concerning the variation of certain ratios of arcs of circles on the sphere. He also introduces the fruitful idea of assimilating a very small spherical triangle to a plane triangle. (shrink)
This paper is in two parts. The first presents an analysis of the epistemology underlying the practice of classical Indian mathematical astronomy, as presented in three works of Nīlakaṇṭha Somayāji (1444–1545 CE). It is argued that the underlying concepts put great value on careful observation and skill in development of algorithms and use of computation. This is reflected in the technical terminology used to describe scientific method. The keywords in this enterprise include parīkṣā, anumāna, gaṇita, yukti, nyāya, siddhānta, tarka (...) and anveṣaṇa. The concepts that underlie these terms are analysed and compared with such ideas as theory, model, computation, positivism, empiricism etc. In a short second part, it is proposed that the primacy awarded to number and computation in classical Indian science led to an artificial language that did include equations but emphasized displays that facilitated calculation, as in the Bakshali manuscript (800 CE?). It is further argued that echoes of these concepts can be recognized in current science, where computation is once again playing a greater role triggered by spectacular developments in computer technology. (shrink)
Nobody should have a monopoly of the truth in this universe. The censorship and suppression of challenging ideas against the tide of mainstream research, the blacklisting of scientists, for instance, is neither the best way to do and filter science, nor to promote progress in the human knowledge. The removal of good and novel ideas from the scientific stage is very detrimental to the pursuit of the truth. There are instances in which a mere unqualified belief can occasionally be converted (...) into a generally accepted scientific theory through the screening action of refereed literature and meetings planned by the scientific organizing committees and through the distribution of funds controlled by "club opinions". It leads to unitary paradigms and unitary thinking not necessarily associated to the unique truth. This is the topic of this book: to critically analyze the problems of the official (and sometimes illicit) mechanisms under which current science (physics and astronomy in particular) is being administered and filtered today, along with the onerous consequences these mechanisms have on all of us. The authors, all of them professional researchers, reveal a pessimistic view of the miseries of the actual system, while a glimmer of hope remains in the "leitmotiv" claim towards the freedom in doing research and attaining an acceptable level of ethics in science. (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.
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)
bit b. Qurra is especially known as a mathematician, but his work in astronomy is also important. This article reviews his eight surviving astronomical treatises, as well as relevant fragments of his lost works cited by later authors in Arabic and Latin. We conclude that, as an active participant in the scientific movement of 9th-century Baghdad, bit played a crucial role in the establishment of astronomy as an exact science. The argument is based on an assessment of his (...) contribution in three areas: the relationship between observation and theory, the of astronomy, and the relationship between astronomy and astronomy. (shrink)
We present the historical development of Nonlinear Dynamical Astronomy with emphasis on the “third integral” and its applications. The new era started with the use of computers, and of formal analytical developments in the spirit of Poincaré. Most dynamical systems were found to contain both ordered and chaotic orbits. The transition from order to chaos is discussed. Recent developments refer to the dynamical spectra, integrals of notion in self-consistent models, systems of 3 or more degrees of freedom, chaos in (...) relativity and cosmology, and chaos in quandum mechanics. (shrink)
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)
Summary Late Babylonian astronomical texts contain frequent measurements of the positions of the Moon and planets. These measurements include distances of the Moon or a planet from a reference star and measurements of the position of celestial bodies within a sign of the zodiac. In this paper, I investigate the relationship between these two measurement systems and propose a new understanding of the concepts of celestial longitude and latitude in Babylonian astronomy. I argue that the Babylonians did not define (...) latitude using the ecliptic but instead considered the Moon and each planet to move up or down within its own band as it travelled around the zodiac. (shrink)
Summary Evidence for the transmission of Babylonian astronomy into the Greco-Roman world is well attested in the form of observations, numerical parameters and astronomical tables. This paper investigates the reception of Babylonian astronomy in the Greco-Roman world and in particular the transmission, transformation and exploitation of the layout of texts and other visual information. Two examples illustrate this process: the use of Babylonian lunar eclipse records by Greek astronomers and the adaptation of Babylonian methods of eclipse prediction in (...) the Antikythera Mechanism. (shrink)
This volume represents the first which interfaces with astronomy as the fulcrum of the sciences. It gives full expression to the human passion for the skies. Advancing human civilization has unfolded and matured this passion into the comprehensive science of astronomy. Advancing science’s quest for the first principles of existence meets the ontopoietic generative logos of life, the focal point of the New Enlightenment. It presents numerous perspectives illustrating how the interplay between human beings and the celestial realm (...) has informed civilizational trends. Scholars and philosophers debate in physics and biology, the findings of which are opening a more inclusive, wider picture of the universe. The different models of the universal order and of life here presented, all aiming at the first principles of existence—accord with the phenomenology/ontopoiesis of life within the logos-prompted primogenital stream of becoming and action, which points to a future of progressing culture. (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)
Ibn S's celestial kinematics represents an important aspect of his cosmology but has up to now received little attention in the secondary literature. After a short overview of some key features of his cosmology, this article attempts to clarify the role played by the separate intellects, the celestial souls, and the celestial bodies in causing celestial motion. It challenges the common view that Ibn S adhered to the theory of ten separate intellects developed by al-Fbnā's cosmological method.
In the following pages we discuss three historical cases of moral economies in science: Drosophila genetics, late twentieth century American astronomy, and collaborations between American drug companies and medical scientists in the interwar years. An examination of the most striking differences and similarities between these examples, and the conflicts internal to them, reveals constitutive features of moral economies, and the ways in which they are formed, negotiated, and altered. We critically evaluate these three examples through the filters of rational (...) choice, utility, and American pragmatism, using the latter to support the conclusion that there is no single vision of moral economies in science and no single theory—moral, political, social—that will explain them. These filters may not be the only means through which to evaluate the moral economies examined, but aspects of each appear prominent in all three cases. In addition, explanations for decisions are often given in the language of these theories, both at the macro (policy) level and at the local level of the moral economies we discuss. In light of such factors, the use of these frameworks seems justified. We begin with an attempt to define the nature of moral economies, then move to a consideration of scientific communities as moral communities operating within material and other constraints which we relate to wider questions of political economy and societal accountabilities. (shrink)
Abraham ibn Ezra the Spaniard (d. 1167) was one of the foremost transmitters of Arabic science to the West. His astrological and astronomical works, written in Hebrew and later translated into Latin, were considered authoritative by many medieval Jewish and Christian scholars. Some of the works he translated from Arabic are no longer extant in their original form, and on occasion his treatises provide information about earlier sources that is otherwise poorly preserved, if at all. Ibn Ezra seems to be (...) the earliest scholar to record one of the seven methods for setting up the astrological houses, and this method was subsequently used by Levi ben Gerson (d. 1344) in southern France. (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)
Vision, Visibility, and Empirical Research. In general, natural scientists use the concept of observation in a liberal way: they talk of observing electrons, DNA, or distant quasars. Several philosophers of science have recently argued for a similar use of the concept of observation: they have claimed that the important aspects of scientific research can only be properly reconstructed in accordance with how this term is actually used in science. With reference to an example from astronomy, I point out that (...) the proposed generalisation of the concept of observation leads to undesirable consequences. I argue that a differentiated conceptual framework is required in order to give an adequate account of the varieties of scientific experience. Thus, the appropriate starting point for distinguishing these various scientific research practices should not be the generalised scientific conception of observation, but instead distinctly different uses of the term observation drawn from ordinary language. (shrink)