Planck’s Theory of Radiation —  2015 (Englisch)

The Bumpy Road

Abstract

In this chapter I explore Planck’s radiation theory from his preliminary studies (1896) through his more mature Pentalogy (1897–1899). Planck viewed the problem of the black-body radiation very differently from Wien and the majority of his contemporaries. In particular, Planck was not primarily interested in deriving a radiation law. Instead, he considered heat radiation as an ideal case to support his strict view of thermal irreversibility. He wanted to prove that electromagnetic radiation in a cavity, when suitably stimulated, reaches irreversibly a form of stable thermal equilibrium. Initially, Planck thought that this statement could be demonstrated as a consequence of the electromagnetic features of the problem. Boltzmann jumped in and showed that this could not possibly be the case. In the second part of the Pentalogy, Planck changed strategy. He modified the morphology of his theory to accommodate new resources and gave a more central role to some symbolic practices, notably Fourier series. The central move of the reorganization of his theory was the introduction of the hypothesis of natural radiation as a way to draw a divide between the macroscopic and microscopic state. Planck obtained his argument for irreversibility, but he had to pay a prize for it: his entire program depended essentially on the validity of Wien’s law.

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