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Physics - Middle Ages, Sixteenth And Seventeenth Centuries, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century, Causes Of Motion: Medieval Understandings

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind - Early Ideas to Planck length

It should be understood that a full understanding of the history of physics would include consideration of its institutional, social, and cultural contexts. Physics became a scientific discipline during the nineteenth century, gaining a clear professional and cognitive identity as well as patronage from a number of institutions (especially those pertaining to education and the state). Before the nineteenth century, researchers who did work that we now refer to as physics identified themselves in more general terms—such as natural philosopher or applied mathematician—and discussion of their work often adopts a retrospective definition of physics.

For researchers of the nineteenth century, physics involved the development of quantifiable laws that could be tested by conducting experiments and taking precision measurements. The laws of physics focused on fundamental processes, often discovered in particular areas of research, such as mechanics, electricity and magnetism, optics, fluids, thermodynamics, and the kinetic theory of gases. The various specialists saw physics as a unified science, since they shared the same concepts and laws, with energy becoming the central unifying concept by the end of the century. In forming its cognitive and institutional identity, physics distinguished itself from other scientific and technical disciplines, including mathematics, engineering, chemistry, and astronomy. However, as we will see, the history of physics cannot be understood without considering developments in these other areas.

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