The Student was a reformer at heart, an agent of change from childhood, so he was pleased to note that a major theme of the Social Science Survey was Social Change. However, far from sharpening his skills, the lectures, discussions and readings of the year seemed to say, "Don't waste your energies trying to reform people and societies. Social Change either happens through the natural operation of social forces, or it is opposed strongly and nobody can bring it about, especially not You!"
He asked his Advisor Mr.Earl S. Johnson about this one day in the Mr. J.'s little shiny metal office in the fake Gothic attic of the fake Gothic-style new Social Science Building, both of them squinting through their 20-20 vision in the medieval dark. "Everyone says people are bred to resist change by all means, even when it is obviously good for them. Is this a natural law? If people can be raised and educated to dislike change, why can't they be trained to like change? Then it would be so much the easier to improve human conditions?"
Mr. Johnson was taken aback, why, indeed, why not? "Men are naturally conservative because they are taught to be so and to hold on to what they have. They fear change."
"But then why not start them young to want change?"
"They won't let you do it, the people in power won't."
That ended the matter but the Student was never quite satisfied with the answer, though universally given, and a bit of varnish chipped off of his hero. (Actually it was indeed strange that Mr. Johnson let pass the opportunity to preach John Dewey's Progressive Education, of which he was a full supporter, and whose pragmatic philosophy he acclaimed as well.)
Virtue is difficult, but should one then preach evil? It seemed as if the social scientists had selected the greatest readings in the literature of social change, among them their colleague Mr. William Ogburn's book on the subject, and William Graham Sumner's elaborate litany of all the conservative mores and folkways of the world, then added to these more theoretical works some material on the Industrial Revolution, French Revolution, the Russian Revolution. Great Change was then created by social forces, sometimes by chance, bringing desireable results, much of the time inviting disasters.
I would say that the faculty in the social sciences was on the whole small-change liberal and skeptical, while the students ranged from conservative to radical and believed in deliberate and controllable big change. That, you will say, is the pathetic fallacy of the young. Under the circumstances, the Marx-Engels "Communist Manifesto" made the faculty appear less promising and alive, and the same might be said of the vigorous discourses of the Italian Fascists that were supplied the students. The young organized themselves into ideological groups: The followers of St. Thomas Aquinas had their Thomist group affiliated with the Catholic Church with equipped with an enthusiastic priestly advisor; Young Communists formed up, the Trotsky followers assembled;, the Young Socialists were more numerous than either: they could boast a faculty advisor in Mr. Maynard Krueger, an economist who was even a candidate for high public office (with a very low vote), whereas there was not a single professed communist among the faculty: so much for the canard widespread in the Midwest that was reached by the Chicago Tribune, that the University was a hotbed of reds.
In fact, the year the Student entered saw the publication by herself of Elizabeth Bentley's notorious and influential book, "The Red Network," whose bulk was fattened on characters from the University faculty. Even the arch-Old Liberal economist Harry Gideonse was castigated in this Who's Who of Radical America for some attention he had paid to abuses of civil liberties. Protests at the prejudices of the court that executed Sacco and Vanzetti sufficed to earn one a niche in the Red Network. Its aim was to expose enemies of the American Constitution and the American Way of Life. It helped to isolate the University from the larger community of Chicagoland and it lent to its denizens a slightly embattled air. Even the Student could feel that he was a different sort of animal when he ventured forth into his own native City, or visited John's candy store on Southport Avenue; his intellectual hackles would rise as he lifted his leg against the hostile dog's fence.
Because Mr. Paul H. Douglas, Professor of Economics, was a favorite target of the Enemies of the University, and provided a course on Labor Problems, the Student signed up for it, and was treated recurringly to the sight of this majestic slob of a man, huge and barrel-bellied above his belt, with flying grey hair, purring highly sophisticated accents, chain-smoking his way through a smooth, assured, barely emotional set of rhetorical masterpieces.
