A Cultural History of Physics
Translated by David Kramer Originally published in Hungarian as A fizika kultûrtörténete, Fourth Edition, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1998, and published in German as Kulturgeschichte der Physik, Third Edition,
Verlag Harri Deutsch, Frankfurt am Main, 2001. First Hungarian edition 1978.
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Library of Congress Cataloging‑in‑Publication Data
[Fizika kultúrtörténete. English]
A cultural history of physics / Károly Simonyi ; translated by David Kramer. p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-56881-329-5 (alk. paper)
1. Physics--History. I. Title.
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Foreword by Charles Simonyi xi
Introduction: e History of Physics and Its Relevance to
Our Lives Today
0.1 e History of Physics and Its Relevance to Our Lives Today
0.2 Assessment and Division into Epochs
0.2.1 A Historical Timeline Based on the Intensity of Scientiﬁc Activity
0.2.2 Scientiﬁc Knowledge from the Viewpoint of the Physicist of Today
0.2.3 Division into Epochs Based on eoretical Synthesis
0.2.4 e Role of Modeling
0.3 Elements of the Philosophy of Science
0.3.1 Illusory Simplicity
0.3.2 Reason and Experience
0.3.3 Pitfalls of the Inductive Method
0.4 e Dynamism of History
0.4.1 Forces for Progress
0.4.2 Limits, Possibilities, and Dangers
0.4.3 Uncertainty in the Precision
0.4.4 Physics in a New Role
0.4.5 Characterization of Epochs in Physics
Chapter 1: e Classical Heritage
1.1 e Greek Inheritance
1.1.1 e Beginnings of Science
1.1.2 Egypt and Mesopotamia
1.2 e Harmonious, Beautiful Order
1.2.1 Overview: Temporal, Spatial, and Causal Connections
1.2.2 Mysticism and Mathematics: Pythagoras
1.2.3 Idea and Reality
1.2.4 Plato on Insight and Ideas
1.3 Matter and Motion: e Aristotelian Synthesis
1.3.1 Atoms and Elements
1.3.2 Motion under Terrestrial Conditions: Peripatetic Dynamics
1.3.3 Celestial Motion
1.3.4 e Aristotelian Worldview
1.3.5 A Selection from Aristotle’s Metaphysics
1.4 e Greatest Achievements of the Ancient Sciences
1.4.2 e Ptolemaic System for Describing Celestial Motion
1.4.3 Measuring the Cosmos: Geography
1.4.5 Scientiﬁc Instruments and Technology v1.5 e Twilight of Hellenism
1.5.1 Pessimistic Philosophers
1.5.2 Augustine on the Absurdity of Astrology
1.5.3 Augustine on Time
Chapter 2: e Stewards of the Heritage
2.1 e ousand-Year Balance Sheet
2.1.1 Why Did Progress Stall?
2.1.2 Europe Takes Shape
2.1.3 e Technological Revolution
2.1.4 Monasteries and Universities
2.2 e Salvage of Ancient Knowledge
2.2.1 e Direct Path
2.2.3 e Arab Transmission
2.2.4 Return to the Source
2.3 e Indian and Arab Worlds
2.3.1 e Decimal System
2.3.2 Algebra and Algorithm
2.3.3 Some Outstanding Contributions of Arab Science
2.4 e West Awakens
2.4.1 Fibonacci: e Artist of Computation
2.4.2 Jordanus Nemorarius: Structural Engineer
2.4.3 Descriptive Kinematics: Nicole Oresme and Merton College
2.4.4 Peripatetic Dynamics Reformed
2.4.5 Buridan’s eory of Impetus
2.4.6 Physics in Astronomy
2.4.8 Nicole Oresme on the Motion of Earth
2.5 Medieval Natural Philosophy
2.5.1 Faith, Authority, and Science
2.5.2 Faith and Experience
2.6 e Renaissance and Physics
2.6.1 Art, Philology, and Science
2.6.2 Progress in Mechanics
2.6.3 e Science of Artists
2.6.4 Leonardo da Vinci
2.6.5 e Professional Astronomers Take the Stage
2.6.6 e Role of the Printing Press
Chapter 3: Demolition and the Construction of a New Foundation
3.1 e World in 1600
3.2 Numerology and Reality
3.2.1 Back to Plato in a New Spirit
3.2.2 e Retrograde Revolutionary: Copernicus
3.2.3 A Compromise: Tycho Brahe
3.2.4 Celestial Harmony: Kepler vi 3.3 Galileo and ose Who Stood in His Shadow
