Nomination
Professor in mathematics; worked on aircraft fire-control systems and developed cybernetics.
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  • My father, who was Class of ’30, recalled a day during his undergraduate years when he was sitting in an otherwise empty classroom, using some free time to study for his next class. Prof. Wiener came in, looked at him, and said “Will you be needing the blackboard?” “Um, no sir,” was the reply. “Good,” said Wiener, and starting at the left front, began writing a long series of equations. He progressed all the way across the front board, moved to the side board, and continued writing until he got to the back of the room.

    He stepped back, gazed at the boards for a minute or two, then nodded in satisfaction. “Just as I thought,” he said to himself, and marched out and off down the hall.

  • There was a story that Norbert Wiener used to walk down the hallway with one hand on the wall to tell himself which way he was going.

    It wasn’t a legend… I actually saw him doing this in Building 18 in the Fall of 1958 when I was a Freshman, although I wasn’t sure whether he used this method to tell himself which way he was going or was just entertaining us gullible Freshmen..

    Anyway, none of this seem unusual then because there were so many other strange things happening, such as the professor whose accent was so thick that he would jump up and down shouting something like, “Here it is sinus alpha,” as he scribbled on the blackboard.

    In fact, sitting in the front row of Room 10-250 could be a bit hazardous at times, since demonstrations would occasionally backfire. One in particular I remember vividly was when a lecturer got carried away in his discussion of current charging a capacitor so that when he finally got around to throwing shut a very large knife switch the wire attached to the capacitor exploded with a huge roar and flash of light. Everyone just sat there with spots of light in their eyes. There was a deathly silence, until from the back of the room came the words, “Oh my God!”

    Another incident took place when a demonstration where molten iron from a thermite reaction was supposed to fall into a big glass tank to be quenched, but ended up going all the way to the bottom and causing the tank break open, releasing an avalanche of water onto the floor.

    I wonder if anyone else remembers similar adventures in their classes. It would be nice to hear about them.

    William Jordan '58

    19 Mar 09 at 5:46 pm

  • An alumnus of the class of 1950 wrote in with a memory of “Norbert Wiener sitting on the steps throwing peanuts up in the air and catching them in his mouth.”

    ariel

    21 May 09 at 4:08 pm

  • An alumnus of the class of 1954 wrote in with a memory of “Norbert Wiener playing chess poorly”.

    ariel

    5 Jun 09 at 5:34 pm

  • Without Weiner modern computing and communicaitons not to mention robotics would not be possible.

    Jim Brazell

    11 Jun 09 at 11:53 pm

  • Even though the Kresge Auditorium and the MIT Chapel were not dedicated until 1955, construction was almost completed in 1949 when i graduated. Designed by Eero Saarinen, both of the buildings were radical in appearance for their day and caused quite a stir of comments either very good or very bad, nothing in between. The cylindrical shaped chapel in particular was the subject of conversation and the resulting display of opinions.
    The story goes that Professor Norbert Wiener was walking on a sidewalk in the Great Court and was greeted by a person who asked him what he thought of the new chapel. Stroking his beard, he responded that “vell, venever I look at it, it makes me feel very religious – all I can say is Jesus Christ!”
    Obviously he was on the side of those who disapproved.

    Andrew Pfeiffenberger 2-'49

    17 Jul 09 at 5:23 pm

  • Back in 1955 there was a little coffee shop directly across the street from the 77 Mass Ave entrance. I was having lunch there one day with a Chinese friend when Prof Wiener appeared, carrying a lunch tray and looking about through his Coke-bottle glasses for a place to sit. All of the tables were occupied and my friend, seeing his distress, invited him to join us.

    As he sat down, he noticed that my friend was of Oriental descent, and immediately launched into a rapid-fire discourse in Chinese.

    “I’m sorry”, my friend said. “You’re speaking Mandarin and I only know Cantonese.”

    “Oh, I’m sorry, Professor Weiner replied, and immediately launched into what my friend later told me was flawless Cantonese.

    “My father spoke seventeen languages fluently”, Wiener later told us, “but I’m a dope. I can only speak twelve.”

    tapped Prof. Wiener on the elbow and asked him if he’d like to join us. “Yes, thank you”, he said, and

    Jay Ball '56

    8 Oct 09 at 11:19 pm

  • While all of the above commentators are quite right about the important things they mention, at this point, Wiener’s biggest contribution is the mathematical characterization of Brownian Motion now known as the Wiener Process. It is one of the most important cornerstones of quantitative finance

  • The way I heard the hand on the wall story, Prof. Weiner was counting doorways while thinking about mathematical problems as he approached his classroom.

    The classic Norbert Weiner story of that era was one about the graduate seminar in which Prof. Weiner was asked about a particularly difficult problem. He wrote it on the blackboard, then immediately wrote the answer underneath, and went on to something else. A couple of grad students interrupted, asking him to explain how he got the result.

    “Yes, yes”, he replied, and again wrote the problem statement on the board. This time he thought for a minute, then again wrote the answer underneath. When the grad students interrupted with the same inquiry, Prof. Weiner replied, “Well, I’ve done it for you two different ways”.

    Michael Silverstein

    Michael SIlverstein

    4 Nov 09 at 3:12 pm

  • I remember Norbert Weiner in on of his talks to us undergraduates saying “The Bible is library.”

    Paul H Carr

    8 Oct 10 at 1:58 pm

  • The version I heard and retell of the Wiener finger on the wall story, was that when a professor passed Dr. Wiener walking along the hall of Bldg 7 with his left index finger on the wall, he asked Prof. Wiener why he was walking along the with his left finger on the wall, Wiener replied that he was searching for his office and that everyone knew that any open maze could be solved by passing along either the left or the right wall.

    I also retell the story of Dr Wiener standing silently at the counter of the MIT Post Office gently pulling at his beard. The clerk stepped up to Dr. Wienwer and said ” Good morning, Dr. Wiener. May I help you?” Wiener replied, ” Ah yes, is there any mail for Norbert Wiener?”

    Jerry Alport

    8 Oct 10 at 8:43 pm

  • I also fondly remember Professor Hans Mueller’s delighfully comic 8.01 lectures in ?? was it 10-250? In the infamous pendulum lecture, A long rope dangled down from the middle of the ceiling of 10-250. Professor Mueller had a bowling ball with a hook, and attached the bowling ball to the bottom of the rope. He then had a freshman seated ner the left wall of the lecture hall stand. Professor Mueller brought the bowlng just up to the chin of his freshman victim. “Watch,” Prof. Mueller exclaimed. “There is always conservation of energy and momentum” He cautioned the freshman to stand very still.” Watch as my pendulum pendles forth and back. Potential, kinetic, potential kinetic.” The freshman stood there terrified as the bowling ball swung out across the lecture hall and returned to one half inch of his chin.
    “Ach so,” Wiener shouted, “potential, kinetic, potential kinetic.”

    And Professor Bruno Benedetti Rossi’s pre Christmas lecture. After silently writing equations on the blackboard of 10-250 for 55 minutes of the 60 minute lecture, Rossi explained, “And that is why the sky is blue.”

    Jerry Alport

    8 Oct 10 at 9:06 pm