Physics - History of Physics Publications (50)


Physics - History of Physics Publications

This article discusses the relationship between emergence and reductionism from the perspective of a condensed matter physicist. Reductionism and emergence play an intertwined role in the everyday life of the physicist, yet we rarely stop to contemplate their relationship: indeed, the two are often regarded as conflicting world-views of science. I argue that in practice, they compliment one-another, forming an awkward alliance in a fashion envisioned by the Renaissance scientist, Francis Bacon. Read More

The guiding influence of some of Stanley Mandelstam's key contributions to the development of theoretical high energy physics is discussed, from the motivation for the study of the analytic properties of the scattering matrix through to dual resonance models and their evolution into string theory. Read More

The present discussion concerning certain fundamental physical theories (such as string theory and multiverse cosmology) has reopened the demarcation problem between science and non-science. While parts of the physics community see the situation as a beginning epistemic shift in what defines science, others deny that the traditional criterion of empirical testability can or should be changed. As demonstrated by the history of physics, it is not the first time that drastic revisions of theory assessment have been proposed. Read More

In 1626, the Venetian physician Santorio Santorio published the details of his pulsilogium, a stop clock that could accurately measure one's pulse rate. He applied Galileo Galilei's insights that the frequency of a pendulum's oscillation is inversely proportional to the square root of its length. Santorio's inventions emerged at a time when the natural world and our solar system were beginning to be mapped in remarkable detail. Read More

This is the first part of an oral history interview on the lifelong involvement of Joel Lebowitz in the development of statistical mechanics. Here the covered topics include the formative years, which overlapped the tragic period of Nazi power and World War II in Europe, the emigration to the United States in 1946 and the schooling there. It also includes the beginnings and early scientific works with Peter Bergmann, Oliver Penrose and many others. Read More

Canonical quantization relies on Cartesian, canonical, phase-space coordinates to promote to Hermitian operators, which also become the principal ingredients in the quantum Hamiltonian. While generally appropriate, this procedure can also fail, e.g. Read More

Cholanaikkans are a diminishing tribe of India. With a population of less than 200 members, this tribe living in the reserved forests about 80 km from Kozhikode, it is one of the most isolated tribes. A programme of the Government of Kerala brings some of them to Kozhikode once a year. Read More

The purpose of this note is to explain what is "analytical history", a modular and testable analysis of historical events introduced in a book published in 2002 (Roehner and Syme 2002). Broadly speaking, it is a comparative methodology for the analysis of historical events. Comparison is the keystone and hallmark of science. Read More

Objective probability in quantum mechanics is often thought to involve a stochastic process whereby an actual future is selected from a range of possibilities. Everett's seminal idea is that all possible definite futures on the pointer basis exist as components of a macroscopic linear superposition. I demonstrate that these two conceptions of what is involved in quantum processes are linked by two alternative interpretation of the mind-body relation. Read More

In 2012, Chen Ning Yang received a 90th birthday gift in the form of a black cube inscribed with his 13 most important contributions, which cover four major areas of physics: statistical mechanics, condensed matter physics, particle physics and field theory. We briefly describe these 13 contributions and make general comments about Yang's distinctive style as a trailblazing leader in research. Read More

As Harvey Brown emphasizes in his book Physical Relativity, inertial motion in general relativity is best understood as a theorem, and not a postulate. Here I discuss the status of the "conservation condition", which states that the energy-momentum tensor associated with non-interacting matter is covariantly divergence-free, in connection with such theorems. I argue that the conservation condition is best understood as a consequence of the differential equations governing the evolution of matter in general relativity and many other theories. Read More

We investigate Maxwell's attempt to justify the mathematical assumptions behind his 1860 Proposition IV according to which the velocity components of colliding particles follow the normal distribution. Contrary to the commonly held view we find that his molecular collision model plays a crucial role in reaching this conclusion, and that his model assumptions also permit inference to equalization of mean kinetic energies (temperatures), which is what he intended to prove in his discredited and widely ignored Proposition VI. If we take a charitable reading of his own proof of Proposition VI then it was Maxwell, and not Boltzmann, who gave the first proof of a tendency towards equilibrium, a sort of H-theorem. Read More

