Forschungskolloquium zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte

Maxwell’s Role in Turning the Concept of Model into the Methodology of Modeling

16:15 - 17:45 Uhr
EB 202, Erweiterungsbau der TU Berlin, Straße des 17. Juni 145, 10623 Berlin
Veranstaltet von
Friedrich Steinle (TU Berlin)
Vortragende Person(en)
Giora Hon (MECS, Lüneburg)

This paper is a contribution towards the history and philosophy of modeling in its early stages in electromagnetism. In 1873, Maxwell hinted at the methodology of modeling at the end of his Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. We focus on Maxwell’s impact on physicists who immediately followed him (Lodge, Fitzgerald), and on the role that the scientific concept of model played in the late 19th century, as assessed by Boltzmann. We discuss the role of hypothesis as a methodology, the appeal to (dynamical) illustration, and the way Maxwell applied model and working model in his studies of electromagnetism. While Maxwell kept these key terms distinct, Fitzgerald implicitly took the first step towards modeling. This methodology consists in drawing consequences from the (mechanical) model to the (electrodynamic) theory and modifying the latter in light of the functioning of the former. At the core of our argument is the thesis that it was a methodological novelty to move from the concept of model to the methodology of modeling. The introduction of modeling as a new methodology into physics in the late nineteenth century was a major event that deserves proper recognition.

Giora Hon is Professor Emeritus at the University of Haifa, and currently a fellow at MECS, Lüneburg. He has published widely on the theme of error in science and especially in experiments from historical and philosophical points of view. He co-edited (with Marcel Boumans and Arthur Petersen), Error and Uncertainty in Scientific Practice (2013). With Bernard R. Goldstein, he authored two monographs, From Summetria to Symmetry: The Making of a Revolutionary Scientific Concept (2008) and Reflections on The Practice of Physics: James Clerk Maxwell’s Methodological Odyssey in Electromagnetism (2020).

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