When I was a child in Budapest, Hungary, in the 1930s, the most valued human activity was developing and working with ideas. In those precarious years before World War II, nothing was certain. Yet the adults around me had the courage to continue addressing themselves to the great traditions of human knowledge. In the midst of their fears for the future, they still carried on impassioned conversations about Thomas Mann or the new physics. I wanted to understand how thinking and creative transformation can sustain life in the face of war and extermination. That was why I chose to study psychology. Part of this book has been a journey to try to understand the life-affirming power of intellectual endeavors.
That power was beautifully exemplified by a recollection of the Hungarian mathematician Pal Turan. In 1940, he was serving in a Hungarian forced-labor camp. While at labor, he thought of a new mathematical problem -- counting the edges of a particular type of graph. Thirty-six years later, while suffering from a fatal illness, he recalled the pleasure this problem gave him: "I cannot properly describe my feelings during the next few days. The pleasure of dealing with a quite unusual type of problem, the beauty of it, the gradual approach of the solution, and finally the complete solution made these days really ecstatic." 1
As a graduate student in the 1950s, I was taught the positivist model of psychological research: a focus on precise, limited problems of behavior. Broader human questions that motivated me were put aside as unscientific. As time went on, however, I found that narrow focus constricting. My desire to understand how human beings at the edge of