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How you can do the opposite. You can study the impulse. But then you lose account of what it is and you can of course compromise. But you cannot combine and one calls these the complementary aspects complementary character of the fundamental observations. And that means that you can't talk about. An atom. As you can about a classical mechanical system. You can't say that objects in it are here and they're moving in certain orbits and so on. In fact in ordinary atoms there are no orbits in atoms as they are ordinarily encountered. There's something entirely different stationary states which have a stability the uniqueness of reproducibility which has no counterpart in classical physics which couldn't exist if it were not for this revolutionary new feature. And one can talk about. The use.
Of these or. Stationary states one can describe them accurately but one has a whole change from the familiar experience of bodies in motion of matter and motion. Sometimes people say that this atomic theory is characterized by the fact that you can't observe a system without disturbing it. But that's not quite right. It isn't the disturbance which makes the truck. It's the fact that the means of observation would be frustrated as a means of observation. If you tried to. Take an account of the disturbance sure it's a slightly more subtle point. Sometimes people say that there are. There are electrons has a position of momentum but you can't measure them simultaneously. But this isn't right either because only the. An act of observation the coupling of the physical it of the atom with
the physical measuring equipment makes it logically permissible to attribute a position to intellect. You can't get the right answer by saying well it has a position I don't quite know what it is LET ME average if you do that you get a wrong answer. You have to admit that unless the situation is one which is. Created by your physical operation on the atomic system to realize it to manifest. To you. To objectify the localization of the electron then it won't be used it will have no properties of thought apart from what you do to it. Well all of this is so extraordinarily rare and so extraordinarily m like Newtonian mechanics. But what does that physicists say. Even before the full answer was found. It was said.
There is something. Going on here. Which limits classical ideas. They don't quite apart. But in any situation which they do apply we know they're right and therefore whatever laws hold in the atomic dome they must merge into the laws of classical mechanics. There must be a one to one correspondence and analogy there. Otherwise in capturing some insight into this new domain will throw out all we have removed and for all things that are truth. This is called the correspondence principle and a sample of how extreme this correction of the analogy which is revolutionized everything. How extreme that is in a highly formalized science. One can give us follows every law of classical mechanics. Is true in atomic mechanics.
That the velocity is proportional to the momentum of the change of the time of the momentum is proportional to the force of the energy is conserved. All of these provided you will make one formal change. Provided you will say that the momentum of the chord. Are not numbers. But are objects. Such that when you multiply the momentum by the coordinate and you multiply the coordinate by the momentum you don't get the same answer. The difference between these two is an imaginary universal atomic concept. You just like that one form. Then everything you had before is formally identical. This is as powerful as an illustration of the use of analogy in this analogy. In a formal science as I know. I'm going to have to come back to other aspects of this of this great development. Let me run rather more briefly over the three other examples.
Radioactive nuclei. All of those practically that are made artificially in many natural ones disintegrate by sending out electrons. We puzzled and puzzled over it and it was quite clear there were no electrons and nuclei. So Fermi made the suggestion that one might describe this as one describes the emission of light or light quanta from outer space. Nobody would say that was a light like quantum in an atom but still we observe the light coming out and he made a theory along these lines. It wasn't exactly right. The analogy was not quite perfect but with a very little adjustment which took 15 years of of comparison with. Details of experiment. We got a theory that works fine. You coward. A Japanese scientist a coward had a somewhat braver analogy and its fortunes are still not entirely a result of
the way in which one describes the forces between charged bodies is of course that one charged body makes electric fields and is likely fields are propagated to the other and give it some momentum and push it around. Nuclear Forces which are not alike are magnetic and are very strong. Spectacular Yukawa said would probably be due to a field of a new kind and replacing the electric field. It would be this new field replacing the light quanta. There would be new kinds of park. And using the general arguments of relativity and and complementarity quantum theory. He concluded that because the forces between nucleons are of short range the map these particles would have a mass a couple of hundred times that of the electron. And from the other part. Peculiarities of the nuclear force drew conclusions about the nature of these particles. Well they say they were found. They're called M.A. and
they get. The analogy of what your car was started with has been refined one has discovered that there are many differences between meso dynamics intellect for the nomics one is it the present behind. Not quite sure what all of the key points of. A diff of disanalogy are some of them have been discovered that they appear to be rather more Kerviel. Yes but the theory as it stands now has predictive value that it's brought order and clarity to a part anyway of nuclear physics. It has kept people work busy on 20 years now surely of Crees and out of a very very odd time to verify boondoggle it has been a very major. Very very major event in physics and I don't know at the moment how to describe what limits. This analogy. Why isn't it perfect. If we were having a
seminar in physics I would talk an hour about it but I still wouldn't know but that is probably though connected with my fifth exam. It's true that these medicines were discovered but not not for long after that and perhaps can it will continue I don't know and the last five years one has found a whole lot of other objects about six manifestly different and maybe more which are also quite stable last quite a while and which are not simple lessons of the kind you coward envisaged. Almost certainly their intervention in the picture which is not something that is provided for in the analogy we started for will provide a clue to the new point. But their existence raised a different problem because whenever in physics one counters a situation in which something doesn't happen happens very slowly one gets one finds it interesting and the great point was why did these new particles
