Talk:John von Neumann

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I remember reading that von Neumann had said something like:

"Not taking into account ideology in considering history is like not taking into account hysteresis in considering magnetism."

I would dearly like to find a source and an accurate version of what von Neumann said. I'm not sure whether he mentioned hysteresis.

John McCarthy jmc@cs.stanford.edu www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/

For others possibly interested: see middle of the right column of p.160 (PDF p.7) of http://www.ams.org/notices/201302/rnoti-p154.pdf (29-Dec-2014) (F. Dyson, "A Walk through Johnny von Neumann's Garden", Notices of the AMS Vol.60 No.2 (Feb 2013), p.154-161): "It is just as foolish to complain that people are selfish and treacherous as it is to complain that the magnetic field does not increase unless the electric field has a curl. Both are laws of nature."

Unsourced[edit]

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  • It would appear that we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology, although one should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound pretty silly in 5 years.
Possible origin of this alleged quote (and note that it is Stanislaw Ulam, not von Neumann): see p.30 of http://www.ams.org/journals/bull/1958-64-03/S0002-9904-1958-10189-5/ (Ulam, S. "John von Neumann, 1903–1957". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 64 (1958), 1–49): "A numerical investigation of truly 3-dimensional motions is at present impractical even on the most advanced electronic computing machines. (This may not be the case, say five years from now.)"
  • None other than Bertrand Russell advocated a nuclear first strike against Russia in parliament no less. So von Neumann is in good company. Russell actually said something like "When the US had a monopoly on nuclear weapons it made sense to attack Russia, but now that Russia has them too it makes no sense at all." Of course Russia would have responded by attacking and destroying Western Europe by conventional means, thanks to their overwhelming arms superiority. Russell obviously wasn't really serious, but some people were shocked.
  • There's no sense in being precise when you don't even know what you're talking about.
  • The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work.
(I added this quote to the article. For the source, see here.) ~ DanielTom (talk) 20:04, 18 February 2014 (UTC)
Citation for this quote: von Neumann, John (1955) "Method in the physical sciences." in The Neumann Compendium. World series in 20th century mathematics; vol. 1, Bródy, F., and Vámos, T., eds., World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore (p. 628)
  • The most vitally characteristic fact about mathematics is, in my opinion, its quite peculiar relationship to the natural sciences, or more generally, to any science which interprets experience on a higher than purely descriptive level.
  • You insist that there is something that a machine can't do. If you will tell me precisely what it is that a machine cannot do, then I can always make a machine which will do just that.
  • With the Russians it is not a question of whether but of when. [...] If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say today at 5 o'clock, I say why not one o'clock?
    • This quote seems to have been spread by Life Magazine, February 25 1957, page 96... but they claim it is a 7 year old quote by then and they don't give their source.
    • Freeman Dyson in a documentary "The real dr. Strangelove" implied that he heard that very words from von Neumann.
  • Technological possibilities are irresistible to man. If man can go to the moon, he will. If he can control the climate, he will.