Side note: Northwest Passage!


From sea to shining sea: we have now driven well over 6000 mi/10,000 km on our meandering Journey to Psychology and have reached the beautiful city of Seattle. Our route has taken us through major metropolitan areas in  Boston, Toronto, Montreal, and Chicago, and through small towns in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Idaho. We have seen natural wonders, man-made wonders, and road side attractions. We’ve sampled bits of local culture from that unusual 3-frame, 10-pin bowling in the Northeast, to cheese curds in Wisconsin, to tomato jam in Salt Lake City.

In this first part of the journey I’ve spoken with more than 25 influential Psychologists, read close to 1500 journal articles, essays, and books, and watched more than 500 hours of lectures, graduation speeches, and tributes. It feels like a lot, but it also feels like the beginning. In the months ahead we have travel plans that will take us down the west coast of the United States, across the Pacific Ocean for travels in Australia and New Zealand (can’t wait to meet you New South Wales Universitans and University of Auklanders!) and back. We’ll continue in the United States across the Southwest and Southeast. We’ll fly to Israel, the UK, and drive through various parts of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Finally, we’ll return to the United States and make our way up the east coast on our path home to New Jersey. Will it still be home? More and more on this journey home has been wherever we are as a family. So, yes, we’ll be home in New Jersey but we are also at home in Seattle, Nashua, Austin, and wherever else our feet (our tires?) take us.

I’ve got some favorites/best of’s so far…

Best national park so far…The Badlands, South Dakota: what an incredible area of beauty! The land structures were striking and impressive. Also etched into my memory is that little rabbit nearly camouflaged in among the bushes and scorched ground. How does it survive in this dry and dangerous (snakes) part of the landscape?

Most interest place we visited…The House on the Rock, Wisconsin: This has to be the weirdest and most impressive road side attraction in the United States.  It’s huge, the collection of armor and historical “artifacts” (although apparently there are many fakes, and manufactured pieces that the owner added), the odd rooms, the hundreds of music boxes and little toys makes it almost a cross between a massive collection of Calder sculptures and Rube Goldberg machines. In sheer volume (especially for a roadside attraction) this nearly rivals the Met in NYC. The place is just astounding, weird, a little creepy, and kind of legendary.  I thank Neil Gaiman’s reference to it in American Gods in leading us there.

Favorite city so far to visit….St.  Louis, Missouri: I’ve lived in a few different places: Northern California, Oregon, Southern California, Toronto, Mobile AL, and now New Jersey. Over the years I’ve also had a chance to travel to nearly every US State (except Alaska), about 30-40 countries, and 6 continents. These travels have provided some measure of comparison, and yet we were blown away by the warmth of the people, the amazing restaurants, and culture of St. Louis. What an amazing and growing city!

Oddest tidbit of Psychological history….The Gorilla suit of Jerome Kagan and Dan Simons. Everyone I’ve spoken with has been important and they have all been generous and sharing illustrative and fascinating stories! But what gets me about the gorilla suit is the treasured place it now has in the history of Psychology. Dr. Kagan studied temperament and to do so he purchased a Gorilla Suit in the 1970’s or 80’s. He used that gorilla suit to elicit modest feelings of trepidation in his temperament research, and thus securing its place in the history of Psychology. Along comes Dr. Simons who,  with his lab, seeks some convenient costume to use for a person to undeniably stand out. His RA remembers this gorilla suit in Kagan’s lab, they “borrow” for their research, and the Gorilla in the Midst study goes viral. Easily it is the most well used and influential costume in the history of Psychology with two major lines of research employing its furry wildness. Unfortunately,  those suits are not meant to last and has now been replaced a few times over in Simon’s research.

Most unexpected tidbit from Psychology scholars… I absolutely anticipated that the Psycholomusicology scholars Isabelle Peretz and Robert Zatorre would be musical. And they are both excellent. I absolutely did not anticipate that they would have grown up with limited musical involvement and parents who did not seek to involve them with music (or even actively discouraged it, in the case of Dr. Peretz). Maybe their research fervor for music came directly from that missing piece as children?

Most beneficial road luxury… two bathrooms. There are three of us together on this journey: my wife, son, and me. Often we rent places with just one bathroom and it is fine. But it makes such a huge difference in our comfort level to have two bathrooms! The luxury!

Travel tip for visiting Harvard… I have now interviewed five Harvard faculty and, wow, what a beautiful campus! But the parking is awful. Just awful. Just designed to keep out the rabble and make sure no one is welcome, awful. The key I learned, and in fact, really the only way to do it, is to purchase and print out a parking pass for the public garage at Harvard the day (or week) before. If you don’t do that then you ain’t parking at Harvard. It’s expensive, it’s annoying, and it’s Harvard.

Unexpected natural wonder… Salt Lake City is beautiful, but I had not realized that there was an island right there — Antelope Island! It is a good sized, national park, with fantastic hiking trails, gorgeous views, and the island is populated with roaming Bison!!!

Sage advice from Psychology… Psychology is a big field and the research is expansive. I’ve certainly learned a lot and am absolutely thrilled to share what I can with you. My favorite tidbit from the field so far? Happiness: it is most closely related to your social relationships (from the little connection to that person on the subway to those loving relationships with your family). So try to talk to someone new or unexpected today! Increase your social connectivity to the world and be rewarded with a little bit more happiness in your life!



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