Feynman diagrams have revolutionized nearly every aspect of theoretical physics since the middle of the twentieth century. Introduced by the American physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) soon after World War II as a means of simplifying lengthy calculations in quantum electrodynamics, they soon gained adherents in many branches of the discipline. Yet as new physicists adopted the tiny line drawings, they also adapted the diagrams and introduced their own interpretations. Drawing Theories Apart traces how generations of young theorists learned to frame their research in terms of the diagrams--and how both the diagrams and their users were molded in the process.
Drawing on rich archival materials, interviews, and more than five hundred scientific articles from the period, Drawing Theories Apart uses the Feynman diagrams as a means to explore the development of American postwar physics. By focusing on the ways young physicists learned new calculational skills, David Kaiser frames his story around the crafting and stabilizing of the basic tools in the physicist's kit--thus offering the first book to follow the diagrams once they left Feynman's hands and entered the physics vernacular.
ISBN: 0-226-42266-6 (Cloth). 0-226-42267-4 (Paper)
460 + xix pages, 15 halftones, 73 line drawings, 2 tables.
Advanced Praise for Drawing Theories Apart
"Feynman diagrams are such an integral part of the way physicists picture physical processes that it is hard to imagine a time when the community did not have this tool at its disposal. David Kaiser has written an authoritative and readable book describing how Feynman's personal tools slowly made their way through the physics community after the Second World War, changing the way we do physics today. Kaiser demonstrates a rare mastery of both the history and the physics. Both scientists and historians of science will find this a useful addition to their libraries."
Lawrence M. Krauss, Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and Professor of Astronomy, Case Western Reserve University
"This is a rich and original contribution to the expanding historical scholarship on the development of scientific tools and practices. Kaiser is one of the few historians to deal with the conceptual equipment of science as a kind of malleable paper tool, showing how Feynman diagrams were refracted through local environments and ultimately transformed. In all, a dazzling piece of work."
Daniel J. Kevles, Stanley Woodward Professor of History, Yale University
"This book is a double delight. It is the best example so far of a new way of doing the history of science, not as an account of evolving theories, experiments, and instruments, but of diagrams. It is a story of how a generation of physicists came to think for themselves and to talk to others in a new way. It takes you inside their minds and their seminars. It is also a wonderful way to learn how Feynman diagrams work and what they mean -- in effect, a super do-it-yourself manual."
Ian Hacking, Professor of Philosophy and History of Science, College de France, Paris
"Only a few people have the talent to write the history of theoretical physics. Only one or two can conceptualize and explain the elaboration of theory as a practical activity, which, like fine art, has its own competing traditions and conventions of representation. David Kaiser accomplishes all this and backs it up with a level of detailed scholarship that makes it totally convincing."
