I’ve completed the first two weeks of this trip in Boston, including my conversations with Drs. Hal Grotevant, Dan Schacter, and Jim Sidanius. It’s been kind of amazing. I find myself enthralled with the stories they tell — and I now have a few hours worth of recordings from our conversations (much more to share with all of you).
My favorite part of Psychology has always been the stories. Theories are borne of effectively run experiments with strong data and appropriate hypothesis testing and assessment. But what is the origin of that creative spark? Why did these scholars make the leap to new techniques, ideas, and forge their places in the history of Psychology?
In these conversations I’m learning about some of that uniqueness. Dr. Grotevant was shaped by an urge for independence and a strengthening through collaboration. His work is amazing and in an understanding of himself and his own experience, one can see how he advanced our understanding of personality development in adolescents and family dynamics. Dr. Schacter was a prodigy. As an undergraduate he published multiple papers, including a single author review for Psych Bulletin. As a graduate student he labored intensively on his graduate work (as one does) but was driven to uncover the secrets and chase down clues for a fascinating, but obscure figure (Richard Semon) from the history of memory research, enabling to write and publish a side book while completing his PhD. His advancements continue as a mix of an encyclopedic memory of the history of psychology, a tenacity to draw together current data drawn from converging methods, and sheer force of will writing and disseminating quickly to share his own passion for Psychology’s advancement in the study of memory and cognitive processes. Dr. Sidanius has such a different path, essentially finding his own way (both physically and mentally) — traveling across parts of the world and experiencing and observing, systematic oppression. Rather than a particular course or mentor driving him forward, Sidanius’ own desire to understand coupled with reading anything/everything he could from the social sciences and history guided him in the formation of theory. Three very different people, each brilliant and successful in impacting the field.
While I’ve been talking to those named above there are so many others who have agreed to speak with me and I hope to include in the weeks ahead. I’m excited to speak with Dan Gilbert, Elizabeth Loftus, David Barlow, Ed Diener, Isabelle Peretz, Carol Gilligan, Robert Zatorre, Russ Church, Elizabeth Spelke, Meredyth Daneman, Dan Levitin, Ellen Bialystok, Fergus Craik, and Jerome Kagan in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Some I have scheduled, some have agreed to meet me when I reach their area, and all have exciting stories to tell!
And I’m just getting started. I have 100+ more people I hope to contact, and am always adding suggestions from emails and conversations.
I spent a few years thinking about this project, fantasizing about it. I only began working on it in earnest for about a year — talking to colleagues, making a list of people I’d like to meet, tracking down parts of Psychology that I need to learn more about.
This Journey to Psychology will take me around the world: across the northern, midwestern, southern, western and eastern parts of the United States, and parts of Canada. I will travel through Australia and New Zealand. I will travel through the United Kingdom, with major stops in England, Ireland, and other parts of the Island. This journey will take me a year to complete and, if things go well, I should have the opportunity to speak with a few dozen amazing Psychologists who have shaped the world and helped us to better understand ourselves, how we interact and relate to each other, and how we form social and cultural structures. In this year I need to give myself over to this process. With each person I meet I’ll dive deeply into their work, often reading hundreds of pages of their written works and likely tracking down videos, bios, and other materials to guide my understanding of their background and interests. I need to devote my time, my life to tracking down the origin of ideas and the stories that have helped create the modern history of Psychology.
This will be a year of discovery and a chance to capture the voices of these amazing scholars.
I am about two weeks into the project, one state (Massachusetts), and three amazing scholars captured in conversation. I am excited, I am eager, and I am humbled to share all this with you. A few more weeks in Massachusetts, with Montreal and Toronto scheduled as upcoming stops!