Almagest: Vol. X, Issue 2

Table of Contents and Abstracts, Almagest 10-2, November 2019

René Sigrist
The First Generations of Russian Chemists (1700–1830): Between Pharmacy, Technical Know-How and Academia
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.119493

This article describes, from a social point of view, the combination of science and art, and the mixture of practical know-how and theory which shaped chemistry practice in 18th-century Russia. As it often did in the Empire, the story started with Peter the Great’s military ambitions and, in this case, with his fascination for natural magic and alchemy. At that time, chemical knowledge was above all a matter for pharmacists and physicians, mining engineers, artillery and fireworks’ engineers, and a few private and State manufacturers. Theoretical knowledge remained of little significance even after 1750, when Lomonosov attempted to set up chemistry as a physical discipline within the Imperial Academy of Sciences. In the 1760s and 1770s, a tiny community of specialists emerged with the creation of Moscow University and the emergence of the Mining School, but most chemists remained of German origin. In the 1780s, a new generation headed by Johann Tobias Lowitz was able to combine chemical theory and practice, with the support of the Medical College, the Medical and Surgical Academy and the Free Economic Society. Baltic pharmacists, who had close connections with German universities, also played a significant role in the emergence of chemistry as an autonomous discipline and in the creation of the first specialized periodicals. After 1805, the creation of new university chairs in Dorpat, Moscow and Kazan set up an enlarged institutional field for chemistry, but most of the positions were still given to German scholars, who often took little interest in Russian affairs, since they were waiting for teaching positions in their homeland. Finally, it is only after 1826—when the training of indigenous scholars became an absolute priority—that the conditions were met for the great leap forward in Russian chemistry.

Carlos Alvarez J, Vincent Jullien, and Carmen Martínez-Adame
On the analytic and synthetic demonstrations in Fermat’s work on the law of refraction
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.119494

The history of refraction is extensive and quite complex, it can be dated back to Ptolemy and Ibn Sahl, and the law of refraction itself is usually called Snell’s law. We do not wish however, to give a complete account of this history, our aim in this paper is rather to study Fermat’s contributions which are divided into two periods. In the first period, commencing with the publication of Descartes’ Discours de la Méthode, Fermat rejects the law of refraction as proposed by Descartes claiming that the method used to obtain it is flawed and that the law must therefore be wrong. During the second period, dating from 1657 to 1662, Fermat presents two proofs of the law, one which is analytic and one that is synthetic, and concludes (to his own surprise) that Descartes’ law was in fact correct. Our goal is to study in detail in what ways these proofs are analytic and synthetic and then account for Fermat’s results given he had set out to disprove them.

Vera I. Kharlamova
About bibliographical projects during the formation of the mathematical community in Europe. Portuguese mathematicians in international bibliography at the turn of the XIX - XX centuries
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.119495

We consider the possibility of using bibliographic as well as reference data for research in the history of mathematics during the formation of the mathematical scientific community in Europe at the second half of the XIX – the first half of the XX centuries. Considering an example of the mathematical scientific community in Portugal, which was still being formed at that time, we explore participation and citing of Portuguese researchers in different bibliographic European projects. We note that bibliographic data can be interpreted in the broader context of the history of Europe as a whole: the link between this local process in the history of mathematical thought and the European historical process can be easily seen in the changing number of publications produced by the mathematical scientific community in Portugal over different time periods. We conclude that the evolution dynamics of international bibliography of the mathematical scientific communities in different countries can be used as a research methodology to understand the social history of mathematics.

Dimitris Kilakos
Higgs boson and the Cosmos: A philosophical reappraisal of the authoritative Catholic and Greek-Orthodox perspectives
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.119496

The theoretical prediction of Higgs boson was arguably one of the most important contributions in particle physics in the 20th century, with significant implications for modern cosmology. Its reported discovery in 2012 was celebrated as one of the most significant scientific achievements of all times. The fierce public discourse that followed was at large ignited by the media-hyped nickname “God particle” attributed to Higgs boson. The debate regarding the science-religion relation reinvigorated once again and plenty theologically informed views were expressed. In this paper, I take into consideration the authoritative views expressed by the Catholic Church and the Greek-Orthodox Church and I discuss them in comparison with each other, as well as in juxtaposition with other views expressed in the public discussion on the issue, in an attempt to draw philosophically interesting inferences.

Jana Černá
Beyond the Irrational and Superstitious: The New World, Sagacious and Curious „Hunters“ of Nature’s Secrets and the Transformations of Science in Early Modern Period
DOI 10.1484/J.ALMAGEST.5.119497

The goal of this article is to examine the preconditions, presuppositions, and forms of modern science. It focuses on ‘hunt for nature’s secrets’ as one of the key sources and roots of science, an enterprise where the productive role of human knowledge and its power ambitions became crucial. Such approach to science is often identified with Bacon’s project of recovery of sciences or with the experimental approach of modern science. In this contribution, however, it is demonstrated that one can find such goals and ambitions also in a different – and at first sight even ‘irrational’ – area, namely in Spanish natural magic, occult philosophy, and tradition of libri secretorum. Considered are the works of Juan Eusebio Nieremberg and Juan de Cárdenas, where the ‘hunter’s epistemology’ is defined. Both of these authors articulated new goals and methods of science, an approach based on the privileged epistemic status of experience, rehabilitation of intellectual curiosity, and active and power-demanding approach to nature and its secrets. These ideas were distinctly articulated in confrontation with nature of the New World.