3.3.1 e Unity of the Celestial and Terrestrial Spheres
3.3.2 Inclined Planes, Pendulums, and Projectile Motion
3.3.3 Galileo’s Greatness
3.3.4 In the Background: Stevin and Beeckman
3.3.5 e Possibility of Connection
3.4 e New Philosophy: Doubt Becomes Method
3.4.1 Francis Bacon and the Inductive Method
3.4.2 A Method for Discovering Certain Truth: Descartes
3.4.3 e Cartesian Laws of Motion
3.4.4 e First Cosmogony
3.4.5 On the Periphery of Western Culture
3.5 Light, Vacuum, and Matter through the Middle of the Seventeenth
3.5.1 e Snell–Descartes Law
3.5.2 Fermat’s Principle
3.5.3 Vacuum and Air Pressure
3.5.4 Uncertain Steps on the Path to Modern Chemistry
3.6 After Descartes and before Newton: Huygens
3.6.1 Huygens’s Axioms on Dynamics
3.6.2 e Mathematical Pendulum
3.6.3 e Cycloidal Pendulum
3.6.4 e Physical Pendulum
3.6.5 e Collision Laws as Consequences of the Equivalence of Inertial
3.6.6 Circular Motion
3.7 Newton and the Principia: e Newtonian Worldview
3.7.1 e Tasks Awaiting the Advent of Newton
3.7.2 A Force Is Not Required to Maintain a State of Motion but to Change It 256
3.7.3 e Law of Universal Gravitation
3.7.4 Selections from the Principia
3.7.5 Newton as Philosopher
Chapter 4: e Completion of Classical Physics
4.1 Starting Capital for the Eighteenth Century
4.1.1 Prior Results
4.1.2 Waves or Particles?
4.1.3 Analytic Geometry
4.1.4 Diﬀerential and Integral Calculus: e Battle of the Titans
4.1.5 For and against Descartes
4.1.6 Voltaire and the Philosophers
4.2 Worthy Successors: d’Alembert, Euler, and Lagrange
4.2.1 Possible Directions for Progress
4.2.2 Results in Statics
4.2.3 Newtonian Mechanics in Euler’s Hands
4.2.4 e First Variational Principle in Mechanics: Maupertuis
4.2.5 e First “Positivist”: d’Alembert
4.2.6 Modern Ideas
4.2.7 Mechanics as Poetry vii 4.3 e Century of Light
4.3.1 e Enlightenment
4.3.2 e Great Encyclopedia
4.3.3 d’Alembert: Preface to the Encyclopedia
4.3.4 Belief in the Solid Foundation of Physics: Kant
4.4 From Eﬄuvium to the Electromagnetic Field
4.4.1 Peter of Maricourt and Gilbert
4.4.2 e Chronology of Progress
4.4.3 Qualitative Electrostatics
4.4.4 Quantitative Electrostatics
4.4.5 Flow of Electric Charge
4.4.6 e Magnetic Field of Electric Currents: Cross-Fertilization from
4.4.7 e Interaction of Currents: An Extension of Newton’s Ideas
4.4.8 Faraday: e Greatest of the Experimentalists
4.4.9 Maxwell: e Fundamental Laws of Electromagnetic Fields
4.4.10 e Electromagnetic eory of Light
4.4.11 Lorentz’s eory of the Electron
4.5 Heat and Energy
4.5.1 e ermometer
4.5.2 Progressive in Its Day: e Caloricum eory of Joseph Black
4.5.3 Rumford: But Heat Is Still a Form of Motion!
4.5.4 Fourier’s eory of Heat Conduction
4.5.5 Caloricum and the State Equation
4.5.6 e Carnot Cycle
4.5.7 e Kinetic eory of Heat: First Steps
4.5.8 e Law of Conservation of Energy
4.5.9 e Kinetic eory of Gases
4.5.10 e Second Law of ermodynamics
4.5.11 Entropy and Probability
4.6 e Structure of Matter and Electricity: e Classical Atom
4.6.1 Chemistry Hinting at the Atomic Structure of Matter
4.6.2 e Electron: J. J. omson
4.6.3 Chemistry to the Rescue Again: e Periodic Table
4.6.4 First Ideas about the Structure of the Atom
4.6.5 e Line Spectrum and the Reappearance of the Integers
4.6.6 A Farewell to the Nineteenth Century
Chapter 5: e Physics of the Twentieth Century
5.1 “Clouds on the Horizon of Nineteenth-Century Physics”
5.1.1 A Conclusion or a New Start?
5.1.2 Mach and Ostwald
5.2 e eory of Relativity
5.2.1 Antecedents: Failed Attempts at Measuring Absolute Velocity
5.2.2 Attempts at Adaptation
5.2.3 e Protagonists: Lorentz, Einstein, and Poincaré
5.2.4 e Measurement of Distance and Time viii 5.2.5 e Equivalence of Energy and Mass
