(Submitted on 9 Jul 2012)
Whereas physics in the period from about 1880 to 1910 experienced a steady growth, it was also a revolutionary period in which the foundations of the physical world picture were criticized and reconsidered. Generally speaking, from about 1890 mechanics and materialism came under increasing attack and sought replaced by new formulations based on either energy, the ether, or the electromagnetic field. Fin-de-siecle physics was in many ways a chapter of turmoil in the history of science. I review the main developments and alternatives to the established physics, in particular energetics, ether physics, the electromagnetic world view, and also the role played by radioactivity and other new rays discovered in the years around 1900. In the end the anticipated revolution based on the "matter is dead" catchword did not succeed. A revolution did take place in the period, but it was a different one that did not derive from the Zeitgeist of fin de siecle.
Comments: 31 pages. Contribution to Michael Saler, ed., The Fin-de-Siecle World, to be published by Routledge in 2014
Subjects: History and Philosophy of Physics (physics.hist-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:1207.2016v1 [physics.hist-ph]