My first book “Computer Experience and Cognitive Development” began with a dedication to Gretchen:
my friend and wife of twenty years
who has made this work possible
from its first conception
through its final editing.
Our marriage lasted another twelve years, and further editing has been done, but she remains my first love, the mother of my children, and a remarkable woman. All honor to her. Gretchen’s contributions to the Infant Peggy Study likewise were critical, of long duration, and remain manifest. These family members are the nearest and dearest friends referred to in the Dedication. My senior colleagues appear in the first post on this website as the mentors who inspired, challenged, and long guided me. Among more nearly coeval colleagues, two stand out: Howard Austin and Masoud Yazdani.
Howard was a brilliant, funny, persuasive man of ideas. We were good friends during our years at MIT. He died too young. A better salesman than those I knew at IBM, one who spoke with conviction and knew enough to support every argument he made, he loved and enjoyed people for who they were, as distinct from what they could do for him, but he also was politically astute. Howard guided me through the shoals of graduate study in the challenging world at MIT.
Masoud Yazdani has happily been a colleague and friend for decades. Our first meeting was at Le Centre Mondial l’Informatique in Paris, where, as Papert’s lieutenant, I substituted in his calendar when he was unavailable. Masoud hoped to recruit Seymour to keynote the AISB conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education at Exeter University. Seymour later agreed to that proposal and asked me to make sure everything went well. Masoud promised he would call on the avant-garde of European AI for the conference, and I agreed to use our every capability to bring to England the best of our community to create an important global conference. We did so. The two volumes of “Artificial Intelligence and Education,” begun at the conference, captured the exciting vectors of then current research and some later advances. But it was Masoud, and his personality, energy, and persistence that planned, realized, and published the best research of that time.
When Robert Davis, then editor of the Journal of Mathematical Behavior, urged me to meet Walter Johnson (founder of Academic Press) to begin and edit a journal on the potential of Cognitive Science for education, I proposed Masoud as a man whose genius was better suited to such an initiative. After working as a consultant to Johnson’s Ablex Press, Masoud created the Cognitive Science series of Halstead Press, whose initial book was my first, “Computer Experience and Cognitive Development.” He also urged me to publish the earlier studies of Rob, and they became the first chapters of “Cognition and Computers.” Having learned from Walter Johnson how the academic publishing business works, Masoud then founded Intellect Press and began his own career as a publisher, while still working as a professor at England’s Exeter University. I have been deeply honored to be the friend and colleague of this personable, energetic, and brilliant academic entrepreneur.
In that circle of the AI Lab’s Logo project, where Howard Austin loomed so large, were many other marvelous colleagues and friends. Jose Valente was an office mate and remains a friend after many years, though our paths cross only rarely. Greg Gargarian, both a composer and Papert’s secretary, was a friend who brought a warm smile and a light heart to the lab. When Greg learned that I enjoyed the novels and short pieces of William Saroyan, and had even acted in “My Heart’s in the Highlands,” he declared me an honorary Armenian. How grand that Papert’s secretary at the World Center for Computers and People in Paris, Jacqueline Karaaslanian, returned to MIT with Papert and eventually married Greg. Greg lived long enough to enjoy their two children for several years before dying much too young — but even in those last short years, he did complete his research projects and earned his PhD. Other masters and doctoral candidates were frequently in the lab, though their focus may have been less on Logo and more on other issues. Barbara White, Edwina Rissland, Ginny Grammar, Claudette Bradley, Glenn Iba are a few. Dan Watt took time out from his teaching career to conduct research through the project. Hal Abelson and Andy DiSessa were junior faculty who worked with older students on themes in Math and Physics; sophisticated thinkers. The undergraduate students were the treasure of the lab. Many are beyond recall, but no one can forget Danny Hillis, Margaret Minsky, Gary Drescher, Brian Silverman, Leigh Klotz, Pat Sobalvero. It was a vibrant community, but one that was open also to enrichment from the outside. Three graduate students from Harvard were interested and often engaged with Project Logo: Lawrence Miller, Sheldon Wagner, and E. Paul Goldenberg. Laurie and Sheldon had both been students at Piaget’s Center for Genetic Epistemology and contributed significantly to The Intimate Study. Paul Goldenberg was a strong contributor to the Logo Project, both technically and in working with students. (Paul composed the “single key interface” in Logo, which Papert urged us to use with small children, in my instance as the program named “ZOOM.”) Though lost to the MIT Logo project, he joined later with Wallace Feurzeig as co-author of “Exploring Language with Logo.” Paul was especially good with young children; everyone in my family admired his personal warmth and penetrating intellect. The AI Lab and Logo Project were magnets that drew many other brilliant and wonderful visitors into that magic circle. Papert at that same time began another initiative, D.S.R.E.
