From: email@example.com (Gerald L. Hurst)
Subject: Re: The Future of Physics
Date: 28 Jan 1996 22:30:50 GMT
In article <DLwtx4.CKL@midway.uchicago.edu>, firstname.lastname@example.org says:
>The major breakthroughs occur not because something that was
>impossible according to previous theories becomes possible according
>to a new one. They occur when something that wasn't impossible but
>nobody had an idea it exists, or how to do it, bocomes known
>and understood, and can be done. If you contend otherwise, I would
>like to see some example of significant (not marginal) breakthroughs
>achieved by doing something that according to previous theories was
It probably would not be too difficult to find examples in chemistry.
Prior to Woehler, there were probably a number of otherwise
reputable scientists who believed "organic" compounds required
biological synthesis. Also, it would not be too uncommon to find
instances in which generally accepted ideas of then current
theoretical chemistry had predicted instability for hypothetical
compounds which were later synthesized by relatively conventional
methods. I wonder how many chemists would have thought it possible
to make buckeyballs a few decades ago.
I do not mean to suggest that ALL chemists accepted the negative
prognostications, but some of us actually prepared such materials
because we were too ignorant to understand the theories.
How important these "breakthroughs" were may be debatable in
most cases, but the synthesis of urea certainly qualifies in my
The concept that equal volumes of gases at the same pressure
and temperature (ideally) contain the same number of molecules
was not accepted until it was backed by Cannizzaro. I have read
that Dalton and his followers were largely responsible for the
lack of acceptance Avagadro's law.
On a lesser note, the prevailing theory in the early fifties,
at least as far as I was taught, was that it would be impossible
to grow "seedless" watermellons.