not decay quickly they do decay but takes them a terribly long time and they come apart into products which which one would expect to have emerge right away. Well we have a great deal of experience with reactions that occur slow and a characteristic reason for that is that something doesn't want to change like the energy of a system or the total charge something is conserved. And whenever that turns up it also turns up that the fact that something is invariant is only is mathematically identical with the state. The fact that something doesn't want to change is mathematically identical. But something makes no difference to the system either its position in space or some quite abstract like idea like that. So the first thing that we all did was to try to find the characteristic of these new particles that didn't want to change. That has not been hard to
do in a most successful theory which accounts for some of the great peculiarities in this field has been developed but we haven't a good name for what doesn't like to change. And the inventor of it calls it the strange fix. Willie's five examples are not a torment to two. To exhaust but merely to illustrate that power for you the inevitable use of analogy in well-developed in a highly organized highly formalized and highly coherent science. And I need to point out that in every case in immense amount of experience measurement observation is has gone in both to the correction of the analogies and to their confirmation. But when I turned to the to the to the question of analogies between sciences. I I talk of something very
different. There is first of all that the fact. That there are often. Things which are not analogies atop. Your Congress when in two different sciences by different techniques different language different concepts. It turns out that the same subject has been explored from two sides. And when it turns out that there was a mapping of one description on the other usually one description contains more elements than the other is richer. The other may be more economical and more convenient. Examples of the chemical theory of valence and atomic physics which are identical except that atomic physics does give an account of some phenomena resonance and so which were hard to cope with within the framework of the classical chemical.
Another example newer and perhaps not. Yet as well explored or understood classical genetics on the one hand and the discovery of the genetic substances DNA and so which are at the moment very close to being into. I wonder one correspondence but with the certitude that the biochemical description is richer and has more dynamic more dynamics in it and more subtlety. Well it's not just that these are the great events of science and when they happen in psychology there is rejoicing and then they don't happen. There is hope. These are the great events which bring coherence and order. A large structure to the unfolding of scientific life. But probably between sciences of very different character. The direct formal analogy was in their structure. I'm not.
Too likely to be helpful certainly but the pseudo Newtonian as did the sociology was a laughable affair and similar things have been done with mechanical notions of how our psychological phenomena are to be explained. I know that when physicists enter biology their first. Ideas of how things work are indescribably naive and mechanical and they are how things would work if the physicists were making them work but not how they work in life. I know that but when I hear the word field used in physics and in psychology I have a nervousness that I can't. Only account for. And I think that. Especially especially when we compare. The subjects in which ideas of coding of the transfer of information ideas of purpose are inherent and natural with
subjects in which these are not inherent and natural. The formal analogies have to be taken with very great caution. But. For all of that I would like to to say something about what physics. Has to give back. To common sense. That it seemed to have taken seem to have lost from it. Not because I am clear that these ideas are important tools in psychological research but because it seems to me that the worst of all possible things would be if psychology. Were influenced in any way to model itself after a physics which is a barony which which is been quite out of date. Now one of them.
With. Thank you for being. One of the points. Which is not not the director. You see we we had we inherited we had at the beginning of this century a notion of of of the physical world it of as a causal one which in which every event could be accounted for declared ingenious a world characterized by a number where everything interesting could be measured and quantified. A determinist world a world in which there was no use for a room for individuality in which the object of study was was simply there and it was studied it was a matter of your job but it didn't affect the object it didn't affect the kind of description you gave of it in which the object of high ability went far beyond merely our own agreement on what we meant by words and what we're talking about and which are objectify ability. Was it something you could do
irrespective of any attempt to study the system you were talking about it was just to give them a real object there it was and there was nothing nothing for you to worry about. I've been a pest I'm a logical character. Well list this extremely rigid picture that left out a great deal and it's. Of commonsense and this is one of the things that I want to. One to one just to wind up with because. The the whole business of of science doesn't just lie in and getting into realms which are unfamiliar in normal experience. There's an enormous work of analyzing recognizing similarities and analogies of getting a feel of the landscape. An enormous qualitative sense of family relations of
taxonomy. It's not always tactful to try to quantify but it isn't always clear that by measurement one has defined something very much worth mentioning. It is true that for the Babylonians it was worth measuring noting the first appearances of the moon because that had practical value their predictions their prophesies and their magic wouldn't work without it and I know that many psychologists have the same kind of reason for wanting to make it. Work. And of the use of the. Thank you sir. And it is a real property of the real world the true measure but it is not necessarily the best way to advance. The true understanding of what's going on. And I would make this very strong plead for pluralism in the kind of methods that in the necessarily early stages of sorting out an immensely vast experience may be
fruitful and maybe helpful not for objectivity that one has to agree and not for a quest for certitude which will never be quite adequately rewarded but for them but for the use of naturalistic methods the use of descriptive matter. I have been immensely impressed by the work of one man who visited us last year at the institute and that's yucky. And when you look at it really just it just ticks consist of one or two places. He has just to stop. And yet I think he has added greatly to our understanding. It is not that I'm sure he's right but he has given us something of which to inquire. And I make this this plea not to. To treat too harshly. Those who tell you a story. Having observed him. Without having established that they are sure that the story is the whole story and the true story. Thank thank.