5.2.6 Matter and the Geometry of Space
5.2.7 Einstein on Space, Ether, and the Field Problem of Physics
5.3 Quantum eory
5.3.1 Blackbody Radiation in Classical Physics
5.3.2 Planck: Entropy Points the Way to the Solution
5.3.3 e Appearance of the Energy Quantum
5.3.4 Einstein: Light Is Also Quantized
5.3.5 Bohr: e “Classical” Quantum eory of the Atom
5.3.6 e Statistical Derivation of the Radiation Formula as Prelude to
5.3.7 Heisenberg’s Matrix Mechanics
5.3.8 Einstein and Heisenberg
5.3.9 Schrödinger’s Wave Mechanics
5.3.10 Heisenberg: e Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum
5.3.11 Operators. Quantum Electrodynamics
5.3.12 e Causality Problem
5.3.13 John von Neumann on Causality and Hidden Parameters
5.3.14 Quantum Mechanics as a Tool and as a Philosophy
5.3.15 What Remains of Classical Physics?
5.4 Nuclear Structure, Nuclear Energy
5.4.1 A Backward Glance at the First ree Decades
5.4.2 Stations of the Study of the Atomic Nucleus
5.4.3 Becquerel: Why Do Uranium Salts Fluoresce?
5.4.4 e Protagonists of the Heroic Age: e Curies and Rutherford
5.4.5 e Rutherford–Bohr Model Begins to Take Shape
5.4.6 e First Artiﬁcial Nuclear Transformation
5.4.7 Quantum Mechanics Can Be Applied to Nuclear Phenomena
5.4.8 Predicted by Rutherford, Found by Chadwick: e Neutron
5.4.9 Nuclear Structure and Nuclear Models
5.4.10 Nuclear Fission: Experimental Evidence, eoretical Doubt
5.4.11 e Chain Reaction: e Large-Scale Liberation of Nuclear
5.4.12 Energy through Nuclear Fusion: e Fuel of the Stars in the Hands of Mankind
5.4.13 e Responsibility of Physicists
5.5 Law and Symmetry
5.5.1 e Historian’s Role in the Description of Modern Physics