The plight of the blue-collar worker throughout the world came vividly to the mind. The great industrial work crises of Europe and America flared up once more in the wooded hall before the seventy students: exploited cottagers, sweatshops, machine-mashed minds, the dark pits and blast furnaces for 72 hours a week, leaflets, manifestos, underground organization, spontaneous riot and strike, suppression, boycott, assassinations, pitched battles, "aux barricades!", Sam Gompers reading to the Tampa cigar makers as they spit and rolled, the Triangle Shirt Fire, the Chicago Haymarket Riot and its hanged exemplars, the "General Strike!" -- everybody out! all business stops! the machines are stilled! until justice is done, the great myth, the never-accomplished, the Student dreaming why not and how could it happen, and then what would happen, what's to be given when there's nobody elected to ask for it, the Hero, Himself, Give us this day our daily bread, house, garden, good wife, western sunsets, new car, travel, college, and the world goes back to work -- Here was the Alderman, the convertible Pacifist and anti-Communist, America's Greatest Senator in the making, and he must have felt the sympathy of the Student and the others out there in the warm classroom as in his short sleeves he lit up, paced forward, backward and around, expressing only the small forearm gestures that American orators might now affect, and blowing smoke as a form of accent too, troubled eyes behind thin-rimmed glasses, a monumental jaw, an outpouring of sincerity and sympathy. The Student remembered him then, thereafter, and after the thereafter. And reading the history of the labor movement by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, so generously styled, he saw how even workers, for whom he had no intrinsic sympathy, could be described as they organized and struggled as if they had been kings and queens. He liked this. Mr. Paul Douglas gave him a liberal education in the totality of the labor movement. Gaping vacuities in the thousands of Chicago newspapers he had read in his brief lifetime were suddenly filled. He gave the Student a sympathy for working class associations and politics; labor was more sinned against than sinner. He was alerted to the hypocrisies of owners, directors, financiers, managers.
The word "union" was not foreign to him beforehand: his father and brother belonged to the American Federation of Musicians, an odd union to be sure, but surprisingly like the rest of them once you got into it. But now he understood unionism broadly and what all the slogans, threats, demands, slandering was about. Still he had no intention of being a worker; he was born to be a boss, a likeable boss, mind you. An understanding one. One who would rather ask Mr. Paul Douglas to arbitrate a dispute than his Uncle Bill the Lithographer Salesman or John Meighan the Sweet Shop owner and bookmaker or Col. Robert R. McCormick, the owner of the Chicago Tribune, or maybe even his own father whose temper might flare up against one side or the other. He was surveying at the same time two additional large areas, distinct from the social sciences and from the labor movement: the "Humanities" and the "Physical Sciences." The first gave him no trouble at all; it dealt with people doing things, so these people held things together even though the staff lacked a method and language for doing so. The physical sciences gave him a lot of trouble; they dealt with things doing things, as if people had nothing to do with them, and this meant that the staff was almost totally disconnected and the disconnection was felt in the difficulties of the Student and many others. The physical sciences staff thought that this differential between the large number of people who comprehended the humanities and the social sciences on the one hand and the physical sciences on the other hand denoted a superiority of the latter, a greater difficulty owing to the sureness of its methods and the certainty of its conclusions. "Hard sciences" they came to be called as against the "soft" social sciences, and as for the humanities, these were not scientific at all but all art and fascinating news items of history at best.
Some social scientists and practically all of the humanists, if I may call them that here, agreed with this appraisal and wished indeed to get rid of the scientific in their work in favor of another mysterious kind of knowledge that they claimed to purvey. There was no heavy force in Philosophy denying the separation of fields; there was, however, the force exercised by Mr. Hutchins and now Mr. Mortimer Adler, unrecognized as legitimate by the social scientists, the natural scientists and perhaps the humanists, that proposed to unify knowledge according to ancient principles which they professed to find in Aristotle, St.Thomas Aquinas, and the humanist tradition generally, as exemplified in Wolfgang Goethe. Mr. Hutchins won his battles with the several faculties to combine knowledge into the several great areas of inquiry, but could go no further in uniting the fields within themselves or with one another. Like the teacher in charge of the "social mixer," he got the boys and girls into the same room and called out "Now Mix." But the mix was a half-dozen hodge-podges.
