A formal setting for the evolution of chemical knowledge
Guillermo Restrepo and Jürgen Jost
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Submission date: 10. Jul. 2020
Keywords and phrases: chemical knowledge, History of chemistry, modelling, complex dynamical systems
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Chemistry shapes and creates the disposition of the world's resources and exponentially provides new substances for the welfare and hazard of our civilisation. Over the history chemists -- driven by social, semiotic and material forces -- have shaped the discipline, while creating a colossal corpus of information and knowledge. Historians and sociologists, in turn, have devised causal narratives and hypotheses to explain major events in chemistry as well as its current status. In this Perspective we discuss the approaches to the evolution of the social, semiotic and material systems of chemistry. We critically analyse their reaches and challenge them by putting forward the need of a more holistic and formal setting to modelling the evolution of chemical knowledge. We indicate the advantages for chemistry of considering chemical knowledge as a complex dynamical system, which, besides casting light on the past and present of chemistry, allows for estimating its future, as well as the effects of hypothetical past events. We describe how this approach turns instrumental for forecasting the effects of material, semiotic and social perturbations upon chemical knowledge. Available data and the most relevant formalisms to analyse the different facets of chemical knowledge are discussed.