Bob Muller, loose-fish

Drs J Kubie & R Muller 4x_1 mirror

Bob and me in ’83

Bob Muller, close friend and colleague, died last Monday (Sept 16, 2013). His life was remarkable in breadth, richness and the number of people he loved and influenced. Bob occupied space, lots of space,  now a vacuum. Not a vacuum, really; we have memories, achievements and the influence Bob had on so many.  Alex, Bob’s daughter, read an email he sent while she was struggling as a novice marine biologist, trying to tag and collect tagged fish. Bob’s email was what we had come to expect: funny (very funny), warm, insightful and wise (although minus the scatological humor regularly heard from Bob).*

Made me think of the work of another genius, Herman Melville. Moby Dick has a remarkable passages interleaving oceanography, cetology, and philosophy. A wonderful chapter is “Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish”, about the ownership rights to harpooned whales. The chapter ends …

“What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men’s minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”

Bye Bob, loosest of loose fish.


* Update, Sept 22: Alex Muller (aka, “bug”) has forwarded the email and gives permission for posting:

From: Bob Muller <>
Date: February 18, 2011, 10:25:19 AM EST
To: Alexandra Muller <alex@gxx>
Subject: Re: daad

Hi Bug,

Thinking about the disappearing fish, one question I have is: Do they check out because they are handled or because they are tagged?  To answer this, you need a second tagging method and of course I don’t know if one is available or, if it is, whether it is impractical to do in the right amount of time or is too expensive etc.

But there is an even more basic question, which is whether what you call disappearance is in fact a reflection of the normal behavior of the wee fishies.  If I knew more about what you are doing there might be statistical tricks that could provide some insight without tagging.

In regard to the possibility that there may be “other species and types of beings that will better suit my fieldwork desires…” what comes to mind are rutabagas and parsnips, which have the virtue that they do not go away when tagged and in fact probably don’t need much tagging at all.  Other candidates that come to mind are maple trees (some of which are saps), sessile creatures such as sponges (which are very absorbing) and coral (which get you to very nice places).

Tell me more.


Daaaaad (proper spelling, pronounced ‘daaaaaaaaaad’)


3 thoughts on “Bob Muller, loose-fish

  1. John, this is terribly sad news indeed. I have always felt Bob’s influence, despite the fact that we never worked together directly. I first met Bob as a PhD student in Edmund Rolls lab: he came for a day and we had great fun in the lab together, discussing experiments (and life). We had a walk together afterwards through Oxford which I still remember with a smile, as Bob’s humour was turned on to its full effect. He produced a great chapter for a book I edited with Marina Lynch – a fantastic ‘how-to’ of in vivo neurophysiology. He spoke at a conference I hosted in Dublin in 2000 – and gave a quietly-spoken masterclass. We would sometimes meet at poster sessions at SfN – most recently in Chicago. We had a fantastic conversation about ‘anomalous’ cells: those occasional oddities you find in hippocampus and elsewhere that aren’t textbook. We had found a few place x head direction cells in CA1 (<6 or 7). Bob had loads of ideas for testing them, and for how we should make sure we weren't merely recording two cells simultaneously. Conversations were always great fun with Bob – and always memorable, as he was easily one of the smartest and gentlest people I have ever meet in science.

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