Molecules as Metaphors

in Image and Reality

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226723327
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226723358 | DOI:
Molecules as Metaphors

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Hermann Kolbe once asserted that there is danger in the too-free exercise of the scientific imagination in general and in using graphical representations in particular. Kolbe certainly had strong views on how chemists should visualize the invisible objects upon which they operate—indeed whether they should engage in such visualization at all. The disputes in which he engaged during the 1860s and 1870s provide historical insight into the productive use of imagination and mental visualizations in science, and how these mental processes can be tied to empirical data. During the 1850s, partly in collaboration with Edward Frankland, Kolbe developed a fruitful approach to understanding the constitutions of molecules which had many similarities with that of Alexander Williamson, Adolphe Wurtz, and August Kekulé. His molecular formulas embodied carefully considered claims about the constitutions of the molecules he was studying. For Kolbe, the goal of a formula is to clearly and judiciously represent the “constitution” that denotes the radicals assembled together into a molecule.

Keywords: Hermann Kolbe; molecules; molecular formulas; scientific imagination; mental visualizations; Edward Frankland; radicals; August Kekulé

Chapter.  10134 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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