Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays

By Robert Epstein | Go to book overview

21
OUR MOST UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTER

Author's note. M. J. Willard and I wrote the following essay for B. F. Skinner as a Christmas present in 1977, and we published it a few years later. It describes events that took place from 1975 to 1977, when M. J. and I were in our 20s and Skinner was in his 70s.

Sitting in a genuine Harvard insignia chair on the seventh floor of William James Hall, I was nervously doing Jacobson relaxation exercises. Thirty feet down the hall people sporadically exited from the elevator. Each time the door opened I got cramps in my stomach and had second thoughts about taking dares. I was waiting in ambush for my behavior-modifying idol, B. F. Skinner.

Two days earlier I had been telling my old friend Chip about a fantasy I'd had every since coming to Boston. Walking through Harvard Square one day, I'd bump into "B. F." I'd introduce myself and ask him to tea (I'd heard he liked tea). He'd accept, of course, and we'd get on marvelously well.

"That's a great idea," Chip told me.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean do it," he said. "Only you're never going to bump into him. Go knock on Skinner's door and ask him to lunch."

"Yeah, sure."

"Really, M. J.--" he said seriously, "if you don't do it, your Chicken."

Not with 10 milligrams of Valium in me, I wasn't. (You can't always count on relaxation exercises.)

There he was. Smaller than I had expected, almost fragile. His maroon sports jacket didn't match his checkered pants. He didn't exactly look like a "great man." But his face matched the one on the back cover of Beyond Freedom and Dignity.

"Excuse me, Dr. Skinner," I managed to say. "My name is M. J., and I just always wanted to meet you."

I offered my hand, preparing for a quick shake and good-bye if he seemed annoyed. He took a long look (later I realized it was because his eyesight wasn't very good) and said mildly, "Well, why don't you come in and meet me?"

-201-

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