Saturday, June 2, 2012

Can you name this famous scientist?

There’s a passage in When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, by Manuel J. Smith, where my favorite scientist is mentioned although not named. See if you can guess who it is:

Recently, after one class, I ran into a former student, a physicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories, set up and administered by the California Institute of Technology, and he told me an amusing story.

The night before this incident happened, I had given an introductory demonstration of assertive verbal skills to a number of Cal Tech students on campus. The following day, the physicist noted one of the student assistants in the laboratory going around all morning and indiscriminately using a FOGGING response in reply to anything said to him. He kept enthusiastically saying: “You may be right,” to everything, including statements like: “You want some coffee?”

Having heard me describe this typical phase of learning in class as “the impulse you get, after you are given a brand-new shiny set of tools, to go around looking for loose nuts to tighten up,” and having gone through it himself, the physicist knew I would appreciate the humor inherent in the situation. . . .

With a puckish glint in his eye, but also with some sympathy for the novice FOGGER, the physicist told me that he was tempted to go up to the unaware student and say something like: “Harry, I’ve noticed that you’ve been using a lot of FOGGING this morning. Don’t you think you could save it for manipulative situations?”

He restrained his impulse out of his own identification with the student’s situation. He remembered how enthusiastic he himself felt in first being more assertive and learning to cope better with other people. In spite of his [kindness], he still wished he could have heard the novice’s probable response, “You mean you know this already?” and watch his jaw drop when he replied: “Of course. Everybody knows about FOGGING. Where have you been?”

While appreciating the humor in his aborted prank, I asked him: “What makes you think he wouldn’t simply have replied: ‘You may be right. I am probably overdoing it’?” The physicist looked at me and said in kind: “I should have thought of that. He might have!” and we exchanged understanding grins.

There are plenty of clues in the above, so I won’t add any more. Can you name the scientist?

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