The Humanities in the course of the year managed to crowd in something of the cultural history of the Western World, punctuated by sharp excursions into the fine arts and architecture, music, poetry, drama, fiction, by way now of an original work such as Aristotle's Poetry or Dante's Inferno, and again by a work discussing great works and historical periods, such as chapters out of Gibbons' "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." There were unfortunate gaps; possibly time to fill them was lacking. Worse was the failure of philosophical integration to go along with the potentially credible cheek-by-jowl association of diverse subject-matters. More deplorable still was the lack of attention to the non-Western World, to dance, the movies and photography, cuisine, dress, manners, and finally culture in the thoroughgoing anthropological sense.
Granted that there were thousands of human cultures, of which only very few might be described even cursorily, there was a general concept of culture developing in Anthropology that could have fitted beautifully into the purposes of the Survey. Also, the library could have provided a list of readings on perhaps two hundred historical and current cultures, and each student might have been charged (if even by lottery) with some brief but systematic inquiry into one of them according to some master set of questions. ( Murdock's Cross-Cultural Survey Center at Yale University many years later exemplifies what should have been supplied here. Actually Yale pedagogy hardly profited from it, and it was sold to the Defense Establishment finally.) But it also indicates how guilty I am of pushing the University of Chicago far ahead of where it might logically and sociologically be expected to stand in 1936; it was, after all, confined by friend Johnson's Social Forces too.) The pathetic Student did not notice that he was still being told things, rather than finding them out. Furthermore, he was being told them in a mass setting and by lecture, which constitute a bad combination for learning .
Absent a course on the film and photography, the students made up their own events. A University Film Society boomed and busted, and the phoenix arose from the ashes, again and again, as with the little magazines of the campus. Where else could you see in the course of the year Garbo, Valentino, Lon Chaney, the works of Griffiths, Flaherty's documentary of the Eskimos, and a dozen other masterpieces? No thanks to the Humanities Division.
Or photographic exhibits that overflowed the Reynolds Club, and a Camera Club that prospered, after a manner of speaking -- no activity ever much profited one except soulwise, cf. St. Paul. Guys like Paul Wagner and David Eisendrath (to name two of the best in this ignoramus' opinion) were as common as bed-bugs.
As for a philosophy of the humanities, that did not exist save among the Aristotelians (and there, I might interject, only because Aristotle was encyclopedic, that is, covered many subjects). The nature of knowledge, epistemology, went untouched, unless one ventured into the philosophy survey, or heard Mr. Bertrand Russell, amounting to the same thing, when the Lord fell from grace in New York and fled West to the City Grey. The same was true about the nature of the "good", of virtue. Who ought to say what is good, to whom, how? Humanists liked the question to the degree that they failed to answer it.
Bill Steinbrecher, who had come from Lake View High School also, and with the Student belonged there to a Gang of Five called the Ciceronians, burst upon the Student's line of sight from time to time, jesting and arguing as always, bought the Aristotle - Aquinas mix in college, and carried it into Law School where it was being preached by Mr. Edward Levi and Mr. Mortimer Adler. Would he have found pragmatism or existentialism better suited to himself? Granted not marxism and socialism, which the Ciceronians had knocked off by a four to one vote in High School. Not at all, to judge by his happiness with classical rationalism. And what college, for that matter, whether in those years or now, has claimed to have a method of ethics worth brandishing before the students' noses? The Catholic and Fundamentalist Christian and Yeshiva Colleges, you say? But they are dogmatic, whereas at Chicago a common expectation maintained that you could bat for yourself, and by dialectics, independent study, and reasoning, run around all the bases to Home.
