On This Day … 17 March

People (Births)

  • 1877 – Otto Gross, Austrian-German psychoanalyst and philosopher (d. 1920).
  • 1922 – Patrick Suppes, American psychologist and philosopher (d. 2014).

Otto Gross

Otto Hans Adolf Gross (17 March 1877 to 13 February 1920) was an Austrian psychoanalyst. A maverick early disciple of Sigmund Freud, he later became an anarchist and joined the utopian Ascona community.

His father Hans Gross was a judge turned pioneering criminologist. Otto initially collaborated with him, and then turned against his determinist ideas on character.

A champion of an early form of anti-psychiatry and sexual liberation, he also developed an anarchist form of depth psychology (which rejected the civilising necessity of psychological repression proposed by Freud). He adopted a modified form of the proto-feminist and neo-pagan theories of Johann Jakob Bachofen, with which he attempted to return civilisation to a ‘golden age’ of non-hierarchy. Gross was ostracised from the larger psychoanalytic movement, and was not included in histories of the psychoanalytic and psychiatric establishments. He died in poverty.

Greatly influenced by the philosophy of Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche and the political theories of Peter Kropotkin, he in turn influenced D.H. Lawrence (through Gross’s affair with Frieda von Richthofen), Franz Kafka and other artists, including Franz Jung and other founders of Berlin Dada. His influence on psychology was more limited. Carl Jung claimed his entire worldview changed when he attempted to analyse Gross and partially had the tables turned on him.

He became addicted to drugs in South America where he served as a naval doctor. He was hospitalised several times for drug addiction, sometimes losing his guardianship of himself to his father in the process. As a Bohemian drug user from youth, as well as an advocate of free love, he is sometimes credited as a founding grandfather of 20th-century counterculture.

Patrick Suppes

Patrick Colonel Suppes (17 March 1922 to 17 November 2014) was an American philosopher who made significant contributions to philosophy of science, the theory of measurement, the foundations of quantum mechanics, decision theory, psychology and educational technology. He was the Lucie Stern Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Stanford University and until January 2010 was the Director of the Education Program for Gifted Youth also at Stanford.

Early Life and Career

Suppes was born on 17 March 1922, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He grew up as an only child, later with a half brother George who was born in 1943 after Patrick had entered the army. His grandfather, C.E. Suppes, had moved to Oklahoma from Ohio. Suppes’ father and grandfather were independent oil men. His mother died when he was a young boy. He was raised by his stepmother, who married his father before he was six years old. His parents did not have much formal education.

Suppes began college at the University of Oklahoma in 1939, but transferred to the University of Chicago in his second year, citing boredom with intellectual life in Oklahoma as his primary motivation. In his third year, at the insistence of his family, Suppes attended the University of Tulsa, majoring in physics, before entering the Army Reserves in 1942. In 1943 he returned to the University of Chicago and graduated with a B.S. in meteorology, and was stationed shortly thereafter at the Solomon Islands to serve during World War II.

Suppes was discharged from the US Army Air Force in 1946. In January 1947 he entered Columbia University as a graduate student in philosophy as a student of Ernest Nagel and received a PhD in 1950. In 1952 he went to Stanford University, and from 1959 to 1992 he was the director of the Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences (IMSSS). He would subsequently become the Lucie Stern Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Stanford.

Computer-Aided Learning

In the 1960s Suppes and Richard C. Atkinson (the future president of the University of California) conducted experiments in using computers to teach math and reading to school children in the Palo Alto area. Stanford’s Education Programme for Gifted Youth and Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC, now named Pearson Education Technologies) are indirect descendants of those early experiments. At Stanford, Suppes was instrumental in encouraging the development of high-technology companies that were springing up in the field of educational software up into the 1990s, (such as Bien Logic).

One computer used in Suppes and Atkinson’s Computer-assisted Instruction (CAI) experiments was the specialized IBM 1500 Instructional System. Seeded by a research grant in 1964 from the US Department of Education to the Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences at Stanford University, the IBM 1500 CAI system was initially prototyped at the Brentwood Elementary School (Ravenswood City School District) in East Palo Alto, California by Suppes. The students first used the system in 1966.

Suppes’ Dial-a-Drill programme was a touchtone phone interface for CAI. Ten schools around Manhattan were involved in the programme which delivered three lessons per week by telephone. Dial-a-Drill adjusted the routine for students who answered two questions incorrectly. The system went online in March 1969. Touchtone telephones were installed in the homes of children participating in the programme. Field workers educated parents on the benefits of the programme and collected feedback.

Decision Theory

During the 1950s and 1960s Suppes collaborated with Donald Davidson on decision theory, at Stanford. Their initial work followed lines of thinking which had been anticipated in 1926 by Frank P. Ramsey, and involved experimental testing of their theories, culminating in the 1957 monograph Decision Making: An Experimental Approach. Such commentators as Kirk Ludwig trace the origins of Davidson’s theory of radical interpretation to his formative work with Suppes.

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