Niles R. Holt about “Wilhelm Ostwald’s ‘The Bridge'”

Niles R. Holt: “Wilhelm Ostwald’s ‘The Bridge'” (via Ralph Dumain: “The Autodidact Project”)

One of the lesser‑known projects of the German physical chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, a 1909 Nobel laureate and one of the last major scientific figures to oppose atomism, was the creation of an association for the ‘organization’ of science. … Among the plethora of ‘unity of science’ efforts that became prominent during the years preceding the First World War, the Bridge was distinctive for Ostwald’s emphasis on the ‘international organization’ of science as a means of furthering ‘scientific effiiciency’. [2] Although its tenure was short—from 1909 to 1914—the Bridge became the centre of a number of projects intended to promote ‘scientific efficiency’ through ‘organization’.

Titel  of a Bridge publication by Ostwald

“The organization of organizers through the Bridge” – Title of a Bridge publication by Ostwald

From Energism, Ostwald claimed to have derived a ‘moral law of science’, the energetic imperative: ‘Do not waste energy, but transform it into a more useful form.’ [6] The ‘energetic imperative’ became, in turn, the basis for Ostwald’s stress on the ‘efficient organization’ of science. […] Ostwald, then, viewed the Bridge as a means of ‘organizing’, within the scientific community the ‘efficiency’ demanded by the ‘energetic imperative.’ All projects of the Bridge were to be ‘applications of the single fundamental idea of organization.’ [7] One project of the Bridge—a project to promote Esperanto as the exclusive language of international scientific conferences—resulted from Ostwald’s insistence that an auxiliary language would facilitate ‘more direct communication’ between scientists and eliminate the ‘energy waste’ involved in translations. Ostwald described still another project—the World Format—as an effort to ‘maximize the efficient use of energy’ by standardizing publication formats. The World Format was a standardized format for published scientific reports and abstracts; it even included specific dimensions for the size of paper on which reports were to be printed. Similarly, Ostwald believed that the Bridge would promote ‘efficiency’ in science by attempting to extend the metric system of weights and measures ‘into English speaking countries’.

From: Holt, Niles R. ‘Wilhelm Ostwald’s “The Bridge”’, British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 10, Part 2, no. 35, July 1977, pp. 146-150. See also: Niles R. Holt, A Note on Wilhelm Ostwald’s Energism, Isis, 61 (1970) 3, 386-389