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Norbert Wiener

Titles by This Author

The Care and Feeding of Ideas

Internationally honored for brilliant achievements throughout his career, author of Cybernetics, ExProdigy, and the essay God and Golem, Inc., which won the National Book Award in 1964, Norbert Wiener was no ordinary mathematician. With the ability to understand how things worked or might work at a very deep level, he linked his own mathematics to engineering and provided basic ideas for the design of all sorts of inventions, from radar to communications networks to computers to artificial limbs. Wiener had an abiding concern about the ethics guiding applications of theories he and other scientists developed. Years after he died, the manuscript for this book was discovered among his papers. The world of science has changed greatly since Wiener's day, and much of the change has been in the direction he warned against. Now published for the first time, this book can be read as a salutary corrective from the past and a chance to rethink the components of an environment that encourages inventiveness.Wiener provides an engagingly written insider's understanding of the history of discovery and invention, emphasizing the historical circumstances that foster innovations and allow their application. His message is that truly original ideas cannot be produced on an assembly line, and that their consequences are often felt only at distant times and places. The intellectual and technological environment has to be right before the idea can blossom. The best course for society is to encourage the best minds to pursue the most interesting topics, and to reward them for the insights they produce. Wiener's comments on the problem of secrecy and the importance of the "free-lance" scientist are particularly pertinent today.Steve Heims provides a brief history of Wiener's literary output and reviews his contributions to the field of invention and discovery. In addition, Heims suggests significant ways in which Wiener's ideas still apply to dilemmas facing the scientific and engineering communities of the 1990s. Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) was Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A series of lectures on the role of nonlinear processes in physics, mathematics, electrical engineering, physiology, and communication theory.

From the preface:
"For some time I have been interested in a group of phenomena depending upon random processes. One the one hand, I have recorded the random shot effect as a suitable input for testing nonlinear circuits. On the other hand, for some of the work that Professor W. A. Rosenblith and I have been doing concerning the nature of the electroencephalogram, and in particular of the alpha rhythm, it has occurred to me to use the model of a system of random nonlinear oscillators excited by a random input. . . . At the beginning we had contemplated a series of only four or five lectures. My ideas developed pari passu with the course, and by the end of the term we found ourselves with a set of fifteen lectures. The last few of these were devoted to the application of my ideas to problems in the statistical mechanics of gases. This work is both new and tentative, and I found that I had to supplement my course by the writing over of these with the help of Professer Y. W. Lee. "

The new and rapidly growing field of communication sciences owes as much to Norbert Wiener as to any one man. He coined the word for it—cybernetics. In God & Golem, Inc., the author concerned himself with major points in cybernetics which are relevant to religious issues.

The first point he considers is that of the machine which learns. While learning is a property almost exclusively ascribed to the self-conscious living system, a computer now exists which not only can be programmed to play a game of checkers, but one which can "learn" from its past experience and improve on its own game. For a time, the machine was able to beat its inventor at checkers. "It did win," writes the author, "and it did learn to win; and the method of its learning was no different in principle from that of the human being who learns to play checkers.

A second point concerns machines which have the capacity to reproduce themselves. It is our commonly held belief that God made man in his own image. The propagation of the race may also be interpreted as a function in which one living being makes another in its own image. But the author demonstrates that man has made machines which are "very well able to make other machines in their own image," and these machine images are not merely pictorial representations but operative images. Can we then say: God is to Golem as man is to Machines? in Jewish legend, golem is an embryo Adam, shapeless and not fully created, hence a monster, an automation.

The third point considered is that of the relation between man and machine. The concern here is ethical. "render unto man the things which are man's and unto the computer the things which are the computer's," warns the author. In this section of the book, Dr. Wiener considers systems involving elements of man and machine.

The book is written for the intellectually alert public and does not involve any highly technical knowledge. It is based on lectures given at Yale, at the Société Philosophique de Royaumont, and elsewhere.

My Childhood and Youth
With Engineering Applications

After World War II, communication and control engineering reached a high level of development. The next step may be the recasting and unifying of the theories of control and communication in the machine and in the animal on a statistical basis. This monograph represents one phase of the new theory pertaining to the methods and techniques in the design of communications; it was first published during the war as a classified report to the National Defense Research Committee. It is an attempt to unite the theory and practice of two fields of work that are of vital importance and have a complete natural methodological unity, although they draw their inspiration from two entirely distinct traditions and are widely different in their vocabulary and the training of their personnel--time series in statistics and communication engineering.

Acclaimed one of the "seminal books . . . comparable in ultimate importance to . . . Galileo or Malthus or Rousseau or Mill", Cybernetics was judged by twenty-seven historians, economists, educators, and philosophers to be one of those books published during the "past four decades," which may have a substantial impact on public thought and action in the years ahead."Saturday Review