Rainer Goebel and Dirk Vorberg
It was touch and go whether professor Rainer Goebel (1964, Fulda), the world-famous brain expert, would throw in the towel with regard to his Psychology study.
What was wrong? At the beginning of the nineteen-eighties Goebel registered with the University of Marburg for two studies: Computer Sciences and Psychology. The interaction between mind and brain intrigued him most of all, but this was hardly touched upon in the Psychology study. It was too much about Freud, about the theory of personality, character traits.
"I became frustrated and considered restricting myself to computer sciences, particularly artificial intelligence. The fact that I did not drop psychology, I owe to one man: professor Dirk Vorberg. He advised me to read a particular book which changed my mind: Gödel, Escher, Bach. In this book, American cognition scientist Douglas Hofstadter researches the complexity of the mind. He does so in various domains of science, art and music. It is a brilliant work that is not easy to place. I still recommend it to my students."
Gödel, Escher, Bach was crucial to Goebel’s academic career. "With this book, Vorberg put me onto the trail of cognitive psychology, a new direction at the time, in which everything was about the organisation of thinking and the underlying mechanisms in the brain, exactly what I wanted. In that sense, I owe Vorberg a great deal. He also offered me a student traineeship, within a subsidised project for the German scientific research organisation. I carried out research into how people learn programming and how you can teach a computer to do so. That is when I learned how to program, which is now an important part of my work."
Vorberg is "one of the few who feels deeply passionate about this field, about solving problems and riddles," says Goebel. "He is now 72 and emeritus professor at the University of Münster, but he is still very informed about scientific developments. I think that he is proud of me having done so well."
Vorberg and Goebel, who brought his master to Maastricht as a visiting lecturer in 2000, have remained good friends. "We meet up almost every year. Last summer we were at a farewell party for his wife, who was retiring. She is Dutch, by the way. Every time we meet, like last summer, we first talk about this and that and then we change over to science. That’s what connects us, that’s what we are passionate about."
This is a series in which scientists talk about a person that inspired them most