George Ellett Coghill

George Ellett Coghill (1872-1941) is an unlikely scientific supporter of the AT. He was a developmental biologist who devoted his scientific career to the study the early life of a small American newt called amblystoma. In his day he was well known internationally and received a variety of scientific honours. A set of guest lectures he delivered in University College London was published as book in 1929.

Coghill saw his work in a surprisingly broad context, believing not only that it it was relevant to understanding animal and human behaviour but that it provided important insights into the perennial question of human free will. He only came upon the AT in the last couple of years his life but was immediately impressed with it.

He met and had lessons from Alexander over a weekend at the end of 1939. The two men got on well together and Alexander persuaded him to write an appreciation for his book The Universal Constant in Living which was just going to the printers. Coghill completed it a couple of weeks before he died.

Coghill was a fanatically hard worker but all his efforts were not sufficient to enable him to complete the intellectual task he had set himself. His last major paper which was published in the American Journal of Psychology, was cryptic and puzzling even to his ever-sympathetic biographer. It is clear evidence that he had reached an impasse in his thinking.

The Appreciation he wrote for Alexander's seems, however, to have been a last-ditch breakthrough in his thinking. Instead of the increasing impenetrable complexity into which he was being drawn in his scientific and philosophical efforts the AT offered a pragmatic exit path from the trap in which he had enmeshed himself. Whether Coghill would have been able to follow this new path or where it would have led him we will of course never know. But, at least for those of us familiar with the AT, it bookends his career in a more satisfying way than any of his peers and colleagues can have imagined.

A more detailed account of Coghill's life and work is available in the attached paper (here) or by clicking on the title in the sidebar.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to email me (here).