Matter and Meaning: Why we know what we know in Physics

Tanja Traxler
Arts and Society, Cross-Disciplinary Strategies
2021S, Proseminar (PS), 2.0 ECTS, 1.0 semester hours, course number S03204


How have natural scientists and especially physicists gathered knowledge throughout the centuries? Why is reality in quantum physics not the way it seems in everyday life? And what role do the arts and a sense for the beauty play in discovering laws of nature? In this course we will investigate past and present methods of gaining knowledge in the physical sciences. The historical analysis of epistemology in science will be accompanied by philosophical and sociological considerations as well as gender reflections.

Evidently, quantity and quality of scientific knowledge has changed dramatically e. g. between Newton’s classical mechanics in the 17th century and the development of quantum mechanics or Einstein’s theory of general relativity in the 20th century. What was once established as a scientific fact has been revealed as a limited perspective. In this course, we will discuss the methods scientists use to gain knowledge that is as solid as possible.

This seminar especially addresses participants of the VD "Matter and Meaning: Why we know what we know in Physics" (Winter Term 2020/2021).

Examination Modalities

Regular attendance and active participation in group discussions. (30%)

Each participant is asked to give a presentation (15 min) and hand in a paper (3000 words) until May 27th. (40%)

Each participant is asked to provide feedback (500 words) to one of the papers. (30 %)


Students from other faculties or universities will be given a place on the course subject to capacities.

If possible, the course will be held in person, additionally/alternatively it will be possible to attend the course via Zoom. Details will be provided for all registered participants.


Books discussed in the class (excerpts will be provided):

Barad, Karen (2007): Meeting the Universe halfway, Durham: Duke University Press
Barad, Karen (2012): What is the Measure of Nothing?, Berlin: Hatje Cantz Verlag
Close, Frank (2009): Nothing, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Kaiser, David (2011): How the Hippies Saved Physics, New York: W. W. Norton
Latour, Bruno (1999): Pandora's Hope, Cambridge: Harvard University Press
Rippon, Gina (2019): The Gendered Brain, London: Bodley Head
Saini, Angela (2017): Inferior, New York: Harper Collins


04 March 2021, 10:15–11:45 Distance Learning (details as described) (preliminary discussion)
18 March 2021, 10:15–11:45 Distance Learning (details as described)
15 April 2021, 10:15–11:45 Distance Learning (details as described)
29 April 2021, 10:15–11:45 Distance Learning (details as described)
06 May 2021, 10:15–11:45
27 May 2021, 10:15–11:45
10 June 2021, 09:15–11:45

Course Enrolment

From 01 February 2021, 08:00 to 31 March 2021, 23:59
Via online registration

co-registration: possible

Cross-Disciplinary Strategies (Bachelor): Philosophy: Foundation

Individual courses: possible