The Care and Feeding of Ideas
186 pp., 5 x 8 in,
- Published: March 2, 1993
- Publisher: The MIT Press
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 helped to build and inform our high-tech society. A mathematician with dirty hands, he moved easily between theory, invention and engineering... The manuscript of this unpublished 1954 book was found long after Wiener's death, and is only now available. It's inevitably out of date here and there, but the uncannily accurate predictions and warnings at its heart bring credibility to advice and insights that are all too relevant to our present situation.
Whole Earth Review
The mark of a great book is that it should be relevant well beyond its time, and this volume by Wiener is precisely that. In lucid, enormously readable language, Wiener provides a whistle-stop tour of the history of science and technology from the start of civilisation, charts the growth and decline of intellectual and practical excellence, and uses many examples—such as the development of paper—to show that tools and the skills to realise a design in practice must be available for inventiveness to flourish.
Scientists for Global Responsibility Newsletter