thumbnail of New directions in social sciences; Analogy in science
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
You directions in social sciences. This is the first in a series of programs paired by the listener sponsored station KPFA in Berkeley California for distribution to the National Association of educational broadcasters. These talks delivered before the annual convention of the American Psychological Association and San Francisco point to new developments in man's exploration of himself and the world he lives in. The keynote address was made by Dr. J Robert Oppenheimer director of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton. This is subject analogy in science. Dr. Oppenheimer I know that it is a terrible error to talk the philosophy of science and only in a very very limited sense and we're going to do. One would think that the two sciences could hardly be further apart in all hierarchical schemes they are put far in psychology to everyone who works in the field is felt to be a new subject in which real progress. And real objectivity are. Physics is perhaps as
old as the sciences come. Physics is reputed to have. Coherent connected corpus of certitude. This does not exist in psychology and only the beginnings of it. The beginnings of things that are going to be tied together are now before us. But. I have always had a feeling. That there were ways in which the two sciences. Had a community. Of course all sciences do. One very simple one is that each is responsive to primitive permanent pervasive human curiosity. What material bodies are and how they behave. On the one hand and how people and the people like animals behave and feel and think and learn.
These are. Are. The Curiosities of a common life and there never be a bait. Both for this reason. You can hardly make him. Pronouncements of the technical sort which do not appear to have some bearing on our views of reality on metaphysics. Both manifestly have and continue to. A fresh and inspiriting effect on the theory of knowledge on this to my knowledge. There are other ways in which. We are brothers. In the last ten years. The physicists have been extraordinarily noisy. About the immense powers which largely through their efforts or through other efforts as well have come into the possession of man. Powers notably and and.
Strikingly for very large scale and. And dreadful destruction and we have spoken of our responsibilities and of our. Republic geishas to society in terms that sound to me very advice. Because the psychologist can hardly do anything without realizing that for him the acquisition of knowledge opens up the most. Terrifying prospect of controlling what people do and how they think and how they behave and how they feel. This is true for all of you all who are engaged in practice. And as a corpus of psychology gains in certitude and subtlety and skill. I can see that the physicists believe that what he discovered he used with humanitarian he used wisely will seem rather trivial compared to those pleas. But you will
have to make and which you will have to be responsive. The. Point of course. Is that as. As the relevance. Of what we. What we find to human welfare and common destiny becomes sharper and more manifest. Our responsibilities. For explication for explanation for communication for teaching our responsibilities for being sure that we understood grow not our responsibilities for making decisions but our responsibilities for laying in a responsible way. The basis of those decisions. There are other ways in which we are alike. The practical usefulness which our professions have gives us often the impression that we are liked for the wrong reasons. And that our true nature is very
different from us. Our public presence. We are both faced with the problem of the need to keep intact the purity of. Academic. And. Abstract the search and at the same time to notice and be nourished by practice. In physics of course. Our debt to technology engineering is unlimited. I think it will be so in psychology as well. But there is no doubt that you know our in our present state. We have. A parallel to which. Both sciences all sciences arise through refinements. Correction was and adaptations of common sense. If there are. No unique simple scientific methods that one can prescribe. But there are certainly traits that any scientist must have.
Before it pretends to be one. You are one is is the quest for objectivity. And. That I think. I mean not in a metaphysical sense I mean in a very practical sense. The quest to be sure that we understand one another and that all qualified practitioners mean essentially the same thing. Common sense language is inherently am big US. When the poet uses it or the reparation he exploits the ambiguity and when we talk in ordinary life we almost need the ambiguity in order to get back. But in science you try to get rid of that. You try. To. Talk in such simple terms and match your talk with DEET in such a way that we may differ as to facts. But we can result of years and this is of course the first step in the quest for surfeit. But certitude is is not the horse.
When you move from common sense into scientific things. You also move toward generality using using analysis. Using. Observation and in the end using expand. And you also. You do something which is even more I think characteristic. You look for nothing. You look for transcendence that is we look for features of experience that are not available in ordinary life. Characteristic in physics are the instruments that enable us to transcend. Elementary daily experience the telescope that lets you look into the sky. Today the enormous accelerators which are in fact the. Logical extension of the microscope that enables you to look finer and finer into the structure of matter.
