Thursday, May 13, 2010

Intellectual mastery of nature

A colleague helped me move flats in Liverpool. As he was helping me carry bags of books out to his car he asked the very strange question: "if you buy books, shouldn't you actually read them." He was in particular referring to the two volume set: Intellectual mastery of nature by Jungnickel and McCormmach. These two books are about the history of physics in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the nineteenth century.

Now that I am living in Germany (until August at least), I felt that it was time to read the books. Last weekend I finished volunme I "The Torch of mathematics 1800-1870).

Although the two books are a scholarly study, the first volume was full of stories about how physics developed in Germany. At first there was very little research, but by persistence of the Profs managed to increase the funding of labs and get more students. The job market was even harder than today. The astronomers were always well funded because of their miltary applications, rather than for producing pretty pictures for the masses, as they do today (bastards).