Controlling the Unobservable: Experimental Strategies and Hypotheses in Discovering the Causal Origin of Brownian Movement

Klodian Coko

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter focuses on the experimental practices and reasoning strategies employed in nineteenth century investigations on the causal origin of the phenomenon of Brownian movement. It argues that there was an extensive and sophisticated experimental work done on the phenomenon throughout the nineteenth century. Investigators followed as rigorously as possible the methodological standards of their time to make causal claims and advance causal explanations of Brownian movement. Two major methodological strategies were employed. The first was the experimental strategy of varying the circumstances. Suspected causal factors were varied and the resulting effect on Brownian movement was studied. The main goal of this strategy was the identification of difference-making factors, i.e., factors having a causal influence on the phenomenon. The second was the so-called method of hypothesis. Rather than relying exclusively on the ability of experiments to identify difference-making factors, its proponents tried to show how the independently developed tenets of the new kinetic-molecular conception of matter provided a plausible causal explanation of Brownian movement. Each one of these methodological strategies had its distinctive practices and notions of control. None of these strategies could, on its own, establish molecular motion as the cause of Brownian movement. It was only the fruitful combination of the two strategies and of their accompanying practices and notions of control that led, at the end of the nineteenth century, to the recognition of molecular motion as the most probable cause of Brownian movement.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArchimedes
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages34
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2024

Publication series

ISSN (Print)1385-0180
ISSN (Electronic)2215-0064

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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