We argued previously that the well-known equation for hydrostatic equilibrium in a static spherically symmetric spacetime supported by an isotropic perfect fluid should be called the Oppenheimer-Volkoff (OV) equation, rather than the Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkoff (TOV) equation, a later ArXiv manuscript has disagreed. Here we reply to that comment, reaffirming the original argument. Read More

In the absence of empirical confirmation, scientists may judge a theory's chances of being viable based on a wide range of arguments. The paper argues that such arguments can differ substantially with regard to their structural similarly to empirical confirmation. Arguments that resemble empirical confirmation in a number of crucial respects provide a better basis for reliable judgement and can, in a Bayesian sense, amount to significant \textit{non-empirical} confirmation. Read More

Some modern cosmological models predict the appearance of Boltzmann Brains: observers who randomly fluctuate out of a thermal bath rather than naturally evolving from a low-entropy Big Bang. A theory in which most observers are of the Boltzmann Brain type is generally thought to be unacceptable, although opinions differ. I argue that such theories are indeed unacceptable: the real problem is with fluctuations into observers who are locally identical to ordinary observers, and their existence cannot be swept under the rug by a choice of probability distributions over observers. Read More

The fortieth anniversary of the original construction of Supergravity provides an opportunity to combine some reminiscences of its early days with an assessment of its impact on the quest for a quantum theory of gravity. Read More

I present the reconstruction of the involvement of Karl Popper in the community of physicists concerned with foundations of quantum mechanics, in the 1980s. At that time Popper gave active contribution to the research in physics, of which the most significant is a new version of the EPR thought experiment, alleged to test different interpretations of quantum mechanics. The genesis of such an experiment is reconstructed in detail, and an unpublished letter by Popper is reproduced in the present paper to show that he formulated his thought experiment already two years before its first publication in 1982. Read More

Recently it was shown that certain fluid-mechanical 'pilot-wave' systems can strikingly mimic a range of quantum properties, including double-slit interference, quantization of angular momentum etc. How far does this analogy go? Could such systems also violate a Bell inequality, despite the fact they involve only local (sub-luminal) interactions ? Here the premises of the Bell inequality are re-investigated for particles accompanied by a pilot-wave, or more generally by a 'background' field. We find that two of these premises, namely outcome independence and measurement independence, are not generally valid when a resonant background is present. Read More

Given an equivalence relation ~ on a set U, there are two abstract notions of an element of the quotient set U/~. The #1 abstract notion is a set S=[u] of equivalent elements of U (an equivalence class); the #2 notion is an abstract entity u_{S} that is definite on what is common to the elements of the equivalence class S but is otherwise indefinite on the differences between those elements. For instance, the #1 interpretation of a homotopy type is an equivalence class of homotopic spaces, but the #2 interpretation, e. Read More

We present a historical review of Einstein's 1917 paper 'Cosmological Considerations in the General Theory of Relativity' to mark the centenary of a key work that set the foundations of modern cosmology. We find that the paper followed as a natural next step after Einstein's development of the general theory of relativity and that the work offers many insights into his thoughts on relativity, astronomy and cosmology. Our review includes a description of the observational and theoretical background to the paper; a paragraph-by-paragraph guided tour of the work; a discussion of Einstein's views of issues such as the relativity of inertia, the curvature of space and the cosmological constant. Read More

In the year 1900 Max Planck was led by experimental observations to propose a strange formula for the intensity as a function of frequency for light emitted by a cavity. It relied on peculiar properties to be obeyed by the emitters and absorbers in the cavity. I highlight the mathematically suggestive nature of the formula, accessible even to a high school student, that could have provided a clue to the physical reasoning of Planck. Read More

