Arthur M. Young


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About Arthur M. Young

  • Arthur Young: Maker of the Bell

  • Comments about Arthur M. Young

  • Arthur Middleton Young:
        A Poem by Kathy Goss
  • An Appreciation of Arthur M. Young,
        by Jeffrey Mishlove


  • Our Mr. Naughty

  • In Memoriam: Ruth Forbes Young, 1903-1998


  • Mathematics and philosophy have always been twins. The attraction of the "Queen of Sciences" for philosophers is fairly obvious. From Pythagoras to Leibnitz and Descartes to Russell the two disciplines are frequently, and for good reason, exemplified in the same individual.

    Arthur Young was a mathematician and an engineer, a practical man who knew how, in the Yankee tradition of know-how, and as such was the most significant single figure in the development of the Bell helicopter. He was also a top-flight astrologer, a delver into myths and dreams, a long-term investigator of PSI phenomena but, more importantly, the elaborator of what may be the first theory that unifies consciousness, physics and the life sciences: the Theory of Process, described in his two volume work, The Reflexive Universe and The Geometry of Meaning.

    Shortly before Arthur Young was born, Charles Saunders Peirce, whom Russell called "one of the most original minds of the later nineteenth century, and certainly the greatest American thinker ever, had published a scathing attack on his contemporaries. The business of metaphysics, Peirce said, "is to study the most general features of reality and real objects. But in its present condition it is...a puny, rickety, and scrofulous science. It is only too plain that those who pretend to cultivate it carry not the hearts of true men of science within their breasts."

    The year of Peirce's diatribe, the year too of Einstein's first paper on relativity, Charles and Eliza Young were in Paris, early expatriates in what was to become an American tradition.

    Charles Morris Young was something of a self-made man, who had put himself through art school on money earned by engraving scenes from the battle of Gettysburg on walking sticks, which were bought by tourists. In 1903 he married Eliza Middleton Coxe, a beautiful woman with a society background whom he had met at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. The marriage may have met with disapproval, and he took his bride off to France, where he had been a student during the nineties in a Paris atelier, eking out the traditional artist's life on his savings.

    Arthur Young remembered that his parents "must have been romantic, he trying to teach her painting and she -- well, I remember one story -- she had been hunting and came in her riding habit to his studio door to tell him she had that day seen the kill, and, as the hounds closed in on the fox had realized her fate was sealed -- her life was his."

    In France the couple lived at Giverny, near Monet's famous water garden. Here, Monet would pitch his canvasses into the lily pond in dissatisfaction, and his daughters would fish them up for sale. It was in Paris, where they were spending the winter, that Arthur, the Young's first child, was born on November 3rd, 1905.

    When Arthur was a year old the family returned to Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, where he was raised on an old 18th century farm, Meadow Bank. At the Haverford School near Radnor, Young who was forever making things, became known as an expert gadgeteer. "I remember once I made a crane from "Mecano Set" parts which would lift one of my little brothers into the air with the help of a motor and endless pulleys. I also made the electric motor. That was my initiation into the electrical field." Summers were spent at Mt. Desert on the coast of Maine. Here, Arthur started making model sail boats and sailing them. Model making would prove useful in the years to come since it was by way of working with models that he ultimately learned how to make the helicopter fly.

    When he finished preparatory school his ambition was to go on to M.I.T. but his father insisted on Princeton.

    While at Princeton in 1921, Young quickly transferred his major from astronomy to mathematics, studying under Oswald Veblen (nephew of Thorstein, and one of the outstanding mathematicians of the day). Young contrived to exhaust all the available math courses in his Junior year. At his request, a special course in relativity was created and taught by Veblen. Young was the only student. He felt unsure as to what he wanted to do and even thought of dropping out to become a painter. Veblen persuaded him to continue and Young graduated from Princeton in 1927, the year Lindberg flew the Atlantic.

    In his final year at Princeton, Young decided to devote himself to philosophy and devise a comprehensive theory of the universe. His first attempt, like relativity, sought to capture reality in a formal system. But the enigma of time, especially as exemplified in logical paradoxes, induced him to change the theory from one of structure to process, which would give special treatment to time. Unable to elaborate on what constituted "process" in his theory, he decided to pursue a more tangible goal in which the answers could be tested.

    Late in 1928 he travelled to Washington to investigate the files of the Patent Office to see what progress had been made with the various possibilities he had in mind -- sound on wire, TV, color and 3-D film were some of them. He finally decided to work on the problem of the helicopter, which at that time had a long history of failure and clearly needed a solution. Helped by his boyhood experience of making model sailboats, he began his work by making model helicopters. This self-imposed task would absorb him for almost nineteen years, twelve of them on his own and thc last seven with Bell Aircraft Corporation.

    By 1940 Young had, using models, discovered how to provide stability, through the use of a stabilizing bar. He then set about showing his machine to potential backers. On November 2, 1941 he assigned his patents to Bell Aircraft with an agreement to work with the company until the prototype was complete. Five years later, on March 8, 1946, Young's helicopter, the Bell Model 47, was awarded the world's first commercial helicopter license. The machine incorporated many essential Young patents: among them the stabilizer bar, skids and familiar bubble. In 1984, Young's helicopter, the Bell-47, "an object whose delicate beauty is inseparable from its efficiency," was placed on exhibit as part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

    By 1947 the job was essentially done and he decided to leave Bell. The time had come to renew his pact with himself to return to philosophy. "I am interested now in the Psychopter -- because it won't work. What is the Psychopter? It is the winged self. It is that which the helicopter usurped -- and what the helicopter was finally revealed not to be."

    While in Washington in 1946 he had stumbled on Blavatsky, and was becoming interested in Zen Buddhism and Hindu philosophy. Impressed by J.W. Dunne's work on precognitive dreams, An Experiment with Time, Young realized that there was an enormous frontier that had not been covered by science; this provided more reason than ever for a theory of process.

