Canada Research Chair in
History and Sociology of Science



HPS 5002-H : Fundamentals of the History of Physics Lectures

Professor: Yves Gingras, IHPST
Tuesday 10-12.

The object of the course will be to suggest that with the advent of Newtonian physics and its emphasis on the mathematical formulation of physical laws, there has been a gradual transformation of the notion of substance in the wake of more abstract and mathematical formulations of physical phenomena. In order to show this long term movement, we will retrace the development of physics from the point of view of the various hypothetical substances that were taken to constitute the universe and follow their disappearance. We will see how the Cartesian vortex theory was abandoned in the 18th century, how the mechanical ether faced major difficulty at the end of the 19th century and was abandoned in Einstein's theory of special and general relativity. We will also see that the so-called "wave-particle" duality in quantum mechanics constitute another step toward a formalist view of physics that limits the value of the two major models of physical thinking, namely particles and waves. We will also look at the transformation of the notion of mass from Newton to Einstein. In short, the object of the course is to try to reread the conceptual history of physics from a point of view that makes possible to see long term trends in its development.

1) January 10th : General Introduction

Readings :

  1. J.Z. Buchwald and S. Hong, "Physics", in David Cahan (ed), From Natural Philosophy to the Sciences, Writing in the History of Nineteenth-Science, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2003.

2) January 17th : Vortex theory of matter and attraction

Readings :

  1. Koffi Maglo, « The Reception of Newton's Gravitational Theory by Huygens, Varignon, and Maupertuis: How Normal Science may be Revolutionary », Perspectives on Science, Volume 11, Number 2, 2003, pp. 135-169.
  2. E.J. Aiton, The Vortex Theory of Planetary Motion, (London: Macdonald, 1972), pp. 43-89.
  3. Yves Gingras, “What Did Mathematics Do to Physics”, History of Science, vol. 39, 2001, pp. 383-416.

3) January 24th : 19th and 20th Century Explanations of Gravity

Readings :

  1. Aronson, Samuel, “The Gravitational theory of Georges-Louis Lesage”, The Natural Philosopher, vol. 3, 1964, pp. 53-74.
  2. F. G. Van Lunteren, “Gravitation and 19th Century Physical Worldviews”, in P. B. Scheurer and G. Debrock (Eds.) Newton’s Scientific and Philosophical legacy’”, Dordrecht, Kluwer,1988, pp. 161-173.

4) January 31th : Caloric Theory

Readings :

  1. Bellone, Enrico, A World on Paper. Studies on the Second Scientific Revolution, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982), pp. 159-169.
  2. Stathiss Psillos, "A Philosophical Study of the Transition from the Caloric Theory of Heat to thermodynamics", Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. voil. 25, No 2, 1994, pp. 159-190.

5) February 7th : Theories of Ether

Readings :

  1. Schaffner, Kenneth F., Nineteenth-Century Aether Theories, Pergamon Press, 1972, Chapter 2, pp. 7-19.
  2. Cantor, G.N. and Hodge M.J.S. (Eds), Conceptions of Ether: Studies in the History of Ether theories 1740-1900, (Cambridge: Cambridge university Press, 1981), Chapter 1, pp. 1-60.

6) February 14th : Concept of vacuum

Readings :

  1. Boyer, Thimothy, “The Classical Vacuum”, Scientific American, August 1985, vol. 253, No 2., pp. 70-78.
  2. Haisch, B, A. Rueda ands E. Puthoff, “Beyond E=Mc2”, The Sciences, nov./dec. 1994, pp. 26-31.

7) February 21th : Relativity Theory

Readings :

  1. Abiko, Seiya, "On Einstein’s Distrust of the Electromagnetic Theory: The Origins of the Light-Velocity Postulate", Hist. Studies in Phys. and Biol. Sciences, vol. 33, part 2 (2003), pp. 193-214.
  2. Darrigol, Olivier, “The Electrodynamics Origins of Relativity Theory”, Hist. Studies in Phys. and Biol. Sciences vol. 26, Part 2 (1996), pp. 241-312.
  3. Maltese, Giulio, “The late entrance of relativity into Italian Scientific Community (1906-1930)”, Hist. Studies in Phys. and Biol. Science, vol. 31, Part 1 (2000), pp. 125-173.

8) February 28th : The Concept of Mass

Readings :

  1. Max Jammer, The Concept of Mass, Chapter 11, "The Electromagnetic Concept of Mass", pp. 136-153.
  2. Gaston Bachelard, The Philosophy of No, Orion Press, New York, 1968, chapter, 1 pp. 15-43.

9) March 7th : The Concept of Photon

Readings :

  1. Stachel, John, “Einstein’s Light-Quantum Hypothesis, or Why Didn’t Einstein Propose a Quantum gas a Decade-and-a-Half earlier”, Einstein Studies, vol. 8, The Formative Years, Birkhäuser, 2000, pp. 231-251.

10) March 14th : Wave-Particle Duality

Readings :

  1. John Hendry, "The Development of Attitudes to the Wave-Particle Duality of Light and Quantum Theory, 1900-1920”, Annals of Science, 1980, pp. 59-79.

11) March 21th : Quantum Mechanics

Readings :

  1. Paul Forman, « Weimar Culture, Causality and Quantum theory, 1917-1927 », Hist. Stud. Phys. Sci., vol. 3, 1971, pp. 1-116.
  2. John Hendry, « Weimar Culture and Quantum Causality », History of Science, vol. 18, 1980, pp. 155-180.