My father, near the end of his life, considered himself the last Gestalt Psychologist. When I was very young I was fearful of kelp seaweed: my father showed me that it couldn’t hurt me, so I shouldn’t be afraid of it. I learned from him. If you understand something, you can reason about it. If you only have a correlation, you can’t be sure of the factors. He was never afraid to question conventional wisdom or the current fashionable and entrenched ideas (however old or fast those ideas were).
As a clinical school psychologist he was on the front line against invasion of chemical psychiatry into K-12 schools, and he saw how they used “their pseudo-scientific expertise [and argot]” to fool and trap kids and parents into approving the use of brain disabling drugs, within the “educational system” and with the implicit pressure and blessing (and relieving of responsibility) of the teachers and administrators. He also didn’t buy into the dominant paradigms of the first half of 20th century of Freudian psychology and the correlational “blank slate” behaviorism of Watson and Skinner.
“If you don’t understand something said, don’t assume you are at fault.” — David West Keirsey
Throughout my discussions and debates with him in my lifetime, he talked about ideas. We talked about philosophy, science, mathematics, computers, people, and life.
“It is important to understand that the Four Temperaments are not simply arbitrary collections of characteristics, but spring from an interaction of the two basic dimensions of human behavior: our communication and our action, our words and our deeds, or, simply, what we say and what we do.” — David West Keirsey
David West Keirsey (August 31, 1921 – July 31, 2013)
re-: Latin – ‘again‘
–imagin-: Latin imaginari – ‘picture to oneself,’
–ing: Germanic -ung – Gerund – ‘continuing action‘
My father died on July 30th, 2013 and I intend to honor him, if I can, by writing a blog about him and his ideas every year. First year, Second Year, Third Year
His ideas still have use because his ideas are slow ideas. Moreover, his ideas have wider applicability if re-imagin-ed, judiciously.
Only the educated and self-educated are free.
“… Up to that time I had learned a lot, but not at school. I began reading when I was seven. Read (most of) a twelve volume set of books my parents bought, Journeys through Bookland. Read countless novels thereafter, day in and day out. I educated myself by reading books. Starting at age nine my family went to the library once a week, I checking out two or three novels which I would read during the week. Then, when I was sixteen, I read my father’s copy of Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy. I read it over and over again, now and then re-reading his account of some of the philosophers.” [Turning Points, David West Keirsey, 2013]
“I mention Durant’s book The Story of Philosophy because it was a turning point in my life, I too, become a scholar as did Durant, thereafter reading the philosophers and logicians—anthropologists, biologists, ethologists, ethnologists, psychologists, sociologists, and, most important, the etymologists, all of the latter—Ernest Klein, Eric Partridge, Perry Pepper, and Julius Pokorny—of interest to me now as then.” [Turning Points, David West Keirsey, 2013]
When I arrived on the scene (about 30 years later) upon which my father and I started debating about ideas. He was well educated, and more importantly self-educated, in Philosophy and Psychology. He considered himself to be the last of the Gestalt Psychologists at the end of his life.
Being a “hard” science kind of guy by nature but always being questioned by my “Gestalt” psychologist father, I always, in the back of my mind, questioned the basic assumptions taught to me in school — like the physics concept of “mass.” I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong or what issues were being finessed, for I figured that I was either ignorant or not bright enough to know better.
“If you don’t understand something said,
don’t assume you are at fault.”
— David West Keirsey
My father was called Dr. Matrix by his staff at Covina School District. He considered himself as an self taught expert in Qualitative Factor Analysis, because he had to have six semesters of statistics (quantitative and correlative) as a PhD requirement for psychology, and found that those techniques missed important factors and meaning. Rather, he looked for systematic (and wholistic) patterns in human action, using the principles of Gestalt psychology. I often would be his sounding board on his tentative propositions in characterizing the observable action patterns.
Professor David West Keirsey
(August 31, 1921 – July 30, 2013)
I always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library — Luis Jorge Borges
I was born into even a better paradise. My father was wordmeister (a studier of words) and a personologist (a studier of persons), and a book reader: A Rational Maverick. And I was just like him — well sorta’. He was born in the 20’s and I was born in the 50’s. Two ages of innocence: he after WWI and me after WWII.
He had different upbringing than me, but we were of the same Temperament (Rational), Role (Engineer) and Type (Architect). A kind of a natural science and engineering type of person: a nerd, in modern argot. I naturally graviated towards being a scholar in quantitative reasoning and the use of words, because of his and my mother’s library of life. He had naturally became a scholar in qualitative reasoning and the use of words.