5.5.2 e Elementary Particles, in Order of Appearance
5.5.3 A Few Words about Cosmic Rays
5.5.4 Particle Accelerators and Detectors
5.5.5 Fundamental Interactions
5.5.6 e Conservation Laws
5.5.7 Symmetry, Invariance, Conservation
5.5.8 Mirror Symmetry?
5.5.9 “A Bit of Asymmetry Improves the Aesthetics”
5.5.10 Back to the Apeiron?
5.5.11 e Quark eory Is Completed ix 5.6 Mankind and the Universe
5.6.1 New Information Channels
5.6.2 Energy Production in the Stars
5.6.3 Birth, Life, Death on a Cosmic Scale
5.6.4 e Formation of the Universe
5.7 Summary and Preview
5.7.1 Physics, Philosophy, and Society at the Turn of the Millennium
5.7.2 e Standard Model and Beyond
5.7.3 Groups and Symmetries
5.7.4 e Grand Uniﬁcation
5.7.5 e Great Laboratory
5.7.6 Questions and Doubts Multiply
5.7.7 “Between Nothing and Inﬁnity”
Epilogue: Looking Ahead in Physics by Edward Witten
Subject Index xForeword by
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ꢋꢆrꢄꢅꢋꢍ ꢅꢃwꢅyꢍ wꢅꢈꢉꢆd ꢉꢁ wꢁrꢎ ꢁꢈ: ꢉꢄꢆ ꢄꢌꢍꢉꢁry ꢁf ꢉꢄꢆ ꢌꢈꢉꢆrꢋꢃꢅy ꢁf ꢍꢀꢌꢆꢈꢀꢆ ꢅꢈd
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ꢍꢉꢌꢃꢃ ﬁꢃꢃꢆd ꢉꢁ mꢁrꢆ ꢉꢄꢅꢈ ꢀꢅꢋꢅꢀꢌꢉy wꢌꢉꢄ ꢍꢉꢂdꢆꢈꢉꢍ ꢅꢈd yꢁꢂꢈg ꢌꢈꢉꢆꢃꢃꢆꢀꢉꢂꢅꢃꢍ, ꢄꢆꢅrꢌꢈg my fꢅꢉꢄꢆr ꢀꢁꢈvꢆy ꢉꢄꢆ ꢆꢊꢀꢌꢉꢆmꢆꢈꢉ ꢅꢈd wꢁꢈdꢆr ꢁf ꢍꢀꢌꢆꢈꢉꢌﬁꢀ dꢆvꢆꢃꢁꢋmꢆꢈꢉ—ꢄꢁw dꢌﬃꢀꢂꢃꢉ ꢌꢉ wꢅꢍ ꢉꢁ mꢅꢎꢆ ꢋrꢁgrꢆꢍꢍ ꢌꢈ ꢍꢀꢌꢆꢈꢀꢆ, ꢈꢁꢉ ꢍꢌmꢋꢃy ꢇꢆꢀꢅꢂꢍꢆ ꢁf ꢌgꢈꢁrꢅꢈꢀꢆ
ꢇꢂꢉ ꢇꢆꢀꢅꢂꢍꢆ ꢉꢄꢆ ꢅrgꢂmꢆꢈꢉꢍ wꢆrꢆ ꢀꢁmꢋꢃꢆꢊ ꢅꢈd ꢉꢄꢆ ꢆvꢌdꢆꢈꢀꢆ wꢅꢍ ꢁfꢉꢆꢈ ꢅmꢇꢌgꢂ-
ꢁꢂꢍ, ꢅꢈd ꢄꢁw ꢉꢄꢆ ꢍꢀꢌꢆꢈꢉꢌꢍꢉꢍ gꢅꢌꢈꢆd ꢀꢁꢂrꢅgꢆ ꢁr wꢆrꢆ ꢁꢉꢄꢆrwꢌꢍꢆ ꢌꢈﬂꢂꢆꢈꢀꢆd ꢇy ꢉꢄꢆ
ꢄꢂmꢅꢈꢌꢉꢌꢆꢍ. ꢆ ꢍꢂꢀꢀꢆꢍꢍ ꢁf ꢉꢄꢆꢍꢆ ꢃꢆꢀꢉꢂrꢆꢍ gꢅvꢆ rꢌꢍꢆ ꢉꢁ ꢉꢄꢆ ꢋrꢆꢍꢆꢈꢉ ꢇꢁꢁꢎ ꢉꢄꢅꢉ ꢄꢆ
ꢀꢁꢈꢉꢌꢈꢂꢆd ꢉꢁ rꢆvꢌꢍꢆ ꢅꢈd ꢆꢊꢉꢆꢈd ꢅꢃmꢁꢍꢉ ꢂꢈꢉꢌꢃ ꢄꢌꢍ dꢆꢅꢉꢄ ꢌꢈ 2001.
