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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index W > Norbert Wiener Quotes

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Norbert Wiener
(26 Nov 1894 - 18 Mar 1964)

American mathematician who established the science of cybernetics, a term he coined, which is concerned with the common factors of control and communication in living organisms, automatic machines, and organizations.


Science Quotes by Norbert Wiener (16 quotes)

A professor is one who can speak on any subject—for precisely fifty minutes.
— Norbert Wiener
…...
Science quotes on:  |  Fifty (15)  |  Minute (44)  |  Precisely (23)  |  Professor (54)  |  Speak (92)  |  Subject (240)

Besides electrical engineering theory of the transmission of messages, there is a larger field [cybernetics] which includes not only the study of language but the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society, the development of computing machines and other such automata, certain reflections upon psychology and the nervous system, and a tentative new theory of scientific method.
— Norbert Wiener
In Cybernetics (1948).
Science quotes on:  |  Automaton (10)  |  Computer (105)  |  Control (114)  |  Cybernetic (2)  |  Development (289)  |  Electricity (136)  |  Engineering (141)  |  Language (228)  |  Machine (157)  |  Message (35)  |  Psychology (143)  |  Reflection (60)  |  Society (228)  |  Study (476)  |  Tentative (8)  |  Theory (696)  |  Transmission (25)

His [Edison’s] greatest invention was that of the industrial research laboratory, turning out inventions as a business.
— Norbert Wiener
In The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950), 127.
Science quotes on:  |  Business (84)  |  Thomas Edison (83)  |  Great (534)  |  Industry (109)  |  Invention (324)  |  Laboratory (132)  |  Research (590)  |  Turn (118)

I have said that science is impossible without faith. … Inductive logic, the logic of Bacon, is rather something on which we can act than something which we can prove, and to act on it is a supreme assertion of faith … Science is a way of life which can only fluorish when men are free to have faith.
— Norbert Wiener
In Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1997), 31.
Science quotes on:  |  Sir Francis Bacon (181)  |  Faith (157)  |  Logic (260)  |  Science (2067)

In the early days of telephone engineering, the mere sending of a message was so much of a miracle that nobody asked how it should be sent.
— Norbert Wiener
In The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950), 4.
Science quotes on:  |  Ask (160)  |  Communication (76)  |  Early Days (3)  |  Electricity (136)  |  Engineering (141)  |  Mere (82)  |  Message (35)  |  Miracle (66)  |  Nobody (49)  |  Send (22)  |  Telephone (23)

It is clear that the degradation of the position of the scientist as an independent worker and thinker to that of a morally irresponsible stooge in a science-factory has ‘proceeded even more rapidly and devastatingly than I had expected. This subordination of those who ought to think to those who have the administrative power is ruinous for the morale of the scientist, and quite to the same extent it is ruinous to the quality of the subjective scientific output of the country.
— Norbert Wiener
In 'A Rebellious Scientist after Two Years', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, (1948), 4, 338.
Science quotes on:  |  Administration (11)  |  Country (147)  |  Degradation (12)  |  Devastation (5)  |  Expectation (55)  |  Extent (51)  |  Independence (34)  |  Irresponsible (4)  |  Moral (124)  |  Output (10)  |  Power (366)  |  Subjective (12)  |  Subordination (5)  |  Thinking (231)  |  Worker (30)

It is my thesis that the physical functioning of the living individual and the operation of some of the newer communication machines are precisely parallel in their analogous attempts to control entropy through feedback. Both of them have sensory receptors as one stage in their cycle of operation: that is, in both of them there exists a special apparatus for collecting information from the outer world at low energy levels, and for making it available in the operation of the individual or of the machine. In both cases these external messages are not taken neat, but through the internal transforming powers of the apparatus, whether it be alive or dead. The information is then turned into a new form available for the further stages of performance. In both the animal and the machine this performance is made to be effective on the outer world. In both of them, their performed action on the outer world, and not merely their intended aetion, is reported back to the central regulatory apparatus.
— Norbert Wiener
In The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1954), 26-27.
Science quotes on:  |  Analogy (60)  |  Communication (76)  |  Entropy (42)  |  Feedback (8)  |  Function (131)  |  Life (1131)  |  Machine (157)  |  Operation (121)  |  Performance (33)  |  Sense (321)  |  Thesis (11)

It is popular to believe that the age of the individual and, above all, of the free individual, is past in science. There are many administrators of science and a large component of the general population who believe that mass attacks can do anything, and even that ideas are obsolete. Behind this drive to the mass attack there are a number of strong psychological motives. Neither the public or the big administrator has too good an understanding of the inner continuity of science, but they both have seen its world-shaking consequences, and they are afraid of it. Both of them wish to decerebrate the scientist, even as the Byzantine State emasculated its civil servants. Moreover, the great administrator who is not sure of his own intellectual level can aggrandize himself only by cutting his scientific employees down to size.
— Norbert Wiener
In I am a Mathematician (1956), Epilogue, 363-364.
Science quotes on:  |  Administrator (10)  |  Attack (41)  |  Consequence (114)  |  Cutting (6)  |  Idea (580)  |  Individual (221)  |  Obsolete (10)  |  Psychology (143)  |  Size (60)

