Norbert Wiener

Born on this day. Here’s an assessment of Wiener’s legacy from a few years back. Having read most of the notable work on “epistemic ignorance” (yes, there really is a specialized small literature) there is one prize that still alludes me and that is Wiener’s “The Theory of Ignorance” (1906), a philosophical demonstration of the incompleteness of all knowledge written aged just 10 or 11 years old, Wiener going on to obtain a BA in mathematics aged 14. See here for a listing of his more accessible work. Here too are a few Wiener quotes that have struck me:

  • Those who suffer from a power complex find the mechanization of man a simple way to realize their ambitions.
  • Progress imposes not only new possibilities for the future but new restrictions. It seems almost as if progress itself and our fight against the increase of entropy intrinsically must end in the downhill path from which we are trying to escape.
  • May we have the courage to face the eventual doom of our civilization as we have the courage to face the certainty of our personal doom. The simple faith in progress is not a conviction belonging to strength, but one belong to acquiescence and hence to weakness.
  • The sense of tragedy is that the world is not a pleasant little nest made for our protection, but a vast and largely hostile environment, in which we can achieve great things only by defying the gods; and that this defiance inevitably brings its own punishment.