Article ID: CBB440442635

Disarming the Ultimate Historical Challenge to Scientific Realism (2020)


Probably the most dramatic historical challenge to scientific realism concerns Arnold Sommerfeld’s ([1916]) derivation of the fine structure energy levels of hydrogen. Not only were his predictions good, he derived exactly the same formula that would later drop out of Dirac’s 1928 treatment (something not possible using 1925 Schrödinger–Heisenberg quantum mechanics). And yet the most central elements of Sommerfeld’s theory were not even approximately true: his derivation leans heavily on a classical approach to elliptical orbits, including the necessary adjustments to these orbits demanded by relativity. Even physicists call Sommerfeld’s success a ‘miracle’, which rather makes a joke of the so-called ‘no miracles argument’. However, this can all be turned around. Here I argue that the realist has a story to tell vis-à-vis the discontinuities between the old and the new theory, leading to a realist defence based on sufficient continuity of relevant structure. 1.  Introduction2.  No Realist Commitment Required?3.  Enter the Physicists4.  A New Approach to the Non-relativistic Success5.  Relativity and Spin6.  Structure and Realist Commitment7.  Conclusion

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Article Marta Jordi Taltavull; (2020)
Rudolf Ladenburg and the first quantum interpretation of optical dispersion (/isis/citation/CBB826502592/)

Article Cristian Soto; Diego Romero-Maltrana; (2020)
Local Selective Realism: Shifting from Classical to Quantum Electrodynamics (/isis/citation/CBB826372933/)

Article Diederik Aerts; Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi; Sandro Sozzo; Tomas Veloz; (2020)
On the Conceptuality Interpretation of Quantum and Relativity Theories (/isis/citation/CBB847601811/)

Article Johnson, Benjamin; (2020)
Charles Galton Darwin’s 1922 Quantum Theory of Optical Dispersion (/isis/citation/CBB664709295/)

Article Massimiliano Badino; (2019)
Schooling the Quantum Generations: Textbooks and Quantum Cultures from the 1910s to the 1930s (/isis/citation/CBB096225815/)

Book Chris Talbot; (2017)
David Bohm: Causality and Chance, Letters to Three Women (/isis/citation/CBB458295199/)

Book Anthony Duncan; Michel Janssen; (2019)
Constructing Quantum Mechanics: Volume 1: The Scaffold: 1900-1923 (/isis/citation/CBB260967807/)

Article Alexander Pechenkin; (2021)
The Ensemble Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics and Scientific Realism (/isis/citation/CBB613319171/)

Article Schweber, S. S.; (2009)
Weimar Physics: Sommerfeld's Seminar and the Causality Principle (/isis/citation/CBB000932737/)

Book Michael Eckert; (2013)
Arnold Sommerfeld: Science, Life and Turbulent Times 1868-1951 (/isis/citation/CBB490294723/)

Article Ozawa, Takeshi; (2009)
On the Initial Reception of Quantum Mechanics in Japan, 1925--1928 (/isis/citation/CBB000953473/)

Article Eckert, Michael; (2014)
How Sommerfeld Extended Bohr's Model of the Atom (1913--1916) (/isis/citation/CBB001451848/)

Article Seth, Suman; (2008)
Crafting the Quantum: Arnold Sommerfeld and the Older Quantum Theory (/isis/citation/CBB000931142/)

Article Seth, Suman; (2008)
Mystik and Technik: Arnold Sommerfeld and Early-Weimar Quantum Theory (/isis/citation/CBB000930036/)

Article Ozawa, Takeshi; (2005)
Arnold Sommerfelds Aufenthalt in Japan (/isis/citation/CBB000670044/)

Book Seth, Suman; (2010)
Crafting the Quantum: Arnold Sommerfeld and the Practice of Theory, 1890--1926 (/isis/citation/CBB001031312/)

Book Sommerfeld, Arnold; Eckert, Michael; Märker, Karl; (2004)
Wissenschaftlicher Briefwechsel Band 2: 1919-1951 (/isis/citation/CBB000780064/)

Authors & Contributors
Eckert, Michael
Seth, Suman
Ozawa, Takeshi
Sommerfeld, Arnold
Märker, Karl
Schweber, Silvan Sam
European Physical Journal H
Historia Scientiarum: International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Foundations of Science
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Physics in Perspective
Verlag für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Technik
MIT Press
Springer International Publishing
Oxford University Press
Quantum mechanics
Explanation; hypotheses; theories
Quantum theory
Philosophy of science
Science and society
Sommerfeld, Arnold Johannes Wilhelm
Bohr, Niels Henrik David
Pauli, Wolfgang Ernst
Heisenberg, Werner
Fermi, Enrico
Racah, G. (Giulio)
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
21st century
20th century
Weimar Republic (1919-1933)
Munich (Germany)
University of Tokyo
Kyōto Daigaku (Kyoto University)
Munich. Universität

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment