Detours due to the historical development of physics knowledge that got lost

Today’s science curriculum is the result of a process of evolution. It reflects the process of the development in great details. Those who are learning science have to follow a path that is very similar to the course of the historical development. They have to take detours, to overcome unnecessary obstacles and to reproduce historical errors. They have to learn inappropriate concepts and employ outdated methods. When developing the Karlsruhe Physics Course we have tried to eliminate such obsolete concepts and methods. 

F. Herrmann und G. Job: Altlasten der Physik

F. Herrmann und G. Job: The historical burden on scientific knowledge , Eur. J. Phys.  17 (1996), S. 159

In the history of science it happened time and again that important works and results were not accepted by the scientific community: When they arrived it was too late. A change, – although it might have been extremely useful – had become too tedious. Here are three examples: 

1. The physical quantity entropy had three chances to become a quantity that would be easy to grasp, even for a beginner; the first chance was after the works of Joseph Black and Sadi Carnot, the second after the work of W. Ostwald and H. L. Callendar and the third through the book A new concept of thermodynamics by Georg Job. All of these chances were neglected. The corresponding ideas had been incorrectly interpreted or simply ignored.

2. The physical quantity force with the corresponding terminology – a sophisticated construction of Newton – turned out to be the strength of the current of momentum. The corresponding publication from 1908 by Max Planck remained virtually unnoticed.

3. The first 50 years after the introduction of the energy into physics it was not clear if energy obeys a local conservation principle. It was expected but not proven. For that reason a terminology came in use that took these doubts into account. The publication of 1898 by Gustav Mie, in which it is shown that energy obeys a continuity equation did not lead to a more appropriate and simple language. We still speak about energy as if we had to be prepared that one day actions at a distance might be discovered. 

The Karlsruhe Physics Course takes these buried findings into account. Since the original literature is not easily accessible, here some links:

J. Black: Lectures on the elements of chemistry , Mundell and Son, Edinburgh (1803) 

S. Carnot: Réflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu , Librairie scientifique et technique, A. Blanchard, Paris (1953)

W. Ostwald: Die Energie,Verlag von Johann Ambrosius Barth, Leipzig, S. 77 (1908) 

H.L. Callendar: The caloric theory of heat and Carnot’s principle, Proc. Phys. Soc. London 23 (1911), S. 153 

H.L. Callendar: Properties of Steam and Thermodynamik Theory of Turbines, Edward Arnold, London(1920), S. 131-132. 

M. A. Hirshfeld: On Some Current Misinterpretations of Carnot’s Memoir , Am. J. Phys. 23 (1955)S. 103-105,  

G. Jaumann: Geschlossenes System physikalischer und chemischer Differentialgesetze , Wiener Berichte CXX, Abt. IIa, S. 385-530. 

G. Mie: Entwurf einer allgemeinen Theorie der Energieübertragung , Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. CVII. Band VIII. Heft (1898), S. 1113 

M. Planck: Bemerkungen zum Prinzip der Aktion und Reaktion in der allgemeinen Dynamik , Physikalische Zeitschrift, 9. Jahrgang, Nr. 23 (1908), S. 828 

G. Job: Neudarstellung der Wärmelehre – Die Entropie als Wärme , Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft Frankfurt (1972)