Ernst Mach

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Ernst Mach was born on February 18th 1838 in Chirlitz-Turas, near Brno, in what today is the Czech Republic.

Mach was home schooled by his father until the age of 14.

Mach started taking classes at the Gymnasium (high school) in 1853 before joining the University of Vienna when he was 17.

There he studied mathematics, physics and philosophy.

In 1895, Ernst Mach returned to Vienna University as Chair of Philosophy of Inductive Sciences, which had been newly created for him, and which Mac renamed “History and Theory of the Inductive Sciences.” Two years later, Ernst Mach suffered a stroke but continued to teach.

Mach retired in 1901 and became a member of the Upper House of the Austrian parliament.

Ernst Mach continued to publish books of physics and philosophy, including his famous 1905 Knowledge and Error and also started to write his autobiography, which would be published in 1910.

Most of Mach’s research in the field of physics was devoted to interference, diffraction, polarization and refraction of light in different media under external influences.

This research was followed by important discoveries in the field of supersonic speeds.

Ernst Mach published an article on this subject in 1877 where he describes the effects of shock waves observed during the supersonic motion of a projectile.

Ernst Mach deduced the existence of a shock wave cone whose apex is located on the projectile, and even managed to confirm this experimentally.

To this day the “Mach” is the name given to the ratio vp/vs between the projectiles’s speed vp and the velocity vs of sound, which plays a crucial role in aerodynamics and hydrodynamics.

In terms of philosophy proper, Mach developed a philosophy of science that influenced the nineteenth and twentieth century, particularly developed in his book Knowledge and Error: Sketches on the Psychology of Enquiry (1905).

Theory of knowledge as Mach conceives it is directly inspired by the evolutionism of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903).

According to Mach science is evidence of the tendency of mankind to want to preserve itself, and is therefore not after truth in a selfless way.

That is why the basic principle of Mach’s model of epistemology is the principle of thought economy.

In this way, science is a problem of minimality that involves exposing the facts as perfectly as possible with at least intellectual expenditure as possible.

Mach also became well-known for his philosophy, a type of phenomenal recognition sensations as real.

This position seemed incompatible with the view of atoms and molecules as external, mind-independent things.

Mach was reluctance to acknowledge the reality of atoms was criticized by many as being incompatible with physics.

One of the best-known of Mach’s ideas is the so-called “Mach’s principle,” concerning the physical origin of inertia. This was never written down by Mach.

However it was given a graphic verbal form, attributed by Philipp Frank to Mach himself.

In 1898 Mach suffered from cardiac arrest.

In 1901 he retired from the University of Vienna and was appointed to the upper chamber of the Austrian parliament.

On leaving Vienna in 1913 he moved to his son’s home in Vaterstetten, near Munich, where he continued writing and corresponding until his death on February 19th, 1916.