Harvey A. Carr

Harvey Carr
University of Chicago

My early education was obtained in a country district school with all of the advantages and limitations of that type of institution. The community firmly believed in the value of book learning—in so far as its acquisition did not interfere with the serious pursuits of life. In the later years the school was fortunate in securing the services of a few young men who were working their way through college. In this way a few of us supplemented the usual work by obtaining a textbook knowledge of physics and chemistry and a mastery of high school algebra. Likewise we became imbued with the notion that a college education was a distinct possibility for those who desired it.

At 18 I entered the preparatory school of DePauw University. This was a three-year course. On the basis of the extra work in the district school and by taking extra courses, I entered college two years later. I had no particular vocational interests and no knowledge of vocational opportunities. I had no preconceived educational notions and no particular interests except in mathematics. I assumed that a college education was worth while and that it was my privilege to sample what they had to offer. In the preparatory school I began Greek and Latin as a matter of course. The work was interesting and stimulating, but upon entering college I decided that I had sampled these subjects sufficiently for my interests.

Because of my interest and the personality of the instructor, I decided to major in mathematics. It was a subject in which I could become thoroughly absorbed for hours at a time. Its precision and definiteness were fascinating, and I have since felt that it has considerably influenced my modes of thought and expression. No particular difficulty was encountered until I reached differential equations when I began to experience some doubts of my mathematical ability.

I liked physics and had some curiosity about the biological sciences, but little work in these subjects was given, and there was a rumor among the students that the authorities were not well disposed toward biology because of its evolutionary implications. I took two years of German under an extremely effective teacher for which I was later duly thankful. There was a course in medieval history in which there was a minimum of lecturing and a maximum of read-

( 70) -ing in a small but good departmental library. Here I browsed widely and developed an interest in history that persisted even throughout mV later graduate work.

My health was good. I was physically active and interested in sports and games, and I entered with zest all those extra-curricular activities which make up college life in a small town. Life was vital and enjoyable. I adopted the usual attitude toward the grind, an attitude which I have never regretted. I did good work in those subjects in which I was interested, but not so well in those which failed to appeal, though pride sufficiently motivated me to obtain respectable grades in these subjects. The choice of a vocation did not worry me as much as it should have. Law was in the background, but I tacitly assumed that I would need to do some high school teaching in order to finance such an undertaking.

At the beginning of the third year I was stricken with a serious illness, and the rest of the year was devoted to recovery and recuperation. The next year was spent in hard labor on the farm in order to regain my physical vitality. At this time the farming community was afflicted with a period of hard times, and I decided to teach in a country school for a couple of years in order to complete my college education.

The school was located in a nearby community in which I was well known. Much was expected of a person who had gone to college, and my pride motivated me to fulfill their expectations. I had never heard of pedagogy or theories of education and I naturally modelled my procedure upon that to which I had been accustomed in so far as I could remember it. The results were woefully disappointing, and I soon realized that I had a real job on my hands, and one that required considerable patience, reflection, and experimentation. I learned that children—both young and old—will in time respond to enthusiasm, a judicious amount of approval, and a genuine interest in their welfare and development. At the end of the first year, I came across a copy of McMurray's Method of the Recitation which made a profound impression and convinced me that teaching is a process that is deserving of serious study. The period is of interest chiefly in the fact that it was primarily responsible for my later specialization in psychology and for the educational slant to my psychological interests.

I was averse to returning to DePauw. There would be a new

( 71) student body after four years of absence. The community environment differed but little from that at home, and I needed the stimulative effect of a change of scenery. Furthermore, I had been somewhat repressed and irritated by the distinctly religious tone of the institution.

My grandparents were Scotch and Irish immigrants. My maternal grandparents came from Aberdeen, and I have heard that it was a family tradition for at least one member of each generation to enter the ministry. The tradition was evidently not transported to this side of the Atlantic, for, so far as I know, no member of either side of the American branch of the family has ever been a church member. Whether this attitude toward the church was the cause or the result of the immigration I do not know. My parents were not antireligious. They were indifferent and non-participants. There was no family pressure in respect to religious beliefs and church attendance, and I was free to do and think as I pleased. I frequently attended the churches in the community, but did not join. As a consequence, the continuous social pressure in the college community in respect to beliefs and church attendance was irksome, and the reputed aversion of the college authorities to free inquiry in the biological sciences awakened my distrust. I disliked taboos in the realm of thought.