But the Humanities staff did not tackle big problems; it reminded you of what some distinguished people in the past said about some of these problems. They did not address: What is great art? Are movies a major art form? Does all fiction teach; if so what; can it help but propagandize; who is to judge it; who is to fill our limited libraries; by what criteria?
They did not tell what were the criteria for choosing the Student's materials for the year. How strange, when you consider it: if only the staff had put before the Student an introduction to the Course, a precis of their hot arguments, their grounds for decision, the runners-up in the competition for the Student's attention, why they decided (supposing they discussed the matter at all) that they could not tell the Student to begin with what was the Good, the Virtuous Activity, that would allow him to choose what items to embrace of the cultures of the world, what to devote himself to, to rework and create in his own right and to help others create; he would have gained thus a uniquely beneficial appreciation of all that he might achieve, fail to achieve, and achieve at some later time in his life. Having come this far, he wouldn't even have to do the "required readings."
The humanities staff assumed that they were operating on a vast expanse of trackless wasteland, and proceeded to put as many trails and footprints over the area as possible in the shortest possible time, hoping that the students would learn something and have fun by following now one trail and then another. Certainly the Student stepped upon a great many footprints and followed briefly many trails. He read some good books, he exchanged a few words with several instructors in the course of the year, he talked over some of the material with a few friends. He need not have attended the lectures or the smaller fifty-minute weekly sections that were set up to discuss the lectures and other problems.
The lectures were appreciated by the Student over a long period of time. He found them a great improvement over the inanity of most high school proceedings that combined lectures, recitals and quizzes, addressed to a low level of comprehension. Practically all of the lecturers had achieved some fame in their own fields, thus were authorities, experts, wise men, all you could ask for -- if they didn't have an Answer, who did? He could not know that they were summarizing, too, the knowledge in a given area, and were specialists whose "outside knowledge" might be hoary with age, and that they could just as easily have assigned readings that would convey the knowledge as well. Often there was such a duplication of the two media. The two media of learning that were not adequately provided and that were essential were the intense prolonged and frequent small group discussion and the field work. No subject of study, no proposition of knowledge, exists that cannot be converted into a research operation. Archimedes of Syracuse was correct in believing that he could move the whole Earth if given a place where he might stand with his well-measured long lever, but his statement was based upon a couple of primitive tools that anyone could devise, and understand. And the law of the lever would be the same.
The lecture is a cheap authoritarian instrument for conveying a few messages inefficiently to a mass of persons. It is fol-de-rol fanfare, pomp and circumstance, an insult to the intelligence. The only excuse for attending a lecture is compulsion, whether direct or indirect. By indirect is meant an examination that tests cognizance of the peculiar items of a lecture. Or to enjoy the odors and sight of one's companions and hoi polloi. Or the absence of one page of useful equivalent reading or thirty seconds of imagery for every ten minutes of lecture. (But this is the situation in a semi-literate or print-less society!) The most reasonable excuse for attending a lecture is to hear somebody speak on a matter which he is competent to address and on which he has something to say that he has not said before (even if to retract) and has not yet been published. (But since publishing today can be instantaneous for any conceivable size of class even this loophole is closed. It was not so in the Student's day.
After saying all of this, let me advance the cause of a lecture: Let lectures for purposes of intellectual development be consigned to persons accredited with something unusual and valuable to impart, and dissociated from examinations; let them, if for the larger purpose of elevated belongingness, be confined to one a day, and be accompanied by a modicum of ceremony; let them also be a substitute for a reception line to introduce students and faculty on rather a longer and fuller basis to a newcomer's personality.
