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The Witches' Sabbath: The First International Solvay Congress in Physics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

Diana Kormos Barkan
School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton


This paper is about the context of Albert Einstein's concerns at the time of a most intense intellectual effort — his own and that of a small group of scientists concerned with classical quantum theory. I describe contemporaneous interactions and differing views about the prospects for and the significance of the First Solvay Congress of 1911 as voiced by major participants. There are two axes around which the paper evolves: the Einstein-Nernst-Lorentz dialogue and the public institutional creation of the “Solvay” stage. In certain ways, this paper is about personal and institutional patronage: the working out of a difficult theoretical impasse requires individual and collective moral support. It is about the forging of the identity of a scientific problem and the personal and institutional setting, the public space, in which this problem was collectively addressed. But I also uncover heuristic playfulness and flexibility which accompanies theoretical change.

The Context of Reception
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

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