This paper is concerned with the problem of experimental error. The prevalent view that experimental errors can be dismissed as a tiresome but trivial blemish on the method of experimentation is criticized. It is stressed that the occurrence of errors in experiments constitutes a permanent feature of the attempt to test theories in the physical world, and this feature deserves proper attention. It is suggested that a classification of types of experimental error may be useful as a heuristic device in (...) studying the nature of these errors. However, the standard classification of systematic and random errors is mathematically based does not focus on the causes of the errors, their origins, or the contexts in which they arise. A new typology of experimental errors is therefore proposed whose criterion is epistemological. This typology reflects the various stages that can be discerned in the execution of an experiment, each stage constituting a category of a certain type of experimental error. The proposed classification consists of four categories which are illustrated by historical cases. (shrink)
The year 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of one of the most revolutionary scientific texts ever written. In this book, appropriately entitled, Astronomia nova, Johannes Kepler developed an astronomical theory which departs fundamentally from the systems of Ptolemy and Copernicus. One of the great innovations of this theory is its dependence on the science of optics. The declared goal of Kepler in his earlier publication, Paralipomena to Witelo whereby The Optical Part of Astronomy is Treated, was to (...) solve difficulties and expose illusions astronomers face when conducting astronomical observations with optical instruments. To avoid observational errors that had plagued the antiquated measuring techniques for calculating the apparent diameter and angular position of the luminaries, Kepler designed a novel device: the ecliptic instrument. In this paper we seek to shed light on the role optical instruments play in Kepler's scheme: they impose constraints on theory, but at the same time render astronomical knowledge secure. To get a comprehensive grasp of Kepler's astonishing achievements it is required to widen the approach to his writings and study Kepler not only as a mathematico-physical astronomer, but also as a designer of instruments and a practicing observer. (shrink)
The term “analogy” stands for a variety of methodological practices all related in one way or another to the idea of proportionality. We claim that in his first substantial contribution to electromagnetism James Clerk Maxwell developed a methodology of analogy which was completely new at the time or, to borrow John North’s expression, Maxwell’s methodology was a “newly contrived analogue”. In his initial response to Michael Faraday’s experimental researches in electromagnetism, Maxwell did not seek an analogy with some physical system (...) in a domain different from electromagnetism as advocated by William Thomson; rather, he constructed an entirely artificial one to suit his needs. Following North, we claim that the modification which Maxwell introduced to the methodology of analogy has not been properly appreciated. In view of our examination of the evidence, we argue that Maxwell gave a new meaning to analogy; in fact, it comes close to modeling in current usage. (shrink)
This paper is an account of Kepler's explicit awareness of the problem of experimental error. As a study of the Astronomia nova shows, Kepler exploited his awareness of the occurrences of experimental errors to guide him to the right conclusion. Errors were thus employed, so to speak, perhaps for the first time, to bring about a major physical discovery: Kepler's laws of planetary motion. ‘Know then’, to use Kepler's own words, ‘that errors show us the way to truth.’ With a (...) survey of Kepler's revolutionary contribution to optics, the paper demonstrates that Kepler's awareness of the problem of experimental error extended beyond discrepancies between calculations and observations to types of error which pertain to observations and instruments. It emerges that Kepler's belief in the unity of knowledge and physical realism, facilitated—indeed created—the right philosophical posture for comprehending the problem of error in an entirely novel way. (shrink)
It is ironic that the prototype of the oscilloscope--for that is what Hertz's apparatus amounted to--should be instrumental in demonstrating that cathode rays have no closer relation to electricity than has light produced by an electric lamp. Indeed, Hertz argued that since "cathode rays are electrically indifferent,... the phenomenon most nearly allied to them is light.".
