Digital Technologies and the Diffusion of Scientific Culture Fabio Bevilacqua, Lidia Falomo Dipartimento di Fisica “A.Volta” Università di Pavia Abstract 1) The famous 1963 physics textbook of the Nobel prize winner R. Feynman recalls two contributions from Alexandria: the use of the principle of least distance by Hero (c.10-70 CE); and the very precise refraction experiments by Ptolomaeus (90-168 CE). We note that both utilized an emissionist theory: light is emitted by the eye. On the same grounds Al Kindi (800-873 CE) developed the theory of vision, while the first successful proponent of the immissionist theory, accepted today, was Alhazen (965-1039 CE). Thus the same events (reflection and refraction angles) can be interpreted with different models of the propagation of light and still maintain their validity. 2) Principles and models are necessary for scientific research, in addition to experiments and mathematics. These four components are historically, geographically and socially located, and show that science is a cultural activity, not described in standard textbooks. It is necessary for the diffusion of scientific culture to untangle the stratifications of results presented in textbooks, to outline, through these four components, the main scientists’ world views and the differing historical interpretations of phenomena. 3) Digital technologies help us in this difficult task, making easily available and comparable the scientists’ works (archives, books, instruments, thought experiments) and the historians’ interpretations, as well as explaining experiments through simulations and animations, movies and interactive exhibits. For instance, comparing the theories of Aristotle (relational space, no void, contact action), Newton (absolute empty space, action at a distance) and Einstein (relational space, contact action, relativity); presenting Galileo’s revolutionary innovations (law of fall, inertia, composition of motions, relativity principle); the debates between Descartes (no void, passive matter, contact action), Newton and Leibniz (active matter); the debates between Volta (electric tension) and Coulomb (action at a distance), between Volta (electromotive force) and Galvani (animal electricity); the ideas of Faraday (lines of force) and Hertz (electromagnetic waves). Not only reflection and refraction but many other results have been achieved through scientific debates between alternative world views that show the historical and conceptual significance of scientific research. 4) Recently a flood of Web 2.0 interactive applications has provided new opportunities, namely the possibility of gathering all digital material together through cloud computing, and interactively accessing it in blogs and wikis. 5) History of science refuses every “clash of civilizations”, shows that research has always been a cosmopolitan activity, offers a more precise and understandable image of a science that is always in flux, and can contribute to citizens making more informed decisions about today’s relevant issues.
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