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Elegant Connections in Physics The Discovery of the Nucleus

By Dwight E. Neuenschwander


The discovery of the atomic nucleus was announced a century ago, in 1911. How does one “see ” a nucleus? It is not there for the mere looking; its existence and properties must be inferred. This takes one into deep waters in the philosophy of science, the problem of scientific realism. Peter Godfrey-Smith describes scientific realism this way: One actual and reasonable aim of science is to give us accurate descriptions (and other representations) of what reality is like [emphasis added]. This project includes giving us accurate representations of aspects of reality that are unobservable.[1] By ‘unobservable ’ Godfrey-Smith means ‘not directly accessible to our senses. ’ In such cases, philosophers of science distinguish the observable from the detectable. In science we work with models, conceptual representations of real things and processes.[2] When the object of study is not directl

Year: 2013
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