2012 | 11 | 69-78
Article title

„Polska fizyka” i droga do „europejskiej” teorii kwantowej:Władysław Natanson i Pierwsza Konferencja Solvaya w 1911 r.

Title variants
„Polish Physics” and the road to a „European” Quantum Theory: Władysław Natanson and the First Solvay Conference of 1911
Languages of publication
In recent years, a good deal of scholarship has explored the quantum revolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as inextricably part of the social, political, and cultural forces that accompanied the continuing development of a modern Europe at that time. These studies, however, have largely concentrated on the contributions of Western European scientists and on the milieus of which they were a part. This essay seeks to expand these geographic and cultural limits through an examination of the work of the Polish physicist Władysław Natanson in the context of the First Solvay Conference in 1911. In that year, Natanson wrote two major papers that marked his explicit turn to research into early quantum physics and reveal Natanson’s exceptional grasp of the fundamental issues at stake in the revolution that shook the foundations of European physics. Indeed, Natanson was in many ways more cognizant of the revolutionary implications of Max Planck’s derivation for the nature of matter and energy than his Western European counterparts. Despite his research at the forefront of theoretical physics, Natanson was not invited to be among the participants of the Solvay Conference. In explaining this curious fact, I maintain that Natanson’s approach relied on a strand of “quantum thought” beyond the dominant Western European strains. This unique insight, I argue further, was a product of not only Natanson’s exceptional intellect, but also of the cultural and intellectual milieu of which he was a part. This milieu – comprised of physicists and mathematicians working at Polish-language universities and stretching across imperial borders – was in many ways more intellectually cosmopolitan and more broadly “European” that those in the West. This scientific cosmopolitanism fostered methodological, epistemological, and ontological approaches that fell outside the bounds of Western European scientific discourse.
Physical description
  • Department of History, University of Minnesota; Fulbright Commission grant holder
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Document Type
Publication order reference
YADDA identifier
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