Paul’s Perambulations

April 10, 2008

The times, they are a’changin (Villanova included)

Filed under: General — admin @ 1:56 pm

The following is excerpted from an email I sent recently: 

I’m officially in the Psychology Department, but sometimes feel like I could be scattered various places among departments.  I got into the human senses area by taking all the basic science courses Tufts offered, plus some philosophy and engineering.  So my area of interest came naturally, because when I talk about vision for example, I describe the information transfer starting with the physical energy source and how some energy passes through the eye (more physics) and then absorption and transduction from photons to electrochemical activity of the rods and cones (my chemistry) and next the neural transmission and further processing (lots of biology) followed by some traditional psychology (lots of behavioral measures to indicate what information the human has received) and even some introspection regarding the experience (for philosophy and in deference to a past colleague who taught the same entitled course “Perception” in a philosophy department).  I don’t know what to do with the year of Geology (it was fun; we got to climb rocks — still do, see www.photos.sheldontimes.com/ ). The electronics and engineering were good for the years when folks still made their own equipment (still have my amateur radio license and now find that I specialize in antique gear).  Nowadays the psychology of perception seems relegated mostly to what you can put on the computer screen because of its simplicity and ease for doing experiments (I’m actually specialized in touch and hearing, which don’t do well there).  And right now I’m doing exploratory tickle research with a graduate student — talk about taking on obscure and futureless topics.  But it’s interesting.

I’m in an atypical position by today’s standards.  By the time I got my Ph.D. (Princeton, age 23), one of the things I had learned (sort of an epiphany) was that I did not want to be a clone of my mentors.  Very bright people, tops in their field — but for various reasons (another story) not me.  My research record is unsurprisingly minor.  Villanova back then (1966) was an excellent local college, without dreams of grandeur or national/international reputation, and I intentionally ”downsized” (so to speak) in choosing to come here.  The world is always changing, and Villanova now seems intent on copying Harvard in everything (well, that’s still copying).  And in many ways that’s understandable in today’s world. My sense is that present-day academia is not the place for anyone interested in being a Renaissance scholar or polymath or public intellectual (what quaint ideas).  My neuroscientist/biochemist post-doc daughter does what I didn’t have to do — goes to the lab seven days a week, and I believe that she will make significant contributions in her day.  But this lessens time available for making contributions in other ways. And how much time does that leave for a family life or life in general? I hope to retire to an adjunct position before long and want that to be an opportunity to get my life back to my own set of priorities (Villanova now works to rule my life more than should be the case).

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