Scholar from Childhood

Wiener, Norbert, 1894-1964

  • Norbert Wiener describes his beliefs in the discipline and freedom to seek truth, in the importance of recognizing the dignity of human beings, in the difficulty of adhering to any religion, and in the role of errors during the process of discovering truth. Audio also contains advertisement for "This I Believe" book.
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And now, This I Believe, a series of living philosophies presented in the hope they may help to strengthen and enrich your life. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Today Professor Norbert Wiener is nationally known as one of our leading scientists. He is particularly identified with the new science of cybernetics, dealing with communications, which he originated and named. Forty-five years ago, he was nationally known as a child prodigy, who was a college freshman at the age of 11 and a graduate student at 14. In the process of his education, he has gained more than merely academic knowledge. This is Norbert Wiener's creed.
I am by profession a working mathematician and natural scientist. I was destined to the career
of scholar from childhood by my father. He was a scholar in the very different field of philological-historical research, and he imbued me-rather by example than by precept-with the duties and responsibilities of the scholar. These are an unswerving devotion to the truth, whatever it may be and however much it may cost to formulate and to utter it. Joined with this there was an iron intellectual discipline which very soon became a self-discipline. It has compelled me to subject my work to the most rigorous criteria of validity to which I would subject the work of anyone else, and to tear up mercilessly whatever I find to be faulty or insufficient.
I was brought up outside a formal religion, and I have never been able to bring myself to a thorough
acceptance of any religion, not even that of the militant atheist. But I have realized through my own experience that no life can be satisfactory to me which does not recognize the intrinsic dignity of other human beings, whoever and wherever they may be, and which does not insist on the recognition of my own dignity by others.
I say "dignity," but what I mean by the word has nothing whatever to do with pomposity and is indeed its deepest enemy. Neither is dignity in any way inconsistent with humor and a cheerful attitude to life. I cannot indeed claim any thorough-going cheerfulness in these days of the external threats of Armageddon and the destruction of civilization, and of the internal threats which tend to put us all in
spiritual blinders. It is easy to maintain a calm philosophy of life and a spiritual equanimity in a vacuum, or in an ivory tower. But whatever equanimity is left to us today is one which has to support itself against the shocks and alarms of a spiritual battle.
We are living in a world where there are many powerful forces definitely hostile to scholarship and to human dignity. If, like myself, a scholar happens to work in a field with engineering applications which may pay off in industry or in the weapons of war, he is likely to find himself reduced to an impersonal place in a scientific machine which blunders along by its very mass and bulk. I cannot and do not accept such a life, for I prefer the right to make mistakes on a piece of paper and to come out
of them with a better understanding of the truth, to the unwelcome privilege of participating in the expenditure of millions of dollars. The goose that lays the golden egg has become a Strasbourg goose nailed down by its feet to the floor of its coop and crammed with information-not cracked corn-to the end that from the degeneration of its brain--not its liver--a profitable commercial commodity may be drawn.
I have no belief in any knowledge of the truth that can be reached without a very real possibility of error, and I claim the privilege of entertaining not only unpopular but even definitely wrong ideas. It is only when I am thus free that I can satisfy myself of their wrongness and come to a belief which is
more than a timeserving conformity chiefly prompted by a lust after the flesh pots of Egypt.
Those were the personal beliefs of Norbert Wiener. They were chosen from the beliefs broadcast in the past two years for inclusion in the new This I Believe book, now at your bookstore.