Article ID: CBB000931144

“The Memory of Life Itself”: Bénard's Cells and the Cinematography of Self-Organization (2008)


Aubin, David (Author)

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Volume: 39
Pages: 359--369

Publication Date: 2008
Edition Details: Part of a special issue: “Science and the Changing Senses of Reality circa 1900”.
Language: English

In 1900, the physicist Henri Bénard exhibited the spontaneous formation of cells in a layer of liquid heated from below. Six or seven decades later, drastic reinterpretations of this experiment formed an important component of `chaos theory'. This paper therefore is an attempt at writing the history of this experiment, its long neglect and its rediscovery. It examines Bénard's experiments from three different perspectives. First, his results are viewed in the light of the relation between experimental and mathematical approaches in fluid mechanics, leading to a re-examination of the long-term reception of Bénard's results among fluid dynamicists up to the chaos craze, whereby the traditional emphasis placed on mathematical physics is counterbalanced by greater attention to experimental approaches. Second, we focus on Bénard's own way of using his results as analogies that could help grasp something about the reason why inorganic matter may structure itself in ways reminiscent of living forms. This is shown to resonate strongly with Prigogine's work in the 1960s and 1970s. Third, Bénard's adoption of the cinematograph as his preferred experimental instrument is interpreted as having reinforced his long-misunderstood belief that he had exhibited a form of self-organization essential to the understanding of life.


Description On Henri Bénard's 1900 experiment, its rediscovery 60-70 years later as a component of the development of chaos theory, and his use of the cinemascope.

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Article Sibum, H. Otto (2008) Science and the Changing Senses of Reality circa 1900. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (p. 295). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Tisza, Laszlo
Schlote, Karl-Heinz
Lahav, Ofer
Mayers, Julian
Calder, Lucy
Mitchell, D J
Physics in Perspective
Historia Mathematica
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Sudhoffs Archiv: Zeitschrift fuer Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Studium: Tijdschrift voor Wetenschaps- en Universiteitgeschiedenis
University of Oxford (United Kingdom)
World Scientific
Science History Publications
Oxford University
Mathematical physics
Experiments and experimentation
Fluid mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Tisza, Laszlo
Pascal, Blaise
Hilbert, David
Wien, Max
Kármán, Theodor von
Hertz, Heinrich Rudolph
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
17th century
21st century
20th century
Leiden (Netherlands)
United States
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
Universität Göttingen

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