By Annie Murphy Paul, published on November 1, 1997 - last reviewed on June 14, 2012
IN THE THREE DECADES since PSYCHOLOGY TODAY published its first issue,candor has become an increasingly scarce commodity. The words of public figures reach us now through a whirl of "spin," a media looking glass that distorts as often as it reflects. PT's approach is more straightforward: we have carried on conversations with the interesting and the important, and presented these conversations just as they are. You hear what we hear: voices that are skeptical or hopeful, reassuring or provocative, passionate or analytical. These voices speak on the big issues and the microscopic details, the whole world and the small universe of psychology Their number has expanded in recent years to include not only noted psychologists, but others—writers, actors, scientists—with insight into the human condition.
It still comes down to questions and answers, to two people and a tape recorder. For 30 years, PT has delivered direct to its readers the voices of psychology. We hope you've enjoyed listening.
--Annie Murphy Paul
B. F. SKINNER, PSYCHOLOGIST
"I despair of teaching the ordinary parent how to handle his child. I would prefer to turn child raising over to a specialist. I just can't believe that an ordinary parent can do a good job. What has happened in the past is that a culture has set up a routine way of handling kids. You spank them for what is wrong; you don't spank them for what is good; and so on....But we don't have stable cultures any more, so the average parent doesn't know what to do. The books on child care are more confusing than anything else because you can't apply what they recommend: "Go and love your child." That would be all right, but you can't go and buy three ounces of love at the store. And if the child really isn't lovable, you simply have to fake it."
PETER DRUCKER, MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT
"Here I am, 58, and I still don't know what I am going to do when I grow up. My children and their respective spouses think I am kidding when I say that, but I am not....Nobody tells [young people] that life is not that categorized. And nobody tells them that the only way to find what you want is to create a job. Nobody worth his salt has ever moved into an existing job. That's for post-office clerks."
ROLLO MAY, PSYCHOLOGIST
"The sacrament of marriage no longer has meaning in our society. People get married and they have their goddamn fingers crossed. Because, though they hope it's going to work, nobody puts their heart into it. And life, real life, consists of throwing yourself into something."
JONAS SALK, INVENTOR OF POLIO VACCINE
"I think that mankind is suffering from a lot of symbolic autoimmune diseases, as well as from some symbolic cancers....We seem to be suppressing the very creativity and ingenuity that we need for survival. The human mind has gone through a whole series of evolutionary stages, and at each stage it has found ways of dealing with the challenges posed by its environment. The time has arrived in which we have to realize that we are all parts of a single organism, and develop some new kinds of responses and relationships."
ANNE QUINDLEN, NOVELIST AND FORMER NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST
"The idea that we have to divide the world into what happens at home and what happens out in the orbit of the professions and of politics is specious, because I don't think anybody lives that way....Most of us ricochet wildly from thinking about Paula Jones to thinking about whether our kids ought to go to private or public school. I fail to see why our newspapers, in some sense, shouldn't reflect the way we live now."
ROBERT COLES, PSYCHOLOGIST
"We in the upper middle class have lots of substitutes for religion. The readers of PSYCHOLOGY TODAY belong to many cryptochurches. We have family counselors, guidance counselors, sex counselors, group therapists, authorities on the formation of T-groups [encounter groups]. We have a collection of secular experts who write books and tell parents at every stage of their lives, and the lives of their children, what is the correct rhythm of life. These experts give sanction to the people of the upper middle class by assuring them that if they live in a certain way then they are somehow in accord with the tenor of the times....And then there are the theologians of the upper middle class. I'm talking about the psychiatrists and social scientists who peddle formulas and theories and generalizations. Such is their business, and in a society that has given up on religion and philosophy but is nonetheless looking for answers, the generalizations of social science become objects of faith, guideposts, bones of contention."
RAY BRADBURY, SCIENCE FICTION WRITER
"The so-called realists are trying to drive us insane, and I refuse to be driven insane. I [agree] with Nietzsche, who said: `We have art so that we do not perish in the truth.' That's what art is for. In our daily lives, we are making do. Things get rougher as we go along, but we make do. We lose love; we lose people; we lose jobs. And the remarkable thing about the human race is the ability to survive. We survive by fantasizing. Take that away from us and the whole damned race goes down the drain."
OLIVER STONE, FILMMAKER
"I always maintain that violence [in films] has to be real, as real as possible. Violence is obscene when it's fake. . . .There's nothing worse than television violence--people die so easily on TV! They just drop dead. If you're going to kill somebody, show the effect of the killing. Make it powerful, make it real, so that people really understand. Violence per se is a good dramatic tool, a good theatrical diversion. It is a necessary conceit to give pity and terror. But it should be used sacredly. Violence should be sacred."
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN, CHILDREN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST
"We assume that we're a society that loves children; although most parents do, society as a whole doesn't. We are one of the few nations that has no family policy, and children suffer from this lack. A friend told me a story that points out the disparity between how we treat children and how other countries do. A few years ago, she was in Iran during an earthquake. The Shah sent out a group to gather up the children who had lost their families and their homes. They scoured the villages and came back empty-handed. The homeless children already had been absorbed into the broader community. I doubt this would have happened in America."
