Skip to main content

Bright Idea from the 1930s

Wolfgang Pauli ETH-Bib Portr 01042.jpg

A quote from the cover story in the May 2015 issue of Harper's.

As early as the 1930s, scientists knew that in the process of radioactive decay, an atom's nucleus will release an electron. They were puzzled, though, by variations in the electron's energy level. The law of conservation of energy dictates a mathematical tidiness, whereby all such differences had to be accounted for. The Swiss physicist Wolfgang Pauli suggested a solution: Perhaps the electron was accompanied by an undetected 'ghost particle' which was more energetic when the electron was less so, and vice versa. The particle came to be called the neutrino, or 'little neutral one.' Pauli thought it might never be detected because it would hardly react with matter.  

That is Pauli's visage above.


Popular posts from this blog

Great Chain of Being

One of the points that Lovejoy makes in the book of that title I mentioned last week is the importance, in the Neo-Platonist conceptions and in the later development of the "chain of being" metaphor, of what he calls the principle of plenitude. This is the underlying notion that everything that can exist must exist, that creation would not be possible at all were it to leave gaps.

The value of this idea for a certain type of theodicy is clear enough.

This caused theological difficulties when these ideas were absorbed into Christianity.  I'll quote a bit of what Lovejoy has to say about those difficulties:

"For that conception, when taken over into Christianity, had to be accommodated to very different principles, drawn from other sources, which forbade its literal interpretation; to carry it through to what seemed to be its necessary implications was to be sure of falling into one theological pitfall or another."

The big pitfalls were: determinism on the on…

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…