I would like to be cautious in the parallels and psychology but certainly the use of hypnosis. The use of drug use. Are. Typical extensions into unfamiliar realms of human experience which just bring up characteristics of psychological phenomena that are too lost in me day to day experience. There is an example which is a physicists idea of a perfect experiment. It is the work that was done in McGill in the last years on now and I'm sure you have discussed it. The effect of reducing sensory stimuli very simple arrangements to change the level of stimulation and bees produce evocative. And I would say almost frightening the great changes in memory in the intellectual and cognitive life of the people who undergo. Well this is again a an example. Counting to an extreme.
Something which is encountered in ordinary experience but which only the patient and the abstractness of experimental inquiry is likely to relax. We are right. We come from common sense. We work for a long time then we give back. To common sense refined original and strange notions. Some of which I want to talk about today and enrich what men know and how they live it. And there I suppose. The real hero is the teacher. I chose this as my theme. Analogy in science. Really what I'm going to talk about. Is analogy as an instrument in science. And to a much lesser extend. Some slight crakes. Of analogies between the sexes.
Mostly. This second theme has led to misunderstanding and limitation. But as for the first analogy is an indispensible and inevitable. Tool for scientific progress. And I perhaps a better say what I mean by that. I don't mean metaphor I don't mean allegory I don't even mean similarity. But I mean a special kind of similarity which is a similarity of structure a similarity of form. A similarity of Constellation between two sets of particulars two sets of circumstances that are manifestly very different but have the structural parallels. It is. It has to do with the relation and interconnection. I'd like to procure a scroll lastic comment on analogy. It's a translation of a needle in a very general sense.
Every analogy presupposes. Two ontological conditions. One a plurality of real being. And. Thus among them an essential diversity monism is the born enemy of analogy and to at the very heart of this multiplicity of this inequality. A certain unity. It is a matter of which. We could argue here as to whether these structural. Elements. Are invented by us. Or whether they're discovered in a word. I find. It very hard to fish to say that they are invented and mean by that that they are more artifact. Than the particulars which they U-19 describe. I may tell one. One incident in the long history of astronomy and just in
physics which which makes this very vivid for me. For practical purposes for prophecy and ritual the Babylonians worked out a method of predicting what days the moon would first be visible and lunar eclipse IIS and certain rare astronomical events. They did this by purely mathematic. The methods they observed when the thing's happened and they got the pattern up. It's something that you might. Recognize as harmonic analysis. And they were very good. They got so good that their methods were in use last century in India and the people were predicting eclipses within 30 minutes which is not not bad at all. Using these two thousand year old methods they not only got very good but they enjoyed it for each and they did it for fun. Long after the. Frack practical reasons had gone away they published these tables apparently as
we publish articles on the internal constitution of the stars because it's interesting they did all of this without any celestial mechanics without any geometry. Nothing more. There were no no objects circulating around in orbits there were no laws of motion. This was just from the feel of the numbers. Well you know how Today we predict eclipse season first prizes. It would seem to me. Very wrong to pretend that the mathematical regularities which were the basis of the Babylonian predictions were something they invented. It would seem to me equally wrong not to recognise it in modern solar in celestial mechanics as we now know a far deeper and more more comprehensive description of regularities in the physical world. And I think. Not only because it's a little more
useful I think that not only because it unites more subjects but because it reveals an aspect of the regularities of the world which was wholly lost to the Babylonians. But whether or not we talk of this as discovered as Discovery or as invention or analogy is an inevitable human thing. Because. We come to new things in science. With what equipment we have which is how we've learned to think and above all how we've learned think about the relatedness of things. We can't. Coming into something you deal with it except on the basis of the familiar in the old fashion the conservatism of of scientific inquiry is not an arbitrary thing. It is the freight with which we operate. It is the only only equipment we crack. We can learn. To be
