Richard SchowenIn hmolscience, Richard Schowen (1934-) is an American organic chemist noted for his 1984 University of Kansas Humanities Lecture Series address “Elective Affinities: Science, Certainty and Freedom in Goethe, Henry Adams and Thomas Pynchon”, on the physical humanities work of Johann Goethe, Henry Adams, and Thomas Pynchon. The following is a trundcation Schowen's concluding remarks from his humanities lecture: [1]

“In this examination of texts of Goethe from 1809, of Henry Adams from 1909 and of Thomas Pynchon from 1973, we have, I thing never lost the red thread. The theme of affinity, certainty and binding, of election, freedom and flux, and of the hidden variable that lies beyond the veil, rendering certainty and freedom equally illusory, pervades the texts.

Variations on the theme have come with times. The growth of thermodynamics and precise rendering of affinity and flux in the language of enthalpy and entropy gave Henry Adams’ phase rule of history a form that would have been incomprehensible to Goethe but which, because of further change, seems quint and eccentric to us today.

But always there is the red thread. It shows the power of this metaphor of affinity and election, uncertainty and flux and of the conflicting promise of science, of a reliable mapmaker with continual revision underway, that has run the strands of our culture for two centuries.”

As seen here, and more fully in the lecture talk, Schowen makes a rare and discerning connection between Gibbs and Goethe, i.e. between affinity (Goethe's day) and enthalpy and entropy (Gibbs' day), the proof of which was given famously in 1882 by German physicist Hermann Helmholtz's "On the Thermodynamics of Chemical Processes", but one very few modern physical scientists are aware of, a fact that becomes acute with respect to Goethe's human affinities theory in respect to modern chemical thermodynamic interpretation.

Schowen's discussion of freedom and certainty in the language of enthalpy and entropy, to note, is near verbatim in content to American chemical thermodynamicist Frederick Rossini's 1971 discussions of freedom and security in the language of physical chemistry in his "Chemical Thermodynamics in the Real World" Priestly Medal Address; the difference between the two was that Rossini seems to have unaware of Goethe.

In 1986, Schowen gave special events series talk entitled “The Elective Affinities of Thomas Pynchon: Does Science Bring Certainty?”, at Hendrix College, that was a truncated form of his previous talk that treated only Pynchon, not Goethe or Henry Adams. [2]

Schowen completed undergraduate work in biology and chemistry from 1951 to 1953 at Morris Harvey College, WV, his BS in chemistry at University of California, Berkeley in 1958, and his PhD in organic chemistry at MIT in 1962. Presently, Schowen is professor emeritus of chemistry, molecular biosciences, and pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Kansas. [3]

1. Schowen, Richard L. (1984). “Elective Affinities: Science, Certainty and Freedom in Goethe, Henry Adams and Thomas Pynchon”, Humanities Lecture Series, University of Kansas.
2. (a) Schowen, Richard L. (1986). “The Elective Affinities of Thomas Pynchon: Does Science Bring Certainty?”, special Events Series, Hendrix College, Ar.
(b) Email communication from Schowen to Libb Thims (27 Aug 2013).
3. Richard Schowen (Curriculum Vitae) –

External links
‚óŹ Richard L. Schowen (faculty) – University of Kansas.

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