Ernst Mach

The sensations are no "symbols of things". On the contrary the "thing" is a mental symbol for a sensation-complex of relative stability. Not the things, the bodies, but colours, sounds, pressures, times (what we usually call sensations) are the true elements of the world.
- Mach, 1902

Ernst Mach (18 February 183819 February 1916) was an Austrian-Czech physicist and philosopher, noted for his contributions to physics such as the Mach number and the study of shock waves. As a philosopher of science, he was a major influence on logical positivism and through his criticism of Newton, a forerunner of Einstein's theory of relativity.

SourcedEdit

  • Personally, people know themselves very poorly.
    • Contributions to the analysis of the sensations (1897), translated by Cora May Williams, published by Open Court Publishing Company, p. 4
  • I know of nothing more terrible than the poor creatures who have learned too much. Instead of the sound powerful judgement which would probably have grown up if they had learned nothing, their thoughts creep timidly and hypnotically after words, principles and formulae, constantly by the same paths. What they have acquired is a spider's web of thoughts too weak to furnish sure supports, but complicated enough to provide confusion.
    • "On the Relative Educational Value of the Classics and the Mathematico-Physical Sciences in Colleges and High Schools", an address in (16 April 1886), published in Popular Scientific Lectures (1898), as translated by Thomas J. McCormack, p. 367
  • In reality, the law always contains less than the fact itself, because it does not reproduce the fact as a whole but only in that aspect of it which is important for us, the rest being intentionally or from necessity omitted.
    • "The Economical Nature of Physical Inquiry," in Popular Scientific Lectures (1898), p. 192
  • I see the expression of... economy clearly in the gradual reduction of the statical laws of machines to a single one, viz. , the principle of virtual work: in the replacement of Kepler's laws by Newton's single law... and in the [subsequent] reduction, simplification and clarification of the laws of dynamics. I see clearly the biological-economical adaptation of ideas, which takes place by the principles of continuity (permanence) and of adequate definition and splits the concept 'heat' into the two concepts of 'temperature' and 'quantity of heat'; and I see how the concept 'quantity of heat' leads on to 'latent heat', and to the concepts of 'energy' and 'entropy'.
    • Mach (1910) "Die Leitgedanken meiner naturwissenschaftlichcn Erkennenislehre und ihr Aufnahme durch die Zeitgenossen", Physikalische Zeitschrift. 1, 1910, 599-606 Eng. trans. as "The Guiding Principles of my Scientific Theory of Knowledge and its Reception by my Contemporaries", in S. Toulmin ed., Physical Reality, New York : Harper, 1970. pp.28-43. Cited in: K. Mulligan & B. Smith (1988) "Mach and Ehrenfels: Foundations of Gestalt Theory"

The Science of Mechanics (1893)Edit

Source: Ernst Mach (1893) Science of Mechanics, translated by Thomas Joseph McCormack, published by Open Court Publishing Company.
  • All this, the positive and physical essence of mechanics, which makes its chief and highest interest for a student of nature, is in existing treatises completely buried and concealed beneath a mass of technical considerations.
    • Preface to the first edition, , p. vii
  • The history of the development of mechanics is quite indispensable to a full comprehension of the science in its present condition. It also affords a simple and instructive example or the processes by which natural science generally is developed.
    • Introduction
  • The acquisition of the most elementary truth does not devolve upon the individual alone: it is pre-effected in the development of the race.
    • Introduction
  • The function of science, as we take it, is to replace experience. Thus, on the one hand, science must remain in the province of experience, but, on the other, must hasten beyond it, constantly expecting confirmation, constantly expecting the reverse. Where neither confirmation nor refutation is possible, science is not concerned.

The Analysis of Sensations, (1902)Edit

Source: Ernst Mach (1902) Analyse der Empfindungen (1902) [The Analysis of Sensations]
  • Not bodies produce sensations, but element-complexes (sensation-complexes) constitute the bodies. When the physicist considers the bodies as the permanent reality, the `elements' as the transient appearance, he does not realise that all `bodies' are only mental symbols for element-complexes (sensation-complexes)
    • p. 23, as quoted in Lenin as Philosopher: A Critical Examination of the Philosophical Basis of Leninism (1948) by Anton Pannekoek, p. 33
  • Nature consists of the elements given by the senses. Primitive man first takes out of them certain complexes of these elements that present themselves with a certain stability and are most important to him. The first and oldest words are names for "things". ... The sensations are no "symbols of things". On the contrary the "thing" is a mental symbol for a sensation-complex of relative stability. Not the things, the bodies, but colours, sounds, pressures, times (what we usually call sensations) are the true elements of the world.
    • p. 23, as quoted in Lenin as Philosopher: A Critical Examination of the Philosophical Basis of Leninism (1948) by Anton Pannekoek, p. 454

Quotes about MachEdit

  • What Mach calls a thought experiment is of course not an experiment at all. At bottom it is a grammatical investigation.
    • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Remarks (1930) p. 6

External linksEdit

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Last modified on 12 April 2014, at 22:10