Crafting the quantum: Arnold Sommerfeld and the older quantum theory

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 39 (3):335-348 (2008)
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Abstract

Arnold Sommerfeld was among the most important students of the so-called ‘older’ quantum theory. His many contributions included papers in 1915 and 1916 extending Niels Bohr’s ‘planetary’ model of the atom beyond circular orbits and his incorporation of relativistic corrections in order to explain hydrogenic fine structure. Originally a realist in his use of Bohr’s model, Sommerfeld became increasingly disillusioned with model-building in general in the late nineteen-teens and early nineteen-twenties. This paper explores Sommerfeld’s use of the term Zahlenmysterium as a self-description of his physical methodology. Rather than reading talk of mysticism as mere pandering to irrationalist forces in Weimar Germany, as some have suggested, I argue that one should see it as a genuine description of the scientific method Sommerfeld increasingly advocated throughout this period. That is, Sommerfeld drew upon and modified talk of Mystik as a means of expressing his own ideas on the importance of aesthetics in what might otherwise be cast as mere guesswork in his phenomenological spectroscopy. Mysticism, properly defined, was an integral part of what Sommerfeld termed die Technik der Quanten.Keywords: Quantum theory; Arnold Sommerfeld; Theoretical physics; Spectroscopy; Phenomenology; Theoretical practice.

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Citations of this work

The Vienna Circle Against Quantum Speculations.Marij van Strien - 2022 - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 12 (2):359-394.
Zweideutigkeit About “Zweideutigkeit”: Sommerfeld, Pauli, and the Methodological Origins of Quantum Mechanics.Suman Seth - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40 (4):303-315.
Zweideutigkeit About “Zweideutigkeit”: Sommerfeld, Pauli, and the Methodological Origins of Quantum Mechanics.Suman Seth - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 40 (4):303-315.

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