surprised but astonished at so. Unless we have a view of how it ought to be and that is almost certainly an analogy. We can't. Learn that we've made a mistake unless we can make a mistake and I mistake almost always as in the form of an analogy to some other piece of experience. We. I'm not trying to say that analogy is the criterion of truth. You can never stand for that. The theory is right by saying that it's like some other theory where the criterion of truth must come from analysis and confrontation with experience and from that. Very special kind of objectivity which characterizes science namely that we're quite sure we understand. And that we can check up on. But truth is not the whole thing. Certitude is not the whole of things science. Science is an immensely
creative and organizing and enriching experience and it's full of new things and it is in order to get to the news that analogy is an indispensable instrument. Even. Even analysis even the ability to plan experiments even the ability to sort things out and take them apart presupposes a good deal of structure and that structure is characteristically and illogical. I am not so I'm not pulling a political stunt. I want to read you're now just a few words which which William James wrote which say this awfully well he wrote them in one of his later accounts of pragmatism at a time when his own. Good Sense and. Shrewd observation and wisdom and humanity. I. Made him aware of the fact that just to say that my
idea was true because it worked was a rather poor description of what went on in the science. And that something was missing from that crowd. This is what he wrote. The point I now read for you to observe particularly is the part played by the order for its failure to take account of it is the source of much of the unjust criticism leveled against pragmatists. Their influence is absolutely controlling. Loyalty to them is the first principle in most cases it is the only place. For by far the most usual way of handling phenomena. So now will they would make for a serious rearrangement of my preconception is to ignore them altogether or to abuse those who bear witness for. This. This for the conservatism and the inevitability of starting now. When you're talking about new things.
By supposing that you have seen them before and then finding out in a sharp. Precise. And one hopes. Synoptic way. That's where the mistake lies in the analogy and what has to be set right. I'll read you one other thing. This is from Charles Pearse. And then I'll get on with my talk. Pearse is also talking pragmatism and he comes awfully close to what we have been talking. And then he says whoever is metaphysics is a subject much more curious than use the knowledge of which like that of a sunken reef serves chiefly to enable us to keep clear of it. I will not trouble the reader with any more. I'm Tyler G at the moment. But I want to do next is to give you five examples. Of the use of analogies in atomic physics.
They will not all be equally familiar. Perhaps perhaps that's an overstatement. Some are very new and even to the point new that I don't know how good the analogies are and we haven't yet found all the decisive point at which they're misleading. The analogies in physics may very well. Be misleading for. Biologists. Psychologists. Because of the enormous part. That. Rather rigid formal structure plays in physics. Not necessarily quantitative though much of it is quite. But our ability to write down synoptic relations in symbolic form. Our use of shorthand. Enables us to to talk of vast amounts of experience.
A very varied experience very detailed experience in a shorthand way and to point to mistakes so that you only erased one letter and everything is changed entirely and that can be a little bit misleading. This is not meant as a palliative. But. Nevertheless. AS. A An illustration of. That in what is regarded as the most rigorous and certain of the sciences we use an instrument. Which has been in great disrepute because uncritically used it can confuse invention with confirmation and truth. I'd like to give a first example which is not from atomic physics which is almost from prefix but because it deals with things that are very familiar and yet illustrates the nature of the role of form in the use of analogy in physics.
This has to do with John B the DAR and the Paris School in the fourteenth century. The classics. And physics has a special meaning for the word classic classic means rock but it means the wrong view that was held to be right a little while ago. Classic. The Classic. View. Was that the natural state of matter was rest. And that where you found bodies moving around you needed to look for a cause and this cause was a force. And this was. This was the school woman's view was out of step. As for you. It is in fact supported by an awful lot of observation. It was not well supported. By the observation on projects. The notion that the area behind a bullet pushed the bullet became less plausible the more you watched the bullet. And Billie Dunn and his many anonymous. Thinkers. Took a step. Which was to make a new one now.
