Chapter

The Romance of Nature

in When Physics Became King

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780226542010
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226542003 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226542003.003.0003
The Romance of Nature

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This chapter looks at various efforts during the century to explore the unity of nature, starting with the Romantic movement at the beginning of the century and culminating in the development of ether physics at its end. The worlds of natural philosophy at the beginning of the nineteenth century were changing rapidly. There was a close link throughout the nineteenth century between the ways in which physics as a discipline was organized and the ways in which physics organized the world. For early nineteenth-century Romantic philosophers, natural philosophy required a particular kind of individual. Apprehending nature's hidden unities required someone with the innate capacity to look beneath the surface of events and see what others could not. Midcentury experimental natural philosophers such as William Robert Grove suggested that the natural philosopher needed to be someone educated to look beyond the limitations of particular disciplinary preoccupations and see the wider picture of the correlation of forces. By the end of the century, proponents of energy physics argued that only those like them, deeply trained in the complexities of mathematical physics, could see the world as it really was. It needed their grasp to comprehend the subtle workings of the ether. Their understanding of that subtle and universal medium gave them the ability to police the sciences—to adjudicate what was and what was not an acceptable way of looking at the world.

Keywords: physics; ether; natural philosophy; romantic philosophers; mathematical physics

Chapter.  12478 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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