Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906) and the Re-Discovery of the Atom in Western Science



Although the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus (460-370 BCE), and his famous student Epicurus (341-270 BCE), speculated that ‘atoms’ existed beneath the surface of conventional reality (which could not be seen with the naked eye), this did not mean that following the ‘Renaissance’ in Europe (and the re-discovery of ancient Greek logic and reason), all Greek ideas were automatically accepted without question. This is the case with atoms. Western science evolved not only from the logic of Greek thought, but also from the rejection of Judeo-Christian theology (and faith) as a means to discern correct knowledge about the universe. Empirical science is premised upon the correct observation and measurement of matter and material processes. The problem with the atom hypothesis was that the existence of an atom had to be taken on ‘faith’, and because of this, many leading scientists in the 19th century refused to accept the idea of an atom on the grounds that its existence could not be confirmed and verified through observation and measurement. This is where mathematics and algebra came into play. Mathematics (and algebra) represent the meaningful arranging (or sequencing) of numbers and letters, so that empirical truths could be revealed about the material nature of reality. Ludwig Boltzmann, being fully aware that atoms had to be ‘statistically’ proven to exist, exercised his particular genius, and developed a mathematical formula which proved the existence and behaviour of atoms. In-short, Ludwig Boltzmann developed what is known as ‘statistical mechanics’. Statistical mechanics confirms the existence of atoms, and predicts how the mass, charge, and structure of an atom will behave. Such an observation determines the physical properties of matter – namely the viscosity, thermal conductivity, and diffusion. Ludwig Boltzmann lived at a time when microscopes were not yet powerful enough to observe individual atoms (or sub-atomic particles), and so had to use the power of representative mathematics to ‘reflect’ a material world that could be ‘predicted’ to exist with the human mind, but which could not yet be seen with the human eye.

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