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J. Robert Oppenheimer '26 concluded his observations on atomic theory and the relationships between atomic mechanics and classical mechanics Friday in Sanders Theatre, and then went on to the topic, "The Proper Study of Mankind." He was delivering his sixth William James Lecture on Philosophy and Psychology.
Oppenheimer pointed out that quantum theory leads the scientist to the maximum possible determination of a given effect, but not the only determination. He emphasized that once a scientist had decided on what route he would take to this "maximum determination," other routes were necessarily excluded in that particular experiment.
The director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, N.J., stated that we now have a "description of reality" in which every observation excludes another, in which the record of the future carries no sign of the past, because the observational criteria of the past have been obliterated.
The classical or Newtonian mechanics have not been invalidated by the rise of the new physics but exist as a limiting case of atomic theory, this limiting case being the physics of large-scale bodies.
Moving on to the "The Proper Study of Mankind," he declared that "man is overwhelmed by all those who are studying him." In the study on man, Oppenheimer distinguished between two main branches of study, the scientific approach--through biology, chemistry, psychology, and psychiatry--and the historical approach.
The scientist examines the world through new instruments and methods, and thus is a great agent both in creating and ordering. The historian, on the other hand, is concerned mainly with ordering man's experience, with identifying things that are worth discussing, and with sorting out and categorizing tangible, significant events.
In conclusion, Oppenheimer expressed his opinion that in future years man will come to understand himself through methods which are not mainly historical.
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