The First Phase in the Evolution of the Quantum Theory [1936b]

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 21)


In its universality and continuity the development of science appears to contrast sharply with the apparently chaotic fluctuations of other human activities; but this is indeed only a superficial contrast because the relative simplicity of scientific problems is produced by defining the idealizations which form the proper domain of science through abstraction from an infinity of circumstances which are, on the contrary, essential to other points of view. An historical perspective shows us clearly that, indeed, the progress of science is an integral part of man’s constant work of adaptation to constantly changing conditions of existence. Scientific theories are systems of concepts and representations which are utilized at each stage of development to classify and describe the totality of our experience as economically as possible.1 Each new acquisition of science appears historically as the end result of a crisis provoked by evidence of an essential discordance between a given theory and a newly discovered group of phenomena; it consists precisely, in the final analysis, in a modification of our mode of description of phenomena, designed to adapt the latter to the new situation. Hence, the meaning and significance of a theory can only be fully understood on condition that it be considered not only in its final structure, as a method of describing certain phenomena, but as well in its entire evolution as an intellectual endeavor toward greater harmony. Thus, the history of science has an important function to fulfill, as a source of information for the theory of knowledge. Taking for our example the introduction of the idea of the quantum of action into science, it is from this point of view that we will try, in the following pages, to analyze in detail the birth of a theory from the moment when the crisis breaks out until the moment when the road to its solution is finally opened.


Quantum Theory Light Quantum Natural Radiation Classical Statistical Mechanic Quantum Hypothesis 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert S. Cohen
  • John J. Stachel

There are no affiliations available

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