Fleck

by Barry Drogin

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To The Editor:

In his Devar Torah on Pinhas, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin writes,

"Right is right, and wrong is wrong. There is nothing to negotiate on the molecular structure of oxygen."

I refer Rabbi Riskin to Dr. Ludwik Fleck's excellent monograph, "Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact," to wit:

"To epistemologists trained in the natural sciences, human thinking --- construed as an ideal, or thinking as it should be --- is something fixed and absolute. An empirical fact, on the other hand, is relative. Conversely, the philosophers with a background in the humanities construe facts as something fixed and human thought as relative. It is characteristic that both parties relegate that which is fixed to the region with which they are unfamiliar."

As an amazing coincidence, Dr. Fleck later writes:

"The origin of the number 16 for the atomic weight of oxygen is almost consciously conventional and arbitrary."

Dr. Fleck, a Polish Jew born in 1896, survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and died in 1961 in Israel. The text as cited, "Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache" (1935), was translated by F. Bradley and T. Trenn for the University of Chicago Press.

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