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Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress

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Overview


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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A fascinating study."--David Knight, British Journal for the History of Science

"An interesting, excellent book.... Highly recommended." --CHOICE

"Chang is well and deeply read in the philosophy of science and, with his conservative (sensu stricto) bent, is reluctant to discard any promising lines of attack, even if these are not in agreement with one another. Thus the book is thoroughly eclectic, as if designed to consider the invention of temperature serially and in ensemble from every worthwhile perspective. As the author has a generous cast of mind, this means a great number of perspectives. It is in this eclectic generosity of approach, not its spread across history and philosophy and science proper, that Inventing Temperature defies categorization."--Mott Greene,sis

"A splendid book of lively historical narratives about experimentalists' work from the 17th to the mid-19th century in solving puzzles about making reliable thermometers..."--Mary Jo Nye, Oregon State University

"Inventing Temperature is a terrific book at the intersection of history, philosophy, and science."--Peter Galison, Harvard University

"...a wonderful synthesis of the history and philosophy of physics. It combines rich historical detail with philosophical acuity and imagination."--Jeremy Butterfield, Oxford University

"Chang's book treats a well-defined and deeply interesting topic with historical thoroughness and philosophical acuity."--R.I.G. Hughes, University of South Carolina

"An interesting, and at times fascinating, history of the development of the concept of temperature and the construction of thermometers... Even those who don't have an extensive background in physics will find the book valuable."--Allen Franklin, Physics, University of Colorado

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Hasok Chang is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at University College London.

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Table of Contents

Chronology.
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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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2004

    subtle and difficult

    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.

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