Ockham's razor is a heuristic concept applied in philosophy of science to decide between 2 or more feasible physical theories. Ockham's razor operates by deciding in favour of the theory with least assumptions and concepts, roughly speaking the less complex theory. Could Ockham's razor not easily treat the different interpretations as theories and decide in favour of the one with fewest assumptions? We provide an answer to this question by means of examples of applications in literature and the discussion of its historical origin. Read More

We critically review the recent debate between Doreen Fraser and David Wallace on the interpretation of quantum field theory, with the aim of identifying where the core of the disagreement lies. We show that, despite appearances, their conflict does not concern the existence of particles or the occurrence of unitarily inequivalent representations. Instead, the dispute ultimately turns on the very definition of what a quantum field theory is. Read More

Conjectures play a central role in theoretical physics, especially those that assert an upper bound to some dimensionless ratio of physical quantities. In this paper we introduce a new such conjecture bounding the ratio of the magnetic moment to angular momentum in nature. We also discuss the current status of some old bounds on dimensionless and dimensional quantities in arbitrary spatial dimension. Read More

We present evidence for the occurrence of a white-light flare on 10 September 1886. It represents the third of such rare events reported in the history of astronomy. The flare was mentioned by Valderrama (1886, L'Astronomie 5, 388). Read More

Subject of this article is the relationship between modern cosmology and fundamental physics, in particular general relativity as a theory of gravity on one side, together with its unique application in cosmology, and the formation of structures and their statistics on the other. It summarises arguments for the formulation for a metric theory of gravity and the uniqueness of the construction of general relativity. It discusses symmetry arguments in the construction of Friedmann-Lema\^itre cosmologies as well as assumptions in relation to the presence of dark matter, when adopting general relativity as the gravitational theory. Read More

The very humble origins of the Cyberspace, and all the related developments that smoothly conspired and converged towards this concept, making its emergence possible, as the personal computer, TEX and LATEX, the Fax, the internet, the cellphone, and the World Wide Web, are discussed, always from a personal perspective. A separate, comprehensive explanation of the reasons for the appearance and subsequent evolution of each of these different phenomena, with explicit assessments and a future prospective of the main subject, is presented. Read More

In 1615 Paolo A. Foscarini, a Carmelite monk lived in a monastery of south Italy near Cosenza (Calabria), published a Trattato which, at variance to what was common at the time, has not been written in Latin, but in volgare, the ancient Italian language. We are currently investigating the Trattato, and we found strong evidences that, hidden in the Italian language of early seventeenth century, it represents, to our knowledge, the first systematic attempt to interpret something unknown at that time, as meteo-climate changes and their forecasting, in the scientific framework of environmental physical effects related to Sun-Atmosphere relationships. Read More

A personal recollection of events that preceded the construction of Supergravity and of some subsequent developments. Read More

Inspired by possible connections between gravity and foundational question in quantum theory, we consider an approach for the adaptation of objective collapse models to a general relativistic context. We apply these ideas to a list of open problems in cosmology and quantum gravity, such as the emergence of seeds of cosmic structure, the black hole information issue, the problem of time in quantum gravity and, in a more speculative manner, to the nature of dark energy and the origin of the very special initial state of the universe. We conclude that objective collapse models offer a rather promising path to deal with all of these issues. Read More

Affiliations: 1Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille, Centre de Physique Théorique, Observatoire de Paris

We discuss the reception of Copernican astronomy by the Proven\c{c}al humanists of the XVIth-XVIIth centuries, beginning with Michel de Montaigne who was the first to recognize the potential scientific and philosophical revolution represented by heliocentrism. Then we describe how, after Kepler's Astronomia Nova of 1609 and the first telescopic observations by Galileo, it was in the south of France that the New Astronomy found its main promotors with the humanists and "amateurs \'eclair\'es", Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc and Pierre Gassendi. The professional astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini, also from Provence, would later elevate the field to new heights in Paris. Read More

