The work of Department I is dedicated to understanding the historical processes of structural changes in systems of knowledge. This goal comprises the reconstruction of central cognitive structures of scientific thinking, the study of the dependence of these structures on their experiential basis and on their cultural conditions, and the study of the interaction between individual thinking and institutionalized systems of knowledge. This theoretical program of an historical epistemology is the common core of the different investigations and research projects pursued and planned by the department.
Department I understands its research program of a historical epistemology as contributing to an evolutionary history of knowledge but also to the reflectivity of present science and its institutions. The emphasis lies on macro-studies in order to enable the identification of large-scale structures of knowledge development in social, technological, and cultural contexts. Approaches, methods, and objects of inquiry are taken from a large array of disciplines, ranging from the history and philosophy of science, technology and art, via the cognitive sciences and linguistics, to archeology, Middle Eastern studies, classics, sinology, indology, sociology, to physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and other natural sciences.
Websites & Digital Resources
Matteo Valleriani Rifat-Sara Pearl Liron Ben Arzi (2017)
The resources used for teaching at medieval universities became increasingly enriched by pictorial material, particularly during the fourteenth century. This work explores the epistemic function of pictorial material—images of science—in the context of medieval and early modern medicine, alchemy, and anatomy. The historical context is defined by the expansion in the thirteenth century of the spatial horizons of Western culture and the consequent need for a cultural identity, first expressed through the assimilation of the local European calendric systems. The regulation of time is determined as the first cause of the diffusion of pictorial material as an epistemic means of transcending the boundaries of learned scholarly circles, thereby enabling a broader access to knowledge. Originally based on a seminar delivered at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at the University of Tel Aviv by Matteo Valleriani, this work is the result of a science history exhibition supported by curator Yifat-Sara Pearl, for which students collaborated with artist and designer Liron Ben Arzi to further develop their research activities.
Jens Høyrup (2017)
The exploration of Mesopotamian mathematics took its beginning together with thedecipherment of the cuneiform script around 1850. Until the 1920s, “mathematics in use” (number systems, metrology, tables and some practical calculations of areas) was the object of study – only very few texts dealing with more advanced matters were approached before 1929, and with quite limited results. That this situation changed was due to Otto Neugebauer – but even his first steps in 1927–28 were in the prevailing style of the epoch, so to speak “pre-Neugebauer”. They can be seen, however, to have pushed him toward the three initiatives which opened the “Neugebauer era” in 1929: The launching of Quellen und Studien, the organization of a seminar for the study of Babylonian mathematics, and the start of the work on the Mathematische Keilschrift-Texte. After a couple of years François Thureau-Dangin (since the late 1890s the leading figure in the exploration of basic mathematics) joined in. At first Thureau-Dangin supposed Neugebauer to take care of mathematical substance, and he himself to cover the philology of the matter. Very soon, however, both were engaged in substance as well as philology, working in competitive parallel until both stopped this work in 1937–38. Neugebauer then turned to astronomy, while Thureau-Dangin, apart from continuing with other Assyriological matters, undertook to draw the consequences of what was now known about Babylonian mathematics for the history of mathematics in general.
Jens Høyrup (2017)
With only Apuleius and Augustine as partial exceptions, Latin Antiquity did not know Archimedes as a mathematician but only as an ingenious engineer and astronomer, serving his city and killed by fatal distraction when in the end it was taken by ruse. The Latin Middle Ages forgot even much of that, and when Archimedean mathematics was translated in the 12th and 13th centuries, almost no integration with the traditional image of the person took place. With the exception of Petrarca, who knew the civically useful engineer and the astrologer (!), fourteenth-century Humanists show no interest in Archimedes. In the 15th century, however, “higher artisans” with Humanist connections or education took interest in Archimedes the technician and started identifying with him. In mid-century, a new translation of most works from the Greek was made by Jacopo remonensis, and Regiomontanus and a few other mathematicians began resurrecting the image of the geometer, yet without emulating him in their own work. Giorgio Valla’s posthumous De expetendis et fugiendis rebus from 1501 marks a watershed. Valla drew knowledge of the person as well as his works from Proclus and Pappus, thus integrating the two. Over the century, a number of editions also appeared, the editio princeps in 1544, and mathematical work following in the footsteps of Archimedes was made by Maurolico, Commandino and others. The Northern Renaissance only discovered Archimedes in the 1530s, and for long only superficially. The first to express a (purely ideological) high appreciation is Ramus in 1569, and the first to make creative use of his mathematics was Viète in the 1590s.
Dieter Hoffmann Ingo Peschel (2016)
Peter Fulde is not only one of Germany’s leading solid-state physicists but is prominent also due to his outstanding career, his general involvement in science, and the exceptional activities he undertook in organizing science in various circumstances. Fulde grew up in the eastern part of the country and went to the West as a student. He obtained his PhD in the United States and then returned to Germany to become full professor at the University of Frankfurt at the age of 32 and later director in various research institutes. He was a member of the German Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat), the board of the German Physical Society (DPG) and numerous other bodies. After the re-unification of Germany he returned to the East and built up the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden. Finally, after his retirement in 2007, he followed a call to South Korea to head a similar institute there and eventually helped to establish a Korean analogue of the German Max Planck Society. The interview presented here follows the steps of his life. It was conducted on the occasion of his 80th birthday in April of 2016 and is supplemented by a curriculum vitae and by two brief accounts of his physics research and of his role in Dresden and Korea in the context of the Max Planck Society.
