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Physics  2011 

Visions of Revolutions: Microphysics and Cosmophysics in the 1930s

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By 1930, at a time when the new physics based on relativity and quantum theory had reached a state of consolidation, problems of a foundational kind began to abound. Physicists began to speak of a new "crisis" and envisage a forthcoming "revolution" of a scale similar to the one in the mid-1920s. The perceived crisis was an issue not only in microphysics but also in cosmology, where it resulted in ambitious cosmophysical theories that transcended the ordinary methods of physics. The uncertain cognitive situation was, in some circles, associated to the uncertain political and moral situation. Did the problems of foundational physics demand a revolution in thinking that somehow paralleled the political revolutions of the time? I argue that although such ideas were indeed discussed in the 1930s, they were more rhetoric than reality. With the benefit of hindsight one can see that the perceived crisis was only temporary and not significantly related to social or ideological developments in the decade.


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