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A Book That Shaped Science

The November-December 1999 issue of American Scientist listed its 100 most important science books of the century. Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Education Howard Gruber's case study, titled Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity, published in 1974, was on that list.

The November-December 1999 issue of American Scientist listed its 100 most important science books of the century. Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Education Howard Gruber's case study, titled Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity, published in 1974, was on that list.

Gruber, who studied under Piaget, and has worked with the likes of Howard Gardner, the father of "Multiple Intelligences," and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of "Flow" fame, won the acclaim for his study on Darwin as an individual. "It was my perceiving of a thinking person going through a series of steps in which he constructed and reconstructed the theory," Gruber said. "I think that is the most powerful idea that got people interested in it."

The idea of studying a single case was not readily accepted by the scientific community, Gruber said. "Wherever I went, I had to persuade the faculty that this was science. Studying a single case doesn't look like what you do normally."

The conclusion that Gruber reached in the study was not one that generalized about the traits of all creative people. "Even when you get a respective significant correlation, what does that really mean?" Gruber queried. "That means that people have some things in common and other things not in common. You don't need to devote 20 years of your life to finding that out."

What he did devote 20 years to finding out was how one man, Charles Darwin, developed ideas in a unique way to explain his theory on the origins of man. Using Darwin's actual notebooks housed at Cambridge University, Gruber said he saw how Darwin constructed his theory by moving from an initial position to each subsequent position. "I looked at Darwin as a person confronting a series of problems," Gruber said.

"My main decision was to study the history of science as a way of studying the psychology of thinking," Gruber explained. He set out looking to focus on someone like Michael Farraday, who left notebooks that could be reviewed and analyzed. His first choice actually was Farraday, but Gruber concluded that he didn't understand him well enough. "When I realized Darwin hadn't been studied in a detailed way that might interest a psychologist, I started reading more about Darwin," he explained.

Gruber began comparing two editions of Darwin's journal of research about the voyage of the Beagle. "I made the discovery that they were very different from each other," Gruber noted. He also discovered that Darwin's science notebooks were kept separate from his voyaging notebooks, and he looked further at those.

Gruber designed what he called the "Evolving Systems Approach" while researching this case study to illustrate the various facets involved in an individual's creative development. "I was interested in how this person solved that problem," he explained. The "Evolving Systems Approach" detailed what different enterprises Darwin was involved with and how they overlapped in time and contributed to his theories.

A later publication that Gruber wrote with Doris B. Wallace, Creative People at Work, describes the "Evolving Systems Approach" as an exploration of the creative individual's work as it develops. It looks at how that work relates to the work of others as well as the process the discoveries and tasks take. It takes into account the insights and metaphors the creator uses and who the creator is as a person. The book elaborates: "When we consider the developmental patterns of creative individuals, the picture necessarily becomes more individualized, since we are not dealing with species-wide adaptations but with unique and original patterns. Even if creators are like other people in some respects, we would expect the interweaving of normal development and the novel aspects of each creative life to take a special form in each case."

"I developed the approach in the course of doing it," Gruber said. "I didn't go into the project knowing everything and having to write it out. I went into the project knowing nothing. That gave it a sort of freshness."

What is missing from the original work, Gruber said, is the way Darwin collaborated with other people and used them to find his answers. Gruber also feels he did not elaborate enough on what he termed "pluralism," the many insights, metaphors, social relationships, and projects involved in Darwin's theory development.

Gruber teaches a course in "The Development of Creativity" here at TC and has taught similar courses at Rutgers University and at the University of Geneva. He also describes himself as having been a political activist against the war in Vietnam. He served as Chair of Psychologists for Social Action, which has as one of its main activities the opposition of war and racism.

For the last two years, at the behest of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, Gruber has been working on a book that looks at the selected papers of Charles Darwin.

Published Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2001

A Book That Shaped Science

The November-December 1999 issue of American Scientist listed its 100 most important science books of the century. Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Education Howard Gruber's case study, titled Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity, published in 1974, was on that list.

Gruber, who studied under Piaget, and has worked with the likes of Howard Gardner, the father of "Multiple Intelligences," and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of "Flow" fame, won the acclaim for his study on Darwin as an individual. "It was my perceiving of a thinking person going through a series of steps in which he constructed and reconstructed the theory," Gruber said. "I think that is the most powerful idea that got people interested in it."

The idea of studying a single case was not readily accepted by the scientific community, Gruber said. "Wherever I went, I had to persuade the faculty that this was science. Studying a single case doesn't look like what you do normally."

The conclusion that Gruber reached in the study was not one that generalized about the traits of all creative people. "Even when you get a respective significant correlation, what does that really mean?" Gruber queried. "That means that people have some things in common and other things not in common. You don't need to devote 20 years of your life to finding that out."

What he did devote 20 years to finding out was how one man, Charles Darwin, developed ideas in a unique way to explain his theory on the origins of man. Using Darwin's actual notebooks housed at Cambridge University, Gruber said he saw how Darwin constructed his theory by moving from an initial position to each subsequent position. "I looked at Darwin as a person confronting a series of problems," Gruber said.

"My main decision was to study the history of science as a way of studying the psychology of thinking," Gruber explained. He set out looking to focus on someone like Michael Farraday, who left notebooks that could be reviewed and analyzed. His first choice actually was Farraday, but Gruber concluded that he didn't understand him well enough. "When I realized Darwin hadn't been studied in a detailed way that might interest a psychologist, I started reading more about Darwin," he explained.

Gruber began comparing two editions of Darwin's journal of research about the voyage of the Beagle. "I made the discovery that they were very different from each other," Gruber noted. He also discovered that Darwin's science notebooks were kept separate from his voyaging notebooks, and he looked further at those.

Gruber designed what he called the "Evolving Systems Approach" while researching this case study to illustrate the various facets involved in an individual's creative development. "I was interested in how this person solved that problem," he explained. The "Evolving Systems Approach" detailed what different enterprises Darwin was involved with and how they overlapped in time and contributed to his theories.

A later publication that Gruber wrote with Doris B. Wallace, Creative People at Work, describes the "Evolving Systems Approach" as an exploration of the creative individual's work as it develops. It looks at how that work relates to the work of others as well as the process the discoveries and tasks take. It takes into account the insights and metaphors the creator uses and who the creator is as a person. The book elaborates: "When we consider the developmental patterns of creative individuals, the picture necessarily becomes more individualized, since we are not dealing with species-wide adaptations but with unique and original patterns. Even if creators are like other people in some respects, we would expect the interweaving of normal development and the novel aspects of each creative life to take a special form in each case."

"I developed the approach in the course of doing it," Gruber said. "I didn't go into the project knowing everything and having to write it out. I went into the project knowing nothing. That gave it a sort of freshness."

What is missing from the original work, Gruber said, is the way Darwin collaborated with other people and used them to find his answers. Gruber also feels he did not elaborate enough on what he termed "pluralism," the many insights, metaphors, social relationships, and projects involved in Darwin's theory development.

Gruber teaches a course in "The Development of Creativity" here at TC and has taught similar courses at Rutgers University and at the University of Geneva. He also describes himself as having been a political activist against the war in Vietnam. He served as Chair of Psychologists for Social Action, which has as one of its main activities the opposition of war and racism.

For the last two years, at the behest of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, Gruber has been working on a book that looks at the selected papers of Charles Darwin.

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