In the article, we will report on the recovery of a Melloni's optical bench built at the end of 1800 by the "macchinista" Filippo Caliri in the "belle \'epoque" of Palermo. A scientific instrument of particular historical and didactic interest belonging to the collection of Liceo Classico Statale "Umberto I" of Palermo. In the article, we will discuss the technical aspects of the interventions carried out. Read More

Affiliations: 1Astrophysics Department, French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission

In 1965, the discovery of a new type of uniform radiation, located between radiowaves and infrared light, was accidental. Known today as Cosmic Microwave background (CMB), this diffuse radiation is commonly interpreted as a fossil light released in an early hot and dense universe and constitutes today the main 'pilar' of the big bang cosmology. Considerable efforts have been devoted to derive fundamental cosmological parameters from the characteristics of this radiation that led to a surprising universe that is shaped by at least three major unknown components: inflation, dark matter and dark energy. Read More

Strangeness signature of of quark-gluon plasma (QGP) is central to the exploration of baryon-dense matter: the search for the critical point and onset of deconfinement. I report on the discovery of QGP by means of strangeness: The key historical figures and their roles in this quest are introduced and the experimental results obtained are discussed. The important role of antihyperons is emphasized. Read More

Evaluating theories in physics used to be easy. Our theories provided very distinct predictions. Experimental accuracy was so small that worrying about epistemological problems was not necessary. Read More

I had the marvelous good fortune to be Ken Wilson's graduate student at the Physics Department, Cornell University, from 1972 to 1976. In this article, I present some recollections of how this came about, my interactions with Ken, and Cornell during this period; and acknowledge my debt to Ken, and to John Wilkins and Michael Fisher, who I was privileged to have as my main mentors at Cornell. I end with some thoughts on the challenges of reforming education, a subject that was one of Ken's major preoccupations in the second half of his professional life. Read More

This short exposition starts with a brief discussion of situation before the completion of special relativity (Le Verrier's discovery of the Mercury perihelion advance anomaly, Michelson-Morley experiment, E\"otv\"os experiment, Newcomb's improved observation of Mercury perihelion advance, the proposals of various new gravity theories and the development of tensor analysis and differential geometry) and accounts for the main conceptual developments leading to the completion of the general relativity: gravity has finite velocity of propagation; energy also gravitates; Einstein proposed his equivalence principle and deduced the gravitational redshift; Minkowski formulated the special relativity in 4-dimantional spacetime and derived the 4-dimensional electromagnetic stress-energy tensor; Einstein derived the gravitational deflection from his equivalence principle; Laue extended the Minkowski's method of constructing electromagnetic stress-energy tensor to stressed bodies, dust and relativistic fluids; Abraham, Einstein, and Nordstr\"om proposed their versions of scalar theories of gravity in 1911-13; Einstein and Grossmann first used metric as the basic gravitational entity and proposed a "tensor" theory of gravity (the "Entwurf" theory, 1913); Einstein proposed a theory of gravity with Ricci tensor proportional to stress-energy tensor (1915); Einstein, based on 1913 Besso-Einstein collaboration, correctly derived the relativistic perihelion advance formula of his new theory which agreed with observation (1915); Hilbert discovered the Lagrangian for electromagnetic stress-energy tensor and the Lagrangian for the gravitational field (1915), and stated the Hilbert variational principle; Einstein equation of general relativity was proposed (1915); Einstein published his foundation paper (1916). Read More

The Astronomy Genealogy Project ("AstroGen"), a project of the Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), will soon appear on the AAS website. Ultimately, it will list the world's astronomers with their highest degrees, theses for those who wrote them, academic advisors (supervisors), universities, and links to the astronomers or their obituaries, their theses when on-line, and more. At present the AstroGen team is working on those who earned doctorates with astronomy-related theses. Read More

It was first suggested by Albert that the existence of real, physical non-unitarity at the quantum level would yield a complete explanation for the increase of entropy over time in macroscopic systems. An alternative understanding of the source of non-unitarity is presented herein, in terms of the Transactional Interpretation. The present model provides a specific physical justification for Boltzmann's Stosszahlansatz (assumption of molecular chaos), thereby changing its status from an ad hoc postulate to a theoretically grounded result, without requiring any change to the basic quantum theory. Read More

