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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Non-Technical Tercentenary Conference Formed Plan for Study of Human Society

Social, Cultural, Physiological, Psychological Aspects of Man Discussed


The Tercentenary Conference of Arts and Sciences, which opened on August 31 with a meeting of the American Mathematical Society, came to a close on Friday, September 11 as the last addresses of the Social and Physical Science Symposia were delivered.

Three Sections

The Conference was divided into three major sections, one on Social Sciences and Humanities, another on the Biological Sciences, and a third on the Physical Sciences. The latter two, stretching over the entire period of the Conference, consisted merely of papers delivered by outstanding scientists on the researches they have been currently pursuing; the first-named section, on the other hand, which did not start until the second week of the session, took the form of a well-integrated and novel plan for consolidating the various branches of learning concerned with the study of mankind as a whole.

This plan was carried out by three symposia dealing with as many different aspects of human society: "Factors Determining Human Behaviour", "Authority and the Individual", and "Independence, Convergence and Borrowing in Institutions, Thought and Art".

All three were concerned with Man and his actions. In the first, in the investigations were of a physiological and psychological nature, an exposition of the individual's potential behavior. In the second were examined the economic and social forces, the cultural conditioning, which reaches an individual through society; and in the third were seen the interactions of one culture upon another.

Plan of Approach

With an examination of the Symposia, the plan and purpose of the three-fold approach became apparent. In the early days of university life, the heritage of classical antiquity and the medieval tradition of theology were guiding forces in education. Harvard itself was founded, as so many know, by the early settlers, "fearing to leave an illiterate ministry" to the churches. But a growth in the Humanities and the Sciences led scholars to diverse paths as the years passed, and men became more concerned with their separate fields than with the connection of these fields with one another.

Of late specialization had become so intense and progress so rapid that even experts in the same field were becoming mutually unintelligible. The time was thought right for a recapitulation; it was necessary that a consolidating action between all associated fields should take place. Such will be the motives of the roving professors whom Dr. Conant has recently proposed; such has been the successful purpose of the Tercentenary Conference.

Double Purpose

The addresses delivered at these three symposia under the general heading of "Social Science and the Humanities" served a double purpose. Each, in itself, was a significant contribution to knowledge; their really great importance, however, lay in the fact that each represented a different approach to the fascinating study of man, and taken together they constitute a systematic attempt to solve the many-faceted problem of human society.

In the symposium on "Factors Determining Human Behavior," the question was treated from the physiological and psychological angle. Among the eminent thinkers who contributed their opinions to this discussion were Edgar Douglas Adrian, Charles Gustay Jung, Rudolf Carnap and Bronislaw Mallnowski, representing respectively the view-points of physiology, psychology, philosophy and anthropology.


The influence of the nervous system on our behavior was discussed in the opening address by Professor Adrian, who is a Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, was co-winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1932, and established the important "all-or-none" law of nervous reaction. This law states that the intensity of sensation depends on a factor inherent in the nerve itself, and not on the strength of the stimulus.

Tribute to James

Charles Gustav Jung, Professor of Analytic Psychology at the Technische Hochschule in Zurich, addressed the session on "Psychological Factors Influencing Human Behavior." Jung, who has a world reputation as an exceedingly profound and stimulating thinker in the realm of the psychology of the unconscious, was, with Sigmund Freud, one of the leaders of the psychoanalytic movement until he rejected Freud's views on mental processes.

After summing up the "purely empirical" factors which influence human behavior, Dr. Jung commented on the extreme complexity of the science of psychology, due to the intricacy of the human psyche itself. In closing, he paid tribute to the mentality of William James, of whom he said: "It was his comprehensive mind which made me realize that the horizons of human psychology widen into the immeasurable."

Assertions and Commands

Rudolf Carnap, leader of the so-called "Vienna Circle" of logical positivists, outlined the three requirements of logical thinking as clarity, consistency and adequate evidence. In an address entitled simply "Logic," he pointed out that a statement which may appear to be an assertion is often only a command or a volitive expression.

Thus, he explained, a statement to the effect that any race, say the Hottentots, were superior to all other races and should deny them their rights, appears to be a definite assertion. But, according to Professor Carnap, if such a statement were transposed into the imperative form, "to reveal its exclusively volitional function," it would read as follows: "Members of the race of Hottentots! Unite and battle to dominate the other races! And you, members of other races! Submit to the yoke or fly from this land!"

Life Among the Esquimaux

"Functionalism" is a name which anthropologists immediately connect with Bronisiaw Malinowski, anthropologist of the University of London, the last speaker of this symposium, whose address was on the subject of "Culture as a Determinant of Behavior." The term represents a concept of a many-sided functioning as a unit, with all its customs and traditions interrelated. Malinowski observed just such a functional society during a very close study of the Trobriand Indians of Melanesia, and by giving bird's eye views of the culture of the Masal tribes of Africa, the Chagga, also of Africa, the Esquimaux, and the Trobrianders, illustrated the fact that scientific principles of anthropology may be universally applied. He urged the use of "scientific determinism" in the study of man.

