Cum Physica conjuncta fuit Mathesis: Petrus van Musschenbroek (1692-1761)’s use of diagrams in his physico-mathematics

  • Pieter Present (Speaker)

Activiteit: Talk or presentation at a conference


Following the example of Newton, the Dutch natural philosopher and professor Petrus van Musschenbroek emphasised the indispensable role of mathematics in the practice of physics. At the same time, van Musschenbroek also warned that one should be conscious of the difference between physical demonstrations and the “pure demonstrations” provided in mathematics. Mathematics works by reasoning on “pure ideas”, disregarding the question whether or not these ideas correspond to physical reality. Therefore, mathematics can only be fruitfully applied in physics through the mediating role of experiments. In this presentation, I will analyse the role of diagrams and images in van Musschenbroek’s textbooks in unifying mathematics with physics. On the one hand, I will explicate van Musschenbroek’s own views on the relationship between mathematics and physics and how they were informed by his empiricist epistemology. I will then show what role, according to him, experiments could and should play in physical demonstrations. After that, I will analyse the functions diagrams can have in this view. On the other hand, I will analyse the way diagrams and illustrations were put to work by van Musschenbroek in the teaching of physico-mathematics. I will show how these visual elements played a unifying role, helping the student to link together geometry, natural philosophy, and his observations of demonstration experiments performed by van Musschenbroek in his courses.
Periode16 sep 2018
EvenementstitelEuropean Society for the History of Science Biennial Conference 2018
LocatieLondon, United Kingdom
Mate van erkenningInternational