Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progressby Hasok Chang
Pub. Date: 08/05/2004
Publisher: Oxford University Press
What is temperature, and how can we measure it correctly? These may seem like simple questions, but the most renowned scientists struggled with them throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In Inventing Temperature, Chang examines how scientists first created thermometers; how they measured temperature beyond the reach of standard thermometers; and how they managed
What is temperature, and how can we measure it correctly? These may seem like simple questions, but the most renowned scientists struggled with them throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In Inventing Temperature, Chang examines how scientists first created thermometers; how they measured temperature beyond the reach of standard thermometers; and how they managed to assess the reliability and accuracy of these instruments without a circular reliance on the instruments themselves.
In a discussion that brings together the history of science with the philosophy of science, Chang presents the simple eet challenging epistemic and technical questions about these instruments, and the complex web of abstract philosophical issues surrounding them. Chang's book shows that many items of knowledge that we take for granted now are in fact spectacular achievements, obtained only after a great deal of innovative thinking, painstaking experiments, bold conjectures, and controversy. Lurking behind these achievements are some very important philosophical questions about how and when people accept the authority of science.
- Oxford University Press
- Publication date:
- Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Science Series
- Product dimensions:
- 9.40(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Table of Contents
1. Keeping the Fixed Points Fixed
2. Spirit, Air, and Quicksilver
3. To Go Beyond
4. Theory, Measurement, and Absolute Temperature
5. Measurement, Justification, and Scientific Progress
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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.