In the late eighteenth century Newton's Principia was studied in the Scottish universities under the influence of the local school of ‘Common Sense’ philosophy. John Robison, holding the key chair of natural philosophy at Edinburgh from 1774 to 1805, provided a new conception of ‘mechanical philosophy’ which proved crucial to the emergence of physics in nineteenth century Britain. At Cambridge the emphasis on ‘mixed mathematics’ was taken to a new level of refinement and application by the introduction of analytical methods (...) in the 1820s. The fusion of these two schools, with emphasis on conceptual unity on the one hand, and mathematisation on the other, came about from the 1830s onwards, and reached full expression in the new framework of a unified mathematical physics based on the energy principle. (shrink)
The claim that the nineteenth century was a period of major transition for the relation between theology and natural science has become a historical truism. With its implications for the design argument and the doctrines of divine providence, Darwin's theory of evolution has rightly attracted the attention of scholars of Victorian science. Yet so much emphasis not only on Darwin himself, but on the life sciences generally, has tended to obscure some important issues concerning the relation of theology to natural (...) science in the first half of the nineteenth century. As John Brooke has argued recently, natural theology in this pre-Darwinian period was far from being an essentially static, autonomous, and monolithic set of presuppositions about the existence of design in nature, but was, for various reasons, in a fragmented and disordered state. The general aim of the present note is to suggest some further dimensions to historical debates about the nature of natural theology, and in particular to emphasize the need for an examination of the physical sciences as well as the life sciences in this period. (shrink)
‘Hitherto want of accuracy and definiteness have often been brought as a charge against geology, and sometimes only with too much justice’, wrote Archibald Geikie in a review of Sir Roderick Murchison's Siluria . ‘We seem now to be entering, however, upon a new era, when there will be infused into geological methods and speculation, some of the precision of the exact sciences’. Geikie's judgement echoed an appeal made some thirty years earlier by William Hopkins that the science of geology (...) needed to be ‘elevated’ from a level of ‘indeterminate generalities’ to a rank among the stricter physical sciences. This paper aims to analyse, in the context of broader trends favouring measurement and mathematics in British scientific practice, Hopkins' role in the promotion of dynamical geology as a major new complement to stratigraphical geology such that, for example, in the first edition of Geikie's Textbook of Geology the dynamical and stratigraphical components each filled 376 pages. (shrink)
William Thomson's image as a professional mathematical physicist who adheres, particularly in his work in classical thermodynamics, to a strict experimental basis for his science, avoids speculative hypotheses, and becomes renowned for his omission of philosophical declarations has been reinforced in varying degrees by those historians who have attempted, as either admirers or critics of Thomson, to describe and assess his life. J. G. Crowther, for example, sees him as a thinker of great intellectual strength, but deficient in intellectual taste; (...) a scientist aware only of his immediate work and without depth of vision. Not well read in the literature of the subjects of his research, Thomson is seen, moreover, as one whose achievements owe little to the work of others, and whose great personality ‘is an expression in the realm of ideas of the power and blindness of capitalism’, especially through ‘his view of the world in terms of engineering conceptions’. On the other hand, even Sir Joseph Larmor, for whom Thomson was nothing less than a hero, is to be found ascribing to him the epithet of pragmatist. (shrink)
Refrigeration has become so well established over the last 125 years that today a crude ice maker becomes a boon for primitive people in the jungle or desert. Only a total dislocation in energy sources will quickly loosen the connections between people and cooling. A few centuries ago, Hippocrates observed: ‘most men would rather run the hazards of their lives or health than be deprived of the pleasure of drinking out of ice’ … In the U.S.A. [today], 750 million frozen (...) Eskimo Pies are sold annually and seven ice cream plants are said to be operating in Moscow … Like the men of Hippocrates, a lot of people will resist any curtailment in food and freezing operations. They have come to expect these for survival in our present social and industrial orders.These remarks, asserting the extent to which the people of the United States of America regarded refrigeration not as an optional luxury but as a necessity for survival even at the height of the energy crisis of the late 1970s, formed part of a contribution to a massive 11-volume international compendium, Alternative Energy Sources, produced in 1978 in response to Western concerns about rising oil prices and falling reserves. An enthusiastic advocate for geothermal energy, the contributor's perception provides a vivid contextual starting point for our study of Paul Theroux's novel The Mosquito Coast . In this novel the central narrative focuses upon a New England family's rejection of post-war American consumer society with its imperative to ‘build automobiles that would fail within five years and refrigerators that would fail in ten’. The novel indeed explores some of those very kinds of alternative energy sources which had been exciting scientists and inventors since the early 1970s when journals such as The Ecologist had begun to prophesy an end to energy-driven economic growth in the western world. (shrink)
Uno degli obiettivi piu evidenti della fisica del secolo scorso e stato in apparenza quello di operare la riduzione di tutti i fenomeni ad una spiegazione meccanica. l'esempio classico e quello del "riduzionismo" di laplace e di helmholtz. nello stesso tempo, c'e da notare che vi e pero anche tutto un settore della fisica matematica (quello che ha in fourier il suo capostipite) che assume una posizione sostanzialmente "non-riduzionistica," contraddistinta dalla decisa esclusione di ipotesi relative ad entita non osservabili. (edited).
Based largely on unpublished manuscript material from the Kelvin papers, and especially on a series of letters exchanged in 1867 between Fleeming Jenkin and William Thomson , this paper aims to examine the background and content of the Thomson-Jenkin speculations on the nature of matter. The letters formed an interlude in a long collaboration over electrical patents and raise the fundamental question of whether these speculations, involving the construction of a variety of conceptual models, derive primarily from older traditions of (...) speculative matter theory, or from contemporary problems within natural philosophy qua physics. The correspondence also provided the immediate background to Jenkin's North British review article of 1868 on ‘Lucretius and the atomic theory’. (shrink)