I first met Bruce on an exploratory visit to UCSC. I was considering leaving my job as a programmer to go back to school to earn a Ph.D. To investigate this possibility I visited a number of universities in the Bay Area to try to see what it might be like to go to go to grad school there. As it happened, Bruce’s door was open and so I thought I would introduce myself. Bruce was quite gracious, bringing me to his lab and showing me around (I suspect the fact that I could code in Fortran may have helped spark some enthusiasm). After some conversation and a glance at the transcripts and GRE scores that I had thought to bring, he more or less agreed to take me on as a student and gave me a copy of Ian Howard’s “Human Visual Orientation” for a bit of light reading. This did set the pace for much of my graduate work with Bruce– he would propose that I read something large and dense, and I would do my best to comply (I note that it took me nearly 9 years to finish). He also wanted me to learn German, which I did not do.
Later, I went to my first ARVO (now VSS) conference where I was excited to meet all of the famous vision scientists whose work I had studied. I was at one of the many evening parties sitting with a group of top researchers when conversation turned to a particularly esoteric question about the history of vision science. I can’t recall the specifics but I do remember that the group fell silent as everyone tried to remember what it was that Helmholtz might have written about the topic. Suddenly one of our company shouted out “Bruce! Bruce will know!”. So we all went off together to look for Bruce, and he did know.
Another memory that comes to mind is when we were responding to a review of one of our papers, where the editor pointed us to some of his own work that we had neglected to reference in our paper. In our response we thanked him for his input, and Bruce pointed out to him that his theory was actually first proposed by William James. We included both references in the revised paper.
My career has taken its own turn since leaving Bruce’s lab. I work now mostly in visual analytics, an interdisciplinary field with its own IEEE conference that seeks to understand vision and cognition in complex interactive computer visualization environments. This was in many ways an outgrowth of the work I did with Bruce, who was not at all concerned about the kinds of visual environments we studied, so long as there was good science to be done. I still read entire books, from any era, not just current research papers, and I look forward some day to telling an editor that his theory was first proposed by Descartes.
I ran into Bruce a couple of years ago at a restaurant during Psychonomics. I was with my family, and Bruce joined us for the meal. It was great to connect with him again after a number of years, to introduce him to my family and to see him interact with my clever, science-engaged 9 year old son, who still remembers meeting Dad’s grad advisor. It is a very fond memory for me.