Was Feldenkrais A Scientist? (Yes and No)

There is a habit in the Feldenkrais community of calling Moshe Feldenkrais a scientist or a physicist. I can see why people might think that. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, Feldenkrais was working in different fields related to various scientific endeavors.


But it is an important distinction to talk about what his background actually was and how it matters. First, let's look at some examples of how people write about Moshe:

"Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc., (1904-1984) was a distinguished scientist, physicist, and engineer."

"An Israeli scientist who originally trained as an engineer."

"Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais was a research scientist and an athlete."

"Moshe Feldenkrais worked as a nuclear physicist with the Nobel Laureate Joliot-Curie"

I get why people might think of Moshe as a nuclear physicist. I see a mention of him "building a particle accelerator" in the 1940s as mentioned by Doidge in one of his books. But apart from that experience, he was not a working physicist and he certainly did not have a career as a "nuclear physicist.

Better to say that Moshe was an engineer, who originally trained as an engineer!

His initial degrees were in mechanical and electrical engineering at the Sorbonne. And his graduate studies were in materials science. It might seem like a small distinction to call him an engineer and not a scientist, but the mindset between the two areas can be quite different. As the College of Engineering at Boston University puts it (reference):

Engineers are not a sub-category of scientists. So often the two terms are used interchangeably, but they are separate, albeit related, disciplines. Scientists explore the natural world and show us how and why it is as it is. Discovery is the essence of science. Engineers innovate solutions to real-world challenges in society. While it is true that engineering without science could be haphazard; without engineering, scientific discovery would be a merely an academic pursuit.

Moshe Feldenkrais was not engaged in basic science, nor hypothesizing about movement. Nor was he building models of human movement. He was taking principles that he thought were important and engaging in tests - experimental movement sequences - to see what effect they might have on people.

You could call that "science," I suppose. And it was certainly scientific. But the point remains, that Feldenkrais was not working in a lab, nor theorizing, nor writing papers and trying to get them published in scientific journals.

Feldenkrais was doing what the quote above speaks to. He was innovating solutions to real-world challenges.