MIT’s Division for Study and Research in Education, with which Project Logo was affiliated since Papert was one of the three founding faculty, brought to campus a collection of academics of great capacity. Judah Schwartz was often at DSRE, as were other MIT faculty. To my personal benefit, DSRE began with the aid of three external faculty who played a significant role in my thinking then and in my career thereafter. Sheldon White, professor of Psychology at Harvard, was my guide in appreciating what parts of traditional psychological studies were relevant to my agenda and the methods I was pursuing. With his broad knowledge of the field, he appreciated directly the attempt to work with computational ideas, perspectives from Piagetian development, and methods of ecological psychology, as practiced by Barker and Wright. In many later years, when I rejoined the Minsky circle for sabbaticals, I spent almost at much time with “Shep” (as he was familiarly known) in his Harvard seminars. Howard Gruber was at home both in American and Genevan psychology, and we shared a deep seated respect for the case study method, its value and limitations. For the years before he moved to Geneva to assume Piaget’s chair (at the end of Inhelder’s tenure) he led a group of scholars and students who met primarily at his home in Leonia, New Jersey. I was delighted to join that group and benefit from Howie’s knowledge, insights, and creativity. He first pointed out to me Kurt Lewin’s paper on “The Conflict between Galilean and Aristotelian Modes of Thought in Contemporary Psychology,” and we continued in contact through his years in Geneva and New York. Mme. Professor Hermine Sinclair-deZwart, “Mimi,” was a frequent visiting faculty member at DSRE. We discussed my intentions in developing Learning Case 2, and she told me directly there was no way I should imagine I would ever earn a doctorate for studies of individuals — that even though Papert argued such were Piaget’s best work, Piaget himself, Le Patron of Genevan Psychology had earned his doctorate in the field of biology. Mimi was close to Piaget as well as Inhelder, had been a co-author of their book on Memory, and discussed my work with him. She revealed, to my lasting pleasure, that Piaget thought my agenda was a marvelous initiative and that he envied Papert having a student who could and would take on such a challenge. When Peggy was born, I asked Mimi for advice on what she would recommend as a theme for calibrating my two planned data streams (about language and relations-of-objects-in-space) that would permit me to relate what I would observe with the canonical knowledge of the field as she understood it. She proposed, in addition to obvious issues of numbers, grouping, and supporting structures, a focus on the interpenetration of object: the inclusion of one within another: that was a theme in which an infant would show development over the entire period planned for LC3. She added that much as object permanence itself was at first difficult for infants to grasp completely, so inclusion and interpenetration were successor challenges that took years for clear understanding. This theme is the common spine of LC3 through which Peggy’s development can be calibrated with that of others. Mimi’s specific recommendation was that I introduce in my set of “standard objects” for regular play sets of nesting cups, and boxes. Her prediction that Peggy would exhibit command of relationships of order with objects around three years is born out precisely in the latter clips of video Panel P146 (in Peg’s 12th quarter). Mimi continued to support my career in later years. Both Mimi and Bob Davis thought well of my presentation in Budapest (1988) at the Sixth International Conference of Mathematics Educators. Mimi argued that the paper I wrote for that conference, “Constructing Knowledge from Interactions,” should be a leading chapter in Transforming Early Childhood Mathematics Education. Bob (Robert W. Davis) republished that article in The Journal of Mathematical Behavior, which became over time the venue where my best articles were published. To these, Shep White, Howie Gruber, Mimi Sinclair, and Bob Davis, four respected traditional, knowledgeable and thoughtful scholars, I owe much of the success I’ve had as a faculty member.
Other of my mentors were, albeit less conventional, even more remarkable. Minsky, the inventor, scientist of mind and iconoclast genius; Papert, whose epistemological vision urged exploiting technology to enable people to better educate themselves; Feurzeig, Director of Education Projects at the Cambridge Think-Tank, BBN, where both the Logo Computing Language and the Internet were invented, and Oliver Gordon Selfridge, the most delightful, broadly educated, and inspirational of the many amazing men I have known; all of these four were pioneers and long time leaders in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and of Education. To them I owe insights and challenges that advanced my life long agenda. What a blessing it has been to know and work with these wonderful colleagues. I will be forever in their debt.
This is not finished. 6/24/13
It was my privilege to meet Feynman in the past when I studied at Caltech. Years later, I went to MIT to study with Minsky, directed to him by hearing from a classmate of my student days of Feynman’s interest in Minsky’s work. I undertook case studies of learning in Papert’s laboratory at MIT, guided by his appreciation of Piaget and the intellectual program represented now by Minsky’s book The Society of Mind, earlier a joint effort of Minsky and Papert. On the suggestion of Minsky, I worked with Oliver Selfridge as an apprentice at computational modelling. Oliver’s contributions to my work are pervasive; the first publication about SLIM bears his name as well as my own. Bud Frawley showed me how to do the recursive game extension at the heart of SLIM. And if much of my work reflects my admiration for Feynman, one of the heroes of Caltech, perhaps it is not inappropriate to express my gratitude also to the memory of those mentors of my student days, Hunter Mead and Charles Bures, who first suggested I should take seriously the works of Langer and Peirce.