Do atoms really exist? We can’t see them. Instruments that claim to detect atoms are enormous in size and complexity, and so are many layers removed from a world in which 10-8 cm is huge. So let’s begin this chapter by looking at what’s real in the daily world. Then we’ll move to the debate between realists and antirealists, using the atom as a concrete case. We’ll explore the atomic concept from the ancient Greeks to a heuristic device in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century chemistry, to the real physical object in the theories of Boltzmann, Einstein, Maxwell, and Poincaré. Einstein’s paper on Brownian motion firmly established for scientists the real existence of atoms. For philosophers the situation was different, however. What emerged is the tension between antirealist and realist philosophies, with antiscience movements always in the background. The chapter closes with a discussion of C. P. Snow’s “two cultures” and then present-day postmodernism.
KeywordsScientific Theory Sense Perception Scientific Progress Newtonian Mechanic Chemical Atom
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