HPS Colloquia Series for 1997-98

The Stanford Philosophy Department presents:



Peter Galison

Harvard University

November 5, 1997, 8:00 pm

History Bldg. Room 2
Stanford University

Thoughts from his new bookImage and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics



As we think back on the history of twentieth century physics, we are accustomed to dividing it by the markers of theoretical changes: 1905 (special relativity), 1915 (general relativity), 1926-27 (non-relativistic quantum mechanics), and so on: each date seems to break up physics into periods of continuity and sudden breaks.

Here I would like to explore how the history would look if one does *not* assume that experimentalists, instrument makers and theorists all march in lockstep. In particular, we can learn about what it has meant to be an experimentalist (or to do an experiment) by tracking the history of the material objects of the laboratory: cloud chambers, nuclear emulsions, spark chambers, bubble chambers, and the electronic hybrid detectors that now cost hundreds of millions of dollars. By following these detectors historically, we can see the complex interactions experiment has had with industry, with warfare, and with other fields of scientific inquiry. On the broadest level, we can track the competition (and eventual union) between the long tradition of image-making devices and the equally powerful tradition of electronic logic devices.

To understand the links between these various physics subcultures, I explore what it means to abandon talk of "translation" and to adopt instead a picture of scientific trading languages, that is the scientific equivalent of pidgins and creoles that allow the different sectors of the community to communicate without necessarily sharing global belief.


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