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Book Review Ilse Maria Fasol-Boltzmann und Gerhard Ludwig Fasol (Hrsg.) УLudwig Boltzmann (1844Ц1906)

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Ann. Phys. (Leipzig) 16, No. 9, 653 – 654 (2007) / DOI 10.1002/andp.200710254
Book Review
llse Maria Fasol-Boltzmann und Gerhard Ludwig Fasol (Hrsg.), “Ludwig Boltzmann
(1844–1906). Zum hundertsten Todestag”, Springer, Wien New York 2006, ISBN 978-3-21133140-8, 196 pp. (mostly in German, the article of S. Brush in English), EUR 29,Stefan L. Wolff∗
Lehrstuhl für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München und
Forschungsinstitut des Deutschen Museums, Museumsinsel 1, 80538 München, Germany
Key words Statistical physics, reversibility paradox, history of physics.
Physicists usually encounter famous persons in the history of their field only through technical terms
connected with names. In the case of Ludwig Boltzmann, this kind of memorial culture is reflected in the
equation, in the statistics, and in the constant that bear his name. However, this is not sufficient to understand
the exceptional importance Boltzmann has had for the development of physics in the late 19th and the early
20th century. A more detailed consideration of his person will lead us not only to a deeper understanding of
the physics of his time. It also sharpens our awareness of the philosophical problems that already emerged
in the context of classical statistics because of its renunciation of the notion of certainty. Quite frequently,
Boltzmann addressed objections against his theories and discussed them, not the least those about supposed
paradoxes of the statistical approach, such as the reversibility paradox (“Umkehreinwand”). This illustrates
how such new concepts had to overcome considerable opposition and were accepted only gradually. At that
time those objections appeared more than justified. They were useful for further development, as Boltzmann
felt obliged to formulate his replies in many speeches and articles that subsequently helped to clear up these
matters. Just one of his strongest critics, Max Planck, made use of Boltzmann’s statistical approach in 1900
in order to explain the entropy of thermal radiation. This led to quantisation that, in retrospect, is regarded
as the birth of quantum theory.
The book under consideration was published on the occasion of the centenary of Boltzmann’s death.
It is a collection of different articles on the life of Boltzmann, and includes transcriptions of documents
unknown so far. Except for a survey article of the physicist and historian of physics, Stephen Brush, all
other contributions were written by one of the two editors, Ilse Maria Fasol-Boltzmann, a granddaughter of
Boltzmann, and her husband, Gerhard Ludwig Fasol, a German professor of physics. Mrs. Fasol-Boltzmann
has undertaken the task of writing a short introductory biography that makes use of earlier biographies.
However, she adds some details on the history of her family, as well as a few memories of her father, a son of
Boltzmann, who died in 1952. Accordingly, her biographical sketch has a more personal character than usual.
This contribution is rounded off by numerous appraisals of colleagues and by a number of photographs.
In a reprint of his article on “Ludwig Boltzmann and the Foundations of Natural Science”, Brush provides
an excellent survey of Boltzmann’s achievements in statistical physics. However, in contrast to the original
article, only a very small part of the comprehensive footnotes survived. Furthermore, short chapters describe
the reaction of Maxwell, Mach, and Ostwald to Boltzmann’s physics, the latter two in a rather critical sense.
The topic of the subsequent article is the problematic relation of Boltzmann towards philosophy.
Mrs. Fasol-Boltzmann deserves the merit for the very difficult deciphering of the personal shorthand of
her grandfather, which is a rather specific modification of the so-called Gabelsberger shorthand. Only for
this reason, many of Boltzmann’s papers are now accessible, and one of the most important results had been
the publication of his lectures on natural philosophy (“Principien der Naturfilosofi”) in 1990. The new book
c 2007 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
Book Review
provides a transcription of one of Boltzmann’s notebooks, which apparently dates back to the last years
of his life. It mainly contains aphorisms, but also some remarks on his discussions with the philosopher
Franz Brentano. The book concludes with a reprint of a public talk that was thought to be lost. However, the
original manuscript was rediscovered. It treats the explanation of the law of entropy and shows how well
Boltzmann knew to argue on a popular level. Moreover, the editors amended not only a list of secondary
literature, but also a bibliography of 192 of Boltzmann’s published papers.
This book covers well-known and, additionally, some new aspects of Boltzmann’s life and is a further
facet of the rich literature about and of Boltzmann. It is desirable that not only teachers of physics but other
physicists, too, will gain a better knowledge of the development of their subject by studying Boltzmann.
c 2007 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
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