We call attention to the historical fact that the meaning of symmetry in antiquity—as it appears in Vitruvius’s De architectura—is entirely different from the modern concept. This leads us to the question, what is the evidence for the changes in the meaning of the term symmetry, and what were the different meanings attached to it? We show that the meaning of the term in an aesthetic sense gradually shifted in the context of architecture before the image of the balance was (...) attached to the term in the middle of the 18th century and well before the first modern scientific usage by Legendre in 1794.Keywords: Symmetry; Vitruvius; Claude Perrault; Charles-Louis de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu; Balance in architecture. (shrink)
This volume contains essays that examine the optical works of Giambattista Della Porta, an Italian natural philosopher during the Scientific Revolution. Coverage also explores the science and technology of early modern optics. Della Porta's groundbreaking book, Magia Naturalis, includes a prototype of the camera. Yet, because of his obsession with magic, Della Porta's scientific achievements are often forgotten. As the contributors argue, his work inspired such great minds as Johanes Kepler and Francis Bacon. After reading this book, researchers, historians, and (...) students will have a better appreciation of this influential scientist. They will also gain a greater understanding of an important period in the history of optics. Readers will learn about Della Porta's experimental method, a process governed by the protocols, aims, and theoretical assumptions of natural magic. Coverage also discusses the material properties and limitations of optical technology in the early 17th century, based on a recently discovered Dutch spyglass. It also demonstrates how diagrams were instrumental in the discovery of the sine law of refraction. In addition, the book includes an in-depth analysis of previously untranslated Latin sources. This makes the material useful to historians of optics unfamiliar with the language. More than 70 illustrations complement the text. (shrink)
The attempt to narrow the general discourse of the problem of error and to focus it on the specific problem of experimental error may be approached from different directions. One possibility is to establish a focusing process from the standpoint of history; such an approach requires a careful scrutiny of the history of science with a view to identifying the juncture when the problem of experimental error was properly understood and accounted for. In a study of this kind one would (...) have to examine the evolution of the method of experimentation and related topics so that clear criteria would underlie the analysis. (shrink)
The claim that Galileo Galilei transformed the spyglass into an astronomical instrument has never been disputed and is considered a historical fact. However, the question what was the procedure which Galileo followed is moot, for he did not disclose his research method. On the traditional view, Galileo was guided by experience, more precisely, systematized experience, which was current among northern Italian artisans and men of science. In other words, it was a trial-and-error procedure—no theory was involved. A scientific analysis of (...) the optical properties of Galileo’s first improved spyglass shows that his procedure could not have been an informed extension of the traditional optics of spectacles. We argue that most likely Galileo realized that the objective and the eyepiece form a system and proceeded accordingly. (shrink)
The idea that nature is governed by laws and that the goal of science is to discover and formulate these laws, rose to prominence during the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. It was manifestly held by the most significant actors of that revolution such as Galileo, Descartes, Kepler, Boyle, and Newton. But this idea was not new. In fact, it made an appearance in the Middle Ages, and it is likely to have emerged already in Antiquity.1In this paper we (...) pay close attention to the concept of law of nature in the writings of Roger Bacon, the outspoken Franciscan who promoted experimental science. We will be using Bacon as a test case to show that long before the... (shrink)
: This study of the concept of orbit is intended to throw light on the nature of revolutionary concepts in science. We observe that Kepler transformed theoretical astronomy that was understood in terms of orbs [Latin: orbes] (spherical shells to which the planets were attached) and models (called hypotheses at the time), by introducing a single term, orbit [Latin: orbita], that is, the path of a planet in space resulting from the action of physical causes expressed in laws of nature. (...) To demonstrate the claim that orbit is a revolutionary concept we pursue three lines of argument. First we trace the origin of the term; second, we document its development and specify the meaning of the novel term as it was introduced into astronomy by Kepler in his Astronomia nova (1609). Finally, in order to establish in what sense the concept is revolutionary, we pay attention to the enduring impact that the concept has had on the relevant sciences, in this case astronomy and indeed physics. We claim that orbit is an instance of a revolutionary concept whose provenance and use can provide the insights we are seeking. (shrink)
In addition to his scientific achievements, James Clerk Maxwell was an innovator in methodologies in physics. In fact, in his hands methodology and theory mutually inform one another, an aspect of his work that has not been properly appreciated. We examine closely from a methodological perspective Maxwell’s contributions to electromagnetism and uncover a trajectory of great interest, which we call Maxwell’s methodological odyssey. There are four principal stations along the fifteen-year trajectory of Maxwell’s published writings devoted to electromagnetism. These contributions (...) form a sequence of different methodologies which culminated in 1873 in his Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Tracing the path leading to his magnum opus yields novel insights into the various methodologies which Maxwell applied in the course of constructing his epoch-making electrodynamic theory. Indeed, we claim that the framework of the theory is just as important as the empirical facts in this physical domain. Thus, we are persuaded that Maxwell's formulation and application of novel scientific methodologies is no less a feat than proposing a fundamental theory. (shrink)
