George Plotkin

George was Jerry Lettvin's student after graduate school. I learned of him only because Jerry mentioned him, and all that I know of him is embedded in this interview, with one exception: he's also generous. When I called him and told him of my connection to Jerry he immediately invited me to stay with him and his wife, at their home in Texas, so that we could do this interview.

George is a chemist, an engineer, a neurologist, and a director at the East Texas Medical Center. He oversees the implanting of wires in peoples' heads in order to stimulate deep brain structures and remediate Parkinson's Disease. Like any good Texan he likes guns, and in his free time, which I saw no evidence that he had, he practices marksmanship.

Interview Excerpts
Read the full interview :

“Mononucleosis was the biggest blessing, because otherwise I was… dying in that school. Getting sick and having people spend a little time with me, and recognize that maybe I did want to learn something, that I did have an inner life, because I certainly didn’t have one at school…

“It was the first time anybody had actually said to me, 'Look, we’re doing our job and we want you to meet the expectations of the system, but if you want to know what’s going on, we’ll teach you.'… So, all of a sudden, I had protectors. It was this weird transition, I don’t know what happened, but it happened suddenly…

“(Jerry Lettvin) took me to visit people in the ward. … And I’m sitting there… realizing that this is wild, this is unbelievable! I turn to Jerry and I say, 'Have you ever seen anything like this before?!' And he says, 'No, never… anything can happen. It’s the nervous system. I don’t understand the nervous system, (and) I don’t expect you to, either. It’s an adventure.' And I realized that this is what I was looking for…

“There are things to be done, there’s danger, there’s excitement, there are errors, and there are people who get hurt, and there are people who don’t come back. But it’s in those ages that great things are built…

“I don’t have any answers anymore. I’ve learned that answers are things you just make up as you go along. And until it falls apart, it’s reasonable enough…

“What’s eternal is knowledge… that web that grows and keeps extending to the horizon. The horizon that we can see goes further still; it’s an infinity that you cannot even approximate. It is beyond logic, and it’s out there… We’re all Columbus. We’re all setting out. The risk of drowning is real, and the risk for success is real…"


The Canterbury Tales: Wikipedia , Google Books
Finnegans Wake: Wikipedia , Google Books

Copyright © 2010, Lincoln Stoller. All rights reserved.