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History &

The scientific work of the Interchange think-tank goes back not only to our team’s more immediate scientific forebears—our university teachers, and their teachers’ teachers. For the latter had themselves in turn formed part of a long-running, concerted transatlantic collaboration, which extended over a number of generations and was arguably the single most remarkable, fertile and influential, large-scale multidisciplinary scientific collaboration of the 20th Century.

The intellectual history, philosophy and enduring legacy of this scientific work is the focus of CHAPS, our Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science.

According to the still-prevailing “creation myth” in the literature, the official birthdate of this unparalleled scientific movement (one which, to this day, was never to acquire an agreed-upon name) was 6th August 1927, and its improbable-sounding birthplace a commuter ferry crossing the Hudson river.

In point of fact, however, this audacious research programme had commenced in earnest just after the First World War, mostly in Central Europe, though much of the theoretical foundations had already been laid in prior work published throughout the 19th Century, with some of the foundational work going as far back as 1620 in England, and earlier still in Germany. This revolution in ideas, despite earlier roots, was in many ways, like so many great things, the fruit of the “Golden Twenties” of the Weimar Renaissance in Germany, and without this earlier, wide-ranging body of innovative work spanning multiple fields, from biology and medicine to philosophy, psychoanalysis and education, that legendary 1927 ferry crossing would not have had as broad and profound an impact on future developments as it was destined to have.

In this scientific movement, finally burgeoning in the years just before, during, and throughout the decade just following the Second World War (and continuing throughout the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s), some of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century—a host of more-or-less maverick but highly distinguished scientists working across countless disciplines—were thrown together in the course of their professional work on various, apparently unrelated and usually practical problems, many or perhaps most of these initially in war work, and often far from their day jobs. Almost all were based either in Britain or in America, and a significant proportion had been refugees from Hitler.

The scientific revolutionaries’ epoch-making work, conducted field of research by field of research, was in time to comprise tens of thousands of man-years of tireless work by first-rate scientific investigators. Some hundreds of those scientists who were most prominent in developing and promulgating the revolutionary new thinking were among the 20th Century’s most distinguished names within the confines of their own disciplines, and they were to number amongst them a dazzling array of Fellows of the Royal Society and a prodigious number of Nobel Laureates and Nominees. Despite coming from wildly different scientific disciplines, the investigators worked side-by-side in ever varying multidisciplinary groupings, labouring on the frontiers of their own fields and of Science writ large.

Working together were some of the century’s most distinguished mathematicians and linguists, anthropologists and engineers, ethologists and ethnologists, physicists and physiologists, philologists and geneticists, philosophers and intellectual historians, chemists and biochemists, psychologists and zoologists, psychoanalysts and neuroscientists, anatomists and astrophysicists, quantum mechanicists and biosemioticians, evolutionary and developmental biologists, mathematical logicians and ecologists, economists and computer scientists, statisticians and physicians, cognitive scientists and epidemiologists, information theorists and psychiatrists, and a bewilderingly diverse host of others.

They published their results prolifically in the most prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journals, now in one discipline, now in another, or else in Nature or in Science or in the new journals demanded by the multiple new fields of study they were opening up.

An early, book-length review of this (mostly anglophone) work by a philosophically and scientifically sophisticated, contemporary Parisian observer, heralded these “revolutionary” scientific ideas, as not only marking the biggest scientific revolution of our time, but “more significantly,” making for no less than “a revolution in metaphysics…taking up where Kant had left off.”

Today, although many of the scientists who first made this revolution are still remembered and honoured as marquee names within the confines of their own individual fields, their far more revolutionary, multidisciplinary research collaboration over a period spanning the middle fifty years of the 20th Century remains largely unchronicled to this day. For its history has only ever been researched now from one point of view, now from another, like the proverbial blind men describing the elephant, and never once comprehensively.

For some decades the Interchange Research think-tank has endeavoured not only to continue and extend this important work, but to preserve and document the original sources and chronicle the movement’s history.

Our researchers in the area are of the professional conviction that the history of science and the philosophy of science are ultimately inseparable, and CHAPS is devoted to a comprehensive study of the complex intellectual history and philosophical foundations of this remarkable scientific tradition.

Among the many areas we have been systematically researching since the early 1970s, the work centred in CHAPS has included highly focused, in-depth research within, for example, the history and philosophy of: science in the early modern period, cybernetics, organismic biology, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, psychiatry, neuroscience, scientific holism, planned environment therapy (including especially the therapeutic community movement), progressive education, group analysis, sociology, medicine (especially social medicine), public health, the residential care and treatment of children, evolutionary and developmental biology, and biosemiotics, as well as work on post-academic (especially so-called “Mode 2”) science along with the nature and historically changing conceptions of scientific understanding from Aristotle to the present. We have also had a longstanding research interest in the understanding of epistemological as distinct from mere paradigm change in science.