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Accueil > Séminaires en cours > History and Philosophy of Physics

Axis History and Philosophy of Science of Nature

History and Philosophy of Physics

The seminar is designed as a place of exchange between historians of physics, philosophers of physics, physicists and students in relevant disciplines. Although the program this year has no specific theme, it reflects the interest of the organizers for the questions that drive us to cross disciplinary boundaries : between physics and philosophy, history and philosophy, between theoretical construction and experience, between physics and other sciences.

Organizers : Nadine de Courtenay (Université Paris Cité-HPS, SPHere), Olivier Darrigol (CNRS, SPHere) and Vincent Ardourel (Université Paris 1, IHPST)

previous to 2008-2009, 2008-2009,
2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012,
2012-2013, 2013-2014, 2014-2015,
2015-2016, 2016-2017, 2017-2018,
2018-2019, 2019-2020, 2020-2021, 2022-2023

PROGRAM 2023-2024

Seminar is held on Wednesdays from 4 pm to 6.30 pm, in hybrid, at IHPST and SPHERE
SPHERE : Université Paris Cité, room Malevitch, 483A, Condorcet building, 4, rue Elsa Morante, 75013 – Paris
IHPST : Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Maison de la Philosophie - Marin Mersenne, 13 rue du Four, 2nd and 3rd floor, 75006 Paris

  • 18th October 2023 — SPHERE

    Friedrich Steinle (Technische Universität Berlin)

    « Color in the eighteenth century : Clashes between physics, practice, and mathematics. »
    Knowledge about colour has been developed and used in all culture for millennia. To study the history of such knowledge requires a broad approach that encompasses a variety of forms of knowledge, of communities, and of modes and medias of transmission. Colour knowledge thus provides a significant case for studying the necessity, the merits and the limits of history of science. In my talk, I shall focus on 18th century Europe, a period in which different approaches to colour (physical theory, painter’s practices, and mathematical schemes) expanded their knowledge claims and came into conflict and sometimes fierce clash. These conflicts originated in different epistemic frameworks and practical goals, pursued in different groups of colour researchers. Studying their history is highly instructive for both enlightenment colour history and the historiographical challenges in doing history of knowledge.

    Marvin Bolt (Technische Universität Berlin)

    « Exploring telescope material culture : rewriting a popular mythology about lenses. »
    When telescopes appear in a history of astronomy, one theme predictably arises : that lenses introduce colors into observations due to a defect that we associate with the term chromatic aberration. In particular, such histories draw attention to the correction of this defect via the invention of the achromatic lens (c. 1750). These narratives usually begin with a famous experiment by Isaac Newton and his erroneous conclusion, make note of a virtually unknown lawyer, Chester Moor Hall (who fixed Newton’s mistake and inadvertently revealed his ingenious solution), and inevitably point to the triumphal, patented accomplishment by John Dollond.
    A story significantly different from the familiar, almost mythological tale emerges from the consideration of a simple question : what does "achromatic" mean ? By examining the material culture of surviving telescopes, we can suggest how “achromatic” lenses were first produced using simple algebra and already well-known experimental methods, and (just as significantly) how they were marketed. As we shall see, there was no such thing as an achromatic lens, and yet, there were, are, and will continue to be many stories about this innovation.

  • 10th January 2024 — IHPST

    Alisa Bokulich (Université de Boston)

    « Howhigh the mountain, how low the sea ? A history of the quest for high-precision global height measurements. »
    In the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries many leading figures, such as Alexander von Humboldt, got caught up in the quest for the world’s tallest mountain. To compare the heights of mountains on distant continents, however, one needs to have a common zero point—or vertical datum—from which they are measured. Following on the tidal research of William Whewell, mean sea level became increasingly used as the common zero from which mountain heights could be meaningfully compared. But is sea level really level ? In this talk, Bokulich traces the history of high-precision global height measurements in geophysics, and how this quest revealed many surprising discrepancies, leading to a proliferation of several key scientific concepts—including the concept of ‘height’ itself. More broadly, it is a story about learning how to measure a Heraclitean world when there is no Archimedean point on which to stand.

    Matthias Dörries (Université de Strasbourg)

    « Epistemic scarcity in the geophysical sciences »
    Major natural hazards happen at irregular, often widely interspersed, time intervals, and therefore resist easy fit into scientists’ research agenda. “Epistemic scarcity” refers to the dilemma that paleontologists face when their chosen objects of research deliver few or no new empirical data (see Adrian Currie, 2021). I will look at epistemic scarcity in the geophysical sciences via 20th-century case studies in volcanology and seismology to explore how geophysicists develop strategies and shift practices to deal both with long droughts and abrupt overflows of data. These two case studies suggest that there are research strategies specific to geosciences in the face of the epistemic challenge of data scarcity.

