From Chicago I was sent to the South Pacific for two years of duty in 1944 and 1945. After a short period of adjustment, I found the isolation and serenity of the Solomon Islands quite attractive. I occupied myself with swimming, poker, Aristotle, and a couple of correspondence courses in mathematics and French. After a year of living on a small island, occupied only by military troops, I was transferred to Guam, which seemed relatively civilized but less conducive to intellectual work.
I was discharged from the Army Air Force in 1946, and after some months of deciding what to do, changing my mind any number of times, and spending more than half a year working for my father in the oil fields near Artesia, New Mexico, I entered Columbia University as a graduate student in philosophy in January of 1947 and received a PhD in 1950.
As an undergraduate I moved too often to be strongly influenced by any one teacher. I do remember certain impressive individuals, including Richard McKeon at Chicago, who lectured on Aristotle, Norman Steenrod, who taught my first course in calculus, and Professor Tanner at the University of Tulsa, from whom I learned elementary Greek.
The situation was different in graduate school. I was influenced by Ernest Nagel more than by anyone else and I still relish the memory of the first lecture of his that I attended in 1947. I came to philosophy without much background in the subject, since my undergraduate training was primarily in mathematics and physics. But Nagels skeptical, patient and detailed analysis of F. H. Bradley and John Dewey, in the first course I took from him, won my attention and interest from the start. I have recorded these impressions in more detail in my account of Nagels lectures on Dewey (l969e). In those days, interdisciplinary work was very much favored in the Department of Philosophy, and consequently I continued to learn a good deal more mathematics and physics. I still remember with great pleasure the beautiful and penetrating lectures of Samuel Eilenberg on topology and group theory, and I remember well the course in relativity theory I took from L. H. Thomas. Thomas was a terrible lecturer, in sharp contrast to the brilliance of Nagel or Eilenberg, but he knew so much about the subject and was in such total control of the theory and relevant data that it was impossible not to learn a great deal and to be enormously impressed by the organization and presentation of the lectures.
In those years Columbia was swarming with returning veterans, and in certain ways we veterans had our own ideas about what should be taught in graduate school. We organized in 1947 or 1948 an informal seminar on von Neumann and Morgensterns theory of games, partly because we did not seem to be able to find a course on the subject, but also because Columbias graduate school immediately after the war was so vastly overcrowded that the kind of individual attention graduate students now receive at Stanford, for example, was simply unheard of in almost all departments at Columbia. I felt myself extremely lucky to have as much personal contact as I did with Ernest Nagel. Friends of mine in the History Department saw their adviser only a few hours during their entire graduate-school career, including completion of the dissertation.
Considering my relatively extensive research efforts in psychology from about 1955 onward, it is somewhat surprising that I took no work in psychology either as an undergraduate or as a graduate student, but there was a feature of my education that made it easier for me to pick up what I needed to know without prior systematic training. As an undergraduate I wandered about in several different fields, and because of the easygoing policy of the Department of Philosophy in those days at Columbia I spent a good deal of time in nonphilosophical courses. I thus developed early the habits of absorbing a wide variety of information and feeling at home in the problem of learning a subject in which I had not had much prior training or guidance.
Because of my background and interests in physics I wanted to write a dissertation about the philosophy of physics, in particular to give a modern axiomatic treatment of some branch of physics, but as I got deeper into the subject I realized that this was not the kind of dissertation that was considered appropriate in philosophy. The Department at that time was primarily historically oriented, and Nagel advised me to consider a more informal approach to the foundations of physics. What we finally agreed on was a study of the concept of action at a distance, and: a good deal of the dissertation was devoted to an analytical study of this concept in the works of Descartes, Newton, Boscovich, and Kant. I was able to come closer to my original interest in a chapter on the special theory of relativity, but certainly what I had to say in that chapter was no contribution to the axiomatic foundations of the subject. I did find the historical work absorbing and have continued over the years to retain and, on occasion, profitably to use the knowledge about the history of philosophy and science I first systematically acquired as a graduate student at Columbia. The part of my dissertation I published, with only minor modifications, was the material on Descartes (1954a). But I have relatively recently used much more of the dissertation material in a long article on Aristotles theory of matter (l974b), in which I also review the theories of matter of Descartes, Boscovich, and Kant.