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Heuristics versus Norms: On the Relativistic Responses to the Kaufmann Experiments

Potters, Jan (2019) Heuristics versus Norms: On the Relativistic Responses to the Kaufmann Experiments. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 66. pp. 69-89. ISSN 1355-2198

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Abstract

The aim of this article is to provide a historical response to Michel Janssen’s (2009) claim that the special theory of relativity establishes that relativistic phenomena are purely kinematical in nature, and that the relativistic study of such phenomena is completely independent of dynamical considerations regarding the systems displaying such behaviour. This response will be formulated through a historical discussion of one of Janssen’s cases, the experiments carried out by Walter Kaufmann on the velocity-dependence of the electron’s mass. Through a discussion of the different responsed formulated by early adherents of the principle of relativity (Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Hermann Minkowski and Max von Laue) to these experiments, it will be argued that the historical development of the special theory of relativity argues against Janssen’s historical presentation of the case, and that this raises questions about his general philosophical claim. It will be shown, more specifically, that Planck and Einstein developed a relativistic response to the Kaufmann experiments on the basis of their study of the dynamics of radiation phenomena, and that this response differed significantly from the response formulated by Minkowski and Laue. In this way, it will be argued that there were, at the time, two different approaches to the theory of relativity, which differed with respect to its relation to theory, experiment and history: Einstein and Planck’s heuristic approach, and Minkowski and Laue’s normative approach. This indicates that it is difficult to say, historically speaking, that the special theory of relativity establishes the kinematical nature of particular phenomena. Instead, it will be argued that the theory of relativity should not be seen as a theory but rather as outlining an approach, and that the nature of particular scientific phenomena is something that is open to scientific debate and dispute.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Potters, JanJan.Potters@UAntwerpen.be0000-0002-5292-5369
Keywords: Kaufmann experiments; velocity-dependence of mass; special relativity; kinematics versus dynamics
Subjects: General Issues > Experimentation
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
General Issues > Theory Change
Depositing User: Dr. Jan Potters
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2020 21:09
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2020 21:09
Item ID: 16913
Journal or Publication Title: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
Publisher: Elsevier
Official URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/...
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsb.2018.10.011
Subjects: General Issues > Experimentation
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Specific Sciences > Physics > Relativity Theory
General Issues > Theory Change
Date: May 2019
Page Range: pp. 69-89
Volume: 66
ISSN: 1355-2198
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/16913

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