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CSS Colloquium: Jan Potters, University of Antwerp

Studying Kuhn's work on the history of the quantum

Info about event


Wednesday 12 April 2023,  at 14:15 - 15:45


1531-215 (D3)

Since its appearance, Thomas Kuhn's book Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912 has received two main criticisms: 1) that it misrepresents Planck's reliance on Boltzmann's work, and hence Planck's stance with respect to the quantum in 1901, and 2) that it is not in line with his earlier work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In this talk, I will argue that both criticisms concern the concept of a paradigm, and I will argue that both are misguided because how they conceptualize paradigms is not in line with how Kuhn conceptualized them in his later work. They focus too much, more specifically, on his comparison between paradigms and gestalt, and not enough on his remarks about the importance of scientific communities and pedagogy. In this way, I will argue that Black-Body Theory aligns quite well with Structure, and that Kuhn's presentation of how Boltzmann acted as a paradigm for Planck is more in line with how his critics see it.

In the second part of my talk, I will then offer some more general reflections and hypotheses on Kuhn's work on the history of the quantum (besides Black-Body Theory, also his 1969 paper with John Heilbron on Bohr and his work on the Archive for the History of Quantum Physics). My focus here will be, more specifically, on how Kuhn practiced history of science, and how this practice relates to his views on the relation between history and philosophy of science. This second part will be very tentative, and it will be based mainly on a recent funding proposal I wrote.

Coffee, tea, cakes and fruit will be served before the colloquium @ 2 pm.