27 May 2024

Sprachen der Physik

Venue: Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Beratungsraum, Eingang Meierottostr. 8, 10719 Berlin
Research project(s): The Philology of the Physicists

With the rise of theoretical physics and its groundbreaking revolutions on the epochal threshold around 1900, mathematics seemed to evolve into the “native language of modernity” (Herbert Mehrtens). Although the theoretical physicists of that time often diagnosed common language with a deficient character in comparison to mathematical formalisms, the relationship between “language and reality” (Werner Heisenberg) played a central role in the epistemic reflections of quantum theory’s founding fathers. What’s even more astonishing than this “(language) philosophy of the physicists” (Erhard Scheibe), which should be analyzed against the background of the linguistic-philosophical movements in the first half of the 20th century, is the fact that (natural) languages and related concepts (grammar, translation, etc.) seemed to constitute an important field of reference for theoretical physicists, especially when they discussed different (mathematical) approaches and transdisciplinary problems.

Starting from short impulse presentations, this workshop will jointly analyze texts from the broader sphere of theoretical physics and the “languages of physics” discussed within them against their background in the history of culture and science. Here, we will specifically focus on the ways in which language and (the observation of) nature are set into relation with one another in atomic physics, on reflections of disciplinary linguistic diversity, as well as on (natural) languages, which the physicists considered particularly relevant in the description of nature.


Fig. above: cover sheet of a folder “Glosse” from the estate of Erwin Schrödinger, source: Austrian Central Library for Physics


Auf Anfrage an kann ein Reader mit den Texten zugeschickt werden.


Welcome & introduction

Ernst Peter Fischer (Heidelberg): Werner Heisenberg: Ordnung der Wirklichkeit, Kapitel 1

Aura Heydenreich (Erlangen): Ernst Cassirer: Determinismus und Indeterminismus in der modernen Physik

Klaus Mecke (Erlangen): Alfred North Whitehead: Science and the Modern World, Chapter VIII: The Quantum Theory

Sebastian Fink (Innsbruck): Rudolf Carnap: Die physikalische Sprache als Universalsprache der Wissenschaft

Lukas Wolff (Neuchâtel): Niels Bohr: Address Delivered by Professor Niels Bohr at the Second International Germanist Congress // Niels Bohr: Unity of Science (Auszüge)

Magdalena Gronau, Martin Gronau (Berlin): Erwin Schrödinger: Auszüge aus populärwissenschaftlichen Texten

Closing discussion