Which was of course in that life that I look at the immense discipline of practice. That with all its pitfalls with all the the all the dangers that it gives to premature. Solutions it does an incredible amount of experience. Physics would not be where it is psychology would not be where it is. If there were not a great many people willing to pay us for thinking and working. But almost to this point about what physics had taken out of commonsense. I don't know whether these will prove helpful but at least at least it loosens the resources that one can bring to any science. What are these ideas. Well in our natural on the school talk and above all don't talk on school talk about psychological problems.
We have. Five or six things which we have got back into physics. With complete record with complete objectivity in the sense that. We understand one with a complete lack of ambiguity and with a perfectly phenomenal technical success. One of them is just this notion that the physical world is not completely determined. There are predictions you can make about it but they are statistical and any event. As in it the nature of a surprise of a miracle is something that you could not figure out. Predictive. But within limits and ordered but not completely causal. And another of these ideas is the limits on how much we can objectify without reference. To what we are really talking about. In an operational practical sense. We can say the electron has a circle
charge and we do not have to argue as to whether we're looking at it the same way always because we can't say it has a place or more movement. If we say that we imply something about what we ourselves I don't mean as people but as physicists are doing it. And the third is very closely related to the inseparability of what we are studying and the means that are used to study the organic connection. Of the object. With the observer again the observer not in this case is a human but in psychology sometimes says you. And then that has as logical consequence of this the idea of totality or horse Newtonian physics. Classical science was differential. Anything that went you could break up into fine points. And look
if you look at an atomic phenomenon between the beginning and the end the end will be there. It will be different from every every pair of observations you know this you predict that is a global thing and it cannot be broken down. And finally every atomic event is individual. It is not in its essential to reproduce. Well this is quite a pack. Of ideas that we always use individuality whole notice the subtle relations of what is seen with how it is seen. The indeterminacy and the a causality of experience. And I would only say if a poor and limited science like physics could take all these away for three centuries and then give them back in 10 years we had better say that all ideas that occur in commonsense are fair as starting points.
Not to not to not not guaranteed to work but perfectly valid as the material of the analogies with which we start. If any of this is true there is another thing that physicists and psychologists have in common. And that if. We are going to have quite a complicated life. The plea for a plural approach. To exploration. The plea for a minimal definition of objectivity that I have have made means that we are going to learn a terrible lot. There are going to be many different ways of talking about things. The range from almost an understood practice to recondite in abstract thought is going to be enormous. It means they're going to have to be a lot of psychologists as there are getting to be a lot of
physicists. When we work alone. Trying to get something straight it is right that we belong. And I think in the really decisive. Thought that advances science loneliness is an essential part. When we're trying to do something practical. It's nice to have an excess of talent to have more sailors than needed to sail the ship and more cooks that I needed to cook for me all. And the reason is that in this way a certain elegance. A certain proper way of alternatives guides the execution of the practical task. It was that way during the war on many things. And it's I know a luxury that we all want. We are. All for all kinds of reasons. Worrying about how our scientific community is to be nourished in enough people.
We're good enough. Come and work with us. And then on the other side we're worried about how we have to continue to understand one another and not get totally frustrated by the complexity and immensity of our enterprise. I think there are good reasons of an inherent need as I've said beside the competitive reasons with the communist world why we would do well to have more and better scientists. I know that exportation money patronage will do something about this. But I don't think that's all. I think that that if we were to have to have some success. It must be because. As a part of our culture as something that is generally understood the understanding of the life of the mind the life of science. Is something which in itself I was and as well as the only means.
Is appreciated is enjoyed in the safe. I think that has to be a very much wider thing. In the community as a whole before we will enjoy it with the community as a whole. The healthy relationships without which. The developing powers of scientific understanding and prediction control are really. Monstrous dangerous. It may not it may not be so simple. This having the community at large some genuine experience. Of the pleasures of understanding and discovery. It may not be simple because beyond what this requires is. Not merely that this is agreeable but that it has a kind of virtue. And that not only the consideration of its products and accomplishments and status. But the texture of life and its momentary beauty
New directions in social sciences
Analogy in science
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pacifica radio
KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
The conclusion of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer's keynote address, "Analogy in Science."
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A series of talks delivered before the annual convention of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco.
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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
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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 October 24, 2021,
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. October 24, 2021. <>.
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