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My Bio

There hangs in the living room of my apartment here in Brooklyn a pastel drawing I made in the mid-1950s in an elementary school class likewise in Brooklyn. Depicted in the drawing in the brutalist strokes of an eight year old is the Empire State Building with a radiating mast.


The drawing is hardly noticeable among the array of six-foot-tall plexiglass and acrylic skyscrapers of my model city Mini-Gotham in the same living room.


Many decades separate the sketching of my skyscraper and the constructing of my skyscraper models. Those decades saw my peripatetic journey across untold miles and through a multitude of fields.


My interest in art and architecture led me to study Industrial Design at Brooklyn Technical High School in the early 1960s. I might have pursued architecture after graduation; but, being loathe to spend another four years in an environment devoid of young women, I opted for a liberal arts education with a major in history at Hunter College of the City University of New York.


This study included a year at the University of Reims in France and my acquiring fluency in French, an experience which stimulated my interest in the science of language. In the early 1970s, while also teaching in the New York City school system, I studied for my Masters in Applied Linguistics at Columbia University. Along with the more traditional curriculum such as Romance philology were courses in Chomsky's revolutionary transformational-generative model of language. No less radical, in its own way, was the course on the sensitive subject of the African American vernacular.


At Columbia, I also took a course in Dutch (I was the only student), a language which had long interested me, due in part to the centuries-old Dutch heritage of Brooklyn. After graduation, I went to the Netherlands and taught English at a high school. Although I thought I might return to New York after a year, I opted instead to continue my education in the Netherlands, at the department of the University of Nijmegen which was evolving into the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.


For two years subsequently, I did research and lecturing at the Department of Applied Linguistics of the University of Groningen in the northeast of the Netherlands. The occasion of the centenary of the birth of Albert Einstein in 1879, got me involved in publicizing his concepts of relativity and the spacetime continuum in the academic and popular media. This might seem divorced from language. But I went on to publish a lengthy academic article on linguistic relativity – how the tense systems of the languages of Native Americans in the Southwest supposedly affect their concept of time.


My interest in relativity was, however, eclipsed by my fascination with the psychology of dreaming. I have been an extraordinarily vivid dreamer for as far back as I can remember. Furthermore, in a very difficult period in my teens, I had had a series of sessions with a Freudian-trained psychiatrist which included the analysis of a dream or two of mine. The benefits were dubious. (At later times in my life, I had a series of sessions with a couple of other psychiatrists; my dreams were never discussed.) Nevertheless, this early experience had stimulated my curiosity. I decided to pursue the degree of Doctor of Medicine (PhD) at Groningen's Department of Psychiatry with a dissertation on linguistic aspects of dreaming. While continuing to live in Groningen, I worked half time at the Department of Applied Linguistics of the Eindhoven University of Technology in the south of the Netherlands and did much of my writing there.


Dreaming has traditionally been seen as primarily a visual process. But my experiments with dozens of subjects showed that dreams are not 'silent movies'; there is abundant 'dialogue' between the characters in the dream scenario. My analyses of the data had profound theoretical consequences for Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory, Carl Jung's analytical psychology, and more recent theories, whether psychologically or neurologically based. My research resulted in more than half a dozen articles in academic journals and as book chapters as well as my guest lecturing at various universities (as far away as South Africa) and presentations at sleep research congresses. My dissertation supplemented by post-doc research in the historical archives of the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich resulted in the book Languages and Its Disturbances in Dreams: The Pioneering Work of Freud and Kraepelin Updated.


My studies also involved the acquiring of knowledge of sleep in general.  My singular contribution to a non-dream field of sleep research in an academic journal concerned circadian rhythms and correspondence with the earth-moon-sun system which governs the tides.


Dreams – and other aspects of sleep such as insomnia – are of interest to much of the general public. This motivated me to do popular-scientific writing on the subject. My features appeared in a wide variety of magazines. For a few years I had an illustrated feature for the largest newspaper in the Netherlands, a selection of which was published in book form. I also wrote the coursebook for the six-part television series "Dreaming: Fantasy and Reality" of the Netherlands Foundation for Public Broadcasting.