I began reading when I was seven. Read (most of) a twelve-volume set of books my parents bought, Journeys through Bookland. Read countless novels thereafter, day in and day out. I educated myself by reading books. Starting at age nine my family went to the library once a week, I checking out two or three novels which I would read during the week. Then, when I was sixteen, I read my father’s copy of Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy. I read it over and over again, now and then re-reading his account of some of the philosophers. (Long afterwards I read his magnificent eleven volumes—The Story of Civilization. I also have read his The Lessons of History many times, this being his brilliant summary of the eleven volumes.)
I mention Durant’s book The Story of Philosophy because it was a turning point in my life, I to become a scholar as did Durant, thereafter reading the philosophers and logicians — anthropologists, biologists, ethologists, ethnologists, psychologists, sociologists, and, most important, the etymologists, all of the latter—Ernest Klein, Eric Partridge, Perry Pepper, and Julius Pokorny—of interest to me now as then. [Turning Points, David West Keirsey, unpublished]
When I started to discuss (and soon to debate) things with my father, we discussed logic and the use of words. I had become a reader too, rather naive and ignorant as children are, however. Luckily, my father had learned what it meant to learn.
The second turning point occurred when there came a sudden, drastic, and permanent change in my life. In May 1942 I was drafted. I quit school immediately and joined the Navy to become a fighter pilot. Why fighter pilot? Because as a child I had read every book I could find about the fighter pilots of the first world war, finally resorting to 5 cent pulp books, many well written (I have no idea why these planes and their pilots fascinated me). So when called to war I could not imagine my engaging in any other kind of warfare. Not that I wished to go to war. Far from it ─ I wished to pursue, not the enemy, but college studies. Even so, I found flight training fascinating but challenging and hazardous, many cadets failing to pass the frequent tests at each stage of training. Incidentally, it was during flight training that I learned the crucial difference between education and training. An educated person has acquired knowledge; a trained person has acquired skill. An effective person has acquired both. [Turning Points]
He was able to go to college on the GI bill, renew his scholarship, and to continue “action” research (as he called it) when the War ended.
In January 1946 back to college. We lived in my wife’s parents’ home in Costa Mesa until the summer, at which time we moved to Claremont, this because my wife’s parents let us live in their (refurbished) garage. Indeed, we chose Pomona College in Claremont, not for its many merits, but solely because we had a place to live in. What a stroke of luck! Claremont was a college town housing no less than seven colleges, each unique and well known, one of them being Claremont Graduate University, my place of study for thirteen years, I resuming my interrupted life as a scholar.
I attended Claremont Graduate University—the fourth turning point in my life.
Claremont Graduate University had a clinic in which I practiced counseling troubled persons for four years.
Pursuant to writing my masters thesis I studied ten persons said to have high blood pressure without physical disease or defect, then called “essential hypertension.” Met with each person many times for many months, using personality inventories and what was then called ‘associative anamnesis’ in which they told me the story of their lives while I asked them to go into more detail about their more disturbing experiences, taking copious notes all the while. No one had ever paid such rapt attention to them and tried so hard to understand how these experiences affected them, or accepted everything they said without criticism. It was on the basis of this method of interviewing that Carl Rogers built his notorious career, he giving the method names such as ‘non-directive counseling’, ‘reflective listening’, and ‘active listening’. Practicing the method early on and thenceforth gave direction to my career as a counselor of both troubled and troublesome children and their parents and teachers, and as a trainer of those who would practice such counseling, and finally as a writer on personality, counseling, and madness.
I found all ten persons to have the same personality, what I would much later call the Guardian. It was this long study of persons’ lives that set me on my lifelong career course. Thus I became a person watcher. Wrote Personality in Essential Hypertension for my MA degree. [Turning Points]
My father would go on to be a clinical school psychologist for the next 20 years, collecting and inventing corrective intervention techniques and developing Temperament Theory. We would discuss experiences and his ideas, and many of the ideas that he got from the hundreds of books in his growing library. Then there was:
Bates and I wrote three books, one of them titled Please Understand Me, the contents taken from transcriptions of my lectures and conversations with Bates, she the scrivener. When Bates died I gave the manuscript to her sister to have it published. Her sister did nothing about it for a whole year, so I then retrieved and rewrote the manuscript entirely and, finding no publisher, published it myself in 1978—a turning point.
