Experimental Knowledge and the Theory of Producing it: Hermann von Helmholtz

In U. Feest & G. Hon (eds.), Generating Experimental Knowledge. Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (2008)
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Abstract
Helmholtz's public reflection about the nature of the experiment and its role in the sciences is a historically important description, which also helps to analyze his own works. It is a part of his conception of science and nature, which can be seen as an ideal type of science and its goals. But its historical reach seems to be limited in an important respect. Helmholtz's understanding of experiments is based on the idea that their planning, realization and evaluation lies in the hands of a person or group acting according to decisions of free will. In my opinion this idea is characteristic for the foundation of the experimental method in early modern times, not however for several forms of its present structures. Above all, the increasing technization of producing knowledge reduces the roIe of the subject in conducting experiments. My lecture consists of three parts. In its first part I would like to present a summary of Helmholtz's own theory of experiment and the change of his conception of science and nature. In the second part I would like to discuss three examples of his experimental practice, which were taken in chronological order from three different periods of his work; in the third part I would like to compare the examples with the change of his conception of science and nature.
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