Aꢃꢃ ꢄꢌꢍꢉꢁry ꢇꢁꢁꢎꢍ ꢉꢄꢅꢉ ꢉrꢆꢅꢉ ꢉꢄꢆ mꢁdꢆrꢈ ꢋꢆrꢌꢁd fꢅꢀꢆ ꢅ ꢋrꢁꢇꢃꢆm: wꢄꢆꢈ ꢍꢄꢁꢂꢃd
ꢉꢄꢆ dꢌꢍꢀꢂꢍꢍꢌꢁꢈ ꢀꢃꢁꢍꢆ? My fꢅꢉꢄꢆr ꢋrꢌdꢆd ꢄꢌmꢍꢆꢃf ꢁꢈ ꢎꢆꢆꢋꢌꢈg ꢉꢄꢆ ꢇꢁꢁꢎ ꢂꢋ-ꢉꢁ-dꢅꢉꢆ
ꢅꢍ ꢌꢉ ꢋrꢁgrꢆꢍꢍꢆd ꢉꢄrꢁꢂgꢄ ﬁvꢆ Hꢂꢈgꢅrꢌꢅꢈ ꢆdꢌꢉꢌꢁꢈꢍ ꢅꢈd ꢉꢄrꢆꢆ Gꢆrmꢅꢈ ꢆdꢌꢉꢌꢁꢈꢍ.
Nꢁw, ꢈꢆꢅrꢃy ꢅ dꢆꢀꢅdꢆ ꢅfꢉꢆr ꢄꢌꢍ dꢆꢅꢉꢄ, wꢆ ꢆdꢌꢉꢆd ꢉꢄꢆ ꢍꢉꢁry dꢁwꢈ ꢉꢁ wꢄꢅꢉ wꢅꢍ
ﬁrmꢃy ꢍꢆꢉꢉꢃꢆd ꢇy ꢉꢄꢆ yꢆꢅr 2000, ꢅꢈd ꢅꢍꢎꢆd ꢉꢄꢆ ꢈꢁꢉꢆd ꢅꢈd ꢇrꢌꢃꢃꢌꢅꢈꢉ ꢋꢄyꢍꢌꢀꢌꢍꢉ Ed
Wꢌꢉꢉꢆꢈ ꢉꢁ wrꢌꢉꢆ ꢅꢈ ꢆꢋꢌꢃꢁgꢂꢆ ꢇrꢌꢈgꢌꢈg ꢂꢍ ꢂꢋ ꢉꢁ dꢅꢉꢆ wꢌꢉꢄ ꢉꢄꢆ ꢀꢂrrꢆꢈꢉ ꢍꢀꢌꢆꢈꢉꢌﬁꢀ
ꢁꢂꢉꢃꢁꢁꢎ, ꢅꢍ ꢁꢋꢋꢁꢍꢆd ꢉꢁ ꢉꢄꢆ ꢅꢃrꢆꢅdy ꢍꢉꢅꢃꢆ ꢍꢋꢆꢀꢂꢃꢅꢉꢌꢁꢈꢍ mꢅdꢆ ꢌꢈ ꢉꢄꢆ rꢆꢀꢆꢈꢉ ꢋꢅꢍꢉ.
