History and Philosophy Of Science | History and Philosophy of Physics
X226 | 11180 | Jordi Cat


This course surveys a selection of cultural and philosophical issues
in the history of physics, from the time of Galileo to the 20th
century, without requiring much technical knowledge of physics.
Unfortunately, time will not allow for an examination of the
relation between modern physics and tao mysticism, or of the
question of why the best or most famous physicists have turned out
to be quite ugly- looking. Instead, the course will begin with the
questions, why did Copernicus and others believe that the Sun is at
the center of the universe? and, should we? (the first revolution in
the picture of the cosmos got Galileo in trouble with the Church;
but how good was his evidence?) and, why should we trust numbers to
describe the world?  (how bookkeeping and philosophy promoted the
language of numbers as the reliable description of facts).  Other
issues are, how propagation of motion by contact action (think
bowling or pool) was considered more intelligible than action at a
distance (but does it make sense?),  whether space is a real thing
containing the bodies in the universe, whether matter can really be
hard, how precise measurements of the properties of beer
(recommended, along with tea, by the British government as an
alternative to drinking polluted water) led to the principle of
energy conservation, how energy conservation required elastic atoms,
how Einstein's most famous theory of relativity did not claim that
everything is relative but it changed how energy, matter, space and
time were understood.