The Norton Dome and the Nineteenth Century Foundations of Determinism

Abstract

The recent discovery of an indeterministic system in classical mechanics, the Norton dome, has shown that answering the question whether classical mechanics is deterministic can be a complicated matter. In this paper I show that indeterministic systems similar to the Norton dome were already known in the nineteenth century: I discuss four nineteenth century authors who wrote about such systems, namely Poisson, Duhamel, Boussinesq and Bertrand. However, I argue that their discussion of such systems was very different from the contemporary discussion about the Norton dome, because physicists in the nineteenth century conceived of determinism in essentially different ways: whereas in the contemporary literature on determinism in classical physics, determinism is usually taken to be a property of the equations of physics, in the nineteenth century determinism was primarily taken to be a presupposition of theories in physics, and as such it was not necessarily affected by the possible existence of systems such as the Norton dome.

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Marij Van Strien
Bergische Universität Wuppertal

References found in this work

Causation as Folk Science.John Norton - 2003 - Philosophers' Imprint 3:1-22.
The Dome: An Unexpectedly Simple Failure of Determinism.John D. Norton - 2008 - Philosophy of Science 75 (5):786-798.
Mathematical Thought From Ancient to Modern Times.M. Kline - 1978 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 29 (1):68-87.
The Kind of Motion We Call Heat.S. G. Brush - 1982 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 33 (2):165-186.

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Citations of this work

On the Origins and Foundations of Laplacian Determinism.Marij van Strien - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 45:24-31.
Who Let the Demon Out? Laplace and Boscovich on Determinism.Boris Kožnjak - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 51:42-52.
Indeterminism in the Brain.Bryce Gessell - 2017 - Biology and Philosophy 32 (6):1205-1223.

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