Elena Serrano (2016)
Around 1801 Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau (1737–1816) designed his famous fumigating machine. The machine spread a controlled emission of a specific gas—described as an oxygenated acid—that was supposed to destroy the contagious miasmas in the air, objects, and bodies. During the 1804 outburst of the yellow fever, the Spanish Government ordered that the original design of Guyton’s fumigating machine be adapted to the Spanish market for extensive use in households. This was done against some criticism, as the nature of the contagion was avowedly unknown and the acid fumigation technology polemic. Nonetheless, the machine was pictured as crucial for the health of individuals and for society as a whole.
The essay looks at the fumigating machine as a way of exploring how scientific and political practices pervaded societies and, vice-versa, how ways of interpreting nature and politics became embedded in artifacts. It will show, first, how the machine served to spread the new French chemistry among Spaniards; second, how it embodied a new relationship between the citizens and the state, and third, how this artefact was imported by the Spanish absolutist state, appropriated, and used for political propaganda. By focusing on a chemical artefact, it shows a historically complex and significant interweaving of theory, material culture, and politics.
Wolfgang Gebhardt (2016)
Erich Kretschmann (1887–1973) was a German theoretical physicist whose work on Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (1917) offered some interesting insights, but was also critical of Einstein’s semantics. Einstein responded in a paper in 1918 and agreed that Kretschmann’s criticism was valid. Kretschmann wrote his thesis under the supervision of Max Planck and obtained his doctorate in 1914. A psychiatric disease during his adolescence made him permanently unfit for military service and saved him from having to participate in the First World War. From 1920 he lectured in theoretical physics at the University of Königsberg. In 1926 he became an apl. professor, a position which he held until 1945. After his escape from Königsberg in January 1945 he found temporary accommodation at Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein. In 1946 he was appointed as a full professor of theoretical physics at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle.
Carola Sachse (2016)
When the Federation of German Scientists (VDW) was founded as the West German section of Pugwash in the late 1950s, several high-profile scientists from the Max Planck Society (MPG), especially nuclear physicists, were involved. Well into the 1980s, institutional links existed between the MPG, the Federal Republic’s most distinguished scientific research institution, and Pugwash, the transnational peace activist network that was set up in 1957 in the eponymous Nova Scotia village following the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. In the beginning, the two organisations’ relationship was maintained primarily by the physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker. However, it was difficult right from the start, and the distance between them grew during the rise of détente in the 1970s, when the scientific flagship MPG was deployed more and more frequently in matters of foreign cultural policy, not only for the FRG but for the western alliance as a whole. This contribution explores the resources and the risks of transnational political engagement – not only as the individual strategies of top-ranking researchers, but also in terms of policy deliberations within a leading scientific organization at one of the Cold War’s sharpest divisions: the front line between two Germanys.
Yvonne Fourès-Bruhat (2016)
This paper is the translation by Giampiero Esposito of a paper originally published in French in Acta Mathematica 88, 141-225 (1952) under the title: Théorème d’existence pour certains systèmes d’équations aux dérivées partielles non linéaires. The first three chapters are devoted to the solution of the Cauchy problem, in the nonanalytic case, for a system of nonlinear second-order hyperbolic partial differential equations with n unknown functions and four independent variables. This task is accomplished in chapter III by using the system of integral equations fulfilled by the solutions of partial differential equations that approximate the original nonlinear system. In chapter IV, such results are applied to the vacuum Einstein equations. The resulting Ricci-flatness condition is expressed, in isothermal coordinates, through nonlinear equations of the kind studied here. It is hence proved that the solution of the Cauchy problem, pertaining to such nonlinear equations, satisfies over the whole of its existence domain the isothermal conditions if the same is true for the initial data. One therefore obtains a solution of the vacuum Einstein equations which is unique up to a coordinate change.
Wolfgang Lefèvre (2016)
According to the topos “Ende der Naturgeschichte” (Foucault, Lepenies) a veritable historical understanding of Nature came into being around 1800. The contribution re-considers this thesis and discusses in particular the historical speculations in deistic cosmologies as well as in the context of the idea of a “Great Chain of Beings.” Finally attention is drawn to the implications of the fact that the then new physiological understanding of development (ontogenesis) as an epigenetic process became a naturalistic model of historical development in general just in this period.
Martin Fechner (2016)
The paper discusses the interplay of experience and representation in disciplinarily structured science using the example of the fundamental changes in the concepts of space and time brought about by the advanced formalism of twentieth-century physics, which enabled the integration of a growing corpus of experiential knowledge. In particular the question of why certain parts of experiential knowledge had an impact on concepts of space and time, while other parts did not have such an impact, is addressed.