Thesis ID: CBB001561992

Principles and Problems: Constructions of Theoretical Physics in Germany, 1890--1918 (2003)


Seth, Suman (Author)

Princeton University
Wise, M. Norton

Publication Date: 2003
Edition Details: Advisor: Wise, M. Norton
Physical Details: 315 pp.
Language: English

This dissertation examines the development of the discipline of theoretical physics in Germany from its multiple and contested beginnings in the late nineteenth century to the end of the First World War. It describes the development of a self-aware discipline not only in terms of a history of ideas, but also in terms of that discipline's discursive, pedagogical and industrial contexts. By embedding two distinctly different kinds of theoretical physics---those of Max Planck and Arnold Sommerfeld---in their local and national contexts, the apparent coherence of the discipline in the mid-1920s is rendered a riddle to be explained, rather than the natural outcome of the rise of certain kinds of institutions or the internal development of ideas. Two particular constructions of theoretical physics are explored in detail: what has been termed the physics of principles, and what is here termed the physics of problems. The physics of principles was outlined by Planck in Berlin, and was emphasised by several theoreticians, most prominently Albert Einstein. The physics of problems was epitomized by the work of the Sommerfeld School in Munich. Planck promoted a practice of pure principles. Sommerfeld focussed on specific problems, drawing these from a variety of sources, including, even emphasising questions of economic or technological benefit. Although these two constructions are associated with the names of individuals, they had a much wider---community-wide---impact. Planck's views were put forward as part of a public, widely received discourse, one that was rapidly picked up, as Planck's scientific status rose within the physics community. The Sommerfeld School trained more theoretical physicists than any other site, at least eight Nobel prize winners among them. Sommerfeld's many students adopted his way of seeing the physical world and his and their analytic practices represented a dominant strand in what the field came to be. By exploring these two paths together one can begin to understand the formative years of the discipline that, to many, signified the pinnacle of scientific achievement for the twentieth century.


Description Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 64 (2004): 3453. UMI order no. 3102220.

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Authors & Contributors
Eckert, Michael
Kaufmann, Doris
Hoffmann, Dieter
Badino, Massimiliano
Harwood, Jonathan H.
Szöllösi-Janze, Margit
European Physical Journal H
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences
Physics in Perspective
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Wallstein Verlag
Oxford University Press
Springer International
Theoretical physics
Quantum mechanics
Science and politics
Atomic, nuclear, and particle physics
National Socialism
Planck, Max
Sommerfeld, Arnold Johannes Wilhelm
Einstein, Albert
Bohr, Niels Henrik David
Fermi, Enrico
Rüdin, Ernst
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
20th century
Interessengemeinschaft Farbenindustrie Aktiengesellschaft
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften

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