In Appreciation: Philip S. Holzman (1922-2004)

Philip S. Holzman

APS Fellow and Charter Member Philip S. Holzman, one of the world’s preeminent scientists in schizophrenia research, passed away June 1, 2004. Holzman’s landmark studies of oculomotor function documented the presence of abnormal smooth pursuit eye movements in individuals with schizophrenia and their clinically unaffected relatives. During his lifetime, Holzman founded the Psychology Research Laboratory at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts and received many honors in commemoration of his work. Holzman’s influential research earned him the honor of being a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Menninger Foundation. In this collection of remembrances, Holzman is remembered by friends and colleagues.

Jerome Kagan
Harvard University
Most psychologists are talented, a much smaller number combine this talent with a significant discovery, but only a few marry talent and a discovery of significance with a lack of arrogance. Philip Holzman was a member of this very rare species.

Social scientists come in two colors. Those in bright red approach their work with strong convictions. They already decided what is likely to be true about nature and use the laboratory observations to persuade others that they were right. These scientists remind me of hunters. They know the natural object they want to bring home as a trophy for their wall before they begin the journey.

The butterfly chasers, dressed in dark green, desire only to catch a glimpse of a beautiful new species no one has ever seen, even if their moment of discovery is evanescent. These scholars want to know what nature is whispering and are reluctant to put words in her mouth. Phil wore dark green because he understood that in immature disciplines, like psychology, most a priori ideas turn out to be wrong, while insights that follow carefully gathered evidence are more often correct.

One of my last memories of Phil was at a lunch at the Faculty Club in the spring, when he told me of his new work with Ken Nakayama on motion perception. An unexpected finding had provoked a rich run of ideas and a fresh new set of experiments he could not wait to begin.

I, along with his many friends, loved his humanity, humility, extraordinary humor, imagination, and especially his appreciation of the importance of keeping one’s eyes and ears close to the entrance of nature’s mansion in order to detect any clues as to the activity inside.

Four lines from a Seamus Heaney poem capture this quality in Phil:

Keep your eye clear
As the bleb of the icicle
Trust the feel of what nubbed treasures
Your hands have known.

Herbert Schlesinger
New York Presbyterian Hospital
Columbia Presbyterian Center

Phil and I first met in 1946 when we were to be interviewed for the newly formed Menninger Foundation — University of Kansas — Veterans Administration School of Clinical Psychology that was organized to meet the mental health needs of returning soldiers. We were 25 years old, freshly discharged from our military duties, and eager to resume our interrupted education. Phil and I both were accepted for the inaugural class and left New York City to spend the next 20 years or so in Topeka, Kansas.

In those days, Kansas was a dry state (alcohol and sour cream were illegal substances) and Topeka had few options for entertainment. Phil and I decided to organize a chamber music society. The music departments of several small colleges and universities in the cities around Topeka also were interested in hearing chamber music. Midwesterners, however, mostly are polite and diffident; Garrison Keillor has it just about right, and they were not up to bargaining with the brass of the New York concert managements. Drawing on our native chutzpah, Phil and I agreed that if I would organize the schools in the Missouri River Valley and negotiate with managements, he would write the program notes. Seven schools agreed to let us negotiate for them, and each accepted a fixed date for a concert. So armed, we had great bargaining power; for $2,000 per season, each school heard four or five first-rate ensembles, including I Musici, I Solisti de Zagreb, the Paganini, Netherlands, Smetana, and Borodin quartets, among others. The musicians and their managements also were pleased because we offered then a series of bookings with minimal travel and expense.

Unbeknownst to me, Phil was inspired by our success to take up the cello himself. I am sure he didn’t mention his plan to me because he was sure I would laugh at him. He was right; when I heard about it, I did laugh, for what sense did it make to try to learn a new instrument in one’s forties?

When I stopped laughing, I realized that I too loved the cello and always had wished my parents had forced me to take it up as a child. I crawled down from my critical perch, found a used cello, and joined Phil in the weekly, early-morning 60-mile jaunts to Manhattan, Kansas for our lessons.