We summarise a recent reconstruction of the quantum theory of qubits from rules constraining an observer's acquisition of information about physical systems. This review of [arXiv:1412.8323, arXiv:1511. Read More

Previously, the most prominent explanation for the Star of Bethlehem was to identify one of many astronomical events in the sky as being the inspiration for the trip of the Magi. However, all the astronomical answers have detailed refutations, and general disproofs, so all the astronomical answers for the Star are dead. In 1999, Michael Molnar put forth a completely new solution, where the Star originated as a report of a natal horoscope for 17 April 6 BC. Read More

Quantum violation of Bell inequalities is now used in many quantum information applications and it is important to analyze it both quantitatively and conceptually. In the present paper, we analyze violation of multipartite Bell inequalities via the local probability model - the LqHV (local quasi hidden variable) model [Loubenets, J. Math. Read More

The mausoleums of the emperors and of some members of the royal family of the Western Han Chinese dynasty, popularly known as Chinese pyramids, are a spectacular ensemble of tombs covered by a huge earth mounds, spread in the outskirts of modern Xian. Their inspiring model is the world famous tomb of the first emperor Qin, who reigned immediately before the Han, and in turn they were of inspiration for the much later mausoleums of the Song dynasty. Using satellite data we investigate here on cognitive aspects of the project of these two groups of monuments, with particular attention to the problem of their orientation and of their placement in the landscape; in particular, the presence of two distinct patterns of orientation, both connected with the polar region of the sky, arises. Read More

In this article, halfway between popularized exposition and historical account, some key moments in the development of atomic theory in its beginnings are discussed. In particular, the events and the major discoveries that have highlighted the discrete structure of the atom's energy levels are presented in their logical and chronological sequence, starting from early studies on the decomposition of light by prisms until the quantum theory. --- In questo articolo, a met\`a strada tra l'esposizione divulgativa e il resoconto storico, vengono affrontati alcuni momenti significativi dello sviluppo della teoria atomica ai suoi primordi. Read More

The article presents the results of the study of petroglyphs on a unique stone slab discovered near the kurgan 1 of the kurgan field Varvarinsky I (Rostov Oblast, Russia). Analysis of features of the location and style of petroglyph "tree" showed that the branches could determine semi-minor semiaxes m of the "dial" ellipses of analemmatic sundials with semi-major axis M = 24.2 cm for medium and high (northern) latitudes up to the North Pole and "tree" marks the direction to the North. Read More

The article presents the results of a study of petroglyphs on a unique stone slab discovered near the kurgan 1 of the kurgan field Varvarinsky I (Rostov Oblast, Russia). During the study was done comparing it with plates of Srubna burials on which were depicted the petroglyphs. Similar features for all the considered slabs are elliptically arranged wells. Read More

The process of doing Science in condition of uncertainty is illustrated with a toy experiment in which the inferential and the forecasting aspects are both present. The fundamental aspects of probabilistic reasoning, also relevant in real life applications, arise quite naturally and the resulting discussion among non-ideologized, free-minded people offers an opportunity for clarifications. Read More

The ancient priest-astronomers constantly watched many heavenly bodies. The record about Halley's Comet of 1682 A.D. Read More

Recent studies of radioisotopes in tree rings or ice cores suggest that extreme space weather events occurred in the pre-telescope age. Observational records of naked-eye sunspots and low-latitude auroras in historical documents in pre-telescopic age can provide useful information on past solar activity. In this paper, we present the results of a comprehensive survey of records of sunspots and auroras in Chinese official histories from the 6th century to the 10th century, in the period of Su\'i, T\'ang, the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. Read More

A translation of Paul Ehrenfest's 1933 paper, entitled "Phase transitions in the usual and generalized sense, classified according to the singularities of the thermodynamic potential" is presented. Some historical commentary about the paper's context is also given. Read More