Through the influence of a friend, I entered the University of Colorado in 1899 at the age of 26, and remained the third year to take a Master's degree. The environment was thoroughly congenial, stimulating, and refreshing, and I look back upon these three years as one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. My only regret is that I did not take the step earlier.

It was my intention to continue my work in mathematics. In a conference I took a dislike to the instructor and at once decided to look elsewhere for a major subject. A few days before the opening of the University I had chanced to meet the Professor of Psychology and Education. My previous teaching experience furnished a back ground for an extended conversation. I was impressed with his ability, his geniality, and his cordial interest in the mental perplexities of a mere student. I turned to him for advice and, as a result of his interest and encouragement, I decided to turn Psychologist, although I knew practically nothing about the nature of the subject. Mathematics I proceeded to forget with considerable success—a fact

(72) which I later came to regret. The incident illustrates a personal peculiarity, viz., that my interest in and willingness to work at a subject have largely been determined by my attitude toward the instructor. The principle of selection has its limitations, but in the main the results have been satisfactory, and I have had no cause to complain.

The completion of a major in two years restricted considerably my choice of related subjects. There was a year of biology which was interesting and profitable. The quiet dignity of the instructor, his modesty and helpfulness, and the clarity and directness of his presentation elicited my respect and admiration and materially influenced my attitude toward science. There was a half year of physics which aroused my interest. The instructor was temperamentally reserved and unapproachable to students, but the lectures were admirably organized. An average student who really listened could hardly fail to pass the course. I was not so well predisposed toward chemistry, and the instructor aroused a mild aversion. As a consequence the educational value of the course was minimal. There were a few courses in history. A minor subject was required for the Master's degree, and I chose American history. There were but three graduate students in the class; the instructor was a young enthusiast, and he decided to give us a taste of the method of historical research. My topic was the Iroquois Confederacy, and I went through a number of volumes of Colonial Documents. I became so interested that I later pursued the topic in my spare hours in the more extensive library at Chicago. It was a time consuming but very effective way of learning history, and I have since been glad of this opportunity of obtaining some contact with the attempt to be scientific in such a diverse field. Perhaps science must be defined in terms of its spirit and method and not on the basis of the subject matter.

Outside of a couple of courses, there was little contact with the conventional type of psychology. The instructor, Arthur Allin, was a young man who majored in philosophy as an undergraduate, took his doctorate in psychology at Berlin, and spent a postdoctoral year at Clark. Because of temperamental affinities, he became a disciple of Hall. He was captivated by Hall's enthusiasm, imagination, and encyclopedic knowledge. Allin took a sympathetic and almost paternal interest in my development, gave me the run of his office and library, continually suggested books to be read, and encouraged

( 73) me to give an informal report of my reaction to them. This type of erudition was subjected to considerable criticism at Chicago. While I am cognizant of its deficiencies, I still think that such a type of discipline has its values in mental development, and I still have considerable respect and kindly feeling for Hall and his work.

There was no laboratory at Colorado at that time. Allin professed to know nothing of experimental psychology and admitted a distaste for apparatus and machinery. Yet he was continually emphasizing his belief that experimental psychology was the coming field and encouraging me to continue my graduate work and specialize in this line. His attitude, I suppose, was somewhat similar to that of many psychologists—that the key to the solution of all of our difficulties is to be found in some allied field of which we have but little knowledge. In my time psychology put its trust in neurology, but I later found that neurologists had their own difficulties and were but little concerned with the troubles of psychology. We found a few pieces of apparatus in a closet, improvised a few others, and attempted to duplicate some of the experiments in Sanford. Because of the lack of background, this laboratory work was nothing but a series of stunts wholly devoid of psychological significance.

With this equipment I went to Chicago the following year to study experimental psychology. I had not the least notion of what a psychological laboratory was like, and I knew practically nothing of the subject except its name. I was favorably disposed and anxious to learn, but there was a wholesome tinge of skepticism, and I still had to be shown.

