Urban Terrapsychology and Creative Placemaking (2)

In my first post I revealed that I am a professional city planner and an amateur terrapsychologist.  City planning is a second career for me, however.  And my first career - as a college humanities professor - gave me some of the tools that I could later use to shape my planning work along terrapsychological lines.

I prepared for my first career by earning a Ph.D. in religious studies at the University of Iowa in 1979.  It was there that I learned a valuable life lesson from a most unlikely source - Dr. James Van Allen, Iowa's "rock star" astrophysicist.  Van Allen was world famous in the 1970s for his discovery of a belt of radiation that surrounds the earth, a feature now appropriately named the "Van Allen Belt."  But he was also a bit of a religious mystic, who would annually lecture at a freshman course I coordinated called Religion in Human Culture.

In Van Allen's religion lecture he would explain that the standard account of the scientific method (formulate and test hypotheses based solely on empirical observation) was not at all how he discovered the Van Allen Belt.  On the contrary, much to his surprise he one night had a vivid dream that featured a belt of radiation around the earth.  Suspecting that the dream might be in some sense revelatory, he then began to devise experiments to determine if the dream was true - which of course it turned out to be.  His lesson for us was literally to pay attention to our dreams and other similar sources of inspiration.  But also to seek ways to demonstrate the truthfulness of our dreams in consensual reality.

After earning my Ph.D. and beginning my teaching career I often found myself relying on the Van Allen method to prepare for my courses.  I found that if I put myself into a meditative frame of mind, I could often intuit many of the features of the subject I was to teach.  Then I would research the facts, verify my intuitions, and fill in any knowledge gaps that I had missed.

This method met with a mixed reception by my professorial colleagues.  In general, the humanities faculty thought it was just fine, but the social scientists viewed it with something approaching alarm.  This all came to a head over a senior seminar I created to interpret the city from an interdisciplinary perspective.  Not allowed, said the social scientists - only they could properly interpret the city, and I wasn't properly trained in their methods.  

With that, I made a radical decision: go back to school, get trained in rigorous urban social science methodologies, become a city planner, and seek opportunities in that field to apply the Van Allen method.  So I bade farewell to college teaching at age 33, and headed off to the University of Wisconsin to train for Career #2.


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Comment by Depth Alliance on October 14, 2014 at 3:13pm

Great stories about both James Van Allen and your own corresponding course as it relates to tapping into the unconscious. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Kaeti Gugiu on October 13, 2014 at 1:20pm

Beautiful and super interesting - I look forward to future posts!

Comment by Mark VanderSchaaf on October 12, 2014 at 3:52pm

Fantastic, Aleksandr!  I didn't know about that song and I appreciate you pointing me to it. 

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