Gerald Aronson
Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute
Phil, Ann, my wife Jan and I went to Martha’s Vineyard for many summers in the 1980s. Often the morning began this way: Phil would say, “I must go down to the sea again … to the lonely sea and sky.” This was his mangled Masefield. I would reply, “Okay Phil, I know what that means.” So we’d go down to the nude beach.

At the beach I would say, “Phil, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” Phil said, in his characteristic gesture, “That’s a hypothesis. How do we know? Maybe it’s two, maybe it’s four, maybe it’s a hundred, not just one, so let’s test that hypothesis.” We would go into the statistics of it, because there were two of us looking, and eventually I said, “Phil, this is a contaminated experiment, because we’re talking and not watching.” He said, “Yes, we have to do this again. We have to replicate the experiment.” So that’s what we did.

Another side of paradise was our collaboration on a paper hatched on steamy summer Cambridge afternoons in the shade of the Holzman patio. We wrote in fits and starts about psychoanalysis and its neighboring sciences. Now, as I reread the paper, I can tell what Phil had written and what I had written. My prose was sinewy and taut — it got a half nelson on the adjectives and adverbs and I wouldn’t let them out of my grasp. Phil’s was subtle and sweet. His writing and career was, as he said of Seymour Kety, “soft and gracefully and unobtrusively dazzling.” And in a simpler world, with a simpler faith, I would be able to hear Phil calling, “Hey, Boychik! I met eight angels today, and three of them have eye tracking disorder!”

Francine Benes
Harvard Medical School
Not too many people know that Phil was a “go-to guy” in the field of schizophrenia research. When troublesome issues would arise, senior members would go to Phil for his insights and advice.

Phil was a consummate scientist. Some would say he was a “scientist’s scientist.” His insights into research problems were rich, complex, and innovative. He appreciated the intricacies of the dialectical process he used to frame his hypotheses and scientific experiments. We will all miss his unwavering commitment to schizophrenia research and his enduring belief that the scientific method, and only the scientific method, will advance our understanding of this very complex disorder.

Robert S. Wallerstein
University of California, San Francisco Medical School
During our 17 years in Topeka, we were very close, professionally and personally. Along with Phil’s ongoing research activities in experimental psychopathology, those were also the days of his psychoanalytic training, active psychoanalytic practice, and teaching. Phil, Herb Schlesinger, and I (and occasionally others) met weekly to discuss, in peer review supervision, our ongoing clinical work — and our clinical difficulties. Phil and I shared involvement in the activities of the research department of The Menninger Foundation, and we co-authored two papers in the psychosomatic realm, the study of the psychological aspects of a thyroid gland aberration, so-called thyroid “hot spots,” areas of over activity in an otherwise normally functioning thyroid gland.

With our families, we were back and forth regularly, and spent New Year’s Eves together at annual parties at our home. We watched each other’s children grow up, and Judy was the regular Sunday school carpool driver and then Hebrew teacher for our children, and theirs. And Phil (together with Herb) greatly enriched our Topeka landscape by arranging each year a chamber music recital series, and writing lively and erudite program notes.

They were wonderful, halcyon days. The ties forged in Topeka and at The Menniger Foundation carry on through life, even as we and they and so many others went on ultimately to careers and lives elsewhere across the country, and as Phil’s life and career became truly spectacular.

Anne Sereno
University of Texas-Houston
Medical School

Phil often taught concepts by telling simple stories or using real-life examples. A favorite example of mine was in the context of behavioral genetics. Phil emphasized to the class the need for caution in looking for genetic factors in psychopathology, while trying to explain the difference between correlation and causation. In particular, he tried to convey the idea that some things are highly correlated, like height and weight, but not necessarily causative. He said something like, “Not everything that is passed down from generation to generation is genetic.” Then after a lengthy pause, “Take, for example, silverware.”

