Experiments on Resistance

Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 22)

In the previous chapters we have witnessed the existence of an experimental world in intimate relation with the theoretical world. Experimentation, which is a questioning of nature, is not a neutral or aseptic activity, but one that in itself implies a theory of the experiment and a theory of its interpretation. The first includes apparatus, circumstances and observers; the second deals with the reading and evaluation of the results, which are not normally as clear or immediate as to allow radical conclusions, requiring instead analyses which are generally complex.

These extremes, briefly noted, are especially notable when it comes to the experiments of resistance carried out in the eighteenth century. The discrepancies between theories and measurements were considerable, and it is interesting to see how the experimenters tailored the measurements, interpretations or apparatus to the results they were seeking. However, in the long run, experimental measurements took precedence, and as a result impact theory was discarded in an almost traumatic manner. Nevertheless, it took many years to arrive at an understanding of the multiple aspects of the phenomena of resistance.

There were also other causes of the experimentation boom. The theory is not wholly removed from experimentation, since the equations respond to models that participate in both the conceptual abstractions and the observed facts, as abstraction and reality are profoundly interwoven. Therefore, observation, comparison and accurate and rigorous measurements of the phenomena are necessary steps in the development of hydrodynamics. However, the task was slow, arduous and costly and it was necessary to wait until the following century to reap the fruits of the new science. Hahn recalls the words of Alexander Koyré concerning the historical moment in which ‘experience’ was transformed into ‘experimentation’ and hydrodynamics became an ‘active science’.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V 2008

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