Tim Minchin once said “Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic.” One thing I want to understand better is “How, exactly, has that happened in history? In particular, how have our naive pre-scientific concepts evolved in response to, or been eliminated by, scientific progress?
Examples: What is the detailed story of how “water” came to be identified with H2O? How did our concept of “heat” evolve over time, including e.g. when we split it off from our concept of “temperature”? What is the detailed story of how “life” came to be identified with a large set of interacting processes with unclear edge cases such as viruses decided only by convention? What is the detailed story of how “soul” was eliminated from our scientific ontology rather than being remapped onto something “conceptually close” to our earlier conception of it, but which actually exists?
I wish there was a handbook of detailed case studies in scientific reductionism from a variety of scientific disciplines, but I haven’t found any such book yet. The documents I’ve found that are closest to what I want are perhaps:
- Thagard’s “Conceptual Change in the History of Science: Life, Mind, and Disease” and his earlier Conceptual Revolutions
- Grisdale’s Conceptual Change: Gods, Elements, and Water
- Laureys’ “Death, unconsciousness and the brain“
- Chang’s Inventing Temperature, Is Water H2O?, and some of his papers
- Chalmers’ The Scientist’s Atom and the Philosopher’s Stone
Some semi-detailed case studies also show up in Kuhn, Feyerabend, etc. but they are typically buried in a mass of more theoretical discussion. I’d prefer to read histories that focus on the historical developments.
Got any such case studies, or collections of case studies, to recommend?