Below is a selection of Phil Holzman’s most influential books, monographs, and original reports.

  • Johnston, M. H., & Holzman, P. S. (1979). Assessing schizophrenic thinking. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Holzman, P.S., & Applebaum, S. A. (1962). Color-shading response and suicide. Journal of Projective Techniques, 22, 155-161.
  • Holzman, P. S., & Rousey, C. (1966). The voice as a percept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 79-86.
  • Holzman, P. S., & Schlesinger, H. J. (1972). On becoming a hospitalized psychiatric patient. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 36, 383-406.
  • Holzman, P. S., Proctor, L. R., Levy, D. L., Yasillo, N. J., Meltzer, H. Y., & Hurt, S. W. (1974). Eye-tracking dysfunctions in schizophrenic patients and their relatives. Archives of General Psychiatry, 31, 143-151.
  • Holzman, P. S., Shenton, M. E., & Solovay, M. R. (1986). Quality of thought disorder in differential diagnosis. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 12, 360-371.
  • Holzman, P. S., Kringlen, E., Matthysse, S., Flanagan, S., Lipton, R., Cramer, G., Levin, S., Lange, K., & Levy, D. L. (1988). A single dominant gene accounts for eye tracking dysfunctions and schizophrenia in offspring of discordant twins. Archives of General Psychiatry, 45, 641-647.
  • Holzman, P. S. (2000). Eye movements and the search for the essence of schizophrenia. Nobel Symposium, Stockholm, Sweden. Brain Research Reviews, 31, 350-356.
  • Matthysse, S., Holzman, P. S., Gusella, J., Levy, D. L., Harte, C., Jørgensen, A., Møller, L., & Parnas, J. (2004). Linkage of eye movement dysfunction to chromosome 6p in schizophrenia: A confirmation. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 128B, 30-36.
  • Menninger, K., & Holzman, P. S. (1973). Theory of psychoanalytic technique. (Rev. ed.) New York: Basic Books.

Sohee Park
Vanderbilt University
The signs of a truly inspirational, great advisor may become most apparent when examining what happens to the weakest students, rather than the best. It is not difficult to be an excellent advisor when your students come already brilliant, focused, motivated, and productive.

Unfortunately, I was not one of those superstars. Phil’s brilliance as a mentor lay in finding the potential in everybody, however tenuous that potential may have been. He then fostered and nurtured our fragile talent until it grew into reality rather than remaining locked inside us.

Phil guided and shaped me intellectually so I could move on and be independent and eventually train and support my own students. He did it by drawing out the best and the most positive qualities in all of us, by gently pushing us ahead with the full force of optimism, by listening to our ideas with rapt attention no matter how busy or tired he was, by giving us unconditional, generous support, and by just being who he was. He leaves behind an unparalleled scientific legacy that is dynamic and very much alive in all of us who were fortunate enough to share a slice of his life with him.

Deborah Levy
McLean Hospital
Twelve years ago, many of us gathered to celebrate Phil’s remarkable accomplishments as a scholar and a scientist, and to mark his return to full-time research. The book that commemorated that event was dedicated to him with the inscription, “master of the art of psychological experimentation.” He must have been inspired, because 40 percent of his scholarly writings were published in the 12 years since. In Phil’s hands, psychological experimentation was an art. His distinctive mark on that art form can be emulated, but it will never be matched.

Many people associate Phil with specific findings — eye tracking dysfunction, thought disorder, working memory, motion processing. It would be a mistake to think of Phil’s scientific attitude as one that was driven by interest in a particular variable. He never lost sight of the fact that schizophrenia is more than a mere collection of symptoms.

Just as Phil’s scientific legacy was larger than life, so was his personal legacy. I see the impact of that legacy every day in my colleagues and in my interactions with his former students and postdocs, who are now accomplished leaders in the field. It is ironic that so much of his scientific work focused on genetics, because his personal legacy in this context is a triumph of the environment he created and the values that he nurtured.

