A Students Guide to Natural Science (Guides To Major Disciplines)

A Students Guide to Natural Science (Guides To Major Disciplines)

Stephen M. Barr

Language: English

Pages: 90

ISBN: 1932236929

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Physicist Stephen M. Barr’s lucid Student’s Guide to Natural Science aims to give students an understanding, in broad outline, of the nature, history, and great ideas of natural science from ancient times to the present, with a primary focus on physics. Barr begins with the contributions of the ancient Greeks, in particular the two great ideas that reality can be understood by the systematic use of reason and that phenomena have natural explanations. He goes on to discuss, among other things, the medieval roots of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the role played by religion in fostering the idea of a lawful natural order, and the major breakthroughs of modern physics, including how many newer “revolutionary” theories are in fact related to much older ones. Throughout this thoughtful guide, Barr draws his readers’ attention to the larger themes and trends of scientific history, including the increasing unification  and “mathematization” of our view of the physical world that has resulted in the laws of nature appearing more and more as forming a single harmonious mathematical edifice.

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rules of chess allow a vast number of different games to be played out. In Newtonian mechanics, if one knows the configuration (i.e., all the coordinates and momenta) at one time, then the rest of the “game” is uniquely 65 determined from that point forward (and also backward). That is why, in 1819, the great mathematician and physicist Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827) wrote, “For an intelligence which could know all the forces by which Nature is animated, and the states at some instant of all

any event, Pythagoras and his followers arrived at the idea that reality at its deepest level is mathematical. Indeed, Aristotle attributed to the Pythagoreans the idea that “things are numbers.” This assertion may seem 15 extreme, and doubtless did to Aristotle, but to the modern physicist it appears both profound and prophetic. It is in the motions of the heavenly bodies that the mathematical orderliness of the universe is most apparent. This has to do with a number of circumstances. First,

themselves, these rules ended up being misapplied to Galileo, who had unwisely allowed himself to be drawn into scriptural and theological debate by his enemies. GALILEI, GALILEO (1564–1642) was born in Pisa and began studies at the University of Pisa in 1581. He secured a professorship there in 1589, but decided to move to the University of Padua two years later because of conflicts with Aristotelians. In 1609, having heard of the invention of the telescope, he devised his own and with it began

from which more complex ideas got generated by a process of “association.” However, one does not directly sense magnetic fields (unless one is a monarch butterfly, say). One infers their existence by their often very indirect effects, and even then only with the help of abstract theory. And yet these magnetic fields are as real and as physical as rocks and trees. (The same point is illustrated by the electromagnetic spectrum: we directly sense “visible light” with our eyes, but can only infer the

a “vicious circle” that somehow vitiates the notion of scientific objectivity. One can see through such sophistry by a simple analogy: maps were made by explorers; and explorers had to make use of existing maps. This “circularity” obviously did not prevent better and better maps from being made, nor does the dynamic interaction of theory and experiment prevent better and better theories of the physical world from being made. Indeed, that is precisely how they must be made; and the recognition of

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