One of the famous features of the Hutchins New Plan was that a Student need attend no lectures or other classes; you needed only to pass examinations in order to obtain scholastic credits for studying in the more benighted departments elsewhere at Chicago or at another University. Or in order to satisfy the requirements of prospective employers who were becoming more and more part of the total system of colleges, examinations and credits. But if you were intelligent, well-motivated, provided an occasional hour of advice, inclined to associate with people who shared your varied interests, and had not to worry about getting a degree or a credit-demanding job, then why would you attend a University? Because these things are provided by a good University largely by accident; and a good University such as Chicago broadcast appeals to the best students to come to it, whereupon it "governed best by governing least."
Where else would you go in society to enjoy what the Student enjoyed, access to books and kindred souls, the proper mix of gossip, rumor, reports, ideas, circulating around a larger enclave of the society, the college community -- very important this, for the 817 Gang existed and prospered and in fact was itself a tiny college of five because it was harbored within the larger society of 30,000 of the Midway. Parasitic they might be called (and there is nothing wrong with being a leech, from the standpoint of the leech), but, beyond leeching, they were a cell of the campus, informal, unplanned for, but still helping to make the total enterprise of higher education healthy and productive. A number of "knowledge associations" existed on campus: many departments had clubs, almost all of these failures at building a sophisticated morale. Certain "tea-times" came near to doing this: the Student popped in and out of several, plopping his dime in the box, most commonly the Social Science Building's daily tea. The Beta Theta Pi fraternity won fame for manfully (girlishly, the bull-necks might sneer) declaring their intent to reconcile Mr. Hutchins' high view of intellectual camaraderie with his low view of the fraternity system and going ahead to recruit members who enjoyed intellectual and cultural pursuits as their principal raison d'etre, rather than pursuing skirts, sports and booze (not that these were nethermost in the values of many a Beta). The Student at one point was persuaded by McElroy and Arnold to where only the plea of poverty separated him from a Beta fate. But, too, he had become enmeshed early in not one but several demanding social networks.
But let us return now to Archimedes' lever. The physical sciences of the University enjoyed craftsmen on their payroll who could help erect a few demonstrations of physical principles for the Student and his kin, and this was done. He pressed levers, observed balances, scorched his fingers on a bunsen burner, glanced briefly at the stars through a telescope conveniently fixed for him, and otherwise enjoyed this minor Disneyland of the natural sciences. He nevertheless emerged from the experience with an ignominious "C". (Though they boasted at Chicago that a "C" there was an "A" anywhere else.) Fifty years later, it is possible that I can explain his lowest college grade to your satisfaction, if not to his.
Our unfortunate Student was impelled by some aberrance of character to continue to ask the "Big Why" long after his childhood was over. The Sciences congratulated themselves continually on encouraging the "why" (the Student had meanwhile read Hume and knew that every Why should be translated as How <Philosophy 101-2>), but it wasn't a big-enough Why for the Student. He floundered continually in the swamps of mathematics (this may be the first and only time this pure and aethereal Subject is ever to be metaphorized into a swamp) whether arithmetic, algebra, calculus --but not trigonometry or statistics -- and he detected a glimmer of light when, in what was an early venture, number theory and set theory were tossed at the students.
He could not accept their premises: unconsciously his problem was that he took mathematical symbols to be signs like words -- perhaps because of his education in musical symbolism --and therefore subject to the same limitations as words, namely, that they are always slippery, have multiple meanings, and serve more than one purpose at one and the same time and one and the same form. Well, the dummy, he should have known that you can proceed by defining a symbol as having one and only one meaning until you are told otherwise. But not he. He would insist that you have no control over your psyche and therefore the symbol, say phi or or whatever it is, because it continues to have meanings whatever you verbally insist upon. This idiocy might have been explained to him were there someone around who cared. But the University was not that well organized as to go searching after these aberrant minds -- they had a great deal of difficulty with the normal neurasthenic schizoid tendencies of the student population (not to mention the professors) -- and gently to correct them and lead them back to the light. Even Mr. Bertrand Russell who lectured to him and others in 1938 claimed a pure theory of mathematics (and in his Autobiography many years later confessed his profound disillusionment about what mathematics could afford mankind).
