"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Saturday, December 11, 2004
mor-ti-fy Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English mortifien, from Middle French mortifier, from Late Latin mortificare, from Latin mort-, mors
1 : to subject to severe and vexing embarrassment : SHAME
2 : what I saw in its purest form one time in college
This story didn't technically happen to me, but I was there when it happened so I'm going to tell you about it.
At the beginning of the first term of my freshman year at Furman, right at the very start, I was obliged to take part in one of the most confusing exercises in frustration I have ever experienced. It was called, innocently enough, "registration for Fall classes."
Who would have figured it would be more like a mad horde of rats dashing about in a hold trying to find the one little opening to escape from a sinking ship? Yeah, it was like that.
It was the early days of computers, so all over one of the classroom buildings the various professors and department heads stood behind tables, handing out precious stacks of computer cards. Our job as new students was to go try to find at least three of these cards that represented classes, scheduled at different times of day, that would make some sense for us to take.
I think I grabbed French pretty early on, and I suspect I might have had geology. But I needed one more, and cards were flying off the tables.
I went to the Psychology table. The head of the Pschology department was there, a Dr. Brewer. Dr. Brewer is quite possibly the smartest man I have ever met. He was a protoge of B.F. Skinner and I think the reason he taught at Furman was because that is where John Broadus Watson (founder of behavioral psychology)graduated years earlier.
There were a stack of cards on the table for "Introduction to Psychology 101." I figured, hey how hard could it be? I had taken it in high school and aced it.
"Are you a freshman?" Dr. Brewer asked me.
"Yes, I am," I replied.
"I normally don't allow freshman in the 101 class."
"Because usually they can't handle it."
"I think I can do it, I really want to take this course."
"OK, you've been warned. See you in class."
By the second day of class it was clear that it was going to be both fun and demanding. But, about halfway through the lecture, Dr. Brewer apparently noticed someone not paying attention. He directed a question at them.
They squirmed in their seat, not even knowing what the question was. And we sat there, and sat there, and sat there in thundering silence for thirty minutes until class was over.
We always paid attention from that day forward.
His tests were the hardest I have ever taken, save one other class. Each question would have answers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and then the choices would be "A: one of the above, B: two of the above" and so forth. also, each test was unique, no one had the same questions.
Thank God he graded on a curve. I managed to get out of the class with a "D", primarily because the final was 50% of the grade and I took it after pulling three all nighters. I walked into the room with a "B". Ouch.
Now, fast forward to senior year...
Dr. Brewer, after working on it for several years, managed to get the school to host a symposium on John Broadus Watson, a Furman alumnus. He invited luminaries of the psychology field, such as B. F. Skinner and particularly Dr. James McConnell, who was famous for the planaria experiments.
Oh, you don't know about that. In a nutshell, planaria are these really simple little flatworms. McConnell trained them to scrunch up when a light flashed, by passing electric current through the water just after the flash. After about 100 times they got it. Then he ground up the worms and fed them to some other planaria (they are cannibalistic anyways) and the new set learned faster. You have to admit, that was a pretty clever way to test it. Thinking out of the box. We were getting ready to learn just how out of the box he could be.
So, it's Friday night and the campus auditorium is about half full. Dr. McConnell is giving the opening address. Arrayed on the stage in formal academic regalia are McConnell, Dr. Brewer, B.F. Skinner, and several other speakers scheduled for the symposium.
Dr. McConnell begins his speech. It's pretty mundane at first, but it becomes obvious quickly that he has a quick wit and a deep sense of humor. He intends to cover the life of John Broadus Watson.
I'm guessing it was about fifteen minutes into his speech when he hit the part that no one expected.
I mean, you have to understand here. Furman is, or was, a staunch Baptist university. Very conservative. At the time, they still didn't have coed dorms and had rigid visiting hours. So, when Dr. McConnell started talking about Watson doing sex studies with his students, the room was so still you couldn't even hear anyone breathe.
It turns out that Watson had a past that, had the trustees at Furman known about it in detail, they would have made sure it never came up and maybe not had the symposium at all.
Watson got his bachelors degree from Furman in 1891, then went on to get his PHD at the University of Chicago. By 1908 he was teaching at Johns Hopkins University.
In 1920, Furman granted him an honorary doctorate. They placed a bust of him in the library.
A couple of weeks later, the story broke that Watson had been doing sex experiments with his students. His wife found his notes, and outraged, threw them into the fire. Watson was dismissed from Johns Hopkins, divorced from his wife, and married one of his graduate students named Rosalie. Furman quietly removed the bust, but couldn't figure out how to revoke the doctrate without a lot of hoopla they didn't want.
McConnell compared Watson's work to Masters and Johnson. He gleefully described Mrs, Watson tossing pages into the fire and Dr. Watson begging for her to stop, take everything but leave the papers.
Dr. Brewer, on the other hand, had been broadsided. He sat in his chair, first with eyes wide in astonishment, then as it continued to get worse and worse (McConnell was giving as many details as he knew, and having a jolly time of it) Brewer sank deeper and deeper into his robes. I think that he was honestly hoping he could just fold up in them and vanish.
McConnell got a standing ovation at the end of the speech. The auditorium was packed for the remainder of the symposium, standing room only, although no one else brought that part of Watson's life up again.
Perhaps it was some sort of cosmic justice, that this professor who had embarrassed a student so badly would have this happen to him. Or maybe it was 100% due to the wry humor of Dr. McConnell. Whatever it was, I'll never forget it.
Dr. Brewer went on to lead the department for many years, I believe. I am sure that he continued to be a wonderful dedicated professor. But I'll bet he never invited Dr. McConnell back to speak about John Broadus Watson.
People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history.