Article ID: CBB591442121

Maxwell, Helmholtz, and the Unreasonable Effectiveness of the Method of Physical Analogy (2015)


The fact that the same equations or mathematical models reappear in the descriptions of what are otherwise disparate physical systems can be seen as yet another manifestation of Wigner's “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.” James Clerk Maxwell famously exploited such formal similarities in what he called the “method of physical analogy.” Both Maxwell and Hermann von Helmholtz appealed to the physical analogies between electromagnetism and hydrodynamics in their development of these theories. I argue that a closer historical examination of the different ways in which Maxwell and Helmholtz each deployed this analogy gives further insight into debates about the representational and explanatory power of mathematical models.

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Article Theodore Arabatzis; Don Howard (2015) Introduction: Integrated History and Philosophy of Science in Practice. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (pp. 1-3). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Bordoni, Stefano
Pelosi, Giuseppe
Stefano Selleri
Hubert, Mario
Francesco Nappo
Hartenstein, Vera
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Physics in Perspective
Ziran Kexueshi Yanjiu (Studies in the History of Natural Sciences)
Science in Context
Science and Education
Physis: Rivista Internazionale di Storia della Scienza
Pavia University Press
Green Lion Press
Firenze University Press
Cambridge University Press
University of Minnesota
Models and modeling in science
Electricity; magnetism
Methodology of science; scientific method
Science education and teaching
Maxwell, James Clerk
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Lorentz, Hendrik Antoon
Lodge, Oliver
Felici, Riccardo
Wigner, Eugene Paul
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
Great Britain
Tuscany (Italy)

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