By the mid-1990s, my interest had shifted to the history of medicine. Jewish physicians and medical scientists have through the centuries been wildly disproportionately represented in the profession and have been held in awe by friend and foe alike.  My endeavor to tell the whole history grew in the course of five years of intensive research and writing to the book of 600 pages, Jews and Medicine: An Epic Saga.


In 1996 two events occurred which were to affect my writing activities. October marked the 150th anniversary of the first use of general anesthesia in surgery – by a dentist in Boston. My publicizing of this event has led to my writing more than 300 non-clinical features, historical and otherwise, for dental magazines plus several articles in scholarly journals.


In December of 1996 the front pages of newspapers across the US were reporting the most explosive language-related event in American history. The school board of Oakland, California, declared that "Ebonics," the particular vernacular of the district's African American students and African Americans in general, was "genetically based and not a dialect of English" but grounded in "African Language Systems." With my background in linguistics and not least my study of the African American vernacular at Columbia, I became involved in the controversy. Now, many years later, my book on Ebonics is nearly complete.


Already in the mid-1980s, I was spending more and more of each year in New York, flying across the Atlantic some 60 times in toto. In 1997 I relocated permanently.


For ten years I have taught a course on the psychology of dreaming at NYU. I have continued to write for periodicals in Dutch as well as in English, and occasionally in German. Aside from dentistry and (especially during the Covid pandemic) other aspects of medicine, more than two dozen features of mine on industrial design and architecture have appeared in the Dutch industrial design magazine Product. Particularly topical were my extensive articles on the controversy surrounding the rebuilding of the destroyed World Trade Center. I was also active in a club of afficionados of Ayn Rand and her novels and philosophy and I taught a course The Fountainhead in New York at NYU. My book "The Fountainhead of All Tears": Ayn Rand and the Ecstasy of Architecture is now, after years of rigorous research and writing, nearly complete.


My captivation with architecture and particularly skyscrapers took physical form in the construction of the model city Mini-Gotham in my living room, which has won a couple of awards and been the subject of more than a half dozen features I've written for hobby magazines. My YouTube video filmed in Mini-Gotham has attracted several million viewers worldwide.


And so, from that skyscraper drawing by an eight year old, we have come full circle.


                                                  * * *

Let me conclude this bio by mentioning my novel Ursula Dreaming, which has been published in English and German. This turbulent romance which turns into a crime story is partly autobiographical. Many experiences of the male protagonist Jonathan, a 30-year-old university lecturer, are based on – or at least inspired by – real-life personal experiences of my own as well as my academic background.


No surprise from the title that dreams play a central role in the novel. The destiny of the eponymous Ursula, an young aspiring artist from an Apache reservation in Arizona, gets intertwined with that of Jonathan when she takes his course on dream psychology at NYU. And from the cover of the novel, it's evident that architecture, particularly skyscrapers, is a dramatic theme.


There's more to the novel that relates to my non-fiction activities. There's a bit of dentistry (characteristics of Ursula's incisors peculiar to Native Americans and East Asians) and about the moon and tides. More important is the question of whether to preserve one's ethnic identity – Apache and Jewish – in the melting pot of the megacity.


What about language? The concept of linguistic relativity, and specifically that the languages of the Native Americans of the Southwest can affect the way their speakers conceive of the world, is of more than academic interest in the novel. It becomes a matter of life or death for Ursula when suspicion falls upon her for having secretly committed a bizarre murder of a cult leader back on the Apache reservation.


And then there's the notion of the relativity of time and space and whether a rift, as it were, in the spacetime continuum in the form of a shared dream with an odd theme can guide the destinies of our two protagonists. This detail, too, was based on a real-life experience – a strange dream of mine uncannily similar to a dream of one of my students. Coincidence, my scientific training told me … but …