In 1902 Psychology and Education were in the Department of Philosophy. The Fellows were distributed among the three fields, and, upon reporting, I found to my keen disappointment that I had been assigned to Education and hence would be required to take a number of educational courses in which I was not particularly interested. There were two in educational administration which were alleviated by the engaging personality of the instructor, but there were others without any such alleviating features.

History of Philosophy was required of all first-year graduate students. I knew little about it, but was somewhat skeptical because of the many disparaging remarks encountered in Hall's writings. However, I had been led to believe that it was an essential part of any well-rounded psychological training. The courses were thorough

( 74) and effectively taught. First-hand contact with the writings of most of the philosophers studied was required. Those that made the most permanent impression upon me were Plato, Kant, Locke, and Berkeley.

My reaction to Plato's dialogues was peculiar. I previously had had a course in formal logic, and I was thoroughly convinced of the presence of a considerable amount of fallacious reasoning in the argumentation. I first assumed that it was my task to uncover these fallacies, but I soon found that it was impossible to do this and still cover the assigned reading. Moreover it was soon evident that the class was not at all interested in this aspect of the subject. My first reaction was a considerable loss of respect for the author. Why should one devote his time to the serious study of a writer who is guilty of so much faulty though clever reasoning? To my youthful mind an author must possess something more than argumentative cleverness to be adjudged a great philosopher. It then occurred to me that this superior mind might have been thoroughly aware of the fallacies involved, but on this hypothesis the lack of intellectual sincerity was disturbing, and I also experienced some irritation at playing the rôle of a sympathetic auditor and being intellectually kidded by an expert. I have often been amused by my attitude, but I must confess that even yet I find some difficulty in rendering the usual homage to the philosophic genius of Plato. I la er found that my teaching was considerably influenced by Plato example. The Socratic method has its limitations as well as advantages, and I suspect that some of my early students had more reason to be irritated with me than I had with Plato.

I was delighted to learn that I could take a year's work in experimental psychology. Before coming to Chicago I had heard much of Dewey, but nothing of the other men in the department. On reaching Chicago I heard that experimental psychology was taught by an Assistant Professor—a young man by the name of Angell. On the opening day I appeared early so as to have time to locate the laboratory in the maze of Gothic architecture. Imagine my surprise in encountering a small weatherbeaten dilapidated frame structure that had evidently been discarded as unfit for human habitation. I joined a couple of graduate students seated on the front steps and was told that the Professor had not yet arrived. Shortly there appeared a young man with an erect posture, a jaunty walk, a semiquizzical

(75) smile, and a hat slightly atilt over one eye. He entered the building and was mentally labelled as another graduate student not socially inclined. On entering the building, I found my graduate student at the lecturer's desk ready for business. Apparently erudition was associated in my mind with age and some degree of pompous dignity. There was nothing to do but make the best of the situation, but I felt much better at the end of the hour, and in a couple of weeks, in common with the other new students, I found myself being completely sold on the Instructor.

It is difficult to characterize this versatile and engaging personality from the standpoint of the students—especially during the period when he was devoting his whole time and energy to the work of the laboratory. There was the keen and incisive intellect, the judicial attitude toward controversial questions, the delightful idiosyncracies of manner and expression, the bubbling humor which ran the gamut from good-natured levity to brilliant wit, and the free and easy flow of choice diction which always seemed so well adapted to the illumination of the topic under discussion. Finally, there was the penchant for long and involved sentences—in the middle of which we would find ourselves in breathless suspense wondering how it would be possible for mere mortal to extricate himself from the bewildering maze of clauses with due conformity to the rules of syntax and grammar. We often compared notes, and were forced to admit that the feat was always achieved—and usually in some unexpected manner. With the beginning of research our relations became more intimate and informal. We found him to be intensely human, stimulating, encouraging, and genuinely interested in our intellectual and scientific development—an interest that continued to manifest itself long after we left the laboratory. Our general reaction was one of admiration, respect, and genuine affection. Due to his influence, the students were a friendly and cooperative group, the laboratory morale was excellent, and there were times when we were even disposed to take some pride in the drabness of our surroundings.

