John von Neumann: Formative Years1
Original Publication Date: 1989-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Software Patent Institute
NICHOLAS VONNEUMAN: AUTHOR [+2]
This biographical essay by von Neumann's younger brother traces the development of John von Neumann's axiomatic method to his early environment. Nicholas Vonneuman sees the early contact with eminent scientists and scholars in their parents' house and the discussion of management practices at dinner conversations as shaping experiences in his brother's life. His mother's motto ";to make the impossible possible"; also exerted great influence on his brother.
THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.
Copyright ©; 1989 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.
John von Neumann: Formative Years11
This biographical essay by von Neumann's younger brother traces the development of John von Neumann's axiomatic method to his early environment. Nicholas Vonneuman sees the early contact with eminent scientists and scholars in their parents' house and the discussion of management practices at dinner conversations as shaping experiences in his brother's life. His mother's motto "to make the impossible possible" also exerted great influence on his brother.
Categories and Subject Descriptors: K2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- people.
My brother, John von Neumann, is generally thought of as being associated with quantum mechanics, Los Alamos, computers, and theories on poker and economics. He is less well known for his role as a mathematician and mathematical physicist. In fact, John was "the last representative of a once flourishing and numerous group [of] great mathematicians who were equally at home in pure and applied mathematics and who throughout their careers maintained a steady production in both directions" (Dieudonne 1981).
It was in this tradition that John made contributions to mathematics, physics, economics, and other disciplines which were not "disjoined and separate remarks in these fields, but ar[o]se from a common point of view (Goldstine and Wigner 1957). These accomplishments alone could represent the lifetime achievements of many scientists. They result, in part, from "[his] uncommon ability to organize and axiomatize complex situations that a priori do not seem amenable to mathematical treatment" (Dieudonne 1981).
Further, John's work is characterized by a conviction that an empirical push for practical applications can save a scientist, particularly a mathematician, from becoming lost in pure or abstract fields" (von Neumann 1963a). John believed that, in some fields, scientists can no longer carry on their research in isolated "ivory towers" without the need for "accounting for the possible uses of their discoveries" (von Neumann 1963b).
John's work and ideas have had a lasting influence in science and education. His philosophy was that the study of science and technology in high school, if not earlier, is a practical necessity because the evolution of ideas into applied uses has been so rapid. By the time the student graduates, entirely new fields of applications will be available. He conveyed this message to new generations through his appearances on the Youth Wants to Know television series.
As I look back on John's life as a scientist, it becomes apparent that the underlying structure of his greatest works, the seminal core of his contributions, is not exclusively the product of a genetic gift. The evidence of an incredible reasoning power and the ability to recall, reo...