The book had a strange history. It started as sixteen separate “portraits of temperament”, these being expansions of the sixteen “psychological types” of Isabel Myers, a novelist who was devoted to Carl Jung’s ideas on personality. Had the college book store print each portrait separately on typing paper, sixteen sheets clipped together, put in a manila folder and sold in the college book store. Sold five thousand copies the first year (1975). When Please Understand Me was written, the sixteen portraits were in its appendix, probably the reason the book still sells thirty or so years later and has been translated into a dozen foreign languages. [Turning Points]
He never completed Dark Escape, his magnum opus on Madness, a manuscript that he worked on and off for 60 years. Some day I would like to publish it or a subset in some form. Some of the work is at his blog site that I created for him, http://professorkeirsey.wordpress.com
My friend, David West Keirsey, died July 30, 2013. He was 91. I’m so proud, and fortunate, to call him my friend. Up until a few years ago, he was Professor Keirsey to me, and I hadn’t seen nor spoke to him for 30 years.
As far as I know, Dr. Keirsey was humankind’s last Gestalt psychologist, and that’s something you should know. His ideas are historic, and I’ll be writing much more about them, and similar things, for the rest of my life. First, though, before I tell you more about Dr. Keirsey, I want to tell you about my friend, David, and the loves in his life.
David loved his country. He was a proud veteran of World War II. He joined the Navy in 1942. After flight training, he took his commission as a Marine fighter pilot and flew several missions in Japan towards the end of the war. He wrote in some detail about his military experience in his autobiographical essay, Turning Points.
Those times, and the depression before the war, had a lifelong impact on David, as it did with everyone from the greatest generation. He believed we were morally obligated to fight World War II, and he knew many who gave their lives protecting our freedoms. He considered himself lucky to come home, and grateful, for the rest of his life, that he did. Thank you David, for your service, from all of us.
David loved questions. For the past 18 months or so I’ve been meeting with him on Mondays for three or four hours, often with his son David Mark, talking about temperament and psychology, and many other things. I often took notes on my iPad. I put them in my “Mondays with David” file on my computer. I love asking questions, he loved answering, so our friendship grew. We had much to talk about, and it was always fun. (You can read more about this from a prior blog, here.)
At times he became frustrated, his memory sometimes needing more and more of his depleted energy. More than once, when I arrived for a visit, I’d ask, “how was your weekend David?” He’d reply, with a smile, “I don’t remember, but I’m sure it was fine.” Once he added, again with a smile, “. . . although I could try to retrieve the information for you if you wish.” It takes energy to retrieve information. At 91, you have the privilege of choosing where you want to spend your energy. It was a polite question anyway. I always knew where he was every weekend. He was with his wife and his family. He cherished his weekends.
Once we started talking about something he was interested in, he became focused, taking his memory to task, retrieving important ideas, if triggered by the right question. Precision, more than anything, was his forte, organizing and analyzing ideas to a depth only a very few can imagine, simplicity his reasoned pursuit, efficiency always a welcome bi-product. He never stopped “tinkering,” often spending hours at the computer, changing single words at a time in his many essays about temperament and “madness.”
I put madness in quotes because, well, David wouldn’t have it any other way. Professor David West Keirsey was so much more than Temperament Theory. His humane, holistic, and thoughtful explanation of “madness,” is above all else, his legacy to humankind, as far as I’m concerned. His seminal work, Dark Escape, provides our species, for the first time in human history, a way out of the “madness” of modern day psychology and psychiatry. I will be writing much more about this.
David loved to read. He read everything. I mean everything. I mean anything, and everything, and that started when he was a seven year old, and it never stopped. The last time I saw him he was reading a favorite novel, for the fifth time. Why? “I might find something new – and I like it,” he said. This wasn’t unusual. From Turning Points:
I began reading when I was seven. Read (most of) a twelve volume set of books my parents bought, Journeys through Bookland. Read countless novels thereafter, day in and day out. I educated myself by reading books. Starting at age nine my family went to the library once a week, I checking out two or three novels which I would read during the week. Then, when I was sixteen, I read my father’s copy of Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy. I read it over and over again, now and then re-reading his account of some of the philosophers. (Long afterwards I read his magnificent eleven volumes—The Story of Civilization. I also have read his The Lessons of History many times, this being his brilliant summary of the eleven volumes.)
I mention Durant’s book The Story of Philosophy because it was a turning point in my life, I to become a scholar as did Durant, thereafter reading the philosophers and logicians—anthropologists, biologists, ethologists, ethnologists, psychologists, sociologists, and, most important, the etymologists, all of the latter—Ernest Klein, Eric Partridge, Perry Pepper, and Julius Pokorny—of interest to me now as then.
So, I said to myself, who better to ask questions than someone who has read everything – over and over? He had so many useful answers. I’ll be sharing them with you too.
David loved words. Not as a wordsmith or author, though he was certainly both. He loved words as an etymologist – the only one I’ve ever met. He often said he may be the only one left. David studied words. From Turning Points:
I became a scholar, one of three boys in the scholarship society in 1942. I took a course in word study. I have studied words ever since, even during the war, pasting lists of words on the bathroom mirror wherever I stayed. Why etymology (word signs) instead of linguistics (word sounds)? Because word sounds shorten with use becoming only remnants of what they were, while word signs are written and therefore remain the same. My interest was in what is written, not in what is spoken.
Many times on Mondays, triggered by something we were talking about, we’d go upstairs and sit at his computer in his comfortable, book-filled library – me to his left, him behind the keyboard – looking at an online etymology site, researching a word. He called it “fun” and, wouldn’t you know it, so did I.
David loved kids. He started working with troublesome teenagers at the Verdemont Boys Ranch as a young psychologist, figuring out ways to manage these boys, and to help their families. He worked in schools most of his career, doing the same, training thousands of teachers and counselors and psychologists in methods that work, not theories that don’t. He began collecting the many techniques to manage and counsel adults and children that was to become the core of his unique and highly successful Counseling Psychology graduate program at California State University, Fullerton.
He wrote some remarkable essays in defense of children, and every parent and professional should read them. So, please, do that. You can read Drugged Obedience in the School here, and The Evil Practice of Narcotherapy for Attention Deficit here, and The Great ADD Hoax, here. There are many other important and useful essays you will find at the same site.
His solution to helping troubled and troublesome children? “Be nice to them, and keep them away from those drugs.” We had a lot in common about kids. I’ll also be writing about useful child management techniques, from a temperament point of view..
David loved his family. David Mark, his son and lifelong companion, joined our Monday morning conversations often, and I cherished those times in particular. A gifted computer scientist, David Mark called his father “Daddy.” He honored his father.
The two of them could, and often would, debate an obscure, yet important idea with the same passion as when the debate started 30, or 40, or even 50 years earlier. His father honored him too. Often, when it was just David and me, he would boast about his son Mark, as fathers who love their sons often do. How lucky they were to have each other. I envied them.
Every weekend David and his wife Alice went to Del Mar to meet with the rest of the Keirsey clan and, when they didn’t, family members came to their home. David and Alice traveled and vacationed with their children and grandchildren. The two of them together made sure they gave their family the best gift you can give to people you love: wonderful memories.
Mostly, David loved Alice. What was the first thing this returning WW II veteran did when he came back from the war? He married his junior college sweetheart, Alice. He admired her so. “Alice has done such a wonderful job of keeping our family together and close over the years,” he often said, with much pride.
When you walk up the circular stairs of their beautiful home you will meet all of the family. Alice has dozens of family pictures and other mementos adorned on the walls and on the stairs – and everywhere else throughout their warm, loving home. This, you can tell, is a family that cares for each other, and they are grateful to have each other to love. I recognized their family quickly. I come from one too.
Alice – he called her “babe” sometimes – from they way he like to tell it, was a dynamo of her own when she was working in elementary schools. David said she was always the head of a department or committee or project, or part of some other crusade to care for all those kids for which she loved and cared.
They never quarreled, he told me, more than once, because, he said, more than once, “we were made for each other.” That certainly proved to be true. They were married in December, 1945. I was two months old.
Why did it take so long to write this, and anything else, for that matter? Well, honestly, I’ve been mourning my friend. Just a few days before he died, my wife and I visited David and Alice at their home. As we were leaving, I leaned over, gently grasped his hand to say goodbye, and to tell him, “I’ll see you soon, David. I have another two or three thousand more questions to ask.” Without hesitation, he replied, “Good,” and added, “I have two or three thousand more answers.”
His spirit, more than willing, his body, so weary. During some of our best conversations, he would remind me, and David Mark, “there’s still much work to be done.” Lucky for me, he trusted me with all that he has written. The answers to my questions are all there, and that’s good. I will be doing a lot more reading. It’s not the same though, and not nearly as much fun, as asking my friend, David, just a few more questions.
You can tell a lot about a person when you know the loves in his life. I admired him. I loved him too. I miss him, very much.
Mondays, for me, will never be the same.
“I just want the world to understand, there’s no such thing as ‘madness.’”