Einar Kringlen
University of Oslo, Norway
I knew Phil for 30 years. Our scientific collaboration began in 1975 after I suggested to him that twin studies might throw some light on the problem of eye tracking behavior, a field of research that he had pioneered for several years.

I remember the many trips in Norway when we first investigated twins and their offspring. Phil appreciated being able to experience the living conditions of ordinary people, seeing with his own eyes how schizophrenic subjects and their families were living.

I am glad and proud to have known Phil and to be counted as one of his close friends. He was a great scientist, an excellent writer, and a knowledgeable psychotherapist. We admired him for these qualities. But the reason why we loved him was his emotional support, his kindness, his empathy.

Martha Shenton
Harvard Medical School
I met Phil 26 years ago when he came to talk at a proseminar for the first-year graduate students. In that meeting, Phil began to talk about his journey into research, his quest for truth, his interest in understanding schizophrenia, and the road he took in this quest — with no template, blueprint, or roadmap. He was eager to share his thinking, he was passionate in his interest, he had a clarity of thought that resonated in the room, and he seemed larger than life. He sparked something in me that day.

I eventually became one of his graduate students at his lab at McLean Hospital. Those early years at McLean were an exciting time. What stands out most to me about Phil is just what a wonderful role model he was for his students. He embraced life with such grace, with such enthusiasm, and with an infectious courage and conviction. That standard has followed all of his students. If Phil ever wanted to do something, he figured out how to make it happen. He didn’t have the constraints that hold so many of us back. I will forever be grateful for his guidance and even more for his friendship. The greatest gift to all of us is his exemplary life, which will be his legacy and his immortality. I will sorely miss him.

Gillian O’Driscoll
McGill University
Since I met Professor Holzman in 1988, he helped mark most of the major events in my life. He got me started in neuroimaging research, which is now half of what I do. He gave me a five-star bottle of burgundy to mark my engagement. He sat with my parents at my wedding, and reminded me to drop a revision of a manuscript on his desk before leaving on my honeymoon — which I did!

When he heard that the Harvard psychopathology students had no place to informally convene at William James Hall, Professor Holzman invited all of the psychopathology students, not just his, to his home every month for a fireside evening of informal chat about research, fuelled by popcorn, M&Ms, and coffee.

Professor Holzman was a real mentor to his students. He took us to conferences, one of which was the 1991 International Congress of Schizophrenia Research in Tuscon. At the conference, he could have ignored us, but he didn’t — he went on day-outings with us, brought people over to see our posters, and introduced us to people we thought of as gods. He gave us a taste of the fun parts of academia and really made us want to be a part of it.

Steven Matthysse
Harvard University
Phil loved science, and his love permeated and energized the lab. He was never happier than when looking at data. The problem with data is that there is too much of it. Naively correlating everything with everything makes it impossible to tell signal from noise, to distinguish causal correlations from accidental ones. Humans are good at finding patterns, even if there aren’t any. Intuition is the key to discerning patterns that have causal significance. The gifted scientist’s instinct for patterns is like the poet’s instinct for words, or the artist’s for colors. Phil had that instinct to a high degree.

Phil was going strong right up to the end, but his work was left unfinished: He wanted to find out what really is wrong in eye tracking, at the level of neurons, transmitters and connections, and even to study the retina, because it has many of the same cell types as the brain, and there are elegant techniques for probing its circuitry with visual stimuli. He was beginning to investigate the hippocampus, where there is known pathology in schizophrenia, and the connections are better understood than in the forebrain. Ultimately, he wanted to tie these investigations to the unique symptoms of schizophrenia, which remain a complete mystery. Why, for example, is syntax — the grammar of a sentence — perfectly intact, while semantics — the meaning of the sentence — may be totally lost? Finally, then, he would have completed the circle and understood in biological terms the psychological phenomena that he explored in his early career.

Phil was not given the time to complete the circle. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that students flocked to him as a preceptor, and he left a large number of students to carry on the work.

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