ꢆ Eꢈgꢃꢌꢍꢄ ꢆdꢌꢉꢌꢁꢈ ꢁf ꢉꢄꢆ ꢇꢁꢁꢎ wꢅꢍ ꢅ drꢆꢅm fꢁr my fꢅꢉꢄꢆr ꢉꢄꢅꢉ ꢄꢆ wꢅꢍ ꢂꢈfꢁrꢉꢂꢈꢅꢉꢆꢃy ꢂꢈꢅꢇꢃꢆ ꢉꢁ rꢆꢅꢃꢌzꢆ dꢂꢆ ꢉꢁ ꢉꢄꢆ ꢀꢁꢍꢉꢍ ꢅꢈd ꢉꢄꢆ dꢌﬃꢀꢂꢃꢉꢌꢆꢍ ꢁf ꢍꢂꢋꢆrvꢌꢍ-
ꢌꢈg ꢉꢄꢆ ꢉrꢅꢈꢍꢃꢅꢉꢌꢁꢈ. I wꢅꢍ vꢆry fꢁrꢉꢂꢈꢅꢉꢆ ꢌꢈ ꢄꢅvꢌꢈg fꢁꢂꢈd ꢅꢈ ꢆꢊꢋꢆrꢌꢆꢈꢀꢆd ꢅꢈd
ꢀꢁꢂrꢅgꢆꢁꢂꢍ ꢋꢂꢇꢃꢌꢍꢄꢆr, A K Pꢆꢉꢆrꢍ (ꢈꢁw ꢋꢅrꢉ ꢁf CRC Prꢆꢍꢍ, ꢅ Tꢅyꢃꢁr ꢅꢈd Frꢅꢈ-
ꢀꢌꢍ Grꢁꢂꢋ), wꢄꢁ wꢅꢍ wꢌꢃꢃꢌꢈg ꢅꢈd ꢅꢇꢃꢆ ꢉꢁ ꢂꢈdꢆrꢉꢅꢎꢆ ꢉꢄꢆ ꢉꢅꢍꢎ. ꢆ ꢉrꢅꢈꢍꢃꢅꢉꢌꢁꢈ wꢅꢍ ꢇꢅꢍꢆd ꢁꢈ ꢉꢄꢆ ꢉꢄꢌrd Gꢆrmꢅꢈ ꢆdꢌꢉꢌꢁꢈ, ꢇꢂꢉ ꢇꢆꢌꢈg ꢀꢁgꢈꢌzꢅꢈꢉ ꢁf ꢉꢄꢆ dꢅꢈgꢆrꢍ xi involved in a second-generation translation of a translation, we carefully compared the results with the original Hungarian text and, wherever necessary, the more direct and conversational tenor of the original was restored.
e goal of the English edition is to be a “world book”—not just for the US and for other English-speaking countries but for all nations. Just as in the Middle Ages when Latin was the language of international scholarship, now we have a true world language of great expressive power, beauty, and ﬂexibility, namely English, and it is our earnest hope that this translation will be enjoyed by everyone interested in the subject regardless of their native language.
Special thanks are due to Alice and Klaus Peters for the direction of this multifaceted project, from the typographic design to the supervision of the translation, editing, and production. e base translation was done by David Kramer.
e text was reviewed by Robert Schiller and Alex Farba DeLeon. Charlotte
Henderson did the ﬁnal copy editing, including that of the mathematical formulas. Others involved in the project were Camber Agrelius, Sarah Chow, Julie
Nicolazzo, and Sandra Rush.
is republishing of my father’s main work would not have been possible without the support of the family: my mother, Zsuzsa, my brother, Tamas, and my wife, Lisa. Special help from Ildikó Csurgay with the illustrations is gratefully acknowledged.