At the end of the first year, Dewey left the University, psychology was made a separate department with Angell as head, and Watson was appointed as an instructor. My fellowship was transferred to psychology, and I felt that the promised land was near at hand.

I had heard of Watson the first year but did not meet him. In

( 76) my capacity as handy man around the laboratory, there was much contact thereafter. My first reaction was one of slight reserve and suspicion—the basis for which I have never been able to fathom. This initial attitude did not long survive the influence of his genial and friendly spirit, and there soon developed an intellectual and scientific comradeship that persisted many years. I admired his tremendous energy and enthusiasm in both work and play, his irrepressible spirits, his intellectual candor and honesty, and his scorn of verbal camouflage and intellectual pussy-footing. He seemed to be wholly oblivious to the distinction between instructor and student, and regarded us as partners and co-workers in his scientific endeavors. This attitude was an expression of his nature, and it materially strengthened our initiative, confidence, and self-reliance, without exerting any inflationary effect upon the ego. I was thus inducted into the mysteries of animal experimentation, and Watson in turn heartily cooperated in my early experiments in space perception. Watson influenced me in many intangible ways, and his subsequent loss to psychology was a matter of personal regret.

At this time Titchener was used as the laboratory manual. As a matter of method it was followed somewhat literally, and our notebooks contained a series of alleged introspections and opinions about each experiment. Watson as an instructor evinced no hesitation in expressing his opinion of the futility of this material. He was objective minded both by training and temperament, and the appearance of his Behaviorism was no surprise to those who knew him well. He once remarked that it was possible to write a psychology in purely objective terms—starting with the simple reflexes and proceeding to the more complex varieties of mental behavior, and he also added that he intended to write such a book at the first opportunity. Here were the essential features of his Behaviorism long before he heard of the work of Pawlow and Bechterew.

The selection of a thesis topic was as usual a source of worry. The laboratory work on visual sensation and reaction time was interesting but it made no particular appeal to me as a field of research. At the latter part of the course, there were a few lectures on memory and the acquisition of skill, but there were no laboratory experiments. The topic was appealing, but I felt helpless because of lack of knowledge of how to begin. I had done considerable reading in the systematic treatment of attention, and in common with many

( 77) people at that time I felt that the attentive process was the central and distinctive feature of mental life. On making my decision, I was put to reading the experimental literature but made no headway in formulating a satisfactory problem. While engaged in this task I made a chance observation which excited my interest and curiosity, and with some help and encouragement there soon emerged a thesis problem in the field of visual space perception, a field which has retained my interest ever since. I have since been disposed to feel somewhat grateful for the whims of Lady Luck, for to my mind attention is one of the disappointing chapters in experimental psychology.

There was a year's work with Donaldson in neurology. He elicited my admiration and respect as a man and a scientist, but the subject matter awakened no particular enthusiasm. Like all students of this period we read and studied James with reverence, and I still find him interesting and stimulating. While I was not particularly interested in the topic, his Varieties of Religious Experience made a strong impression and considerably broadened my sympathies and outlook. There was a course in Stout's Analytic Psychology which was exceedingly interesting. There were many chapters which I read and reread with great avidity. I have always felt that this work exerted a profound influence upon my psychological development, though I have never been able to trace back any of my beliefs to those of Stout. Apparently the work aroused my interest in the problems of systematic psychology and stimulated me to attempt a more satisfying solution.

I took no more formal work in philosophy. Like all graduate students I was greatly impressed with Dewey's ability, his kindliness, and his unassuming modesty. Perhaps the majority of the philosophy students could be classed as "disciples"—a condition which I found rather irritating. I found that I had developed quite an interest in many philosophic problems, and I spent much of my spare time in informal discussion of these questions with philosophy students with whom I was well acquainted. This informal type of educational activity was both enjoyable and stimulating, and I succeeded in attaining some sort of personal orientation toward many philosophical problems, though I was never inclined to take the outcome of these speculative endeavors very seriously. I have since suspected that I was primarily interested in philosophizing and not in philosophies and philosophers.


