Edwin Thompson Jaynes

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E. T. Jaynes
Edwin Thompson Jaynes (1922–1998), photo taken circa 1960.
Born (1922-07-05)July 5, 1922
Waterloo, Iowa
Died 30 April 1998(1998-04-30) (aged 75)
St. Louis, Missouri
Fields Physicist
Institutions Washington University
Alma mater Princeton University
Thesis An electronic theory of ferroelectricity (1948)
Doctoral advisor Eugene Wigner
Doctoral students G. Larry Bretthorst
Known for MaxEnt interpretation, Bayesian theory
Jaynes around 1982

Edwin Thompson Jaynes (July 5, 1922 – April 30,[1] 1998) was the Wayman Crow Distinguished Professor of Physics at Washington University in St. Louis. He wrote extensively on statistical mechanics and on foundations of probability and statistical inference, initiating in 1957 the MaxEnt interpretation of thermodynamics,[2][3] as being a particular application of more general Bayesian/information theory techniques (although he argued this was already implicit in the works of Gibbs). Jaynes strongly promoted the interpretation of probability theory as an extension of logic.

In 1963, together with Fred Cummings, he modeled the evolution of a two-level atom in an electromagnetic field, in a fully quantized way. This model is known as the Jaynes–Cummings model.

A particular focus of his work was the construction of logical principles for assigning prior probability distributions; see the principle of maximum entropy, the principle of transformation groups[4][5] and Laplace's principle of indifference.

Jaynes' posthumous book, Probability Theory: The Logic of Science (2003) gathers various threads of modern thinking about Bayesian probability and statistical inference, develops the notion of probability theory as extended logic, and contrasts the advantages of Bayesian techniques with the results of other approaches. This book was published posthumously in 2003 (from an incomplete manuscript that was edited by Larry Bretthorst). An unofficial list of errata is hosted by Kevin S. Van Horn.


  1. ^ Clark J.W.; Norberg R.E.; Bretthorst G.L. (January 2000). "Edwin Thompson Jaynes". Physics Today 53: 71. Bibcode:2000PhT....53a..71.. doi:10.1063/1.882948. 
  2. ^ Jaynes, E.T. (1957). "Information theory and statistical mechanics" (PDF). Physical Review 106 (4): 620–630. Bibcode:1957PhRv..106..620J. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.106.620. 
  3. ^ — (1957). "Information theory and statistical mechanics II" (PDF). Physical Review 108 (2): 171–190. Bibcode:1957PhRv..108..171J. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.108.171. 
  4. ^ — (September 1968). "Prior Probabilities" (PDF). IEEE Trans. on Systems Science and Cybernetics 4 (3): 227. doi:10.1109/TSSC.1968.300117. 
  5. ^ — (December 1973). "The Well-Posed Problem" (PDF). Found. Phys. 3 (4): 477–492. Bibcode:1973FoPh....3..477J. doi:10.1007/BF00709116. 

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