Finally, I am tremendously grateful for Prof. Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study for contributing the epilogue. xii Preface
Tꢀꢁꢂꢃ, ꢄꢅꢆ ꢅꢇꢈꢄꢀꢉꢃ ꢀꢊ ꢈꢋꢇꢆꢌꢋꢆ is a discipline in its own right, with its own subject matter and methodology, its own journals, and its own university chairs. And, of course, it has its own professional practitioners, a group that the author of this book does not belong to. His profession is teaching and research in physics and he has simply taken delight in the history of his subject, a delight that he wishes to share with others. e reader may therefore take those parts of this book that deal with physics and technology to be authentic—to the extent that any book can be regarded as such—while the interpretation of the historical and philosophical background bears some of the stamp of the subjective and, to a certain, perhaps permissible degree, that of dilettantism.
is book has been written for a broad audience. e author hopes that the nonspecialist reader will be able to follow the presentation—to be sure not without a certain measure of intellectual eﬀort—and at the same time that the professional physicist will also ﬁnd it of value. Such a twofold goal should not be attained at the cost of compromise: the level of discourse cannot just be set somewhere between that of the educated member of the general public and the professional physicist.
Rather, it was the author’s intention to set apart, wherever possible—if necessary by typography—the more easily assimilated portions from those requiring specialized knowledge. ese latter segments appear in the present book in a smaller typeface, and they may be skipped by someone reading the main text, without loss of continuity. Yet, these technical passages can be also useful for the general reader, for the formulas and illustrations there—even from a cursory examination—should help to fend oﬀ false impressions. For example, one feels Greek literature and art to be of importance not only for their time, but for all time, since they have something of value to say to us even today. On the other hand, with regard to the greats of ancient science, we might consider it to be self-evident that they were largely prisoners of their time, and that today the knowledge of a schoolchild may well exceed that of a learned man of antiquity, Archimedes, for instance. Perhaps we would say the same about the ancient artists if we were unable to marvel at the sculptures of Praxiteles and Myron of Eleutherae, in the originals or copies, or if we could not read Homer at home, or see the plays of Euripides at the theater. If we would immerse ourselves as thoroughly in the ideas of Archimedes—to stay with the above example—we would see that to reconstruct them requires, even of the scientiﬁcally educated, a signiﬁcant intellectual eﬀort and that doing so can give one great intellectual delight. e reader may therefore look upon the technical passages as the analogues of the indispensable illustrations or quotations in works on the history of art or literature.
is book is, therefore, a work for the public understanding of science, and it may also serve as a textbook for college students. It has been the author’s intention that to these two goals a third should be added, and he is fully aware of the danger that in attempting too many tasks he might succeed satisfactorily in none of them.
is third goal is to be a primer in the history of physics because it contains almost as much in the way of quotations as it does of main text. In order to separate the quotations as little as possible from the text and to interrupt it no more than necessary, the quotations—printed on shaded background—are in most cases presented xiii in side notes to the text that they accompany, or on occasion are inserted directly into the main ﬂow of the book.
Biographical information that could not be organically integrated into the main text, as well as additional facts that require no special commentary, can be found in the extended ﬁgure captions. us there is a fourth use to which this book can be put, namely, as a sort of encyclopedia.
e color plates should serve—or so the author has intended—apart from their decorative and informational functions, to provide in their coordinated entirety a skeleton for the book or—more generally—for the cultural history of physics.
e author of a book such as this one must—if only from the scope of the project—rely on a host of other books. Some of the books listed in the bibliography have served as inspirational sources, others oﬀer the reader introductory material, and still others provide a more wide-ranging view. e author has tried to indicate the origins of his ideas and to give proper credit for the ﬁgures and quotations, referring where possible to original sources. e ﬁgures have been taken—again, wherever possible—from ﬁrst editions, primarily those to be found in Hungarian libraries.