Our papers have been making a great deal of American “know-how” ever since we had the misfortune to discover the atomic bomb. There is one quality more important than know-how” and we cannot accuse the United States of any undue amount of it. This is “know-what,” by which we determine not only how to accomplish our purposes, but what our purposes are to be.
— Norbert Wiener
In The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950), 210.
Science quotes on:  |  Accomplishment (80)  |  America (87)  |  Atomic Bomb (107)  |  Determine (76)  |  Discover (199)  |  Important (205)  |  Journalism (3)  |  Misfortune (8)  |  Paper (83)  |  Purpose (194)  |  Quality (95)

Progress imposes not only new possibilities for the future but new restrictions.
— Norbert Wiener
In 'Progress and Entropy', The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950, 1954), 46.
Science quotes on:  |  Future (287)  |  Impose (22)  |  New (496)  |  Possibility (116)  |  Progress (368)  |  Restriction (9)

Scientific discovery consists in the interpretation for our own convenience of a system of existence which has been made with no eye to our convenience at all.
— Norbert Wiener
The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1950), 137.
Science quotes on:  |  Convenience (34)  |  Discovery (680)  |  Existence (299)  |  Interpretation (70)

The advantage is that mathematics is a field in which one’s blunders tend to show very clearly and can be corrected or erased with a stroke of the pencil. It is a field which has often been compared with chess, but differs from the latter in that it is only one’s best moments that count and not one’s worst. A single inattention may lose a chess game, whereas a single successful approach to a problem, among many which have been relegated to the wastebasket, will make a mathematician’s reputation.
— Norbert Wiener
In Ex-Prodigy: My Childhood and Youth (1953), 21.
Science quotes on:  |  Advantage (77)  |  Approach (54)  |  Bad (99)  |  Best (173)  |  Blunder (17)  |  Chess (23)  |  Clearly (41)  |  Compare (38)  |  Correct (85)  |  Count (49)  |  Differ (22)  |  Erase (6)  |  Field (171)  |  Game (61)  |  Inattention (5)  |  Lose (94)  |  Mathematician (384)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Moment (107)  |  Pencil (17)  |  Problem (497)  |  Reputation (28)  |  Show (93)  |  Single (120)  |  Stroke (8)  |  Successful (40)  |  Wastebasket (2)

The future offers very little hope for those who expect that our new mechanical slaves will offer us a world in which we may rest from thinking. Help us they may, but at the cost of supreme demands upon our honesty and our intelligence. The world of the future will be an ever more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves.
— Norbert Wiener
In God & Golem, Inc (1964), 73-74.
Science quotes on:  |  Demanding (2)  |  Future (287)  |  Honesty (19)  |  Hope (174)  |  Intelligence (168)  |  Limitation (30)  |  Mechanism (52)  |  Robot (12)  |  Slave (28)  |  Struggle (78)  |  Thinking (231)

The modern physicist is a quantum theorist on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and a student of gravitational relativity theory on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. On Sunday he is neither, but is praying to his God that someone, preferably himself, will find the reconciliation between the two views.
— Norbert Wiener
In I Am a Mathematician, the Later Life of a Prodigy (1956), 109.
Science quotes on:  |  Find (408)  |  God (535)  |  Gravitation (38)  |  Modern (162)  |  Monday (3)  |  Physicist (161)  |  Pray (16)  |  Quantum Theory (57)  |  Reconciliation (10)  |  Saturday (5)  |  Student (203)  |  Sunday (7)  |  Theory Of Relativity (14)  |  Tuesday (3)  |  View (171)  |  Wednesday (2)

The way of pure research is opposed to all the copy-book maxims concerning the virtues of industry and a fixed purpose, and the evils of guessing, but it is damned useful when it comes off. It is the diametrical opposite of Edison’s reputed method of trying every conceivable expedient until he hit the right one. It requires, not diligence, but experience, information, and a good nose for the essence of a problem.
— Norbert Wiener
Letter to Paul de Kruif (3 Aug 1933), as quoted in Nathan Reingold, Science in America: A Documentary History 1900-1939 (1981), 409.
Science quotes on:  |  Diligence (16)  |  Thomas Edison (83)  |  Evil (79)  |  Expedience (2)  |  Experience (342)  |  Guess (48)  |  Industry (109)  |  Information (122)  |  Maxim (17)  |  Method (239)  |  Nose (10)  |  Opposed (3)  |  Opposite (50)  |  Problem (497)  |  Pure (103)  |  Purpose (194)  |  Requirement (47)  |  Research (590)  |  Right (197)  |  Trying (19)  |  Usefulness (77)  |  Virtue (61)

We have decided to call the entire field of control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in the animal, by the name Cybernetics, which we form from the Greek … for steersman. In choosing this term, we wish to recognize that the first significant paper on feedback mechanisms is an article on governors, which was published by Clerk Maxwell in 1868, and that governor is derived from a Latin corruption … We also wish to refer to the fact that the steering engines of a ship are indeed one of the earliest and best-developed forms of feedback mechanisms.
— Norbert Wiener
In Cybernetics (1948), 19.
Science quotes on:  |  Animal (359)  |  Article (22)  |  Clerk (3)  |  Communication (76)  |  Control (114)  |  Corruption (10)  |  Cybernetic (2)  |  Decision (72)  |  Development (289)  |  Engine (29)  |  Fact (733)  |  Feedback (8)  |  Governor (8)  |  Greek (73)  |  Latin (33)  |  Machine (157)  |  James Clerk Maxwell (87)  |  Mechanism (52)  |  Ship (44)  |  Term (122)  |  Theory (696)


See also:
  • 26 Nov - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Wiener's birth.
  • Cybernetics, by Norbert Wiener. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Norbert Weiner.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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