Prof. Emeritus Ulric “Rick” Neisser, psychology, died in Ithaca on Feb. 17 at age 83. His death was caused by Parkinson’s disease.
In his 1967 book Cognitive Psychology, he challenged the then-dominant theory of behaviorism and claimed that memory could not recall past events with complete accuracy.
Prof. James Cutting, psychology, said Neisser was the “one of the smartest people [he had] ever met.”
“He created a field; his book named what we now call ‘cognitive psychology,’” Cutting said. “He synthesized a field and wrote it as it was.”
Cutting said he and Neisser were not only colleagues but also friends.
“Dick had a sharp wit and was very funny in many circumstances,” Cutting said. “We were very close because my first wife and his second wife died in close succession and we’d go out to dinner and commiserate, so he was very important to me at that particular time.”
Neisser was born in Kiel, Germany on Dec. 8, 1928. In 1931, he moved to the United States with his family. He graduated from Harvard in 1950 with a degree in psychology, received a master’s degree from Swarthmore College and returned to Harvard to earn his doctorate in 1956.
Neisser was a member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Society of Experimental Psychologists.
In 1987, he was named a Guggenheim Fellow, an honor awarded to individuals for their exceptional scholarship. Neisser taught at Cornell between 1976 and 1983, taught briefly at Emoty University and returned to Cornell from 1996 to 2002. He is survived by five children, one step-daughter, a grandson and a sister.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, April 14 at 1:30 p.m. A reception in Uris Hall will follow.