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HPS Séminaires – HPS Seminars

November 20, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Chers amis,

Un rappel des deux prochaines communications dans la série HPS de McGill, qui termineront nos activités du semestre d’automne. La première aura lieu ce jeudi 22 à l’heure habituelle ; la deuxième, chez le CIRST, le vendredi prochain (30 novembre). Ouvert à tou(te)s.

A reminder of two upcoming talks in the History and Philosophy of Science speaker series, which will bring this term to a close.
The first is this Thursday (22nd) at the usual time and place; the next, a week on Friday (30th), co-sponsored with CIRST. All are welcome.

* * *

Thursday, 22 November, 5:30pm
Suman Seth (Department of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University)

Crafting the Quantum: Arnold Sommerfeld and the Practice of Theory

Don Bates Seminar Room, Social Studies of Medicine Building,
3647 Peel (above ave Dr Penfield)

A letter to Einstein written by the Munich theoretical physicist, Arnold Sommerfeld, in January of 1922, reported the many successes of Sommerfeld’s recent work and that of his students, including a very young Werner Heisenberg. In spite of such success, however, the situation was far from ideal: “Everything works, but remains at the deepest level unclear.” That, however, was not Sommerfeld’s problem. Laying out the division of labour for the new physics, he wrote the following words: “I can only advance the craft of the quantum [die Technik der Quanten]; you have to make your philosophy.” What it meant to craft the quantum is one of the questions considered in this paper.

Yet that question cannot be answered straightforwardly. In attempting to understand Sommerfeld’s body of work in the 1920s the historian is faced almost immediately with an apparent paradox. For the same man who would speak of an anti-philosophical, “nuts and bolts” approach to the quantum would also, in the same period, wax lyrical about the “number mysteries” that a study of spectral lines allowed one to glimpse. Some, like Paul Forman, have seen such talk of mysticism merely as evidence of a pandering to forces of irrationality. The intent here, however, is to offer a means by which we might understand–as Sommerfeld himself did–his talk of number mysteries and the “music of the spheres” within the atom in terms of functional, even successful methods of theory. This paper, in other words, offers a symmetrical account of the roles of Mystik and Technik in the practice and the discourse of Sommerfeld’s approach to the quantum. In concluding remarks I will talk about the implications of my work for our understandings of the processes of historical change in science, particularly in relation to Kuhnian notions of “crisis” and “revolutions.”

* * *

Friday, 30 November, 12:30pm (Note day and time)

Charles Wolfe (University of Sydney)

L’organisme a-t-il un statut ontologique?

Co-sponsored with CIRST (UQAM); seminar held at
Pavillon Thérèse-Casgrain, room W-3235
455 René-Lévesque East (at St-Denis), 3e étage

La catégorie d’organisme a un statut ambigu : scientifique ou philosophique ? Et philosophiquement, quel degré de réalité lui accorder ? Elle a longtemps en tout cas servi de caution scientifique à une argumentation philosophique qui refuse le programme d’explication « mécaniste » ou « réductionniste », perçu comme dominant depuis le dix-septième siècle, que ce soit au sein de l’animisme stahlien, de la monadologie leibnizienne, du néovitalisme de Hans Driesch, ou encore de la « phénoménologie du vivant » au vingtième siècle chez des auteurs comme Goldstein, Straus, ou Weizsäcker, dont l’influence sur Merleau-Ponty mais aussi Canguilhem est patente. Je propose (i) une relecture historique de cette catégorie ou notion, ayant comme but (ii) une évaluation critique, qui pourrait nous indiquer (iii) en quoi elle peut demeurer utile une fois qu’on a refusé toute dérive « organismique ». A la lumière du physicalisme, l’organisme a-t-il un statut particulier, ou doit-il disparaître ? La réponse suggérée ici repose sur une tension : d’une part le refus de l’instrumentalisme commode et d’autre part, l’affirmation de l’organisme en tant que « fiction instrumentale ».


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