Notes from the Road: Can’t stop, won’t stop


This journey to psychology really is starting to shape into a journey. Our traveling distance has climbed into the thousands of miles at this point (because side trips, shopping trips, stop offs at weird roadside attractions   — not just straight driving point-to-point) and the list of renowned scholars has become to take shape. There are women and men from various areas of cognitive, developmental, clinical, social, and neuro psychology.

I’ve also started to find a rhythm to this work: how to prepare, what to emphasize,  what kinds of questions might get me to the stories that will  be most germane to the project. It feels important. Maybe that’s not the right word. Meaningful? A challenge? It feels like each conversation I have with a wonderful scholar imbues new meaning to how one might understand Psychology, the history of the field, and maybe even its future.  One thing that keeps coming up is how big the issues really are. For Hal Grotevant to even do the work  he did on personality development in adolescence, for Isabelle Peretz on a musical module, Art Kramer to investigate Aging, and Dan Gilbert to delve into affective forecasting, in each case the problem space began wide open. There was no single issue to address.  There was every issue.

There was a need for creative synthesis. For discovery it had to  be determined as to the magnitude of what we knew, and how to apply and define a new problem space. How to advance in a way that made any sense at all, knowing there would be intellectual and practical challenges. Money problems. Doubters. Haters.

For some of these scholars it feels like a movement of iconoclasm. If the field had been zagging, then it was time to zig. Reject what we knew, integrate the evidence from a new, and possibly radically different related area of research,  and forge a path into topics we  had not been considering.

For others it feels like a movement of stubborn independence. That is, taking the influences we have, integrating that information, and synthesizing in a way previously unconsidered. Then driving that forward.

In laying this out I can’t help but reconsider, once again,  my own approach. Since I’ve started this project about 2 years? 5 years? 10 years? ago. (Who can say anymore when the first idea of it occurred to me, what was the biggest motivator?)

In any case, since conception of this project, so many different directions have occurred to me. Do I emphasize the humanity and relatability of the great scholars?  They are wonderful and giving people. In knowing them,  you better understand how their personalities embraced  dramatic new ideas and approaches, and how we are in a community of people clawing and scratching our ways together along the rocky road to deeper understanding. We are an extended family and supporting each other to see more clearly.

Do I emphasize the scientific discovery? It is so easy and exciting to get caught in the scientific discovery, the chase. For David Barlow to see the Wolpian approach and a dramatic shift to evidence-based approaches? For Dan Schacter to jump  on the path of a new conceptualization of memory and prospective-planning mechanism? For Robert Zatorre to see the blurry new images from PET scanning and all that this new tool might unlock? While speaking with them I was practically jumping out of my seat. I had a million questions and nearly had to clamp my hands over my mouth to give them the  space to tell the stories.

Do I seek my own theory of innovation and the personality of genius? To weigh that out against the accrued evidence of these great scientists? There is a great academic urge to understand through thorough analysis. To take a personality theory and/or cognitive processing theory and determine through these extensive and candid self-reports of great scientists how they support or challenge past ideas and might be applied to the creation of new ideas.

Ultimately, I want the project to help Psychology. To help other scientists and seekers to use the amazing discoveries that defined this generation and get a push to move forward. To be inspired.  The inspiration is so clear, so palpable in speaking with people.

And I want this journey to be personally meaningful. These conversations, getting to know these amazing people should change me. While I stumble forward, bearing the fruits of failures and successes toward a slowly focusing end-state, I should find the tools to be a better thinker, scientist, and human. Each of the people I’ve spoken with has been influential because they have produced ideas that are critical.  They’ve forced people to face new issues, to weigh new discoveries, and to challenge their current approaches. I feel challenged. I feel  the need to understand:  why have I investigated the issues I have? What do I hope to contribute? Do the ideas I’ve worked with integrate with the larger ideas and theories of Psychology or science?

I don’t know where exactly this journey will end. Probably New Jersey. Probably with changes to my values and beliefs. Definitely with several GBs of stored  conversations with wild thinkers and innovators.  If I am successful this will change me. It will also change you. You, too,  should question what you know. Question whether and how the activities in which you involve yourself are important enough to you to be meaningful.

Are you going to change the world today? Will you change yourself in the world?

(Pictured is our trimmed and  clean route, from the starting point in New Jersey, at William Paterson University, to our current city, Toronto).

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