Lawrence K. Frank

American cyberneticist

Lawrence (Larry) Kelso Frank (December 6, 1890 – September 23, 1968) was an American economist and social scientist, administrator, and parent educator, known with Frank Fremont-Smith as initiator of the Macy conferences, which helped shape the foundations for the field of cybernetics.


  • Past and future are but two aspects of behavior, the past being the persistent modifications in the behaving organism, and the future the controlling direction or pattern imposed upon the unfolding behavior according to those persistent modifications.
    • Lawrence Kelso Frank (1948) Society as the Patient: Essays on Culture & Personality. p. 351; as cited in: Betsy Caton Goss (1991) Accounting quality and dispersion of financial analysts. p. 15
  • The concepts of purposive behavior and teleology have long been associated with a mysterious, self-perfecting or goal-seeking capacity or final cause, usually of superhuman or super-natural origin. To move forward to the study of events, scientific thinking had to reject these beliefs in purpose and these concepts of teleological operations for a strictly mechanistic and deterministic view of nature. This mechanistic conception became firmly established with the demonstration that the universe was based on the operation of anonymous particles moving at random, in a disorderly fashion, giving rise, by their multiplicity, to order and regularity of a statistical nature, as in classical physics and gas laws. The unchallenged success of these concepts and methods in physics and astronomy, and later in chemistry, gave biology and physiology their major orientation. This approach to problems of organisms was reinforced by the analytical preoccupation of the Western European culture and languages. The basic assumptions of our traditions and the persistent implications of the language we use almost compel us to approach everything we study as composed of separate, discrete parts or factors which we must try to isolate and identify as potential causes. Hence, we derive our preoccupation with the study of the relation of two variables. We are witnessing today a search for new approaches, for new and more comprehensive concepts and for methods capable of dealing with the large wholes of organisms and personalities.
    • L.K. Frank (1948) "Foreword". In L. K. Frank, G. E. Hutchinson, W. K. Livingston, W. S. McCulloch, & N. Wiener, Teleological mechanisms. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sc., 1948, 50, 189-96; As cited in: Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1968) "General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications". p. 16-17
  • The concept of teleological mechanisms, however it be expressed in many terms, may be viewed as an attempt to escape from these older mechanistic formulations that now appear inadequate, and to provide new and more fruitful conceptions and more effective methodologies for studying self-regulating processes, self-orienting systems and organisms, and self-directing personalities. Thus, the terms feedback, servomechanisms, circular systems, and circular processes may be viewed as different but equivalent expressions of much the same basic conception
    • L.K. Frank (1948) "Foreword". In L. K. Frank, G. E. Hutchinson, W. K. Livingston, W. S. McCulloch, & N. Wiener, Teleological mechanisms. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sc., 1948, 50, 189-96; As cited in: Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1968) "General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications". p. 16-17

Projective methods for the study of personality (1939)


L.K. Frank (1939) "Projective methods for the study of personality" The journal of psychology 8, 389-414

  • The most important things about the individual are what he cannot or will not say.
    • p. 395
  • Coming directly to the topic of projective methods of personality study, we may say that the dynamic conception of personality as a process of organizing experience and structuralizing life space in a field leads to the problem of how we can reveal the way an individual personality organizes experience, in order to disclose or at least gain insight into that individual's private world of meanings, significances, patterns, and feelings.
    • p. 402 as cited in: Jerry S. Wiggins (2003) Paradigms of personality assessment. p. 33
  • In similar fashion we may approach the personality and induce the individual to reveal his way of organizing experience by giving him a field (objects, materials, experiences) with relatively little structure and cultural patterning so that the personality can project upon that plastic field his way of seeing life, his meanings, significances, patterns, and especially his feelings, Thus we elicit a projection of the individual's private world, because he has to organize the field, interpret the material, and react affectively to it. More specifically, a projection method for study of personality involves the presentation of a stimulus-situation designed or chosen because it will mean to the subject, not what the experimenter has arbitrarily decided it should mean (as in most psychological experiments using standardized stimuli in order to be “objective”), but rather whatever it must mean to the personality who gives it, or imposes it, his private, idiosyncratic meaning and organization. The subject then will respond to his meaning of the presented stimulus-situation by some form of action and feeling that is expressive of his personality.
    • p. 402-403; As cited in: Edwin Inglee Megargee, Charles Donald Spielberger (1992) Personality assessment in America: a retrospective on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Society for Personality Assessment. p. 20-21
  • When we scrutinize the actual procedures that may be called projective methods we find a wide variety of techniques and material being employed for the same general purpose, to obtain from the subject 'what he cannot or will not say,' frequently because he does not know himself and is not aware what he is revealing about himself through his projections.
    • p. 404 as cited in: Gardner Lindzey (1961) Projective Techniques and Cross-Cultural Research. p. 36

National Policy for the Family (1948)


L.K. Frank (1948) "National Policy for the Family" Marriage and Family Living. Vol. 10, No. 1, Feb., 1948;

  • A policy is a formulation of long term goals and purposes and of the values and aspirations by which those goals and purposes are not only defined but are to be translated into activities and practices. Thus a policy is an affirmation, perhaps a reaffirmation, of what may be taken for granted or is implied, but what is frequently ignored or neglected or inadequately recognized in plans and programs and customary operations. Sometimes a policy serves to point out where these goals and purposes and these values are being blocked or sacrificed to various short-term ends or convenience.
  • A policy therefor might be likened to strategy, the broad, overall, long term conception which gives direction and purpose to the tactics of immediately daily operations and decisions.
    • Cited in: Atlee L. Stroup (1966) Marriage and Family: A Developmental Approach. p. 593
  • [I call for] imagination and courage in the endless endeavor to make human life more meaningful and significant, more nearly expressive of the values we cherish... A national policy for the family will earn affirmation and as such should give re-direction to what we are now doing in our social life, and new hope and inspiration to individual men and women and new promise to youth.
    • Cited in: Ruth H. Jewson, James Walters (1988) The National Council on Family Relations: a fifty year history. p. 15

Nature and human nature (1951)


Lawrence Kelso Frank (1951) Nature and human nature: man's new image of himself

  • We are living the events which for centuries to come will be minutely studied by scholars who will undoubtedly describe these days as probably the most exciting and creative in the history of mankind. But preoccupied with our daily chores, our worries and personal hopes and ambitions, few of us are actually living in the present.
    • p. 8
  • We exist in the geographical environment, moving about in space-time, as we carry on our continual intercourse with nature, through breathing, drinking, eating, absorbing light, heat and other forms of radiant energy, eliminating through breathing, urination and defecation, through the skin and by radiation of heat, as the geographical environment flows in and out of us, as it does in all other organisms.
    • p. 37 as cited in: Laura Thompson (1961) Toward a science of mankind. p. 84

Quotes about Lawrence K. Frank

  • While he served as a foundation officer, he fostered studies of child growth and development, adolescents, family living, and aging; parent education programs; and nursery schools. He was long active in the field of mental health, stressing what is now called "Primary Prevention, "and emphasizing the importance of mental health programs in schools and colleges.
  • Frank was one of the two or three men who used foundations the way the Lord meant them to be used.
    • Margaret Mead (1968) cited in: Steve J. Heims (1991) The Cybernetics Group. p. 68
  • With the death of Lawrence K. Frank on September 23, 1968, one of the founders and major catalysts of the child development movement was lost to the field.
    • M.J.E Senn (1969) "Lawrence K. Frank" Child Development. Vol. 40, No. 2, Jun., 1969
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