Upon graduating in 1905, only two positions were open and I failed to land them. It was a discouraging summer, and through a friend I finally secured a high school position in Texas. It was a friendly and hospitable environment in which I found myself, and during the year I gradually became mentally reconciled to a public school career. Two features of the work are of possible interest. This Yankee from the North was assigned two classes in the history of the Civil War. These Southern children proved to be a fine and generous lot, and perhaps they took an interest in my educational development, for we got along quite amicably. There was a small class in geometry composed of girls who could not learn this subject. The class challenged my best efforts and I learned something about teaching. Confidence in my ability was materially strengthened, and I felt that thereafter I could meet any teaching situation with a reasonable degree of success.

I returned to Chicago for the Summer and taught for a few weeks in a State Normal School in Michigan. Late in the Summer I received an appointment at Pratt Institute where I stayed two years. My initial efforts at teaching psychology were woefully disappointing. I might pass a doctoral examination with credit, but certainly there was no mastery of the subject adapted to its effective presentation to beginning students. I worked diligently and faithfully in preparation and experimented much, but it was not until several years thereafter that I attained a content and organization that was approximately satisfying. It is the introductory course that demands teaching skill, and perhaps I could do much better if I should try it again.

In the fall of 1908 I returned to Chicago to take Watson's place. That Summer the department moved into its present quarters—a remodeled three-story double apartment building, and the old laboratory was retained for animal work. The contrast was so great that our new surroundings seemed almost palatial, and they served our needs fairly well until we encountered the post-War influx of students.

I taught the various courses in experimental psychology, and continued the work with animals which Watson had started. The work in learning was extended with the rapid development of this field, and finally a course in space perception was added. The early years were largely devoted to more adequate preparation, and in time there was the supervision of thesis projects as I became established with the students. Life once more was enjoyable and alluring.

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The personal contact with the intellectual and scientific development of the graduate students has probably been the most gratifying aspect of my work. One hundred and thirty doctorates have been conferred since my connection with the department, and I have had considerable teaching and conference contact with all of these students. Naturally it was the thesis supervision that was the most stimulating and interesting, and sometimes the most irritating as well. As is well known, interest in animal work rapidly waned after the first outburst of enthusiasm, and it was freely predicted that its possibilities would soon be exhausted. Many of our students expressed an aversion to choosing a thesis topic in this field for fear that they would become known as comparative psychologists, and that this label would be detrimental to their professional placement and advancement. There were eighteen theses in this field, and there is some satisfaction in having kept one center of research going until the remarkable revival of interest in recent years. There was less interest in space perception. This was due in part to the technicalities of the subject, and in part to the fact that the course was usually taken after the thesis topic had been selected. There were five theses in this field, and several others were completed by students who did not take their degree. To my satisfaction, learning proved to be the most attractive, the number of selections being twenty-nine. It was the policy of the department to promote diversity of output by encouraging students to select topics along the lines of their interest, and there were fourteen of this type that were under my supervision. As previously mentioned, this work was extremely enjoyable, and I hope that the students were equally well satisfied.

I had entered the field of experimental psychology with considerable faith, but with little knowledge and an open mind. To what extent were my expectations realized? Quite early in my career, I became impressed with the limitations of the experimental method in the field of human psychology. By experimental I refer to the usual laboratory practice of eliciting certain modes of activity under specified conditions. Any thoroughgoing and extensive control of human activity is a difficult matter. The difficulty of eliciting a genuine fear reaction in a laboratory situation may be mentioned. Industrial psychologists have encountered similar trouble in reproducing genuine test situations. The control of the environment and the entire activity of the subject for an extensive period requisite to

( 80) the solution of many problems—genetic problems especially—is wholly impossible. The use of drugs is limited, and vivisection is out of the question. This limitation has been responsible in times past for the great interest in "Nature's experiments," and for the extensive use of animals in recent years. Psychologists have turned to animals for the same reason as did physiologists—the inability to experiment with man.

