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Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein New edition Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674877481
ISBN-10: 0674877489
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Gerald Holton is Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics, and Research Professor of History of Science, Harvard University.
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Product Details

  • Series: Kepler to Einstein
  • Paperback: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New edition edition (May 25, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674877489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674877481
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,389,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Holton begins by asserting the importance of historical research into "thematic" aspects of science, by which is meant things like the complex motivations and other personal factors at the level of individual scientists, as opposed to "analytic" aspects of the formal scientific theories themselves. This is certainly very sound, but this point of view is not developed very far, leading only to some very cursory illustrations, such as the observation that scientists always use some "preselection" when developing theories, such as, e.g., Plato's dictum that planetary motions should be described by circles (pp. 75-78), a vague but somewhat appealing parallel between modern art and modern science (pp. 79-83), and a suggestion that scientific revolutions "can usually be seen to be projections back to an idealized, purified state of the past" (p. 93, also pp. 194-196). Instead, the book soon turns into an excellent study of the genesis of special relativity, with some quantum mechanics and a tiny bit of Kepler thrown in for good measure.

Let us look at the relativity theory part. People who tell the story with a purely "analytic" mindset almost invariably emphasise the allegedly "crucial" experiment of Michelson. Holton's "thematic" study reveals a very different reality by identifying two far more important sources of influence on Einstein.

One rather unexpected influence is Föppl, an obscure physicist-engineer who wrote a textbook on Maxwell's theory. As a student Einstein was never taught Maxwell's theory as it was never offered as a course, which he regretted since he "seemed to conceive of himself as an experimentalist" (p.
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This book will challenge your understanding of how great, innovative ideas emerge. It is extremely well researched, framed in a very helpful fashion, and captivatingly written. While the title sounds daunting, the material is very accessible. Anyone interested in breakthrough thinking will quickly fall for this book.

I only wish that I could have attended a course by Dr. Holton.
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good review
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