BCS Professor Emeritus Stephan Chorover dies at 82

Stephan Chorover

Press Contact

Rachel Traughber
Email: rptraug@mit.edu
Phone: 617-452-2968
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences

Professor Emeritus Stephan Chorover, a founding member of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, passed away on Friday, Feb. 20, at age 82. His more than 50 years at MIT were marked by a passion for social justice, innovation in educational practices, and a love of philosophical inquiry.

Chorover graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1950. He received his Bachelor of Science from City College of New York in 1955 and a PhD in neuropsychology from New York University in 1959. Trained as a physiological psychologist, his early research focused on learning and memory in animals, and interactions between the central nervous system, human behavior, and socioenvironmental contexts. While at MIT, he became increasingly interested in human systems in composite biological, psychological, and social terms.

He was a strong advocate against the misuse of psychology and neuroscience as means of sociopolitical control, which he explored in his book, "From Genesis to Genocide: The Meaning of Human Nature and the Power of Behavior Control." Chorover became an oft-cited opponent of the use of psychosurgery, especially as a treatment of violent prisoners and indigent populations. His interest in the social context of behavior control motivated his research focus on social psychology during later years.

Chorover's commitment to students began during the early days of his MIT career, where he was instrumental in creating the department's first academic programs. Over the years he taught and mentored thousands of undergraduate and graduate students. A proponent of collaborative learning in higher education, he built that perspective into his teaching at MIT, focusing on how human societies interrelate with environmental systems. Chorover sought to enhance his students’ understanding of the human and ecological implications of their scientific research. He retired in 1998 but continued teaching 9.70 (Social Psychology) and 9.68 (Affect: Aspects of Feelings) to MIT undergraduate students for an additional 15 years.

He served on several MIT committees tasked with improving the Institute's curriculum and student life, and in 1996 co-authored a study of the first-year experience at MIT with his 9.70 students. He also served for several years on the editorial board of the MIT faculty newsletter, and was a member of the Second Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 62 years, Bea, and three children: Nora (and partner Steve Cooley), Jon (and wife Gina Gargano), and Katya (and husband John Grandt); as well as four grandchildren, Talia, Nathan, Sarah, and Annaluna. 

A memorial will be held in the MIT Chapel on March 14 from 12:30-2:30 p.m.

Topics: Obituaries, Brain and cognitive sciences, Faculty


I will miss Steve - my condolences to Bea and the family. Although our paths didn't cross on campus very often, I rented Steve's cabins on Mt. Desert Island many times over the past 20 years. I have fond memories of lively and far-reaching conversations about everything from island water conservation to the construction of MIT's building 46 (McGovern) to the best vantage point to see bald eagles. Steve, I will always remember you when I visit Acadia. Peace.

I had known Steve for 43 years. I was a grad student and over the years his
voice tried to remind us all of the importance that our research has on human
affairs. I hope that stamp leaves its mark.
It must, Steve. I love you for your vision.

Not a day passes that I don’t think of Steve's beautiful spirit and presence; he lives in the heart of my memories of MIT as a grad student in the 1980s. He was a revered friend for over three decades.

A profoundly wise teacher, humble scientist and powerful humanist, Steve was so exceptional in the way he ‘enlivened learning’ through experiential and collaborative learning. He inspired his students to reach for their ideals and boldest goals. And he championed creative collaborations that cultivated cross-disciplinary thinking at a time when the integration of human knowledge was more of a concept than a best practice.

Steve promoted science literacy coupled with commonsense. That’s how he fostered understanding and the pursuit of evidence-based truths (and intuitive ones, too!). His work on environmental issues will always shine like the light of a rare life purpose.
He passionately believed that everyone should do one’s “Homework” in exploring our deep connections with nature as understood from an evolutionary and cosmic perspective. His adventurous course by that title drew insights and inspirations from so many pioneering minds, including one of my favorites: the 17th-century Rationalist philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, who wrote: “The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.” That’s so Steve!

In his interactive book, HOMEWORK, Steve offers this slice of multicultural wisdom I'll never forget: “Almost anything you do will seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” For me, that reflection reaffirms this reality: Everything matters. No matter how "insignificant" an action may seem or the subtle effects it causes. We must never give up caring: about the environment and human ecology; about building and strengthening civil society. Because we do, indeed, make a difference by caring, turning our hopes into actions.

Thank you, Steve, for encouraging us all to find or create a path to freedom-with-responsibility, and to follow this path as it unfolds at the pace of one’s consciousness, curiosity and imagination.

Bea, thank you for being such a great kind friend and loving life partner in supporting your remarkable husband: a brilliant, beloved mensch.

With love and gratitude,

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