Some things grab hold of us and never let go. Of all the things that might have had this effect on me, I would have never predicted that one of them would be my first psychology textbook, Introduction to Psychology by Clifford T. Morgan and Richard A. King.
I kept the book for years, rarely looking inside and often not even knowing where in the house it was. It was enough to know that it was there somewhere, with me in companionable silence as I built my career and family life on other stories, written in other books, told by other voices, and lived in the flow of daily events.
Then, one day, when I decided to consult my old friend, perhaps just to refresh a memory or two, it was gone. I looked everywhere, but all that remained was what I recalled of its appearance and contents.
Morgan and King, as I came to think of it, was different from every textbook I had used before or since – not just in the way that every book is unique, but in the way that this book’s shape, size, and color seemed to break the rules of book design.
It was a little wider, a little heavier, a little darker than any book I was ever assigned in any course. Its oddities set it apart and made it not only a tool but also the perfect symbol of a lifelong journey that taught me to value what was different, test what was given as truth, and look beyond the surface for the deeper meaning of things.
I first met Doctors Morgan and King in my sophomore year of college just after I had decided that I would enjoy astronomy more as a hobby than as a career and started looking around for a new major.
We were introduced by a psychology professor who used the textbook flexibly, assigning the chapters he thought most important and supplementing the text with material that emphasized real world applications of psychological science and called our attention to the way political philosophy influences research.
Soviet psychology and lesions of the optic nerve are an unlikely combination, but one I carry with me to this day as his legacy.
The textbook and the professor are intertwined in my memory, perhaps more closely connected than they were in the course. Now the book was gone, another lost artifact of the journey’s start to be dismissed with a twinge of nostalgia like so many other mementos of simpler times.
Then, one day long after I had stopped searching, it appeared on the shelf of the book swap at our town’s recycling center. The squat, brown volume was unmistakable even at a glance, and though I knew it wasn’t my book, it contained the same text, diagrams, and photos that had ushered me into a career in psychology.
Though I might wish to have the same volume I underlined and highlighted to remind me of what I thought most important or interesting in those early days, this book would have to do. And it was more than enough.
There in a banner along the top of pages 24 and 25, five luminary figures in psychology still pose for the camera, looking every bit as solemn and influential as they were in life. Wilhelm Wundt, William James, J.B. Watson, Max Wertheimer, and
Sigmund Freud greet the curious stares of new students as if to say, yes, this is what we look like in case you’ve ever wondered.
Psychology is serious business, but if you think you can handle it, read on. And so I do, focusing on the pictures. There are eight sets of identical twins in Victorian dress on page 38 and the ethologist Konrad Lorenz, seen from behind, carrying a food bucket on page 54. Seven imprinted goslings trail behind him. Lorenz looks like a farmer with his rolled up pant legs and Wellingtons, no less accomplished than his bannered colleagues, but perhaps just a little too folksy to make the welcoming team.
Page 151 gives us five teens looking down at rectangular boxes on the arms of their desks, each box with a small screen at the top and knob on the side. Turning the knob presumably moves a sheet of paper into position on the screen. The caption reads, “Teaching machines in use.” In the days before laptops and Google, no one smiles as they scroll up and down.
Harry Harlow’s monkey still clings to the cloth mother as he stretches out to drink from the wire mother’s bottle on page 221, and a sad-eyed Rhesus monkey on page 218 peers through a window from inside a metal box.
This is my first psychology textbook, and if there were any doubt, it vanishes with the photo on page 369. In one half of the frame, a kitten and in the other half, a baby, moves to the edge of a checkerboard platform with a clear plexiglass shelf extending out over a drop to the floor covered with the same checkerboard pattern They move to the edge, but no farther, demonstrating the development of depth perception.
It’s called the visual cliff experiment, but now it strikes me as an apt name for the baby, and I wonder what’s become of him. Cliff would be well into his fifties by now, old enough to be a seasoned psychologist, a zookeeper in the monkey pavilion, or maybe even that nice salesman at Home Depot, so proud to be showing off their new checkerboard linoleum.