And which probably was the greatest step in the history of western science. They said it is true that matter has a natural state but it does not rest. It is true that when it departs from this natural state it can be ascribed to the intervention of a force. But the natural state is one of constant impetus of constant momentum. One of uniform velocity. And with that the beginnings of rational mechanics. And of rational physical science were made. What do you do. Well there isn't a blackboard here but if there were. You simply replace the coordinate by the velocity. It is a small change and yet its change in the whole way of thinking about the physical world. Well my five illustrations from atomic physics I will mention what
they are they are what has happened to the idea of waves. What has happened to the idea of classical physics in the atomic domain so-called correspondence principle. The analog between radioactive decay and the emission of light which we owe to Fareham here. The analog between electron die and magnetic phenomena and forces and nuclear nuclear forces between electrodynamics and mess of the nomics and a final subject which I will only call strange Venus because that's about all I know about it. Well take take take the wave desks. It originated Of course in the observation of regular rhythmic changes in matter. Waves on water. And was followed by. An easily conducted physical exploration of sound waves where there was a periodic change a
regular change in the density of air or whatever the sound was passing through. Both of these phenomena. Exhibit A characteristic. If two waves collide they can cancel each other out and they can reinforce each. Day they show interference. They have another abstract property. If you put waves through an artificer around an obstacle that is small compared to the wave then the obstacle or the arm of his doesn't cast a sharp shadow. But there are all kinds of interference effects which are called diffraction waves superpose if you have to the sum of the two waves is just what you get by adding out of algebraic play and not have magically you you'll get it zero if you add a positive the negative which is the interference. And this is this is the abstract set of properties which is persistent. Because light is also a wave motion. But there is no matter and there
is NO NO NO NO substrate because for a long time thought there was and it was a great sign of progress in the 19th century to get rid of it. What is in motion are themselves physically measurable things but rather abstract things. Electric fields and magnetic fields. But again interference diffraction and superposition the same abstract. Characteristics. And again in principle the infinitely regular infinitely repeated pattern as a special place of the way. And the most extreme examples are the waves of atomic mechanics of wave mechanics because these waves in the first place are in multi dimensional space. They are represented by complex numbers so they are not even things that you could measure and get an answer to and they are quite unobserved. There is nothing to measure in the physical world that corresponds to these waves. They are connected. Absolutely.
But they have again the same abstract properties interfere nth Linny additive superposition and one talks about them one uses much the same mathematics although it is not the fact that one can use the mathematics but the fact that the structure. And the relations are the same. That is the decisive discovery and then it is natural to use the mathematics. These these waves they represent. If one wants to say what they are not matter not force not electric fields they represent essentially a state of information about the. System. But each point the first workers have tried to make the theory like the earlier fit light like sound as a material way. Matter waves like light waves like a real physical wave. And in each case it's been found one had to widen the business a little bit and find the disanalogy which enabled one to preserve what was right about the analogy.
The second example is is a massive one it is. I think the greatest experience in the century for for the physicists even greater than relativity and that is the discovery of atomic mechanics. And here again. In a very in a sense very characteristic of. A scientific theory. An enormous conservatism. Presided over and guided the development and has given it shit. Well what is all this about. When one gets to the atomic domain and this is a domain of of small actions of limited distances and limited impulses. Of things such as you encounter in atoms and nuclei. Then. The.
Coarseness. Of the whole physical universe it's granular or atomic structure for the first time begins to manifest itself not the granulation of the fundamental particles but the granulation of atomic physics itself of the quantum of action. And what this means is that when you are trying to study sexist. There are aspects of it which you can which are accessible to experiment but are not compatible or simultaneously. Accessible to expect. The famous example is in the uncertainty relations that you can study the location of something in time and space. But if you do that. You use an experimental setup which makes it impossible to know exactly what the impulse or velocity or energy system is.
New directions in social sciences
Analogy in science
Producing Organization
pacifica radio
KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-g15tc74p).
Episode Description
The first part of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer's keynote address, "Analogy in Science."
Series Description
A series of talks delivered before the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: pacifica radio
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
Speaker: Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-10-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:18
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “New directions in social sciences; Analogy in science,” 1958-02-02, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “New directions in social sciences; Analogy in science.” 1958-02-02. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: New directions in social sciences; Analogy in science. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from