The recognition of this fact involves several corollaries. I have never been able to subscribe to the doctrine that an introductory text should confine itself wholly to experimental material, and to the notion sometimes expressed that a text to be experimental must be one that writes much about experiments. Such positions might be justified if such a course were designed solely for the training of professional psychologists. Perhaps such statements are motivated in part by our well-known inferiority complex and our desire to impress our students with the scientific character of the subject. Again, the validity and value of an experiment are not to be judged on the basis of the amount and complexity of the apparatus employed, nor is the scientific output of a laboratory necessarily proportional to its space and material equipment. Likewise many excellent experiments can be performed without that modern accessory device—the subsidy. But I refrain, for I suspect that my attitude is probably colored to a considerable extent by the fact that I have never had one.

Certainly psychology should be scientific—at least in so far as this is possible. Is the experimental the only scientific method? Geology, astronomy, and mathematics are usually regarded as sciences, but are they experimental in the usual laboratory sense of the term? Do the social sciences have a right to the name? The answer to these questions is obviously a function of the meaning of the two terms, and I shall not define them. However, the two terms must be regarded as synonymous, or we must admit that there are other legitimate ways of studying psychological phenomena.

Perhaps a few expressions of opinion are permissible. I am skeptical of the attempt to define science on the basis of its subject matter. Is psychology a science? I have never been interested in the question. It makes no difference to me. Science is primarily a matter of attitude and method. The important question, to my mind, is: Are psychologists scientists? And I think that most of them are—at times—just like physicists and chemists. Perhaps

( 81) the essence of the method is the spirit and not the form of the inquiry, and again I shall not define these terms. I am inclined to believe that the form of attack will necessarily vary with the problem, and that in time we will devise modes of attack adapted to psychological problems which at present are not subject to scientific investigation.

I do not think that the experimental method—in the usual sense of that term—is the only scientific method. I am an experimentalist, and expect to remain one, partly because of my training in that technique, but mainly because this mode of attack is so well adapted to those fields which happened to elicit and retain my interest. Are we not all too prone to overestimate the relative importance of our own problems and techniques? We talk much about the desirability of studying basic and fundamental problems, without defining the terms, and I suspect that we all secretly cherish the belief that we are engaged upon such a task. Perhaps all problems are really basic, at least to something else, and if this attributive characteristic is a quantitative variable—to use the present scientific jargon—I sometimes wonder if the most basic problems will not of necessity be the last to yield to a solution. Too much specialization seems to be conducive to a loss of perspective and a judicial temper, and yet a catholic attitude is supposed to be one of the essential characteristics of the scientific spirit.

Can all aspects of mind be subjected to scientific attack? The psychoanalysts have been largely responsible for the explicit recognition of the fact that the key to the understanding of many features of mental life is to be found in our developmental history. For example, what were the various reasons that actuated a group of psychologists to write articles such as this? What were the motives that dominated both the selection and omission of material, and the style and manner of writing? What impression did the writer wish to make upon the reader? To the psychoanalyst, the possible interpretations are many and usually not flattering to the writer, and I sometimes wonder at the temerity of a psychologist in thus partially exposing his mind to the psychoanalytic scrutiny of his colleagues.

Like most psychologists, I am extremely skeptical of much of the subterranean mental machinery of the psychoanalysts. Nevertheless the problem is still there, for what we write and the manner thereof

( 82) —especially in an article such as this—is an expression of our nature and may reveal much. But which of the various interpretations is correct? Such questions can hardly he decided on the basis of present techniques. Can new techniques be devised that are adequate to the task, and, if not, shall such features of mental life be studiously ignored on the ground of their non-scientific character? Perhaps the scientific attitude is a quantitative variable, and we should attack all problems and be content to be as scientific as the subject will permit. Much depends upon the meaning of the term scientific, and again no definition will be attempted.

Much has happened during my connection with psychology, and it has been extremely interesting. In retrospect, I have been impressed with the unpredictable character of much of this development and the minimal amount of my influence upon it. Likewise I have often wondered how much of this development may be termed progress. What will be the course of future development? Who is so rash as to predict its nature, and why this unpredictability? Is it because we have no commonly accepted system of scientific values and objectives, and hence live a life of simple faith and take the value of our science for granted? Is not this faith often expressed in our tendency to capitalize such terms as Truth and Science? I sometimes wish that I might be vouchsafed a glimpse of the Psychology—or Psychologies—of 1990, but perhaps it is just as well, for I might be woefully disappointed.


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