Social retort

Social retort (new)
A retort (or social retort) depiction of Julian Huxley’s 1940 so-called social retort problem, namely his assertion that “man cannot investigate man by the methods of physical science because he is one of the elements of the physical system and therein inherently biasing his results.
In social models, social retort, or “social test tube”, is the conceptualization of a given society, piece of society or social matter, as a retort, e.g. the "estate" of Goethe's Elective Affinities (1809), and or test tube, in which humans, conceptualized as molecules or human molecules react, and whose reactions are studied via the methods of the physicochemical sciences.

Huxley bias problem
In 1940, Julian Huxley, in his “Science, Natural and Social”, stated the following: [1]

“… experiment for one fundamental reason—namely, that in the one case the investigator is outside his material, in the other he is not. Man cannot investigate man by the same methods he investigates external nature. He can use the methods of natural science to investigate certain aspects of man—the structure and …”

In 1942, Ruth Anshen, in her compendium Science and Man, wherein Huxley’s article is reprinted, penned a chapter entitled “Man as an Element of Every Experiment” seemingly on Huxley’s issue. [2]

In 1947, George Lundberg quoted Huxley as follows in this matter: [3]

“One distinguished scientist [Julian Huxley] has urged that a basic difference between the physical and the social sciences is that in the latter ‘the investigator is inside instead of outside his material.’ This is supposed to be self-evident and require no analysis.”

Lundberg cites two articles which he says are give a more comprehensive discussion of this and other problems. [4]

This seeming issue, Huxley raises, in the Morris Zucker on John Dewey sense of the matter, seems to be well-summarized as the problem of a chemical (or human chemical) in a retort (or social retort) trying to study its own reactions, to other chemicals, via the methods of physical science, e.g. hypothesis, testing, experimentation, measurement, theory, etc., while trying to maintain objective neutrality on its subject matter: which, paradoxically, is a system wherein its self is an admixture, of the social matter, so to say, he is trying to study; as depicted adjacent.

The following are related quotes:

“Since money does not reveal what has been transformed into it, everything, commodity or not, is convertible into money. Everything becomes saleable and purchasable. Circulation becomes the great social retort into which everything is thrown, to come out again as money crystal. Nothing is immune from this alchemy, the bones of the saints cannot withstand it.”
Karl Marx (1867), Capital (pg. 229) (Ѻ)(Ѻ)

“Hence it is that we can have no precise laws in history as we have precise laws in physics, chemistry and mathematics; that history can never be a science in that highly rigid sense … the chemist, for example, can boast a superior apparatus for ascertaining the truth. In formulating the laws which govern an element, he can repeat his experiments thousands of times with all the factors precisely the same, or with endless variations of factors. The historian has no control of phenomena in the blowpipe (Ѻ) or test tube sense.”
— Allan Nevins (1938), The Gateway to History

“Physical phenomena in the gross is not concerted with the internal structure of each atom in each successive moment, nor is history with the relation of each individual being every moment of time. History is vitally interested in the laws of continuity in finite space and definite time. Were it not for the existence of these laws developed from definite relations subsisting among the mass, all science would be impossible. These propositions are fundamental in physics, and they apply with equal footing in history. Society is a definite reality. All we have to do is to look about us to be conscious of its ubiquitous presence though no one yet has examined it under the microscope or tested it in a chemists’ retort. The retort will be that we are comparing inert matter, iron, with a living reality, society. Matter [after all] is not so terribly inert.”
Morris Zucker (1945), The Field Theory of History
I wonder what would happen if
Left: a depiction of Goethe’s visualization of the “estate”, of his 1809 novella Elective Affinities—the character Edward shown ruminating on the thought experiment—as a chemical retort. Right: a 2013 chemical analogy type sketch of a social beaker by Ben Biddle of how innovation, in his view, is like a chemical reaction. (Ѻ)

“Most people’s acquaintance with science has involved laboratories and controlled experiments. Indeed, the word science probably conjures up to most people the image of a man in a white coat looking critically at a test tube. Accordingly, another insuperable obstacle to social science is usually urged. How can a piece of society be put in a test tube?”
George Lundberg (1947), Can Science Save Us? (pg. 21)

“People are like particles, they behave in groups as if they were molecules in a test-tube.”
Forbes Allan (1999), Milton’s Progress

Ecological stoichiometry [is about] how chemical elements come together to form evolved, living species in ecosystems. Organisms can be thought of as complex evolved chemical substances that interact with each other and the abiotic world in a way that resembles a complex, composite, chemical reaction. Like any other normal chemical rearrangement at the surface of the earth, when organisms interact, mass must be conserved and elements are neither created nor destroyed. There is stoichiometry in ecology, just as there is in organic synthesis in a test tube”.
Robert Sterner and James Elser (2002), Ecological Stoichiometry

See also
Island model

1. Huxley, Julian. (1940). “Science, Natural and Social”, Scientific Monthly, 57, Jan; in: Science and Man (editor: R.N. Anshen) (pg. 273). Brace and Co., 1942.
2. Anshen, Ruth N. (1942). “Man as an Element of Every Experiment”, in: Science and Man (editor: R.N. Anshen) (pgs. 3-). Brace and Co.
3. (a) Huxley, Julian. (1940). “Science, Natural and Social”, Scientific Monthly, 57, Jan; in: Science and Man (editor: R.N. Anshen) (pg. 273). Brace and Co., 1942.
(b) Lundberg, George. (1947). Can Science Save Us? (pg. 19). Longmans, Green and Co.
4. (a) Lundberg, George. (1947). “The Senate Ponders Social Science”, Scientific Monthly, 64, May.
(b) Lundberg, George. (1950). “Alleged Obstacles to Social Science”, Scientific Monthly, 70:299-305, May.

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