On This Day … 20 December

People (Births)

  • 1917 – David Bohm, American-English physicist, neuropsychologist, and philosopher (d. 1992).

People (Deaths)

  • 1984 – Stanley Milgram, American psychologist and academic (b. 1933).

David Bohm

David Joseph Bohm FRS (20 December 1917 to 27 October 1992) was an American scientist who has been described as one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century and who contributed unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, neuropsychology and the philosophy of mind.

Bohm advanced the view that quantum physics meant that the old Cartesian model of reality – that there are two kinds of substance, the mental and the physical, that somehow interact – was too limited. To complement it, he developed a mathematical and physical theory of “implicate” and “explicate” order. He also believed that the brain, at the cellular level, works according to the mathematics of some quantum effects, and postulated that thought is distributed and non-localised just as quantum entities are.

Bohm warned of the dangers of rampant reason and technology, advocating instead the need for genuine supportive dialogue, which he claimed could broaden and unify conflicting and troublesome divisions in the social world. In this, his epistemology mirrored his ontology. Due to his Communist affiliations, Bohm was the subject of a federal government investigation in 1949, prompting him to leave the United States. He pursued his scientific career in several countries, becoming first a Brazilian and then a British citizen. He abandoned Marxism in the wake of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.

Bohm’s main concern was with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which according to Bohm is never static or complete.

Stanley Milgram

Stanley Milgram (15 August 1933 to 20 December 1984) was an American social psychologist, best known for his controversial experiments on obedience conducted in the 1960s during his professorship at Yale.

Milgram was influenced by the events of the Holocaust, especially the trial of Adolf Eichmann, in developing the experiment. After earning a PhD in social psychology from Harvard University, he taught at Yale, Harvard, and then for most of his career as a professor at the City University of New York Graduate Centre, until his death in 1984.

His small-world experiment, while at Harvard, led researchers to analyse the degree of connectedness, including the six degrees of separation concept. Later in his career, Milgram developed a technique for creating interactive hybrid social agents (called cyranoids), which has since been used to explore aspects of social- and self-perception.

He is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of social psychology. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Milgram as the 46th-most-cited psychologist of the 20th century.

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