Finally, the author would like to thank all those who participated in the creation of this book. First of all, his thanks are due to his assistant Ildikó Csurgay, who participated in preparing the manuscript for publication and in solving a number of technical and stylistic problems.
e author’s thanks go also to the following Hungarian libraries for their help in locating ancient works and for permission to make photocopies to be used in the present book: the Library of the Technical University, Budapest; the Budapest
University Library; the National Széchényi Library; the main library of the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma; the Székesfehérvár diocesan library; the Memorial Library of the University for Heavy Industry, Miskolc; and the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest.
e author would also like to thank the following museums and institutions, which made illustrative material in their collections available without charge:
CERN, Geneva; the Zwettl collegiate church; the Museum of the City of Paris; the Museum of Versailles; the Naples Museum, the Herzog August Library,
Wolfenbüttel; and the Berlin State Museums.
e author thanks the Urania publishing company, in Leipzig, the publisher
Akadémiai Kiadó, in Budapest, Harry Deutsch publishers, and in particular Bernd
Müller, for a pleasant and sympathetic collaboration. Also to be mentioned are the valuable comments of Dr. Martin Franke as well as those of Dr. Otto Haiman, which were of great use in the ﬁnal formulation of the text.
e last part of Chapter 5 was read critically by Professor András Patkós, and we have adopted many of his suggestions, some of them directly into the text. I thus owe him a special measure of thanks.
In addition to the collaborators mentioned above, I thank my son Tamás, who reviewed the Arabic texts and helped with editorial work. I thank as well my son
Charles for his generous support, both material and emotional.
e author has striven to recognize all those to whom he owes thanks, especially for comments and suggestions, and to do so as precisely as possible. He is aware that he has been unable to realize these intentions completely. Finally, the author thanks his wife, who oﬀered tireless assistance in preparing the manuscript, in bibliographic work, and in discussions of stylistic and pedagogical questions.
Kꢍꢉꢀꢎꢃ Sꢇꢏꢀꢌꢃꢇ, 2000 xiv introduction
0.1 e History of Physics and Its Relevance to
Our Lives Today
In today’s industrialized societies, it has become possible for an everincreasing number of individuals to pursue a life free of want. For this achievement we may thank the ever larger number of specialists working in very narrow ﬁelds of endeavor. Individuals yearn for a general overview of the cultural values created by the whole of humanity; or if not, we would like to awaken such desire in them. But is it possible to arouse in specialists—the “cultural barbarians”—an enthusiasm for art or literature? And conversely, can those versed in the humanities be convinced that discoveries in the various branches of science constitute an integral part of universal human culture? Or to put it in more general terms, employing a notion made popular in the twentieth century by C. P. Sꢀꢁꢂ (1905–1980), is it possible to bridge the gap between the “two cultures,” that is, between the humanities and the natural sciences? (See Figure 0.1 and Quotation 0.1.) Are today’s citizens capable of making such a synthesis, and is it even possible or useful for a society to set such a goal? After all, the capacity of the individual to absorb knowledge is very limited; moreover, is it not the mark of truly great specialists that their work within their professional ﬁelds represents a calling, a life’s work, a complete source of satisfaction and self-fulﬁllment?
Figure 0.1 A scientist with the ecstasy of a saint or of an artist. This image of a Greek scholar in a medieval cathedral stands as a symbol of the unity of human culture (statue of Ptolemy in the Ulm cathedral, sculpted in 1470 by Jörg Syrlin).
In this context, what does the history of physics oﬀer us? For physicists, the triumphs in the history of their science could stand as points of reference, as criteria for measuring the value of signiﬁcant accomplishments in other cultural domains, while those with a more humanistic education or inclination could ﬁnd in the history of the natural sciences, and in particular that of physics, those elements—research methods, principles of establishing the validity of results, and of course the results themselves—that in the course of history have become signiﬁcant milestones of universal human culture, indeed often serving as a cultural driving force. In any case, one thing should be stated plainly: Human culture is a single, uniﬁed whole, and it is only for us, the consumers of culture, that the problem arises how its signiﬁcant elements are to be selected, appropriated, and transmitted