ISAAC ASIMOV, SCIENCE FICTION WRITER
"I'm not afraid of computers taking over. I think that is a simplistic idea. I don't see computers taking over any more than television sets are taking over or automobiles are taking over. I know that some people say that if computers are brighter than we are, then they may not need us. Well, automobiles go faster than we do, so they may not need us. The mere fact of being able to think better than we can is insufficient. Think in what way? Think how? It is foolish to think that all manner of thought is identical. Computers are good at the manipulation of quantities, and they can do that faster than we can without error. They have always been able to. But human beings have insight, intuition, creativity--they are able to see connections that are not readily apparent. They can come up with surprisingly accurate answers from obviously incomplete information, and even the human beings themselves don't know where the answers came from."
KARL MENNIGER, PSYCHIATRIST
"I think the spirit of the human race is constantly being elevated. That's why I think we will give up vengeance. We cannot imagine the world today being as bad, as evil-minded, as heartless as it was just over a hundred years ago. How did a slaveowner sleep at night? When Verdi wrote his operas, it was actually conceivable that beautiful music was appropriate to romantic stories about people whose lives were devoted to the one end of bloody vengeance."
BRUNO BETTELHEIM, PSYCHOLOGIST
"Making a lot of noise is one of the oldest methods of scaring away the devil or evil. And that's what our youngsters do: they turn on the TV and the noise drives away evil or scary thoughts....What they are really afraid of is chaos--the chaos within that would destroy them, the chaos in the streets."
ART BUCHWALD, HUMORIST
"One of the toughest things to handle in life for someone who has had a tough life is success. That's why so many successful people are in analysis. You've been kicked around when you were a kid so you get used to that, and you [come to believe] that you should be kicked around. To be on top is a very difficult thing--because it scares the hell out of you. You know you don't want to be there, and your whole life has been a series of preparations for the worst."
ERIK ERIKSON, PSYCHOLOGIST
"Thirty years ago, we spoke of `elders,' the handful of wise old women and men who faced death with dignity. But a society can have only relatively few elders. So our [current! large group of well-preserved old people leads us to speak now of `elderlies.' The existence of this group means that we need to rethink the role of old age....I think that the biggest change in the last stage of life would be that old people will be allowed to remain involved in matters that have always been considered too much for them. The stage of middle adulthood is the stage of generativity, and the question is, how, and how long, can old people be generative? I've described generativity as including procreativity, productivity, and creativity. Of course, old people can no longer procreate, but they can be productive, and they can be creative. The creative potential of old people has been very much underestimated."
CARL SAGAN, ASTRONOMER
"I would recommend almost dying to everybody....It's a character-building experience. You get a much clearer perspective on what's important."
CARL ROGERS, PSYCHOLOGIST
"One of the unfortunate things about psychology is that it tried to make one great leap and become a science like physics. We [should] recognize that people observed things, and thought about things, and fiddled around with things a long time before they came up with any of the precise observations which made a science out of physics. [Psychologists] may have to go back and do much more naturalistic observation, make more of an attempt to understand people, behavior, and the dynamics of things. Then, perhaps someday, out of that might grow a real psychological science, not an imitation of physics, a human science that should have as its appropriate subject, man. I think the reason so much psychological experimentation is done on rats and cats is that we realize perfectly that we don't have the tools for understanding human beings."
ALICE ROSSI, SOCIOLOGIST
"It is possible these days to have a great time, sexually speaking, without a lot of commitment. People have learned how to be in bed with each other without becoming dependent or putting intimacy on trial. But you can push this kind of thing into marriage, too, as in the rigid, spelled-out marriage contracts that some radical feminists are proposing. These contracts strike me as like the terms of employment you agree to when you go to work somewhere--like being married is just another job.... They propose to bring more of a work ethic into the home and marriage. But I would like to see us go the other way to bring more human, humane considerations into both home and working lives. Let's get rid of the time-clock mentality in both settings. Commitment and interdependence without loss of identity works better than fierce equality enforced by rigid rules."
OLIVER SACKS, NEUROLOGIST AND WRITER
"I'm eccentric. I don't have much social life. I don't go out much. I'm on the shy side and I don't entirely feel rooted or at home or that I belong anywhere. I don't think I ever have. The term 'eccentric' means 'off-center,' and what I'm interested in, both in my patients and myself, is seeing whether one can establish a different center. I think a life has to be centered, but I think it doesn't have to be the same center."
PHOTOS (BLACK & WHITE): "I'm 58, and I still don't know what I am going to do when I grow up." --Ducker (third from left) with Skinner, May, and Erikson.
PHOTOS (BLACK & WHITE): "Take fantasy away from us and the human race goes down the drain."--Bradbury (far right) with Rogers, Salk, and Menniger.
PHOTOS (BLACK & WHITE): "Theologians of the upper middle class": Coles and Stone.
PHOTOS (BLACK & WHITE): All the neurology that's fit to print: Sacks, Quindlen.