Article published in:Writing and the Mind
Edited by David R. Olson and Marcelo Dascal †
[Pragmatics & Cognition 21:3] 2013
► pp. 521–529
Quanta appeared not in Max Planck’s mind, but on paper
If our thinking is socially conditioned, then how, at the end of 1900, did Max Planck, whose thinking was shaped by classical mechanics, manage to think that energy is quantized? After all, the idea was incommensurable with the principles of Newton’s mechanics. My thesis is that Planck did not intend to think about it. Trying to reconcile the time reversibility of the laws of mechanics with the time irreversibility of the laws of classical thermodynamics, he was constantly thinking according to rules inherited from others. Trying to find a theoretical explanation of the formula describing the distribution of the energy of black-body radiation — arrived at by fitting theoretical parameters to new experimental data — he in “an act of despair” applied Boltzmann’s statistical concept of entropy. Then he noticed — on a sheet of paper — that classical and statistical formulas are identical if and only if the energy of resonators was a multiple of hν. What cannot appear in the human mind — as the mind is socially conditioned — can appear on paper. This gives a clear example of how computations in a “world on paper” (Olson 1994) can create new concepts.
Keywords: discovery, writing and scientific development, sociology of science, epistemology, myth of genius, origins of scientific concepts
Published online: 24 July 2015
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