Darrigol in Electrodynamics from Ampere to Einstein writes:

In Germany, a few marginal followers of Schellings Naturphilosophie criticised the general notion of fluids acting at a distance and sought a deeper unity of nature that would relate apparently disconnected phenomena. They favoured a dynamistic, anti-Newtonian view of physical interactions in which matter and force was not distinguished. Matter was only a balance of two opposing forces and every action at a distance was to be reduced to a propagating disturbance or polarity of this balance.

This appears to be clearly related to speculations by William Clifford on space and matter. For example, in a paper read out to the Cambridge Philsophical Society in 1870 he said:

  1. That small portions of space are in fact of a nature analogous to little hills on a surface which is on the average flat; namely, that the ordinary laws of geometry are not valid in them.

  2. That this property of being curved or distorted is continually being passed from one portion of space to another after the manner of a wave.

  3. That this variation of the curvature of space is what really happens in that phenomenon which we call the motion of matter, whether ponderable or etherial.

  4. That in the physical world nothing else takes place but this variation, subject (possibly) to the law of continuity.”

The resemblence here is quite clear as is the resemblence to GR. There are also some speculations by Newton where he pondered the ponderability of atoms and suggested that they were merely the balance of forces.

Its generally taken that Mach had a large influence on Einstein, on his own admittance. However there is a clear resemblence between what these followers of Schelling argued for and that of the theory of gravity put forward by Einstein, that one might argue for an indirect or direct influence. Was there? And if so, why has this particular tradition been down-played in the history and philosophy of physics?

According to Keith Richardson on a discussion of Schellings philosophy

[His] early philosophy of nature met opposition in part because its ethical and political interests—not just its allegedly wild and “unverifiable” analogizing—were thought to have invalidated its “scientific” claims.

If this is the case, what were specifically Schellings ethical & political interests that caused his philosophy to become neglected?

  • I do not see it. Clifford's theory is not a "dynamistic, anti-Newtonian view of physical interactions" but a typical continualist Newtonian proposal of a kind with ether theories. He uses the curvature of space instead of ether characteristics as the primary field variable, but that is hardly holistic naturphilosophie stripped of the "maze of calculations" that Schelling wanted. Maxwell replacing action at a distance with continuous fields also had more to do with Faraday's experiments than with German romanticism. – Conifold Feb 15 '18 at 0:35
  • @conifold: Clifford says that there is no matter except a balance of forces which he characterises as curvature; this is wholly dynamic. Its not Newtonian matter moving in a space. I'm not the only one to see this, for example Clifford was inspired by Riemann, and according to this essay published in the Journal of Theoretical Humanities, Riemann was under the influence of Schellings Naturphilosophie, as was Jacobi, Listing & Grassmann. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 15 '18 at 0:46
  • I'm not saying by this that Clifford was directly influenced by Schelling, by the way. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 15 '18 at 0:47
  • Riemann named his influences on geometry, Herbart (Kant's successor in Königsberg) and Gauss. He probably read some about early Schelling in Herbart, and absorbed some more by cultural osmosis in Göttingen. But his geometric ideas are transparently derived from Kantian intuition of space and Gauss's theory of surfaces. Reducing matter to formations of ether was a commonality in 19-th century, and (Newtonian) fluid dynamics was the underlying theory. Clifford combined Riemann's and Maxwell's ideas, if there was some naturphilosophic influence in there it was very atmospheric. – Conifold Feb 15 '18 at 1:16
  • @conifold: Nevertheless there are other people besides myself who think that there is a possible influence. The thesis of Marie-Louise Heuser is ' Schelling’s philosophy of the emergence of space can be read in Riemannian terms'. I'm not denying that there are other sources of influence, such as Kant. And besides Kant was a strong infleunce on Schelling. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 15 '18 at 1:33

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