Hermann von Helmholtz’s Mechanism: The Loss of Certainty

Hermann von Helmholtz’s Mechanism: The Loss of Certainty

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Two seemingly contradictory tendencies have accompanied the development of the natural sciences in the past 150 years. On the one hand, the natural sciences have been instrumental in effecting a thoroughgoing transformation of social structures and have made a permanent impact on the conceptual world of human beings. This historical period has, on the other hand, also brought to light the merely hypothetical validity of scientific knowledge. As late as the middle of the 19th century the truth-pathos in the natural sciences was still unbroken. Yet in the succeeding years these claims to certain knowledge underwent a fundamental crisis. For scientists today, of course, the fact that their knowledge can possess only relative validity is a matter of self-evidence. The present analysis investigates the early phase of this fundamental change in the concept of science through an examination of Hermann von Helmholtz's conception of science and his mechanistic interpretation of nature. Helmholtz (1821-1894) was one of the most important natural scientists in Germany. The development of this thoughts offers an impressive but, until now, relatively little considered report from the field of the experimental sciences chronicling the erosion of certainty.Just as for forces, nature is a€œalways conformable to herselfa€, so she is also concerning matter. ... from the others by being the most consistent on the infinite divisibility of matter and being in least need of presupposing the existence of a vacuum.

Title:Hermann von Helmholtz’s Mechanism: The Loss of Certainty
Author:Gregor Schiemann
Publisher:Springer Science & Business Media - 2008-12-11


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