Tag Archives: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Richard Shryock

Measurement, declared so distinguished an authority as Goethe, could be employed in strictly physical science, but biologic, psychologic and social phenomena necessarily eluded the profane hands of those who would reduce them to quantitative abstractions. Here one detects the feeling that measurement somehow robs human phenomena of all mystery or beauty, and denies to investigators the satisfactions of age-old sense impressions and of intuitive understanding. Such feeling unusually appears within any discipline when it is first threatened, as it were, by quantification. Dr. Stevens terms it, in relation to current psychology, “the nostalgic pain of a romantic yearning to remain securely inscrutable.”

Richard Shryock, ‘The History of Quantification in Medical Science’, in Harry Woolf (ed.) Quantification: A History of the Meaning of Measurement in the Natural and Social Sciences, New York, 1961, p. 93