Reading Natural Philosophy: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science and Mathematics

By David B. Malament | Go to book overview

Preface

In May of 1999, many friends, colleagues, admirers, and former students of Howard Stein gathered at the University of Chicago for a conference in honor of his seventieth birthday. All but four of the papers in this volume—the introductory essay by Abner Shimony, and the contributions of Nancy Nersessian, Robert Palter, and myself—were first presented there. (Three of the speakers—Jon Jarrett, Martin Klein, and Charles Parsons— did not submit papers for publication.)

The Steinfest was the occasion for many tributes to Howard's extraordinary work on Newton, on the philosophy of space and time, on the technical foundations of relativity theory and quantum mechanics, on developing conceptions of field theory in the nineteenth century, on the history and foundations of mathematics, and much, much more, but also for more personal expressions of gratitude for his generous contributions as a teacher, discussion partner, and careful reader of friends', colleagues', and students' manuscripts. Indeed, more than one speaker confessed that he never considered a paper finished until he had received and dealt with Howard's comments (and for this reason felt some discomfort at the prospect of presenting in his honor a paper that Howard had not yet seen!).

In addition to scholarly talks, the Steinfest included an afternoon recital, with mezzo-soprano Nancy Nersessian and pianist Geoffrey Hellman. Nancy added to her program a piece on the “ABCs of Relativity,” sung to the tune of the Habanera from Carmen, and Geoffrey added one by a mystery composer who turned out to be Christiaan Huygens! There was also a dinner in Howard's honor, hosted by Ted Cohen, at which many good stories were told. Ted recalled Howard's exchange in the New York Review of Books with the great musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen. Though he had never studied Italian, Howard was apparently bothered by Rosen's translation of a passage from the Marriage of Figaro, and wrote this letter to the editors:

The erudite and instructive Charles Rosen has made a surprising mistake in his
review of the Oeuvres of Beaumarchais … He quotes a passage from the last
act finale of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, in English translation, as follows: All
is tranquil and placid/The beautiful Venus has gone in/She can take with wan-
ton Mars/The new Vulcan of the age/In her net.
At first glance, this seems

-ix-

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