Higher Speculations: Grand Theories and Failed Revolutions in Physics and Cosmology

Paperback | May 7, 2015

byHelge Kragh

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Throughout history, people have tried to construct "theories of everything": highly ambitious attempts to understand nature in its totality. This account presents these theories in their historical contexts, from little-known hypotheses from the past to modern developments such as the theoryof superstrings, the anthropic principle, and ideas of many universes, and uses them to problematize the limits of scientific knowledge. Do claims to theories of everything belong to science at all? Which are the epistemic standards on which an alleged scientific theory of the universe - or themultiverse - is to be judged? Such questions are currently being discussed by physicists and cosmologists, but rarely within a historical perspective. This book argues that these questions have a history and that knowledge of the historical development of "higher speculations" may inform and qualify the current debate on the nature and limits of scientific explanation.

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Throughout history, people have tried to construct "theories of everything": highly ambitious attempts to understand nature in its totality. This account presents these theories in their historical contexts, from little-known hypotheses from the past to modern developments such as the theoryof superstrings, the anthropic principle, and...

After graduation from the University of Copenhagen in physics and chemistry, and a period as a high school teacher, Helge Kragh became Associate Professor at Cornell University, Departments of History and Physics. Since 1990 he has held positions as Curator at the Steno Museum for Science and Medicine, Aarhus University, and as Profes...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 9.45 × 6.61 × 0.68 inPublished:May 7, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0198726376

ISBN - 13:9780198726371

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Table of Contents

Part I: Cases from the Past1. Beginnings of Modern Science2. A Victorian Theory of Everything3. Electrodynamics as a World View4. Rationalist Cosmologies5. Cosmology and Controversy6. The Rise and Fall of the Bootstrap ProgrammePart II: The Present Scene7. Varying Constants of Nature8. New Cyclic Models of The Universe9. Anthropic Science10. The Multiverse Scenario11. String Theory and Quantum Gravity12. Astrobiology and Physical Eschatology13. Summary: Final Theories and Epistemic Shifts

Editorial Reviews

"Helge Kragh is one of our best historians of physics, and the author of several outstanding books. The idea of a history of highly speculative theories in physics is excellent. Although there are popular accounts of recent cosmological and grand-unifying theories, no historian has so farattempted to bring together old and new cases of such theories. The result makes fascinating reading and induces thought-provoking comparisons." --Olivier Darrigol, CNRS: Sphere/Rehseis