Alan C. Elms
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News and Updates

NEWS UPDATE -- April 23, 2007

This website was down for several months while my long-time Webmaster, Palyne Gaenir,  shifted from one service provider to another and worked to find the best way for me to maintain the website myself.  Palyne put in a lot of pro bono work on the website over several years, and I am grateful for all she did.  The general look of the website will remain as she established it, but I will be adding a good deal of new content during the next several months.

I am now using a program called Nvu, which enables me to add or revise website content  mostly by using standard Word commands rather than doing a lot of heavy HTML formatting. I am not yet by any means skilled at applying Nvu, so some of the new material -- especially the indexes that appear in the left-hand column on most pages -- may look pretty messy for a while. But  I hope the actual content is readable; if it isn't, let me know. 

The first items I've added, mainly to experiment with Nvu, are the transcript of a talk I gave to the American Psychological Association some years ago, and a couple of book reviews published rather more recently.  I gave the talk  on the occasion of my receiving the Henry A. Murray Award for career contributions to personality psychology. Titled "The Psychologist as Biographer," it sums up my general approach to psychology through psychobiography, and offers some reasons why more psychologists should practice psychobiography, at least part-time.  Its content overlaps considerably with the first chapter of my book , Uncovering Lives, and indeed that first chapter was drawn largely from the talk. (The book's first chapter is available elsewhere on this website.)  But the talk is more argumentative and at times  critical about the refusal of many psychologists even to consider the potential or actual worth of research on individual lives. By the time I wrote the book,  I had decided that perhaps a more diplomatic approach would be more persuasive to more people, so I softened my language and omitted some of the criticisms of others. But I still think those criticisms are apt, so here they are -- look for "The Psychologist as Biographer" in the Articles portion of the Virtual Library section.

The first book review, which I've titled "Posthumanity How?", manages to express my critical views about a still-trendy idea among some science fiction writers and artificial-intelligence experts, by discussing an excellent but hard-to-read book by the brilliant science-and-literature scholar N. Katherine Hayles. The trendy idea is that human beings will rather soon be able to achieve near-immortality by downloading the content of their brains into computers. I invite them to give it a try; I agree with Kate Hayles that human psychology is so deeply imbedded (conceptually as well as literally) in human bodies that such downloading would result not in a posthuman state but in a sadly inhuman state at best. It is also a highly impractical way to preserve one's individual personality, though Hayles does not go into those impracticalities in her book, ironically titled How We Became Posthuman.

The second book review, which I've titled "Rebelliious Laterborns," deals with an important book by Frank Sulloway titled Born to Rebel. The book is concerned with the effects of being a firstborn or laterborn on one's later creativity in science, politics, the arts, or other areas. Frank and I became friends in the early 1980s when we were both visiting scholars at Harvard. At that time he was already working on the research that evolved into this book, but it took him over 15 years to finish it. My main interest in the book is that it's partly psychobiographical, though Frank also worked hard to accumulate and quantify data from many individual lives. My other interest in it is that I'm a firstborn and Frank is a laterborn, and we thus have somewhat different perspectives on how we both ended up, in certain significant regards, as rebels in our fields. I've seen very little of Frank in the past quarter-century, but his research in several different areas continues to intrigue me. This book made some waves when it was published 11 years ago, but the waves were not as tall as it deserved.

I know that book reviews are not much valued by academic promotion committees, but I put a good deal of work into reading these books closely and trying to write thoughtful assessments of them. (Both reviews are located in the Articles portion of the Virtual Library sectionof this website.) For my most recent book review --  which is long enough and detailed enough to be designated as a "review-article" by the journal editors -- please see the current (March 2007) issue of Science Fiction Studies; I'm not allowed to reprint it here for at least a year. (But if you ask nicely, I might send you a copy.) The review-article summarizes and  discusses Julie Phillips's truly exceptional biography of the science fiction writer James Tiptree, Jr., who also happened to be an experimental psychologist named Alice Bradley Sheldon. I've written elsewhere about Alice Sheldon's brief career as a psychologist; Julie Phillips goes into much more detail about Sheldon's entire life history and her several careers, especially about how she found an emotional home for herself in the male persona of James Tiptree and a mostly satisfying literary home in the science fiction world. Her book won this year's National Book Critics Circle Award for best biography of the year, and I'd say it has the inside track to win the Hugo Award for best science-fiction-related nonfiction book of the year.
Alan Elms


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