The Geometric Tradition and the Wave Theory of Light

  • Xiang Chen
Part of the Science and Philosophy book series (SCPH, volume 9)


With its emphasis on accurate measurements, the geometric tradition should have enhanced the status of the wave theory in the ongoing debate by offering numerical data to test and to confirm the theory’s quantitative accounts. However, such a supportive relationship between the geometric tradition and the wave theory did not exist in the 1830s and 1840s. This chapter begins with an examination of the impact of Humboldtian sciences, which highlighted the importance of measuring complex natural phenomena. Because they became favorite research subjects of many wave theorists, Humboldtian sciences diverted the research interests, resources and manpower of the wave camp, and consequently the problem-solving ability of the wave theory stagnated. When the popularity of Humboldtian sciences waned in the early 1850s, a new generation of physicists revitalized the geometric tradition and the wave theory. The measurements of a couple of important optical parameters had a profound effect on the status of the wave theory in the second half of the nineteenth century.


Wave Theory Optical Phenomenon British Association Original Emphasis Optical Experiment 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiang Chen
    • 1
  1. 1.California Lutheran UniversityUSA

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