Science in the twentieth century, though it is conquering the universe, has neglected, even actively suppressed human nature. A science of and for man has become problematic, while psychology, during the first half of the century, has concentrated on what is at best a robot model of man.
New ways in psychology and a new science of man: these have become increasingly urgent. And new directions and developments in the various disciplines have made possible such a psychology for modern man. In Robots, Men and Minds, Ludwig von Bertalanffy proposes a brilliant and stimulating approach to this problem and its possible solution: “There are certain principles in common in an emerging psychology of man or, as we should rather say, in a new science of man or general anthropology, because this will obviously be an interdisciplinary enterprise including biology, psychiatry, sociology, linguistics, economics, the arts and other fields. The keywords of a new psychology, I propose, are symbolism and system. Somewhat more precisely: we have to define what is specific of human behavior and psychology; this is possible in terms of man’s symbolic activities. And against the robot model of the primary reactivity of the organism a new conception emerges which, in psychological language, can be termed as that of man as an active personality system.”
Robots, Men and Minds aims to place psychology within the mainstream of a maturing, contemporary, organismic world-view and to outline the new natural philosophy which is emerging. With the breadth of vision which characterizes all of his writing and with his astonishing familiarity with the various scientific and humanistic disciplines, Ludwig von Bertalanffy discusses a vast range of current developments and ideas in the perspective of this new science of man. The book culminates in an intriguing proposal for a unified philosophy of man in nature: “The organismic view is at the same time perspectivistic – that is, aware of its limitations, not a nothing-but philosophy believing to know and to have told everything, but tolerant of other philosophies and other experience – in arts, morals, religion – which may mirror other facets of an unfathomable reality.”
Ludwig von Bertalanffy, one of the foremost biologists of our time, is world renowned for his many contributions in various fields, from physiology to biophysics, from the philosophy and methodology of the natural sciences to historico-methodological research. He was a founder of the Society for the Advancement of General Systems Theory, a field in which she is universally regarded as a pioneer and acknowledged leader. In 1967 he was named an Honorary Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.
Born in 1901, his first works appeared in the twenties and were devoted to problems of growth and form, the theory of organic gestalt and to general philosophical problems in biology. Since that time, his published writings are virtually innumerable. Among his best-known works are Modern Theories of Development and Problems of Life, the latter (now published in six languages) described by Karl Menninger as “one of the outstanding scientific events of the decade.”
Having taught for many years in Vienna, Dr. von Bertalanffy move to Canada in 1949. He is now Professor of Theoretical Biology in the Department of Zoology, and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Psychology at the University of Alberta.
Aldus Huxley described him most aptly as “one of those strategically placed thinkers, whose knowledge in many fields permits them to strike at the joints between the various academic disciplines – biology, philosophy, literature, and the like – and so to penetrate to the quick of living reality in a way which the specialists, however learned and gifted, can never do.”