    He had never ceased to speculate about his theory of process even during his time at Bell. In fact, his voluminous diary, part of which was later published as The Bell Notes: A Journey from Physics to Metaphysics provides considerable insight into the directions in which his mind was moving. His helicopter work and the difficulties of organization and management on the project reveals much about his own mental and spiritual development.

    One of the key observations in the diary that helped his theory of process was about the attitude of learning. He felt that while the scientist and the inventor were both concerned with the laws of nature, the scientist, once having discovered a law, held it sacred. The inventor's goal, on the other hand, was to apply it. The attitude of learning how to use a law instead of being confined by it led Young, as an inventor, to his conceiving of law, of determinism, as the agency of free will rather than its antagonist. This was fundamental to his theory of process since process must create determinism to acquire the means to achieve its goal. "Without purpose, without goal-directed activity, my helicopter could not have evolved. For me this was a lesson in how evolution works. The purpose creates the machine."

    In 1948, Young was divorced and in June of that year he married Ruth Forbes, a member of the Boston Forbes family. "I was full of these ideas of pursuit of the unknown, and she was willing to put up with it"

    In 1949, while living in New York, they met MBM (Mary Benzenberg Mayer) and enrolled in her school, the Source Teaching Society. MBM had trained under Freud, was later associated with Jung and used dreams and the study of earlier religious traditions. Under her guidance Young began to record and analyze his dreams. In a number of his dream-records key elements in his evolving theory appeared. One such dream contained an image of a two-dimensional man whose body is stretched down a four-step stairway, with his head bent upwards at a right angle. "The four steps are the stages of the descent of the monad, who until "bent" or reborn is only a two-dimensional flat creature. The flatness refers to the topology of cause and effect which seems to exclude free will, but which in three dimensions (bent) permits an extra circulation which restores free will."

    For some five years, in what he later referred to as the "Gee Whiz" period, he and his wife, Ruth, travelled to investigate phenomena which the scientific establishment simply ignored. On one trip to California in 1951 they met Dr. Oscar Brunler in Hollywood. Later he realized that "Brunler and MBM were the two outstanding people I've known in my life."

    In 1952, Young set up the Foundation for the Study of Consciousness in Philadelphia. The purpose of the Foundation was to find out where to put consciousness in the scheme of science. In order to reconcile ESP phenomena with accepted scientific knowledge, and complete his original plan, Young worked to put together his theory. Still fresh from the manifold practical problems of making a helicopter fly, Young approached the problem of his theory more as an inventor than as a scientist. As such, he made one crucial observation: "The tendency of philosophers who know nothing of machinery is to talk of man as a mere mechanism, intending by this to imply that he is without purpose. This shows a lack of understanding of machines as well as of man."

    Young felt that the existence of precognitive dreams was perhaps the most direct challenge to accepted scientific dogma. He began looking for unknown forces, something perhaps in the area of mathematics, that could be contributive. "Science already contained all that was necessary, if you just brought it out."

    He explored the four essential aspects of the relationship of knower to known through the agency of the calculus, and in the process discovered a correlation between control and force that he felt was important for philosophy. While classical mechanics employed position and two derivatives, velocity and acceleration, there was a logical third derivative: control, or change of acceleration, which is recognized in engineering though not by physics. Young pointed out that force and control correlate to body and mind. One is physical and the other non-physical. He felt he thus had a scientific basis for dealing with the difficult problem of will.

    Young tried to tell philosophers about the good news available from science and from quantum theory in particular but many felt they could not venture into the complexities of Quantum Physics, with its formidable mathematics. Disappointed by their reluctance, he nevertheless felt he now had an elegant and satisfying mechanics of being.

    But where to go from there? Only some bisociative act, it seemed, where he could live on several planes at once, could carry him further in his research into his theory of process. "As I got into modern quantum physics I found that the photon, the unit of light, can itself create particles. This gave me a scheme of seven stages." He found confirmations of the significance of sevenness in the seven "shells" into which the Bohr atom elaborated, and the seven groups into which the elements fall in Mendeleyev's Periodic Table. Alfred Percy Sinnett's book The Mahatma Letters also helped shore up this idea.

    Young felt that the world as we know it could be elaborated into seven stages, which could be depicted as an arc. Process could be seen as a "fall" into the determinate constraint of matter followed by an ascent in which matter becomes free and indeterminate again. "The primary reality is this activity - which could be light, or it could be seeing, or it could be understanding -- not knowledge, but understanding or recognition. It's behind all the world of manifestation, and it's a restoration, in effect, of the spiritual nature of things."

    In 1973, after many fruitless attempts at engaging academics in dialogue, Arthur Young set up the Institute for the Study of Consciousness in Berkeley, California. "Since there were so many unexplained phenomena, like ESP, which did not fit into the current framework of knowledge and therefor remained undigested, it was time to prod people into thinking seriously about them. The main purpose for the foundation was to build a comprehensive theory in which ESP could be integrated into existing scientific knowledge."

    In 1976 The Reflexive Universe and The Geometry of Meaning were published. These books attempt to identify valid universal first principals and correlate them with modern science. As well, they provide a holistic system for organizing the data of science and generating first order hypotheses for scientific research.

    "The theory of process," says Stanislav Grof, "is a serious candidate for a scientific metaparadigm of the future. His metaparadigm is not only consistent with the best of science, but also capable of dealing with non-objective and non-definable aspects of reality far beyond accepted limits of science."

    Arthur Young believed that the real function of science is the exploration of the human spirit. A bold, humorous, patient and original pioneer, he continues to inspire scientists and philosophers alike towards a truly interdisciplinary vocabulary by opening doorways to the universe of the spirit.


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