Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History

Sauer, Anne

Branco, Jessica

Bennett, John

Crowley, Zachary

2000

Wiener, Norbert, 1894-1964

Norbert Wiener (1894-1964), A1909, was a world renowned mathematician and founder of the science of cybernetics. He formulated some of the most important contributions to mathematics in the 20th century. He was a child prodigy who graduated from Tufts in 1909 at the age of fourteen.

Wiener was born on November 26, 1894, in Columbia, Missouri. He moved with his family to Massachusetts while still an infant, where his father became professor of Slavonic languages and literature at Harvard University. His father personally took charge of his son's education, and Wiener did not attend school until attending the high school in Ayer, Massachusetts, near his family's home in the rural town of Harvard, Massachusetts.

Wiener enrolled at Tufts in 1906 and earned his degree in mathematics in 1909, at which point he went on to Harvard to study zoology. However, when he found that laboratory work was not his strength, he changed his course of study to philosophy, at his father's suggestion. He completed a Ph. D. in the subject at Harvard in 1913, at age 18, with a dissertation in mathematical logic.

Wiener then travelled abroad to the universities of Cambridge and Gottingen, where he studies under Bertrand Russell and David Hilbert, respectively. He published his first paper on mathematics in the Messenger of Mathematics in 1913 just as World War I broke out. He tried to enlist but was rejected for poor eyesight.

After working at a number of different jobs for several years, Wiener was hired as an instructor in the mathematics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The department at the time had no tradition of scholarship or research, but Wiener directed the growth of the program, eventually becoming one of the most famous members of the institution's faculty.

During those years Wiener did highly innovative and fundamental work on what is now called a stochastic process and, in particular, on the theory of Brownian motionthat is, the construction of a rigorous mathematical description of a physical process that is subject to random changeand on generalized harmonic analysisthat is, the analysis of functions into periodic components and the generalizations of such an analysisas well as significant work on other problems of mathematical analysis. From a long list of published works, three papers stand out: "Differential Space," Journal of Mathematics and Physics, 58:131-174 (1923); "Generalized Harmonic Analysis," Acta Mathematica, 55:117-258 (1930); and "Tauberian Theorems," Annals of Mathematics, 33:1-100 (1932). In 1933 Wiener was elected to the National Academy of Science but soon resigned, repelled by some of the aspects of institutionalized science he encountered in the Academy. In the same year, he shared the Bôcher Prize, offered every five years by the American Mathematical Society, and was honoured by the society by being invited to present the Colloquium Lectures, published (1934) as Fourier Transforms in the Complex Domain, with Raymond E.A.C. Paley (American Mathematical Society Colloquium Publications, vol. 19). Much of the work appearing in this volume had been done in collaboration with Paley, who was killed a year before the book was finished.

During World War II Wiener worked on gunfire control, the problem of pointing a gun to fire at a moving target. The ideas that evolved led to Extrapolation, Interpolation, and Smoothing of Stationary Time Series (1949), which first appeared as a classified report and established Wiener as a codiscoverer, with the Russian mathematician A.N. Kolmogorov, of the theory on the prediction of stationary time series. It introduced certain statistical methods into control and communications engineering and exerted great influence in these areas. This work also led him to formulate the concept of cybernetics.

In 1948 his book Cybernetics: or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine appeared. For a scientific book it was extremely popular, and Wiener became known in a much broader scientific community. Cybernetics isinterdisciplinary in nature; based on common relationships between humans and machines, it is used today in control theory, automation theory, and computer programs to reduce many time-consuming computations and decision-making processes formerly done by human beings. Wiener worked at cybernetics, philosophized about it, and propagandized for it the rest of his life, all the while keeping up his research in other areas of mathematics.

After the war Wiener continued to contribute new ideas to widely divergent subjects, including mathematical prediction theory and quantum theory, providing the latter a possible solution to a difficulty that had been debated by the physicists Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. Applying his theoretical description of Brownian movement to quantum phenomena, he showed how quantum theory, to the extent that it is based on probability, is consistent with other branches of science. A few weeks before his death, Wiener was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Wiener died on March 18, 1964, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Source: EB

 
Subject terms:
Description
  • The encyclopedia seeks to capture more than 150 years of Tufts' achievements, societal contributions and outstanding alumni and faculty in concise entries. As a source of accurate factual information, the Encyclopedia can be used by anyone interested in the history of Tufts and of the people who have made it the unique institution it is. The Encyclopedia is an ongoing, constantly growing, online r... read more
This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
ID:
f1881x54h
To Cite:
DCA Citation Guide    EndNote
Usage:
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 Introduction
 Content
Numeric Entries
A
B
C
D
Dame, Lorin Low, 1838-1903
Dana, Charles A., 1881-1975
Dana Laboratory, 1963
Daniel Ounjian Prize in Economics,
Davies, Caroline Stodder, 1864-1939
Davies House, 1894
De Florez Prize in Human Engineering, 1964
de Pacheco, Kaye MacKinnon, ca. 1910-ca. 1985
Dean Hall, 1887-1963
Dean, Oliver, 1783-1871
Dearborn, Heman Allen, 1831-1897
Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, 1893
Department of Anesthesia, 1970
Department of Art and Art History, 1930
Department of Biochemistry, 1893
Department of Chemistry, 1882
Department of Community Health, 1930
Department of Dermatology, 1897
The Department of Economics, 1946
Department of Medicine, 1893
Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology
Department of Neurology, 1893
Department of Neuroscience, 1983
Department of Neurosurgery, 1951
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1893
Department of Ophthamology, 1893
Department of Orthopedic Surgery, 1906
Department of Otolaryngology, 1895
Department of Pathology, 1893
Department of Pediatrics, 1930
Department of Pharmacology, 1915
Department of Physics and Astronomy, 1854
Department of Physiology, 1893
Department of Psychiatry, 1928
Department of Radiation Oncology, 1968
Department of Radiology, 1915
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, 1955
Department of Surgery, 1893
Department of Urban and Environmental Policy, 1973
Department of Urology, 1910
Dental Health Sciences Building, 1969
Dewick, Cora Alma (Polk), 1875-1977
Dewick/MacPhie Dining Hall, 1959
Dickson Professorship of English and American History, 1913
Dirlam, Arland A., 1905-1979
Dog Cart, 1900
Dolbear, Amos Emerson, 1837-1910
Donald A. Cowdery Memorial Scholarship, 1946
Dr. Benjamin Andrews Professorship of Surgery, 1987
Dr. Philip E. A. Sheridan Prize, 1977
The Drug Bust, 1970
Dudley, Henry Watson, 1831-1906
Dugger, Edward Jr., 1919-75
Durkee, Frank W., 1861-1939
Durkee, Henrietta Noble Brown, 1871-1946
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
P
R
S
T
U
V
W
Z
 List of Sources