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The Writings of Professor Robert M. Young

'The Relevance of Bernal's Questions' 66k

J. D. Bernal was a polymath communist and a founder of x-ray crystallographer, a number of whose students became Nobel Laureates. All who knew him called him 'Sage'. He was also a prolific writer on science and society and a vulgar Marxist, i.e., a believer in a direct, one-to-one connection between base and superstructure. I took the opportunity of a rather bad biography of him to pay tribute to his contributions, although radical scientists in my own circle were trying to develop a theory in which the mediations between the socioeconomic base and the cultural superstructure were more subtle and in which science was part of culture, not its arbiter. Hence my title: his questions were excellent but his answers were simplistic. Bernal was also flamboyant and chaotic personally. It happened that his son, Martin (who went on to write Black Athena, which I published), was, as I was, a Fellow and Tutor of King's College, Cambridge. I therefore got to know about the father's philandering ways. One of his partners later told me that her relationship with him went in three day cycles. The first was spent taxing him about where he'd been; the second day was bliss; the third was full of laments about his imminent departure. He was personally, as well as intellectually, all over the place. I hope a full biography of him gets written one day. My essay appeared in Radical Science Journal No. 10: 85-94, 1980.

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Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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