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Books on the zeitgeist of science during Lord Kelvin's time.

by Hazard1 min read9th Dec 20198 comments

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There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

(edit: looks like this question was based on a false impression of history, so nvm)

That Lord Kelvin apocryphal quote has always stuck out to me. I remember hearing from some other source that this was a general attitude at the time.

Does anyone have good book recommendations to get a feel for what the intellectual / scientific zeitgeist of this moment in history in Europe was like?

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The Alchemy of Air (Hager):

+ did well when I fact checked it

+ is at about the right time period

+ is a very good case study of how science changed during that time period

_ is not about "welp, we've solved science" in particular

(Retracted)

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6 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 2:50 PM

The quote is apocryphal. The reality was almost the exact opposite: Lord Kelvin was very concerned about two discrepancies in contemporary physics, the solutions of which required special relativity and quantum mechanics respectively.

Yikes, I fell for it. To your knowledge is there any period in the history of physics were prominent scholars seemed to think that most of the work was done?

I don't think such a period exists. The closest thing is modern times, when a lot of people think string theory will become the "theory of everything". Or maybe the times just before the gargantuan size of the string landscape was discovered. But I think that even the most optimistic string theorists, out of those that can be called prominent scholars, would say that a lot of work yet remains.

I am also interested in this, and would give around $50 for some good sources on this (this is not a commitment that I will pay the best answer to this question, just that if an answer is good enough, I will send the person $50)

Can you clarify what you mean by "this moment"? Is Newton too early? Is the invention of antibiotics too late? Do you mean anything overlapping with the working life of Kelvin?

My understanding is that at least around Kelvins time, there was a general attitude of "we've almost figured out all the stuff". I'm very curious about what it looks like to have many scientists thinking that. My history is weak enough that I don't know how widespread that sentiment was, nor how long it was around. I only picked Kelvin as a marker of that.