Mystery of self-destruction

Mystery of self-destruction - The professor who set himself...

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The professor who set himself ablaze: THE ACT OF SELF-DESTRUCTION Human beings are the only animals known that commit suicide. Why do they do this? I carry significant trauma from a number of friends, teachers, and patients who have chosen to end their lives. I will begin by describing one of these. Professor Jack C, taught in the psychology department at the University of Arizona during the period in the early 1960s when I was a student there. He was my major advisor, I took three courses from him, and in my final year at Arizona he became my friend. A year and a half after I graduated he went out into the desert, poured a can of gasoline on himself, and lit himself ablaze and died horribly. I have been haunted by this death for almost half a century, and so I decided to talk it over with my friend Dr. E., who has studied and treated suicidal patients more than anyone I know. Our conversation branched out into a wide-ranging discussion of the act of self-destruction. PART ONE: SEIZING HOLD OF POWER G.A. Good morning once again Dr. E. I want and need to speak about a tragedy that befell my favorite teacher in my undergraduate years, his suicide that took place shortly after I completed my studies at the college where he worked. I was as close to him as I had been to any teacher up until that time, and the shock and sadness I felt upon learning of his death have never left me. Dr. E. Tell me about your teacher. What did he teach? What sort of friend was he to you? Was there some kind of intimacy between the two of you? What do you know about the details and the context of his ending his life? Give me something to work with, G.A., and I will tell you what comes to me. G.A. He was a young man, perhaps 35 years old, who specialized in mathematical learning theory. He was building a career around conducting experimental tests of the theoretical frameworks of Clark Hull and Kenneth Spence. One of my first publications was an article coauthored with him presenting such an experiment: “The overtraining reversal effect under two types of discrimination.” Dr. E. G.A., I have a hard time picturing you as working in that field. The theories of Hull and Spence, as I am sure you well know, are attempts to construct a Newtonian physics of animal and human behavior. Their thinking is the antithesis of the soft humanistic and existential traditions that are so dear to your heart. So what was happening here? 1
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G.A. It is a sad story. The department of psychology at Arizona was ruled by behaviorists. Professor C., a genuinely nice guy, was the one I got along with best. I found that studying and working with mathematical learning theory was a kind of game one could play, not even as complicated as chess, and so it was my adaptation to an academic environment that for the most part was hostile to my deepest interests.
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This document was uploaded on 02/02/2012.

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Mystery of self-destruction - The professor who set himself...

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