This study of the concept of orbit is intended to throw light on the nature of revolutionary concepts in science. We observe that Kepler transformed theoretical astronomy that was understood in terms of orbs [Latin: orbes] and models , by introducing a single term, orbit [Latin: orbita], that is, the path of a planet in space resulting from the action of physical causes expressed in laws of nature. To demonstrate the claim that orbit is a revolutionary concept we pursue three (...) lines of argument. First we trace the origin of the term; second, we document its development and specify the meaning of the novel term as it was introduced into astronomy by Kepler in his Astronomia nova . Finally, in order to establish in what sense the concept is revolutionary, we pay attention to the enduring impact that the concept has had on the relevant sciences, in this case astronomy and indeed physics. We claim that orbit is an instance of a revolutionary concept whose provenance and use can provide the insights we are seeking. (shrink)
In his Theoremata de lumine, et umbre , Francesco Maurolyco discussed, inter alia, the problem of the pinhole camera. Maurolyco outlined a framework based on Euclidean geometry in which he applied the rectilinear propagation of light to the casting of shadow on a screen behind a pinhole. We limit our discussion to the problem of how the image behind an aperture is formed, and follow the way Maurolyco combined theory with instrument to solve the problem of the projection of light (...) through small apertures. We show that Maurolyco not only reformed the classical sources which, he thought, were no longer the authoritative code of textual knowledge, but also established with the dioptra a novel linkage of method, theory, and instrument. He thereby demonstrated the importance of optics to the science of astronomy. (shrink)
Summary We offer a novel historical-philosophical framework for discussing experimental practice which we call ?Generating Experimental Knowledge?. It combines three different perspectives: experimental systems, concept formation, and the pivotal role of error. We then present an historical account of the invention of the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM), or Raster-Tunnelmikroskop, and interpret it within the proposed framework. We show that at the outset of the STM project, Binnig and Rohrer?the inventors of the machine?filed two patent disclosures; the first is dated 22 (...) December 1978 (Switzerland), and the second, two years later, 12 September 1980 (US). By studying closely these patent disclosures, the attempts to realize them, and the subsequent development of the machine, we present, within the framework of generating experimental knowledge, a new account of the invention of the STM. While the realization of the STM was still a long way off, the patent disclosures served as blueprints, marking the changes that had to be introduced on the way from the initial idea to its realization. (shrink)
The question is raised as to the kind of methodology required to deal with foundational issues. A comparative study of the methodologies of Gödel and Einstein reveals some similar traits which reflect a concern with foundational problems. It is claimed that the interest in foundational problems stipulates a certain methodology, namely, the methodology of limiting cases.
Can a theory turn back, as it were, upon itselfand vouch for its own features? That is, canthe derived elements of a theory be the veryprimitive terms that provide thepresuppositions of the theory? This form of anall-embracing feature assumes a totality inwhich there occurs quantification over thattotality, quantification that is defined bythis very totality. I argue that the Machprinciple exhibits such a feature ofall-embracing nature. To clarify the argument,I distinguish between on the one handcompleteness and on the other wholeness andtotality, (...) as different all-embracing features:the former being epistemic while the latter –ontological.I propose an analogy between the Mach principleas a possible selection principle in generalrelativity, and the vicious-circle principle infoundations of mathematics. I finally concludewith a consequence of this analogyvis-à-vis completeness and totality,viz., both should be constrained if they wereto be valid concepts for a physical theory. (shrink)
Descartes’s Cogito, “I am thinking, therefore I exist,” is perhaps the most famous assertion in the history of philosophy. Thirteen hundred years earlier, St. Augustine formulated a similar claim, arguing “if I am mistaken, I am.” Did St. Augustine anticipate Descartes? We show that Descartes’s dictum is a novel insight and less vulnerable to criticism than the claim of St. Augustine. Whereas Descartes searched for one true proposition on which he could base scientificknowledge, St. Augustine sought to refute the skeptics (...) who had denied the possibility of knowledge. By a twist of irony, the skeptics and St. Augustine reached contradictory conclusions based, however, on similar reasoning. (shrink)
Histories of kinematics and Einstein’s relativity theory: A collage of historiographies Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-4 DOI 10.1007/s11016-011-9532-6 Authors Giora Hon, Department of Philosophy, University of Haifa, 31905 Haifa, Israel Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
Assessment of error and uncertainty is a vital component of both natural and social science. This edited volume presents case studies of research practices across a wide spectrum of scientific fields. It compares methodologies and presents the ingredients needed for an overarching framework applicable to all.
Abstract One cannot discount experimental errors and turn the attention to the logicomathematical structure of a physical theory without distorting the nature of the scientific method. The occurrence of errors in experiments constitutes an inherent feature of the attempt to test theories in the physical world. This feature deserves proper attention which has been neglected. An attempt is made to address this problem.
The year 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of one of the most revolutionary scientific texts ever written. In this book, appropriately entitled, Astronomia nova, Johannes Kepler developed an astronomical theory which departs fundamentally from the systems of Ptolemy and Copernicus. One of the great innovations of this theory is its dependence on the science of optics. The declared goal of Kepler in his earlier publication, Paralipomena to Witelo whereby The Optical Part of Astronomy is Treated , was (...) to solve difficulties and expose illusions astronomers face when conducting astronomical observations with optical instruments. To avoid observational errors that had plagued the antiquated measuring techniques for calculating the apparent diameter and angular position of the luminaries, Kepler designed a novel device: the ecliptic instrument. In this paper we seek to shed light on the role optical instruments play in Kepler's scheme: they impose constraints on theory, but at the same time render astronomical knowledge secure. To get a comprehensive grasp of Kepler's astonishing achievements it is required to widen the approach to his writings and study Kepler not only as a mathematico-physical astronomer, but also as a designer of instruments and a practicing observer. (shrink)