Alan Schwartz

Background


Posted at 10:13 pm.

“If you take any activity, any art, any discipline, any skill, take it and push it as far as it will go, push it beyond where it has ever been before, push it to the wildest edge of edges, then you force it into the realm of magic.”
- Tom Robbins

Biography

I grew up in Southern California, in the San Fernando Valley (yes, that one), where I was fortunate to attend excellent public schools, supplemented by several incredible summer enrichment opportunities, including math and computer science at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth at Arizona State University (aka JHU/CTY at ASU (formerly PSAP)), and gender studies at the Telluride Association Summer Program at Williams College, MA. I went to college at UC Berkeley, in Northern California, where I double-majored in cognitive science and women’s studies.

I was Berkeley’s first cognitive science major (when I began the major, it was an independent “design-your-own” program, but an official degree began to be offered the year I graduated). My focus at the time was cognitive linguistics; I was privileged to work closely with the outstanding scholar George Lakoff. I did work on metaphors for cognition, among others, and my thesis focused on contested concepts in social science.

My focus in women’s studies was on social science and feminist theory. Again, I was privileged to have an outstanding scholar as an advisor, Evelyn Fox Keller. My thesis focused on feminist views of pornography from 1966-1986.

Between undergraduate and graduate school, I married M.G. Bertulfo, my best friend since high school. Good decision.

I continued at Berkeley for graduate school, in the PhD program in cognitive psychology and, in the later years of that program, in the concurrent Master’s Degree in organizational behavior and industrial relations at the Haas School of Business. My psychology advisors included Danny Kahneman and  Barbara Mellers; Barb was my dissertation advisor, a major influence on my thinking, and I still often find myself asking how she would approach the problems I study in my research.

After graduate school, I hoped to apply decision psychology to real-world problems, and applied primarily to business schools. We had hoped to stay in California, but one day I received a copy of a job posting from University at Illinois in Chicago, where Arthur Elstein, one of the founders of the psychological study of clinical decision making, was recruiting a postdoctoral fellow and an assistant professor. Even though the job was in Chicago, the area of study and the opportunity to work with Arthur was so appealing that I applied, got the faculty job, and we moved to Chicago (which has turned out to be an excellent place, even if it is colder in the winter).

We got a dog in 1998 (a chocolate labrador, who lived to be 14), a son in 2000 (less furry), and a dog in 2012 (an irish water spaniel) and a rescue dog in 2014 (a bichon/poodle mix).

Commitments

George Lakoff tells a story about becoming a cognitive linguist when he faced a conflict in commitments: was he commited to the paradigm in which he was previously working, or was he committed to the data he was finding, which seemed to contradict that paradigm? He realized the importance of defining your commitments, and went on to explain his in his seminal work, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind.

So here are some of mine:

  • I am committed to the importance of other human beings
  • I am committed to notions of equality among people
  • I am committed to the commandment of tzedakah – doing right by people in need – and tikkun olam – healing the world in partnership with its creator.
  • I am committed to the people I love, my peace of mind, and my work, in that order
  • I am committed to pursuing a scientific understanding of natural phenomena, including psychology, and to empirical data as the ultimate test of a model
  • I am committed to the belief that most people are basically good, most people, given opportunity, will seek to rise to the level of expectations, and that organizations and their leaders should help provide those opportunities.
  • I am committed to a life of ongoing learning of all sorts
  • I am committed to having fun, and encouraging other people to do so as well.