Higher Speculations: Grand Theories and Failed Revolutions in Physics and Cosmology

ISBN : 9780199599882

Helge Kragh
416 Pages
176 x 247 mm
Pub date
Jan 2011
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Throughout history, people have tried to construct 'theories of everything': highly ambitious attempts to understand nature in its totality. This account presents these theories in their historical contexts, from little known hypotheses from the past to modern developments such as the theory of superstrings, the anthropic principle and ideas of many universes, and uses them to problematize the limits of scientific knowledge. Do claims to theories of everything belong to science at all? Which are the epistemic standards on which an alleged scientific theory of the universe - or the multiverse - is to be judged? Such questions are currently being discussed by physicists and cosmologists, but rarely within a historical perspective. This book argues that these questions have a history and that knowledge of the historical development of 'higher speculations' may inform and qualify the current debate of the nature and limits of scientific explanation.


1. Beginnings of Modern Science
2. A Victorian Theory of Everything
3. Electrodynamics as a World View
4. Rationalist Cosmologies
5. Cosmology and Controversy
6. The Rise and Fall of the Bootstrap Programme
7. Varying Constants of Nature
8. New Cyclic Models of The Universe
9. The Anthropic Principle
10. Multiverse Scenarios
11. String Theory and Other Models of Quantum Gravity
12. Astrobiology and Physical Eschatology
13. Summary: Final Theories and Epistemic Shifts

About the author: 

After graduation from the University of Copenhagen in Physics and Chemistry, and a period as teacher in gymnasium schools, Helge Kragh became Associate Professor at Cornell University, Departments of History and Physics. Later, he took positions as Curator at the Steno Museum for Science and Medicine and Professor of the History of Science at the University of Oslo, Norway. Since 1997, he has been Professor of the History of Science and Technology, University of Aarhus, Denmark. He is a Member of the Royal Danish Academy of Science, the International Academy for the History of Science, and of the European Academy of Science. He was President of the European Society for the History of Science (2008-2010).

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