February 23, 2008

In memoriam Gardner Lindzey

On the 4th of February, Gardner Lindzey died, here in Palo Alto, at the age of 87.  Gardner was

a psychologist, editor and former president of the American Psychological Association who helped build a national framework to encourage scholarly exchanges and collaborations in the social sciences  [Jeremy Pearce in his New York Times obituary of February 18th]

As it happens, though he was a social psychologist, Gardner played a significant role in encouraging scholarship in semantics, cognitive science, and related fields; and his larger role in academia -- as someone whose strengths were in surveying, integrating, and synthesizing ideas and facilitating scholarly communication and collaboration -- deserves an encomium on its own.

I'll take the second thing first.  You get really famous in the academic world for novel ideas and discoveries.  But scholarship, satisfying the teaching and service responsibilities of universities, and administering the many sorts of institutions that keep the whole enterprise going require a great many people with various sorts of talents beyond the pursuit of original research in a narrow sense.  We need people who collect and organize large masses of data (though they might be derided as mere fact-gatherers).  We need people who survey scholarship for scholars, and people who communicate scholarly ideas through teaching and textbooks and through writing and speaking for audiences outside the academy (though such people might be derided as mere purveyors of other people's ideas).  And we need knowledgeable people who create and administer scholarly and academic programs and institutions of many sorts (though they might be derided as mere managers).

Gardner's great achievements were as editor of the comprehensive reference work The Handbook of Social Psychology (first edition 1954, solely edited by Gardner, with three later co-edited editions), and in academic administration -- at Texas, especially; on advisory panels addressing social and psychological issues; and, most significantly, as director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (at Stanford) from 1975 through 1989.

That's where I came in.  I was a fellow at CASBS in 1981-82, a year in which there was a "special project" on Meaning and Cognition, whose core members were Jon Barwise, Manfred Bierwisch, Robin Cooper, Hans Kamp, Lauri Karttunen, and Stanley Peters.  There were also colleagues and research assistants who were not fellows but participated regularly in project meetings; in addition to me, these included Edit Doron, Elisabet Engdahl, Rich Larson, John Perry (who had been a fellow in 1980-81), Ivan Sag, and Hans Uszkoreit (this is far from a complete listing).  Semantics was clearly the center of the project (Barwise and Perry's Situations and Attitudes came out of CASBS activities), but the participants ranged over syntax, philosophy, mathematics, and computer science as well, and the project was followed by the founding of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford (which in the summer of 1984 sponsored research by, among others, Gerald Gazdar, Ewan Klein, Geoff Pullum, Ivan Sag, and me) and then by the creation of the undergraduate interdisciplinary program in Symbolic Systems (roughly, cognitive science) at Stanford.

Only two years before the Meaning and Cognition project there was a special project on Artificial Intelligence and Philosophy, with core members Dan Dennett, John Haugeland, Pat Hayes, John McCarthy, Bob Moore, and Zenon Pylyshyn.  And three years after Meaning and Cognition came a Morphology project, with core members David Dowty, Gerald Gazdar, and Jerry Sadock.  Those were heady years at the Center.

Now, Gardner didn't create any of these projects, but he encouraged and fostered them, and I think he was proud of the work that was done on his watch, especially in the Meaning and Cognition project.

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at February 23, 2008 02:18 PM