Frederick Parker-Rhodes

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Frederick Parker-Rhodes
Born (1914-11-21)21 November 1914
Newington, Yorkshire
Died 2 March 1987(1987-03-02) (aged 72)
Residence UK
Nationality British
Fields Mycology, Plant Pathology, Mathematics, Linguistics, Computer Science
Known for Contributions to computational linguistics, combinatorial physics, bit-string physics, plant pathology, and mycology
Author abbrev. (botany) Park.-Rhodes

Frederick Parker-Rhodes (21 November 1914 – 2 March 1987) was an English linguist, plant pathologist, computer scientist, mathematician, mystic, and mycologist.

Background & education[edit]

Arthur Frederick Parker-Rhodes was born in Newington, Yorkshire on 21 November 1914. He was educated at Marlborough College and Magdalene College, Cambridge, from where he graduated in 1934 and subsequently received his PhD. Being of independent means, he was able to pursue a variety of interests.[1][2] He married author and political activist Damaris Parker-Rhodes and the couple earned a reputation as "bohemians" and eccentrics.[3] They were both members of the Communist Party (Klaus Fuchs stayed with them in Cambridge, Alan Nunn May was a local friend),[3] they became disillusioned with communism and in 1948 joined the Society of Friends.[4]

Plant pathology and mycology[edit]

During the Second World War, Parker-Rhodes worked as a plant pathologist at Long Ashton Research Station from where he published a series of research papers on the mechanism of fungicidal actions. His personal interest, however, was in the larger fungi, particularly agarics (mushrooms and toadstools), and he was a familiar figure at forays of the British Mycological Society in the 1940s and 1950s. He even published a statistical survey of these forays. For nearly 30 years Parker-Rhodes tutored a course on fungi at the Flatford Mill Field Studies Centre in Suffolk and, in 1950, published a popular book, Fungi, friends and foes.[5] Subsequently, he produced papers studying the kinetics of fairy rings and a series surveying the larger fungi of Skokholm, an island off the western coast of Wales.[2] He described several taxa new to science, including the species now known as Trechispora clanculare (Park.-Rhodes) K.H. Larss. which he found in a puffin burrow.

Mathematical linguistics and computer science[edit]

Parker-Rhodes was an accomplished linguist and was able to read at least 23 languages, claiming that they became "easier after the first half-dozen".[6] He was introduced to Chinese and formal linguistic syntax by Michael Halliday at Cambridge.[6] Parker-Rhodes was also a mathematician, with a particular interest in statistics. Both these areas of expertise were of use to him when he joined the Cambridge Language Research Unit, an independent research centre established in 1955 by Margaret Masterman. The unit was said to house "an extraordinary collection of eccentrics" engaged in research on language and computing, including information retrieval.[6] Parker-Rhodes' colleagues at CLRU included Roger Needham, Karen Spärck Jones, Ted Bastin, Stuart Linney, and Yorick Wilks.

Parker-Rhodes was "an original thinker in information retrieval, quantum mechanics and computational linguistics."[6] He wrote A Sequential Logic for Information Structuring in "Mathematics of a Hierarchy of Brouwerian Operations" with Yorick Wilks (Fort Belvoir Defense Technical Information Center 01 MAY 1965).

He is mainly remembered for his contribution to combinatorial physics, based on his elucidation of "combinatorial hierarchy", a mathematical structure of bit-strings generated by an algorithm based on discrimination (exclusive-or between bits).[1] He published some of his ideas in this field in the book The Theory of Indistinguishables (1981).[7] Parker-Rhodes also co-authored papers with Needham on the "theory of clumps" in relation to information retrieval and computational linguistics.[8] He wrote a book on language, Inferential Semantics, published in 1978.[9]

He was a member of the Alternative Natural Philosophy Association, a group of physicists and mathematicians who met up in Cambridge in the 1960s and created a semi-formal association in 1979. Other key members included H. Pierre Noyes, Ted Bastin, Clive W. Kilmister, and John Amson.[10] The association sponsored an annual series of Parker-Rhodes memorial lectures, the first being given by John Amson in 1987.[6][11]

His Times obituarist, Ted Bastin, says of Parker-Rhodes' personality and scientific contribution: "One must say, in sum, that Parker-Rhodes leaves us with an enigma – a situation to which he brought his characteristic gentle and slightly amused acquiescence.".[1]

Spiritual and other writings[edit]

At the time of his death, Parker-Rhodes had been working on a book, The Inevitable Universe, that combined elements of metaphysics with mathematics.[11] He had previously published a pamphlet, Wholesight: The Spirit Quest (1978), that explored mythical tales and parables in an attempt to bring science and religion together.[4] He also produced a long poem, The Myth of the Rock, of a spiritual nature.[12] His daughter, Oriole Parker-Rhodes, has electronically published some of the stories he told to his children, entitled Tales from the Sink.[13] That and the Myth of the Rock are available free online at The library of the Society of Friends in London holds a typescript of: The Wheel of Creation : An essay in Wholesight, towards a coherent model of the place of mankind in the cosmos" [14] He wrote a Key to the British Bacidiomytes which is held by the library at Kew Gardens.

Selected scientific publications[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bastin, E. (1987). "Obituary of Dr Frederick Parker-Rhodes". The Times (11 March 1987). 
  2. ^ a b Ainsworth, GC. (1996). Brief Biographies of British mycologists. Stourbridge, UK: British Mycological Society. p. 132. 
  3. ^ a b D. Gale, Eruptives III (accessed 20 January 2011)
  4. ^ a b Parker-Rhodes, F. (1978). Wholesight: The Spirit Quest (PDF). Wallingford, Pennsylvania: Pendle Hill Publications. Retrieved 21 January 2011. 
  5. ^ Fungi, friends and foes Paul Elek (1950)
  6. ^ a b c d e Y. Wilks, Arthur Frederick Parker-Rhodes: a memoir Downloadable from
  7. ^ The Theory of Indistinguishables: A Search for Explanatory Principles below the level of Physics, Springer (1981) ISBN 90-277-1214-X
  8. ^ Needham R, Parker-Rhodes AF. (1960). "The theory of clumps". Cambridge Language Research Unit, Report (126). 
  9. ^ Inferential Semantics, Humanities Press (1978) ISBN 0-391-00764-5
  10. ^ Manthey M. (1993). "ANPA – The Alternative Natural Philosophy Association". Cybernetics and Human Knowing. 2 (2).
  11. ^ a b H. Pierre Noyes, The Inevitable Universe – Parker-Rhodes’ peculiar mixture of ontology and physics (accessed 21 January 2011)
  12. ^ A.F. Parker-Rhodes, The Myth of the Rock (accessed 21 January 2011)
  13. ^ A.F. Parker-Rhodes, Children's Stories (accessed 21 January 2011)
  14. ^ "The wheel of Creation" – found in Catalogue of the Library of the Society of Friends. The catalogue also lists a number of contributions by Frederick Parker-Rhodes to The Friends Quarterly.