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History and history

  1. Dec 12, 2006 #1


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    I suspect that a few are sick of my little screeds about the history of physics. So, convince me that this history is not important, and why so few seem to know what happened before, say 1960.

    Who knows, for example, about the Bohr-Sommerfeld work? Is it important?

    I'll suggest QM or QFT as a topic, but any will do.

    Reilly Atkinson
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 12, 2006 #2
    Are you specifically interested in the Bohr-Sommerfeld work, or is this more philosophical?

    History is interesting and worthwhile in its own right. But history was frequently full of dead ends. Pedagogically, some historic perspective may aid understanding of physics but too much would be undesirable (distracting and sometimes completely misleading). Instead, text books tend to be written in a manner giving the impression that the theory developed in a straight-forward, natural and convincing manner. I think the trick is to enjoy the anecdotes but look to modern explanations.

    Here on the forums people frequently give too much weight to the originators of a theory. Arguments about modern physics should be settled by referencing to (expert peer-reviewed) experiments, not by appealing to the authority of some quote attributable (say) to Einstein.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2006
  4. Dec 18, 2006 #3
    An understanding of the histoy of physics is critical for a complete understanding of how the physical universe is quantitatively described. I just don't think you will find many physicists admitting as such. All the nomeclature is borrowed from earlier paradigms and can give insight into how physics progresses and how we might go about formulating more general theory. Most physicists would have a good understanding of the history of physics (e.g. Galileo -> Newton -> Maxwell -> Einstein -> Dirac, Heisenberg) etc and how they built new theories out of previously laid scaffolding.
  5. Dec 19, 2006 #4
    cesiumfrog, I agree with you from one side (the more modern is a book, the easier it is to understand physics, in general) but I don't from another. For example, those modern text are written from "modern physics itself" or from some persons? The last, of course, and no one is perfect; a person always put his/hers personal fingertip on what he/she writes, maybe expressing his/her personal opinion/view of the world or enhance something and omit somethingelse. To look at the past it's not simply "going back", but to have a broader view of physics in general.

    However, I agree with you when, for example, some people, without a strong knowledge of physics, argue about concepts studied on old books/papers, for examples original Einstein's papers. It's only confusing for them, in many cases.
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