Throughout history, people have tried to construct 'theories of everything': highly ambitious attempts to understand nature in its totality. This account presents these theories in their historical contexts, from little-known hypotheses from the past to modern developments such as the theory of superstrings, the anthropic principle, and ideas of many universes, and uses them to problematize the limits of scientific knowledge. Do claims to theories of everything
belong to science at all? Which are the epistemic standards on which an alleged scientific theory of the universe - or the multiverse - is to be judged? Such questions are currently being discussed by physicists and cosmologists, but rarely within a historical perspective. This book argues that these
questions have a history and that knowledge of the historical development of 'higher speculations' may inform and qualify the current debate on the nature and limits of scientific explanation.
After graduation from the University of Copenhagen in physics and chemistry, and a period as a high school teacher, Helge Kragh became Associate Professor at Cornell University, Departments of History and Physics. Since 1990 he has held positions as Curator at the Steno Museum for Science and Medicine, Aarhus University, and as Professor of History of Science at the University of Oslo. In 1997 he was appointed Professor of History of Science and Technology at Aarhus University, Denmark. Kragh is a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Science and Letters, the International Academy for History of Science, the European Society for History of Science, the European Physical Society, and the European Academy of Science.
PART I: CASES FROM THE PAST; PART II: THE PRESENT SCENE