  • 7th February 2024 — SPHERE

    Robert DiSalle (Western University)

    Title will be published soon

    Vincenzo di Risi (Cnrs, SPHERE)

    « The Genesis of Relationism. Leibniz’ Early Theory of Space and Newton’s Scholium »
    The talk considers the evolution of Leibniz’s philosophy of space, and the genesis of his famous relational theory that he opposed Newton in the course of the Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence. A detailed analysis of Leibniz’ various definitions of space shows that we need to reconsider in depth the chronology of Leibniz’s philosophy of space. Finally, the relationship between Leibniz and Newton on the dispute between absolute and relational space is reconsidered in a new light, an unknown source of Leibniz’s conception of space is discussed, and the possibility for a different reading of the Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence is opened up.

    David M. Miller (Auburn University)

    « Getting inertia straight in Galileo, Descartes, and Newton »
    The coordination of physical principles with phenomena is an under-examined component of scientific knowledge and an important catalyst of theoretical change. For instance, the idea that an undisturbed body will persist in its state of motion has its origins in medieval impetus theories. And yet, this conservation principle did not become the modern law of inertia until ‘conserved motion’ came to mean “uniform rectilinear translation.” My presentation describes how this specific coordination came about in the work of early modern physicists, culminating in the modern principle.

  • 10th April 2024 — IHPST — Thermodynamique

    Jos Uffink (University of Minnesota)

    LTitle will be published soon.

    Katie Robertson (Université de Stirling)
    « New directions in the foundations of statistical mechanics »

  • 22nd May 2024 —SPHERE — Relativité générale

    Dennis Lehmkuhl (Université de Bonn)

    Title will be published soon

    Marco Giovanelli (Université de Turin)

    « Appearance and Reality : Einstein, Ehrenfest and the Early Debate on the Reality of Length Contraction »
    In 1909, Ehrenfest published a note in the Physikalische Zeitschrift showing that a Born rigid cylinder could not be set into rotation without stresses, as elements of the circumference would be contracted but not the radius. Ignatowski and Varićak challenged Ehrenfest’s result in the same journal, arguing that the stresses would emerge if length contraction were a real dynamical effect, as in Lorentz’s theory. However, no stresses are expected to arise, according to Einstein’s theory, where length contraction is only an apparent effect due to an arbitrary choice of clock synchronization. Ehrenfest and Einstein considered this line of reasoning dangerously misleading and took a public stance in the Physikalische Zeitschrift, countering that relativistic length contraction is both apparent and real. It is apparent since it disappears for the comoving observer, but it is also real since it can be experimentally verified. By drawing on his lesser-known private correspondence with Varićak, this paper shows how Einstein used the Ehrenfest paradox as a tool for an ’Einsteinian pedagogy.’ Einstein’s argumentative stance is contrasted with Bell’s use of the Dewan-Beran thread-between-spaceships paradox to advocate for a ’Lorentzian pedagogy.’ The paper concludes that the disagreement between the two ways of ’teaching special relativity’ stems from divergent interpretations of philosophical categories such as ’reality’ and ’appearance.’

  • 5th June 2024 — IHPST

    Carla Rita Palmerino (Radboud University)

    « Tam verba quam diagramma : A Visual History of the Fortune and Misfortune of Galileo’s and Descartes’s Theories of the Tides »
    In his influential Geographia generalis (1650), Bernard Varenius discussed Descartes’s explanation of the ebb and flow of the sea, pointing out that “both his words and his diagram” failed to agree with the observed phenomena. This double criticism captures the attitude of several early-modern authors well, who in commenting, criticizing, defending, or teaching Galileo’s and Descartes’s respective explanations of the tides paid particular attention to the accompanying diagrams. This lecture will document how these early-modern authors reproduced, modified, reinterpreted, or suppressed Galileo’s and Descartes’s original diagrams of the tides, in order to emphasize, solve, or hide the evident mismatch between the explanans and explananda.

    Christoph Lüthy (Radboud University)

    « Why Was the Timeline Invented so Late ? »
    We are all used to the representation of time as a horizontal line, above which functions or events are mapped. To us, it seems natural to think of time as the baseline, with ’things’ happening in time. Maybe surprisingly, however, this convention only arose in the eighteenth century. This lecture will explain which ’obstacle épistemologique’ (Bachelard) prevented the timeline from originating earlier, and which factors — in time measurement, physical theory and metaphysics — eventually led to its introduction.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

    Université Paris Cité, Room Mondrian, 646A, Condorcet Building, 4, rue Elsa Morante, 75013 - Paris*. Access.
    Itinerary with website of public transport RATP
    Metro : lines 14 and RER C, stop : Bibliothèque François Mitterrand ou ligne 6, stop : Quai de la gare. Bus : 62 and 89 (stop : Bibliothèque rue Mann), 325 (stop : Watt), 64 (stop : Tolbiac-Bibliothèque François Mitterrand)
    Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Maison de la Philosophie - Marin Mersenne, 13 rue du Four, 2nd & 3rd floors, 75006 Paris
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