So the Student had his problems with the mathematicians, who taught with exceeding fluency and uni-dimensional clarity like delicately knife-wielding French butchers. They could not understand why anybody would have a problem apart from slowness of mind; it had been apparently Albert Einstein's problem, too, whose math teacher at the University of Basle called him the dumbest man in the class.
Then, too, he had contretemps with the astronomers. So far as he could determine, they had no interest in the stars and the moon and sun and planets, but were madly in love with parallax, Doppler effects, ellipses, circles and deviations therefrom, tangents of imaginary figures. When he finished, with some miserable grade on the appropriate questions in the final examination of the year, he had some absurd notions about the world of astronomy, to wit: that it had nothing to do with physics, geology, or biology, not to mention mythology and history; that it was wholly mathematical: don't touch it unless you have a graduate degree in mathematics; that it is so pure that even its Space is pure and void; that the Universe might be finite or infinite but that it is billions of years old, and that the Earth and the planetary system are not so old but whatever is required in the way of age to support a conventional claim of great age is correct, that the Sun was once even hotter, is growing imperceptibly cooler, and generates its heat by cooling off (which it could often have done in the large age attributable to it; the latest fact, theory, or practical fiction is, of course, thermonuclear furnaces at the heart of the Sun, which cool off much slower than hot rock); the Earth has been about as it is now since the Sun cast it off and has cooled off to its present modest surface heat; Venus is practically as cool as the Earth, so Mars; Jupiter is immeasurably cold and so all the rest of the planets; meteoroids, comets, dust, anything besides cosmic rays (Mr. Arthur Compton of the Physics Department was well into wave-particle transformations which might have excited greatly the Astronomy Department) hardly existed and constituted no menace, nor have they ever, to the Earth.
All well and good, if true, but much of it was -- and is -- dubious or untrue, yet the Student was given to understand that this had all been established by the most startling new instrumentation and that he had better believe it. He believed but he did not understand it. His perplexity, not entirely unique to himself, consisted in that the astronomers, and after them, the physicists, the physiologists, the geologists, the mathematicians, even, yes, the mathematicians, did not provide the premises of their disciplines. Now this is, I repeat, myself venturing to explain sympathetically the aberrations of this silly boy of 16 or 17 some fifty years ago. But I say that these magnificent disciplines, the pride of the Midway even before all of these other departments got really going -- except for the Divinity School which heavens forfend we should confuse in any way with the hard sciences -- yes, these great sciences simply did not deign to share with him their premises, their psychological premises, their premises regarding the nature of time and chronology, their historical premises as to what had happened at the beginning, middle, and end of time and will happen in the future, and their operational premises, that is, the statement of their work, their science as a set of operations that they performed from day to day, which had allowed them this, that and the other notion to enter their minds one night (just as such original and strange notions had entered the minds of the astrologer Kepler or the Biblical Fundamentalist Isaac Newton, et al.) Nor did they waste much time on why equally distinguished scientists had followed wrong leads for ages and how some of the greatest among them were not above magic and fraud, never mind schizophrenia.
They were prone to offer instead a couple of statements that were supposed to put your mind at ease and suffice for all necessary philosophy --their unifying concepts. First, to be scientific and therefore true, an area of study had to follow the scientific method. That was it, that was all. This scientific method had two basic characteristics. The first was that whatever was claimed as a finding had to be replicated by any other scientist working in the field any time he pleased. If fleas hopped faster than usual on an electrified plate, it was because of the electrical charge; try it yourself. Second, the finding must be stated in quantitative terms. Bode's Law, announced 1772 A.D. (actually it is the "law" of J.D.Titius), is scientific because it states a mathematical rule of the ratio of the distances of planets from the Sun, and the "rule" was observed to hold more or less when the asteroids and the seventh major planet, Uranus, were later discovered, but it failed for Neptune and Pluto and who knows of Planet "X" yet undiscovered. Still it was taught and the Student had to learn such stuff and nonsense. It was a quantitative law whereas the stuff of the humanities and social sciences was "unquantitative." He did not hear the physical sciences called "the hard sciences," perhaps because he was not listening, but the point was driven home continually.
