Physics and History

Steven Weinberg

in The One Culture?

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2001 | ISBN: 9780226467221
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226467245 | DOI:
Physics and History

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This chapter discusses the uses that historical and scientific knowledge have for each other, but first it wants to take up what may be a more unusual topic: the dangers that history poses for physics, and physics for history. The danger in history for the work of physics is that, in contemplating the great work of the past—great heroic revolutions like relativity, quantum mechanics, and so on—we develop such respect for them that we become unable to reassess their place in a final physical theory. General relativity provides a good example. As developed by Einstein in 1915, general relativity appears almost logically inevitable. One of its fundamental principles, the equivalence of gravitation and inertia, says that there is no difference between gravity and the effects of inertia such as centrifugal force. This principle of equivalence can be reformulated as the principle that gravity is just an effect of the curvature of space and time—a beautiful principle from which Einstein's theory of gravitation follows almost uniquely.

Keywords: scientific knowledge; historical knowledge; physics; quantum mechanics; theory of gravitation; space and time

Chapter.  5371 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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