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Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress (Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Science) Paperback – September 28, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0195337389 ISBN-10: 0195337387 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Science
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195337387
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195337389
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #861,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"...interesting, excellent book,...Highly recommended." --Choice

"Chang is well and deeply read in the philosophy of science and, with his conservative (sensu stricto) bent, is reluctant to discard any promising lines of attack, even if these are not in agreement with one another. Thus the book is thoroughly eclectic, as if designed to consider the invention of temperature serially and in ensemble from every worthwhile perspective. As the author has a generous cast of mind, this means a great number of perspectives. It is in this eclectic generosity of approach, not its spread across history and philosophy and science proper, that Inventing Temperature defies categorization."--Mott Greene,sis

"A splendid book of lively historical narratives about experimentalists' work from the 17th to the mid-19th century in solving puzzles about making reliable thermometers..."--Mary Jo Nye, Oregon State University

"Inventing Temperature is a terrific book at the intersection of history, philosophy, and science."--Peter Galison, Harvard University

"...a wonderful synthesis of the history and philosophy of physics. It combines rich historical detail with philosophical acuity and imagination."--Jeremy Butterfield, Oxford University

"Chang's book treats a well-defined and deeply interesting topic with historical thoroughness and philosophical acuity."--R.I.G. Hughes, University of South Carolina

" interesting, and at times fascinating, history of the development of the concept of temperature and the construction of thermometers... even those who don't have an extensive background in physics will find the book valuable."--Allen Franklin, Physics, University of Colorado

About the Author

Hasok Chang is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at University College London.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By W Boudville HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Several years ago, the science fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote a short story set in the far future. He depicted a time so advanced that the simplest arithmetic was done by computers, and forgotten by humans. And so it goes here, in Chang's book. He has done us a service by revisiting solved problems that have been solved for so long that their basic importance is no longer appreciated by practising scientists.

Consider your typical undergraduate textbooks that discuss heat and temperature. Very little mention is given about the bootstrapping problem. Without modern instrumentation, how do you define a temperature scale that is consistently reproducible? One might wonder why it took scientists of an earlier age so long to strive over such a simple problem. Were they stupid back then?

Not so. Chang shows that the problem is divided into two closely related parts. One experimental and one conceptual. The former relates to the search for fixed points, like the freezing and boiling points of water. Not as straightforward as it might first seem. And no, it was not the dependence of these on the atmospheric pressure. That was quickly discovered and accomodated. But other phenomenon like the supercooling of liquid water, which can push it below the normal freezing point, were harder to understand.

It turned out that the key conceptual problem is just as serious, if not more so. One runs into a circular pattern of logic. One way out is to follow Euclid's approach by starting with a small set of axioms that everyone accepts, and build from them. Anyway, the core of Chang's book is how this problem was tackled and solved. It took some of the most prominent scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries to tie this down. And that is the merit of this book. Chang helps us appreciate one of the foundations of our science.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Aydin Orstan on October 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Inventing Temperature tells the long and intriguing history of thermometry, the science of the measurement of temperature. First, thermometers had to be invented, followed by methods to calibrate them. But to calibrate a thermometer at least one reproducible phenomenon that always took place at the same temperature was needed. But how would one know that something, say the boiling of water, always took place at the same temperature if one didn't have a calibrated thermometer? This circularity was behind most of the hurdles the pioneering thermometrists had to overcome. Finally, temperature scales, a multitude of them, were devised--almost one by each independent thermometer maker.

I learned quite a bit from this book. Among the more interesting episodes were a series of experiments by Marc-Auguste Pictet in the late 18th century that demonstrated quite puzzlingly that cold, like heat, could be reflected from a mirror and Charles Darwin's grandfather potter Josiah Wedgwood's almost contemporaneous invention of a pyrometer to measure very high temperatures--it used small pieces of clay, the amount of shrinkage of which at a given temperature were supposed to have been reproducible.

I wish Chang's prose were a bit more straight and readable and the contents of the book a bit more uniform. The first 4 of the 6 chapters have 2 parts each: a historical narrative followed by an analysis that dwells into philosophical issues that I thought were boring and not always relevant. I confess I skipped most of the analyses.

Chang ends his book with a chapter on "complementary science", his provocative research program that intends, by utilizing the historical and philosophical aspects of a particular scientific area, physics, in his case, to "generate scientific knowledge in places where science itself fails to do so."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Luca turin on April 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Hansok Chang is hugely talented, and conveys beautifully the feeling of what it is like _not_ to know something before it is figured out, an essential aid to understanding intellectual history. He also has an eye for both telling detail and the big picture, and is very much his own undogmatic man when trying to make sense of complex and often haphazard historical sequences. Read this book and you will feel a lot of respect for people like Fahrenheit and Amontons who did the"simple" [but very hard] things on which our science today rests.
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