Harry Collins, Director, Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science, Cardiff University
From the Reviews for Drawing Theories Apart:
"Masterful . . . Like the diagrams themselves, this superb, suggestive book offers a rich and pliable set of resources that can be appropriated and utilized by historians and philosophers alike." -- Steven French, Isis
"Drawing Theories Apart is a rich, original and most recommendable contribution to the history of modern science. It skillfully integrates social history with conceptual history, a technical mastery of Feynman diagrams with a broad and novel perspective of the historicity of the diagrams. Kaiser knows his physics and discusses, when it is relevant, the scientific details of his subject in a lucid and authoritative way. . . . Drawing Theories Apart will surely be studied by historians, sociologists, and philosophers of physics, but its readership should not be restricted to these groups. It has much to offer also to readers with no background in physics." -- Helge Kragh, British Journal for the History of Science
"Kaiser is prodigiously talented in telling the adventure of modern theoretical physics: the richness of the book may impress even the most demanding historians and physicists. Physicists will probably be surprised to learn of so many varieties of Feynman diagrams. Historians will be delighted with the originality of the approach. . . . Everybody will be enchanted by the style of the book: even when (very) difficult physics is presented, it is never boring; it is always luminous and exciting." -- Anouk Barberousse, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science
"The evocative descriptions of the physicists and their institutional settings are backed by exhaustive archival work, and Kaiser's mastery of the relevant physics is clear. Kaiser's sure hand in presenting 'technicalia,' his eye for telling details, and his lively prose style combine to make his book a joy to read. Overall it is an impressive and engrossing work." -- Christopher Smeenk, Metascience
"A colorful and readable account of the earliest applications of the diagrammatic technique. . . . Kaiser has a gift for summarizing technical, theoretical developments of QED in prose accessible to readers who took some quantum mechanics, even if that was a while ago." -- Eugen Merzbacher, Physics Today
"A fascinating history. . . . David Kaiser's book will appeal to particle physicists with a taste for history, and to others interested in how difficult ideas propagate within an intellectual community." -- G. Peter Lepage, Physics in Perspective
"Fascinating . . . This is surely the definitive study of one of the great ubiquitous tools of modern quantum field theory." -- A. I. Solomon, Contemporary Physics
“Intellectual tools can have profound impacts. Feynman diagrams have greatly improved how theoretical physicists think and, consequently, our understanding of nature. Drawing Theories Apart provides an informative description of how their influence came about.” -- Gordon Kane, Science
"This is a fascinating book, if you are interested in the history, sociology and people of physics. It should be in every physics library." -- Bruce H.J. McKellar, Australian Physics
Awards for Drawing Theories Apart:
2007. History of Science Society, Pfizer Award for best book in the field. Read the citation here.
2006. Forum for History of Science in America Book Award.
HSS Pfizer Award citation (2007)
By unanimous vote of the committee, the Pfizer Prize for 2007 is awarded to David Kaiser for his book, Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2005. Starting with drawings that seem to be "without history" and excavating their historical trail with consummate skill, Kaiser recounts the origin, reception, successive modifications, and pedagogical career of a fundamental visual technique of modern physics. Informed by deep archival research and extensive interviews with living participants, his account moves from lab to lab, concentrating on scientific networks in the United States, but also exploring their intersection with British, Japanese, and Soviet physics programs. He shows how his protagonists read these representations in distinctive ways in different contexts, and how various theorists played with the diagrams, using them just as they might use other material tools, modulating them and re-imagining them as they and the ideas they represented were transmitted across the scientific landscape. In the process, we learn much about the dynamics of research groups, the changing (and contested) heuristic functions of images and diagrams, the role of training and pedagogy in the creation of new knowledge, and the ways in which tacit knowledge is communicated. With sly humor and deft writing, Kaiser integrates the physicists' own playful descriptions, of "nuclear democracy" in which each particle deserved "equal treatment under the law," of "field theorists and house theorists," of a "textbook gap" unfolding along with a "missile gap," and of nuclear "fundamentalists." At no point in this study are his historical actors operating in an institutional, social, or political void. They are tangled up in teaching, recruitment, social networks, politics, and history, even as they calculate and doodle and sometimes theorize, and as they debate whether the lines in their diagrammatic systems were, as Kaiser puts it, "visually affiliated with reality." Kaiser here helps us to rethink the historical role of the textbook and pedagogy in the history of science. By placing teaching and learning at the center of mid-century physics, he erases easy distinctions between them and produces remarkable insights into the complex exchange of scientific ideas. His analysis of Feynman diagrams as paper tools provides a spirited entrée into the scientific lives of physicists in the post-war period -- lives not just of disembodied thought, but also of the daily struggle to master difficult calculations with the assistance of whatever tools one might devise, modify, or re-deploy. David Kaiser reveals this dynamic world of post-war physics in a skillfully constructed and gracefully written narrative that succeeds in communicating difficult science to a broad audience.
-- Sally Gregory Kohlstedt
-- M. Susan Lindee
-- Alan Rocke (chair)