[visionlist] Jacob Nachmias, 1928-2019

Oruc, Ipek ipor at mail.ubc.ca
Sat Mar 9 18:51:23 -04 2019

Dear David, Norma, Saul, Beau and colleagues,

My heart is broken with this sad news. It was just a couple of days ago, as I re-read Jack’s 1972 chapter ‘Signal Detection Theory and its Application to Problems in Vision’ to prepare for my lecture on SDT, I could so clearly hear his voice in my head. While I read, I couldn’t help but admire how elegantly and clearly he wrote. I now realize he was already gone as I read his words.

I met Jack during my postdoc with Ben Backus at Penn. Of all things, we connected first over our shared love of etymology. We would exchange daily emails over the origin of a word in Ladino, a food item or other topic, and solved many fun mysteries like that. He was easily the most thoughtful and gentle person I’ve ever met. Moving to the west coast a year later meant I didn’t get a chance to get to know him better but I always cherished the time I spent with him, his mentorship, and his friendship.

We lose a giant of our field and a truly beautiful human being.

Nunca no me va olvidar de ti Jack Nachmias. I will never forget you.


Ipek Oruc

On Mar 8, 2019, at 5:36 PM, Brainard, David H <brainard at psych.upenn.edu<mailto:brainard at psych.upenn.edu>> wrote:


We write to convey the sad news that Jacob (Jack) Nachmias passed away on March 2, 2019 after a brief illness. He is survived by his wife Dr. Vivianne T. Nachmias, daughters Lisa Nachmias Davis and Sarah Nachmias, and several grandchildren.

Jack was born June 9, 1928, in Athens, Greece. He left his home in Sofia, Bulgaria with the rest of his family in 1939 to come to America and escape the Nazis. Their departure was on the last ship to sail from Paris. Jack was legally blind his entire life but refused to consider that a disability.

Jack graduated with his undergraduate degree from Cornell and obtained an MA from Swarthmore working with Hans Wallach and Wolfgang Kohler. He then received his PhD in Psychology from Harvard University. The majority of his career was spent studying visual perception in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He made fundamental contributions to our understanding of vision in a number of areas, most notably the study of eye movements, the development of signal detection theory and forced-choice psychophysical methods, and the psychophysical characterization of spatial-frequency-selective visual channels. Indeed, Jack’s influence extended broadly in the vision science community. He was the “psychophysicists’ psychophysicist,” an avatar of methodological precision, theoretical rigor, and joy in science.

Beyond his scholarship, he served two terms as Chair of Penn's Psychology Department and mentored numerous graduate students. Each of us benefitted personally on many occasions from Jack's wisdom, whether in the form of an explication of a technical matter, an idea about a better way to make a measurement, or advice about how to navigate a career or departmental matter.  More generally, Jack was always a pleasure to talk to about a wide range of subjects, from politics to music to art to good beer, and we always came away from our conversations with him richer for the interaction.

As his father before him, his last written instructions were in Ladino (the Judao-Spanish of Sephardic Jews), "no me olvides," (don't forget me), and we never will.

With Sadness,

David Brainard
Norma Graham
Saul Sternberg
Andrew Watson

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