David G. Myers [2.7.99]
Introduction by:
David G. Myers

"To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."

Inspired by last year's The World Question Center,psychologist David G. Myers, asked his own version of the Edge Question of some of psychology's leading lights. He received responses from Eliot Aronson, Daryl J. Bem, Ellen Berscheid, Gordon Bower, Noam Chomsky, William C. Dement, Paul Ekman, Rochel Gelman, Jerome Kagan, Walter Kintsch, Elizabeth Loftus, Jay McClelland, Don Meichenbaum, George Miller, Martin E. P. Seligman, Mark Snyder, Larry Squire, Shelley Taylor, Endel Tulving, Phil Zimbardo.

David G. Myers: First, with John Brockman's blessing, are the psychologists who responded to his question:

"Do humans have evolved homicide modules--evolved psychological mechanisms specifically dedicated to killing other humans under certain contexts?" — David Buss, University of Texas

"How will minds expand, once we understand how the brain makes mind?" — William H. Calvin, University of Washington

"However appropriate it may be for the economy, the 'market model' is a grossly inadequate model for the rest of human society. With the decline of religious conviction and the slow pace of changes in the legal code, how can we nurture persons and institutions that can resist a purely market orientation in all spheres of living?" —Howard Gardner, Harvard University

"Given the recent discovery on the origins of life from peptides rather than DNA, is it possible for us to create novel life forms with novel ways of thought?" Marc D. Hauser, Harvard University "Why is music such a pleasure?" — Nicholas Humphrey, New School for Social Research

"How does the brain represent the meaning of a sentence? — Steven Pinker, MIT

"Do emotions contribute to intelligence, and if so, what are the implications for the development of a technology of 'affective computing?'" — Robert Provine, University of Maryland


Now, the answers to the question when posed by The Psychology Place:

Answers of Leading Psychological Scientists

What is the question that you are asking yourself — the question that most fascinates you right now?

"How can we find effective ways to influence people away from dysfunctional behavior. For example, how can we influence people to be less aggressive, less prejudiced, more compassionate of themselves and others, not to engage in unsafe sex, more empathic, more protective of the environment, less aggressive." — Eliot Aronson, University of California, Santa Cruz

"I tend to be an intellectual dilettante and move from one mystery or puzzle to another. In the past 3 years, I have published articles on ESP and on the factors that influence an individual's sexual orientation. The one continuity throughout my career, however, has been my interest in people's beliefs, attitudes, and ideologies, especially public opinion on social issues. Thus, even in my work on ESP, I have been interested in what kinds of arguments and data persuade skeptical psychologists to be more open to the possibility that ESP exists. In my work on sexual orientation, I have been interested in how attitudes toward homosexuality are related to beliefs in the causes of sexual orientation and what leads members of the public to change those attitudes." — Daryl J. Bem, Cornell University

"The question that I am asking myself now is how people actively try to enhance and protect the quality of their close romantic relationships. I am particularly interested in learning if they are aware of the extent to which external, environmental conditions affect relationship quality and if they intentionally manipulate the environment in which the relationship is embedded in order to improve the quality of the relationship." — Ellen Berscheid, University of Minnesota

"The most fascinating question for me is, How does the mind/brain make possible the construction of imaginary "mental models" of spatial layouts and the events that transpire therein as a person reads or listens to a narrative story? What is the nature of that fabulous mental ability enabling us to call forth vivid imagery of places, characters, actions and emotional reactions from a small collection of mere words on a printed page?" —Gordon Bower, Stanford University

"There are a lot of such questions, ranging from very technical to much more general. Toward the former end of the spectrum, I have been extensively involved in very recent work that seeks to show that the human language faculty may be in important respects an "optimal solution" to "design specifications" imposed by the external systems with which it interacts in the mind/brain (the so called 'minimalist program')." — Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"I have worked all my life to create a field that is devoted to alleviating one huge area of human suffering. Today, what drives me to continue the work I am doing today is my desire to see the benefits of this work actually delivered to those in need." — William C. Dement, Stanford University

"How do individuals differ in their emotional experience, and what implications do mismatches in emotional experience have for how people can live and work together." — Paul Ekman, University of California, San Francisco

"What are universal concepts, ones whose underlying structures are shared by all humans, and what kind of learning theory accounts for their development in different environments?" — Rochel Gelman, University of California, Los Angeles

"The question that fascinates me most right now is the exact nature of the relation between brain events, described in the language of neuroscience, and psychological events described with the vocabulary of the social sciences." — Jerome Kagan, Harvard University

"How is the meaning of words, sentences, and texts represented in the human mind? Can we develop a computational model to simulate the way people comprehend language?" — Walter Kintsch, University of Colorado, Boulder 

"What are the limits to the malleability of our memories? How is it that we can come to remember experiences that never happened to us? Why did we evolve with memories that work this way?" — Elizabeth Loftus, University of Washington

"How does experience structure our perceptual and conceptual representations, so that some things become self-evident (whether really true or not) while others are forever beyond our ken?" — Jay McClelland, Carnegie Mellon University

"How do the "stories" that childern learn to tell themselves and others (about themselves and the world) develop and come to influence how they will behave in the future?" — Don Meichenbaum, University of Waterloo

"How is it possible that so many common words with multiple meanings lead to so little ambiguity in linguistic communication?" — George Miller, Princeton University

"How can psychologists come to measure, understand, and nurture the human strengths and the civic virtues." —Martin E. P. Seligman, University of Pennsylvania

"How do people solve the problem of being, at one and the same time, true to their own personal identities and sensitive to the demands placed on them by their social worlds?" — Mark Snyder, University of Minnesota

"How does the brain accomplish learning and memory?" — Larry Squire, University of California, San Diego

"The question that fascinates me most right now is how we can understand human behavior with reference not only to the dynamics of social groups and individual psychology, but by integrating important observations from behavioral genetics, behavioral neuroscience, and evolutionary biology as well. To put it another way, I am interested in how one goes about constructing a truly synthetic behavioral science." — Shelley Taylor, University of California, Los Angeles

"Why is it that people do not seem to know that most forms of memory have little to do with the past, and that only what was 'memory' for William James and what is 'episodic memory' today does so?" (I suggest that you discuss this issue with your students, BEFORE they learn of my 'surprising' question: "What does memory have to do with the past?" and find out what THEY think, and how they talk about it.) — Endel Tulving, University of Toronto, Emeritus

"There are two interrelated questions that fascinate me and drive me to seek their answers: the first is what are the conditions that induce ordinary, "good people" to first engage in evil deeds; the second is what circumstances lead some normal people to begin to experience psychopathological symptoms?" — Phil Zimbardo, Stanford University