Pearson, Karl, 1857-1936

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Pearson, Karl, 1857-1936

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  • Pearson, Karl
  • Pearson, Prof. Carl

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(from Wikipedia entry)

Carl Pearson, later known as Karl Pearson (1857-1936), was born to William Pearson and Fanny Smith, who had three children, Arthur (later Arthur Pearson-Gee, Carl (Karl) and Amy. William Pearson also sired an illegitimate son, Frederick Mockett.

Pearson's mother came from a family of master mariners who sailed their own ships from Hull; his father came from Crambe, North Riding of Yorkshire, read law at Edinburgh and eventually became a successful barrister and Queen's Counsel (QC).

"Carl Pearson" inadvertently became "Karl" when he enrolled at the University of Heidelberg in 1879, which changed the spelling. He used both variants of his name until 1884 when he finally adopted Karl. Eventually was universally known as "KP".

KP was an accomplished historian and Germanist. He spent much of the 1880s in Berlin, Heidelberg, Vienna[citation needed], Saig bei Lenzkirch, and Brixlegg. He wrote on Passion plays, religion, Goethe, Werther, as well as sex-related themes, and was a founder of the Men and Women's Club.

In 1890 he married Maria Sharpe, who was related to the Kenrick, Reid, Rogers and Sharpe families, late 18th century and 19th century non-conformists largely associated with north London; they included:
Samuel Rogers, poet (1763-1855); Sutton Sharpe (1797-1843), barrister;-Samuel Sharpe, Egyptologist and philanthropist (1799-1881); and John Kenrick, a non-Conformist minister (1788-1877).

Karl and Maria Pearson had two daughters, Sigrid Loetitia Pearson and Helga Sharpe Pearson, and one son, Egon Sharpe Pearson, who became an eminent statistician himself and succeeded his father as head of the Applied Statistics Department at University College. Maria died in 1928 and in 1929 Karl married Margaret Victoria Child, a co-worker in the Biometric Laboratory.

He and his family lived at 7 Well Road in Hampstead, now marked with a blue plaque. Karl Pearson was educated privately at University College School, after which he went to King's College, Cambridge in 1876 to study mathematics, graduating in 1879 as Third Wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos. He then travelled to Germany to study physics at the University of Heidelberg under G H Quincke and metaphysics under Kuno Fischer. He next visited the University of Berlin, where he attended the lectures of the famous physiologist Emil du Bois-Reymond on Darwinism (Emil was a brother of Paul du Bois-Reymond, the mathematician). Other subjects which he studied in Berlin included Roman Law, taught by Bruns and Mommsen, medieval and 16th century German Literature, and Socialism. He was strongly influenced by the courses he attended at this time and he became sufficiently expert on German literature that he was offered a Germanics post at Kings College, Cambridge. When the 23 year-old Albert Einstein started a study group, the Olympia Academy, with his two younger friends, Maurice Solovine and Conrad Habicht, he suggested that the first book to be read was Pearson's The Grammar of Science. This book covered several themes that were later to become part of the theories of Einstein and other scientists. Pearson asserted that the laws of nature are relative to the perceptive ability of the observer. Irreversibility of natural processes, he claimed, is a purely relative conception. An observer who travels at the exact velocity of light would see an eternal now, or an absence of motion. He speculated that an observer who traveled faster than light would see time reversal, similar to a cinema film being run backwards. Pearson also discussed antimatter, the fourth dimension, and wrinkles in time.

Pearson's relativity was based on idealism, in the sense of ideas or pictures in a mind. "There are many signs," he wrote, "that a sound idealism is surely replacing, as a basis for natural philosophy, the crude materialism of the older physicists." (Preface to 2nd Ed., The Grammar of Science) Further, he stated, " is in reality a classification and analysis of the contents of the mind..." "In truth, the field of science is much more consciousness than an external world." (Ibid., Ch. II, § 6) "Law in the scientific sense is thus essentially a product of the human mind and has no meaning apart from man." (Ibid., Ch. III, § 4) A eugenicist who applied his social Darwinism to entire nations, Pearson saw "war" against "inferior races" as a logical implication of his scientific work on human measurement: "My view - and I think it may be called the scientific view of a nation," he wrote, "is that of an organized whole, kept up to a high pitch of internal efficiency by insuring that its numbers are substantially recruited from the better stocks, and kept up to a high pitch of external efficiency by contest, chiefly by way of war with inferior races." He reasoned that, if August Weismann's theory of germ plasm is correct, the nation is wasting money when it tries to improve people who come from poor stock.

Weismann claimed that acquired characteristics could not be inherited. Therefore, training benefits only the trained generation. Their children will not exhibit the learned improvements and, in turn, will need to be improved. "No degenerate and feeble stock will ever be converted into healthy and sound stock by the accumulated effects of education, good laws, and sanitary surroundings. Such means may render the individual members of a stock passable if not strong members of society, but the same process will have to be gone through again and again with their offspring, and this in ever-widening circles, if the stock, owing to the conditions in which society has placed it, is able to increase its numbers."

"History shows me one way, and one way only, in which a high state of civilization has been produced, namely, the struggle of race with race, and the survival of the physically and mentally fitter race. If you want to know whether the lower races of man can evolve a higher type, I fear the only course is to leave them to fight it out among themselves, and even then the struggle for existence between individual and individual, between tribe and tribe, may not be supported by that physical selection due to a particular climate on which probably so much of the Aryan's success depended."

Pearson was known in his lifetime as a prominent "freethinker" and socialist. He gave lectures on such issues as "the woman's question" (this was the era of the suffragist movement in the UK) and upon Karl Marx. His commitment to socialism and its ideals led him to refuse the offer of being created an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 1920 and also to refuse a knighthood in 1935.

In The Myth of the Jewish Race Raphael and Jennifer Patai cite Karl Pearson's 1925 opposition (in the first issue of the journal Annals of Eugenics which he founded) to Jewish immigration into Britain. Pearson alleged that these immigrants "will develop into a parasitic race. [...] Taken on the average, and regarding both sexes, this alien Jewish population is somewhat inferior physically and mentally to the native population".

For more information, see Wikipedia entry at: .


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Welby, Victoria, Lady, 1837-1912 (1837-1912)

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1887, 1903-1904,1909,1911

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Created 2015-10-29 by Anna St.Onge.


  • English


  • Latin

See: Mrs. Henry Cust, (ed.) Other Dimensions: A Selection from the Later Correspondence of Victoria Lady Welby, London: Jonathan Cape, 1931, pp. 318-319.

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