More Control

The first section of the symposium on "Authority and the Individual" was given over to the subject "The State and Economic Enterprise." To this session Douglas Berry Copland, Professor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne, contributed some illuminating remarks on the subject of "The State and the Entrepreneur." Professor Copland spoke from wide experience, for he was one of a group of economists who were instrumental in bringing about a "State-engineered" recovery from the depression in Australia, and well knows the relations between the government and private enterprise. In spite of the fact that the state is often a "bad loser and a poor employer" when it undertakes the functions of the entrepreneur in industrial projects, he advocates an increase in the amount of control exercised by the state, but with still enough leeway left to private employers to exercise that imagination and foresight which has been so instrumental in the development of the great modern industrial nations, especially the United States. He pointed to the economic systems of Britain and Scandinavia as "the sound conception of the relation of the state to the entrepreneur."

Among the speakers at the symposium on "Authority and the Individual" was Corrado Gini, Professor of Statistics and Sociology at the University of Rome, and Visiting Lecturer at Harvard during the last half-year. After a discussion of the cyclical and permanent factors which influence the collective control of society over the individual, Professor Gini in his address on "Authority and the Individual during the Different Stages of Evolution of the Nations" expressed the hope that a consideration of them might aid in obtaining a better understanding between nations today.

No End Yet

He did not, like Plutarch, foresee the end of a civilization. Indeed, he expressed an unwillingness to prophesy, lacking the advantage of writing two hundred years after the event, as Plutarch did; he merely said that he hoped that a scientific consideration of the factors that influence races might help, at least, in obtaining a "mutual comprehension of the younger America and the Old Europe."

Classicism and romanticism, the Alpha and Omega of authority in literature and the arts, were discussed at the fourth section of the symposium. In one of the addresses Paul Hazard, Dr. es Lettres, Professor of Comparative Literature, College de France, discussed L'abbe Prevost, whose works may be taken as a peculiarly sensitive gauge of the literary changes of the 18th century, an age in which authority in literature was in a state of transition.

After a detailed discussion of Prevost as a Romanticist, and of the influences of the period which swayed both him and others, Professor Hazard reaffirmed the absolute necessity of a close study of these influences in gauging a man or a period, and of relying on original investigation rather than taking the opinions of others. "To seek; to continue to seek . . . Not to swear by the words of the masters; but to return to the facts, and to the criticism of the facts" was the rigid creed he pronounced for literary historians to follow, if they wish to discover the real truth of what lies in the past.

"Independence, Convergence and Borrowing in Institutions, Thought, and Art" was the title of the third non-scientific symposium here the discussion passed to the larger grounds of the origin and diffusion of cultures, approached from the viewpoints of many great branches of learning.

Primitive Cultures

The forces which caused the germination of various cultures before the beginning of recorded history were discussed by Vere Gordon Childe, Professor of Prehistoric Archeology at the University of Edinburgh, in an address entitled "A Prehistorian's Interpretation of Diffusion." Although Professor Childe started out by saying: "Discussions of diffusion are apt to degenerate into combats where in only dust is diffused . . ." he made some very definite comments concerning the influence of environmental factors in aiding intercourse between the urban civilizations of the early Orient.

3 Prize Winners

Among the Nobel Prize winners speaking in the Biological and Physical Science symposia were Arthur Holly Compton in physics and Karl Landsteiner and Frederick Gowland Hopkins in medicine. Professor Compton, who is 44 years old, is one of the world's leading authorities on cosmic rays. After being a National Research Fellow in 1919, he became an instructor at Minnesota, research physicist with the Westinghouse Electric Co., and head of the Department of Physics at Washington University. Since 1923 he has been Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago, and has traveled extensively around the world in pursuit of the elusive cosmic ray. He spoke on "Cosmic Rays as Electrical Particles" in the section of the Physical Science symposium entitled "Cosmic Radiation."

Dr. Landsteiner, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1930 for his discovery of the blood groups, is connected with the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. He has studied for many years the phenomena of immunity, and his address before the Physical Science session on "Parasitism" was entitled "Serological and Allergic Reactions with Simple Chemical Compounds," a subject closely allied with immunity. The specific contribition to the subject disclosed in the address was that "drug idiosyncrasy, in many cases at least, comes into the same category as anaphylaxis."

Chemical Thought

Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, who addressed the "Various Aspects of Biology" section of the Biological Sciences symposium on "The Influence of Chemical Thought on Biology," won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1929. He is Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, and is recognized as one of the very top rank of biochemists throughout the world.

His work has covered several phases of biochemistry; perhaps the most interesting was done in connection with vitamins. This was a feeding experiment carried out in 1906, in which Professor Hopkins observed the results of giving various diets to rats. The effects of different combinations of diet, the absence or presence of milk along with other foods, whether food is cooked or raw, and other factors enabled him to draw certain conclusions in regard to developing the theory of vitamins. He has also done very important work in collaboration with Sir Walter Fletcher on the chemical changes which accompany muscular contraction.SIR FREDERICK GOWLAND HOPKINS Rate--1929

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