Person: Wiener (4), Norbert
Norbert Wiener was an American mathematician who did important work on probability.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Because Leo Wiener was such a major influence on his son, we should give some background to his education and career.
- Leo Wiener attended medical school at the University of Warsaw but was unhappy with the profession, so he went to Berlin where he began training as an engineer.
- Not long after Norbert's birth a decision was taken to split the Modern Languages Department at the University of Missouri into separate departments of French and German.
- Wiener had problems regarding his schooling, partly because the reading which he had done at home had meant that he was advanced in certain areas but much less so in others.
- However, Wiener had problems relating to his movements and was obviously very clumsy.
- After the six months were up Wiener went back to reading but he had developed some fine mental skills during this period which he retained all his life.
- The school agreed to experiment and to find the right level for Wiener who was soon put into senior third year class with pupils who were seven years older than he was.
- In September 1906, still only eleven years old, Wiener entered Tufts College.
- In 1909 Wiener graduated from Tufts at age fourteen and entered Harvard to begin graduate studies.
- Back at Harvard Wiener was strongly influenced by the fine teaching of Edward Huntington on mathematical philosophy.
- From Harvard Wiener went to Cambridge, England, to study under Russell who told him that in order to study the philosophy of mathematics he needed to know more mathematics so he attended courses by G H Hardy.
- Another important year in Wiener's mathematical development was 1931-32 which he spent mainly in England visiting Hardy at Cambridge.
- Wiener's papers were hard to read.
- Sometimes difficult results appeared with hardly a proof as if they were obvious to Wiener, while at other times he would give a lengthy proof of a triviality.
- The reader to whom he appears to be addressing himself seems to alternate in a random order between the layman, the undergraduate student of mathematics, the average mathematician, and Wiener himself.
- Despite the style of his papers, Wiener contributed some ideas of great importance.
- Wiener's mathematical ideas were very much driven by questions that were put to him by his engineering colleagues at MIT.
- Some of Wiener's publications which we have not mentioned include Nonlinear Problems in Random Theory (1958), and God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion (1964).
- We have mentioned above Freudenthal's comments on Wiener's poor writing style.
- It is sad that this work earned Wiener the greater part of his public renown, but this is an afterthought.
Born 26 November 1894, Columbia, Missouri, USA. Died 18 March 1964, Stockholm, Sweden.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive