Technology, Biology, and Pocahontas

I wanted to like Tim Wu. He’s a professor at Columbia University Law School, and advocates for freedom on the internet (he coined “network neutrality”). But his latest piece in the New Yorker is appalling.

Things get off to a rocky start with the title (written by the NYer, no doubt) “As Technology Gets Better, Will Society Get Worse?” Three immediate problems jump out: Technology gets better? (According to what yardstick?) Society gets worse? (That yardstick problem again.) And, technology and society can be cleanly differentiated? (According to whom?)* This set up flies red flags for those who study Science and Technology Studies, the History and Philosophy of Science, and related disciplines. Some thought reveals that none of these three problems have neat answers.

Pocahontas circa 1870, Library of Congress, via Wikipedia

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Playing with pretty mathematics: Dirac and Mathematical Beauty (2)

The last post in this series explored the question of whether Dirac was “Eddingtonian” in the sense Olivier Darrigol argues for. Did Dirac follow Eddington’s metaphysics and methodological principles? From an analyses of Darrigol’s evidence and a 1931 paper from Dirac, the conclusion was overall “no,” particularly about the metaphysics. The case is stronger when just considering Dirac’s methodological views. This post goes into more detail about Dirac’s methodology and his aesthetics. It takes a closer look at Dirac’s famous 1928 paper that introduced his relativistic theory of the electron to the world.

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New Key Words: Newton

Newton. 1. Natural Philosopher 2. Failed Apple technology 3. Unit of force 4. Never at rest

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New Key Words: Crab

Crab. 1. Crustacean 2. Not Kosher 3. Nebula 4. Me in the morning

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New Key Words: Compact

Compact. 1. Agreement 2. Manifold without boundary 3. Car

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Was Dirac Eddingtonian? Dirac and mathematical beauty (1)

This post will be the first in a short series on Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac and his scientific methodology—what I call in my dissertation his “epistemic strategies.” Dirac was famous for his emphasis on the primary role of mathematics in physical theory. According to Dirac, when crafting a new theory, the mathematics should come first. What sort of mathematics? Pretty, or beautiful mathematics. I’m going to use these posts to try to think through some of the historiographical issues here, and would love feedback with links to good sources on the aesthetics of science.

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Posted in historiography, History of Physics | 2 Comments

New Site

Hi all,

I’ve been working on a new website you can find here: aaronswright.com.
Cheers,
Aaron

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New Key Words: Potential

Potential.

1. What you used to have.

2. What the Leafs have (for next year…).

3. Energy.

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New Key Words: Experiment

Experiment.

1. What real physicists do.

2. What you did in college.

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New Key Words: Inflated

Inflated.

1. Balloons.

2. Newt Gingrich’s ego.

3. The universe.

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