He heard the scientists praise "Occam's Razor," too, as a pervasive principle of their disciplines: the simplest theory that fits the facts is the truth. "Entities must not unnecessarily be multiplied." They went about drooling over "simple and elegant theories" a la Ockham, as if their Great Goddess Nature had primordially vetoed the prolixity and complexity of existence.
One of the smartest things Aristotle ever said was that a wise man will be as precise as the nature of his data will allow, but this was not taught in all of its hidden meanings to the Student. The sociologists and economists had their fun with Malthus as the coiner of an exact law. He had said that the production of farms and industry grows by arithmetic accumulation (1,2,3,4,..n), whereas population grows geometrically (1,2,4,8,...n). Hence in due course, sometime in our own Century presumably, the population would so exceed the consumption goods available that famine, disease and war alone could truncate the fatal discrepancy in the ratio. The social scientists all agreed that in the century since Malthus, so productive had the economies (of the west) become that they had demonstrated the falsity of Malthus'law and now need not fear the increasing population; further that the better people's lives, the fewer children they would have. Adieu, Malthus. This the Student accepted with satisfaction. He did not want to deprive people of the pleasure of having children. So much for social prognostication in the best social science faculty of the world.
As for integration, let us not laugh. The student found none. This week he was in Physics. The next week he is taking a separate course in Astronomy. The couple of weeks thereafter he is studying Physiology and so on. That is Natural Science! The integrating philosophy was non-existent; it had been defenestrated from Cobb Hall in the early years of the University. The integrating theory -- who needs philosophy when you have an empirical theory? -- was Isaac Newton's several laws of mechanics.
There were lectures on electricity, humdrum ones. Electricity, the only concept in their lexicon, the only incipient body of laws, that could have given the physical sciences their unity that Mr. Hutchins had hoped for and the Students would have profited from, was regarded as just another set of important experiments and empirical findings -- Benjamin Franklin's kite was foremost -- nothing at all to take off from, if you wanted to fly high into the risky realms of integrating theory.
It was, nevertheless, already apparent, to those who, like the hard scientists, might have known that there were some basic questions to be asked, if not to those who, like the Student, had no conception of what might be ailing the physicists except that they weren't curing his ignorance, that electrical phenomena, hence electrical laws, were already intruding into physiology at the most basic levels, into astronomy via cosmic rays and the infra-red into making a plenum out of the void of space, into geology and chemistry with radioactivity, volcanism, seismology, meteorology, and the very structure of the elements themselves via isotopes, and that particle physics, the abracadabra of the next half-century, was not mechanistic physics but electrical physics.
I would not declare that these matters could have been presented definitively or presented systematically as partial answers, but only that they could have been introduced as hypotheses, grand hypotheses, as an alternative paradigm to the Galilean and Newtonian. "Could have been", that is, had the natural scientists been not so arrogant, hard-headed, and specialized. All of the sciences could have blown his mind with an all-embracing electrical theory -- even calling it "absurd" or "imaginary" or "partial".
Even pushing it into the assembly of the infinite detail of physiology. Cell theory was already showing signs of becoming electrical theory. Why should the only memory of the Student remaining of the lectures, to which he listened carefully, of the great physiologist Anton Carlson, have been a little story.
"Has he done it yet?"
"You know what, what he does every year."
"Oh, yeah, the other day, pretty cute, he takes these two
tubes for an experiment and they are both filled with liquid,
and he says `Now I take dish test tube visch has vater and dish
which holds urine, and I ..which of dish is vater I forget..'
And he tastes one while everybody screeches. `Ah, yup, dish ish
de vater,' and I forget what happened afterwards."