Charles R. Gallistel
Charles R. (Randy) Gallistel’s theoretical and experimental studies have provided psychology with an elegant computational theory of animal action, learning and cognition. His influential research encompasses a wide range of topics. He has brought psychophysical methods to bear on the study of learning and memory, providing insight into underlying neurobiological mechanisms. Recently, with John Gibbon, he has developed a novel theory of classical conditioning. His research has helped define the basic quantitative properties of the neural substrate for brain stimulation reward. With Rochel Gelman, he wrote The Child’s Understanding of Number, a book that has served as the basic source for a generation of studies of numerical reasoning.
A signature of Gallistel’s research is the examination of fundamental issues at several levels of psychological organization. Prime examples are his research on space and time. At the psychophysical level, these studies have revolutionized understanding of the mechanisms that enable animals from wasps to rats to humans to locate themselves and move through space and time. At higher levels, he has provided rich theoretical and experimental insight into how these organisms represent the spatial and temporal structure of the experienced world. Related to this, his work on quantitative reasoning has ranged from probing the neurological bases of quantitative inference in animals to the evolution of numerical representation in the human child. In recent years, this work has extended to the question of how, in the human case, these representations may influence and be influenced by their expression in the languages of the world.
Another important facet of Gallistel’s scholarly contribution has been synthesis and integration. In particular, his books The Organization of Action and The Organization of Learning are syntheses of vast and diverse experimental literatures. These works have been highly influential in scholarly communities ranging from neurophysiology to cognitive science to the philosophy of mind.
On the personal side, Gallistel’s warmth, charm, humor, and humane integrity continue to endear him to family, friends, colleagues and students around the world.