Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and Philosophy

Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and Philosophy

Max Jammer
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and Philosophy
    Book Description:

    The concept of mass is one of the most fundamental notions in physics, comparable in importance only to those of space and time. But in contrast to the latter, which are the subject of innumerable physical and philosophical studies, the concept of mass has been but rarely investigated. Here Max Jammer, a leading philosopher and historian of physics, provides a concise but comprehensive, coherent, and self-contained study of the concept of mass as it is defined, interpreted, and applied in contemporary physics and as it is critically examined in the modern philosophy of science. With its focus on theories proposed after the mid-1950s, the book is the first of its kind, covering the most recent experimental and theoretical investigations into the nature of mass and its role in modern physics, from the realm of elementary particles to the cosmology of galaxies.

    The book begins with an analysis of the persistent difficulties of defining inertial mass in a noncircular manner and discusses the related question of whether mass is an observational or a theoretical concept. It then studies the notion of mass in special relativity and the delicate problem of whether the relativistic rest mass is the only legitimate notion of mass and whether it is identical with the classical (Newtonian) mass. This is followed by a critical analysis of the different derivations of the famous mass-energy relationship E = mc2 and its conflicting interpretations. Jammer then devotes a chapter to the distinction between inertial and gravitational mass and to the various versions of the so-called equivalence principle with which Newton initiated his Principia but which also became the starting point of Einstein's general relativity, which supersedes Newtonian physics. The book concludes with a presentation of recently proposed global and local dynamical theories of the origin and nature of mass.

    Destined to become a much-consulted reference for philosophers and physicists, this book is also written for the nonprofessional general reader interested in the foundations of physics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2378-9
    Subjects: Physics, General Science, Mathematics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-4)

    The concept of mass is one of the most fundamental notions in physics, comparable in importance only to the concepts of space and time. Isaac Newton, who was the first to make systematic use of the concept of mass, was already aware of its importance in physics. It was probably not a matter of fortuity that the very first statement in hisPrincipia, the most influential work in classical physics, presents his definition of mass or of “quantitas materiae,” as he still used to call it.¹ However, his definition of mass as the measure of the quantity of matter, “arising...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Inertial Mass
    (pp. 5-40)

    Mechanics, as understood in post-Aristotelian physics,¹ is generally regarded as consisting of kinematics and dynamics. Kinematics, a term coined by André-Marie Ampère,² is the science that deals with the motions of bodies or particles without any regard to the causes of these motions. Studying the positions of bodies as a function of time, kinematics can be conceived as a space-time geometry of motions, the fundamental notions of which are the concepts of length and time. By contrast, dynamics, a term probably used for the first time by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz,³ is the science that studies the motions of bodies as...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Relativistic Mass
    (pp. 41-61)

    Having confined our attention thus far to the concept of the inertial mass of classical physics we turn now to its relativistic analogue, the concept of mass in the special theory of relativity. If we ignore for the time being Mach’s principle, which will be discussed in a different context, we can say that in classical physics inertial massmiis an inherent characteristic property of a particle and, in particular, is independent of the particle’s motion. In contrast, the relativistic mass, which we denote bymr, is well known to depend on the particle’s motion in accordance with the...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Mass-Energy Relation
    (pp. 62-89)

    It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the mass-energy relation, usually symbolized by$E = m{c^2}$, is one of the most important and empirically best confirmed statements in physics. Although initially conceived as a purely theoretical theorem without any practical applications,$E = m{c^2}$eventually became the symbol that marks the beginning of a new era in the history of civilization—the age of nuclear energy with its promises and dangers for the human race. As we are interested in this relation only within the context of our study of the notion of mass, we ignore all these far-reaching implications and focus our...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Gravitational Mass and the Principle of Equivalence
    (pp. 90-142)

    So far the subject of our discussions has been almost exclusively the concept of inertial mass, which determines the inertial behavior of particles or bodies. Now we shall turn our attention to the concept of gravitational mass, which determines the gravitational behavior of matter. Since every body is a source of a gravitational field and is in turn affected by it, it has become common practice, as we noted in chapter 1, to assign to every body, apart from its inertial massmi, an active gravitational massma, which specifies the body’s role as the source of a gravitational field,...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Nature of Mass
    (pp. 143-168)

    Since the end of the nineteenth century physicists and philosophers have been cherishing the hope that all of the problems related to mass could be resolved if a theory could be constructed that reveals what they called “the nature of mass,” that is, a theory that explains the origin, existence, and phenomenological properties of mass. Of course, such an expectation was hardly compatible with the positivistic or operationalistic view that the concept of mass “involves as much as and nothing more than the set of operation by which it is determined”¹ and that any talk about “the nature of mass”...

  11. Index
    (pp. 169-180)