Talk:Norbert Wiener

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Anyone know how to pronounce his surname? I can't find any confirmation on it.

I'm not sure if it's weiner as in sausage for like vine-er.

Wiener ("Viennese") is spelled Wiener, even when it's the Viennese sausage, and pronounced "veener" in German and often, mistakenly unless it's a German-American, "weener" by Americans. "Weiner" would mean "winer." --Wetman 09:33, 14 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Actually, speaking as one whose own last name is "weiner", it's pronounced "whiner", not "winner". --ArtifexCrastinus 05:36, 14 December 2006 (UTC)

Wiener or Weiner?[edit]

Most of the article uses "Wiener", but the anecdote section uses "Weiner" when spelling Norbert's name. Which one is correct? This inconsistency should be either be fixed or explicitly addressed in the text. --Fredrik Orderud 22:12, 8 May 2005 (UTC)

"norbert wiener" - 82,200 google entries, "norbert weiner" - 7,450 google entries. somebody want to clean up the anecdotes? --Gzuckier 03:13, 9 May 2005 (UTC)
Done! All ocurences of "Weiner" are now replaced with "Wiener". --Fredrik Orderud 08:53, 9 May 2005 (UTC)

Anecdote # 1[edit]

I wasn't around MIT at that time, but in the late 60s there wasn't any wainscoting in any of the corridors or rooms, however old. I doubt that somebody went around and removed it. --Gzuckier 17:43, 24 August 2005 (UTC)

The way I heard it (I do not remember whether it is extracted from Weiner's autobiography, or from a book "Anecdotes of the Mathematicians", or from a NY Times Book Review review of a biography of Weiner- it was from one of the preceding sources), Weiner was walking and pondering in one of the quads, when the studen stopped him &etc. Fun Trivia: This very anecdote appears again, in Dan Simmons' Hyperion quartet, where it is told of Sad King Billy instead; the Hyperion Quartet also draws upon Weiner's God and Golem, quoting from and pondering its questions. --Maru 23:20, 1 September 2005 (UTC)
True story. My dad knew him <g> and made sure I met him very shortly before his death in 1964. He was walking out of Walker Memorial (then the main East Campus cafeteria and student center) and paused to talk with some students. When he had quite done, he asked them "Was I headed to Walker, of from there?" When told he was heading away from Walker, he said "Thank goodness then. I have eaten lunch." Collect (talk) 23:08, 25 November 2008 (UTC)

Anecdote #5[edit]

Although this is not a comical anecdote, the story nevertheless deserves telling in this space. I heard this story while I was a student at MIT. LoopTel 21:08, 16 December 2006 (UTC)

I would be delighted if anyone could provide more facts such as name of the American warship and name of some crew members.LoopTel 00:53, 29 December 2006 (UTC)


Anecdotes section lists Norbert's height as 5' even, but I think he was 5'6" which is what I read in Dark Hero of the Information Age, a recently published biography of Wiener. He didn't look quite short enough to be 5' in the photographs, unless everyone was tiny back then.

The book lists his height as being 5' even as well. I cannot remember the page number now, but I am certain. --A. Belani, 2005-11-15

I saw Norbert Wiener numerous times in 1960 and he appeared very short to me. Since I'm only 5' 7", I would think he was about 5' 0", not 5' 6". --Rjswaney 17:28, 16 March 2007 (UTC)Rjswaney

~ ~ ~ ~

This story number five is interesting, but likely legend. HIstorians of cybernetics seem to agree -- I think this is discused in Peter Galison's "Ontology of the Enemy" -- that Wiener's contributions to anti-aircraft fire control were basically useless. His important idea for cybernetics grew out of this work, of course, but he all his proposals for data-smoothing were less effective than methods already in use. It's probably not possible that his work saved a boatload of people anywhere.

Bernie, April 2006 ~ ~ ~ ~

I would like to see the source of this likely highly informed and researched comment.--Scorpion451 17:55, 5 July 2007 (UTC)


It is now very clear that Wiener, by his rash actions during one of his depressive states, and more importantly by his wife's malevolent hidden hand, cut off his connections to McCulloch, Pitts, and their teammates. This is evidenced by the following sections in the book Dark Hero of the Information Age.

  • Chapter 11, Breach and Betrayal (pages 213-234)
  • Pages 313-314
  • Page 335

Maybe sometime I can transcribe a few relevant paragraphs of the book here.

I think the statement in the article referring to the breakup must include these correct reasons, as there is little speculation left now. --A. Belani, 2005-11-16

Ok. Enough cites for me. Go ahead and add that back in. --Maru (talk) Contribs 01:24, 18 November 2005 (UTC)
Done. --A. Belani, 2005-11-17
“Malevolent hidden hand”? Can I use this in a detective novel I am writing?
What were her motives? Was she a neuroscientist intending to publish results of researches similar to that os McCulloch and Pitts? -- NIC1138 (talk) 21:36, 24 March 2008 (UTC)
I think I looked at that book a few years ago. Its basic claim was that Mrs. Wiener was very manipulative and tried to keep her husband isolated and psychologically dependent on her. I would want to look for other confirmation of this type of story before taking it as gospel. (talk) 20:02, 10 August 2008 (UTC)
OK, apparently "Dark Hero" says on p. 226 that Mrs. Wiener engineered the split because she thought that "the boys in McCullough's group" had seduced the Wieners' older daughter (see also [1] p. 577). She was apparently given to unfounded suspicions of this type. (talk) [new address] 19:46, 17 August 2008 (UTC)

Who really invented cybernetics - Odobleja or Wiener?[edit]

From these sites

Our mentor - the father of cybernetics

"Stefan Odobleja could be considered not only a Socrate of our times, but also a second Columb, because he had the same destiny: to discover the America of science and at the end this America got another name, not his." (I.C.Dragan)


Stefan Odobleja, the creator of psychocybernetics and the father of generalised cybernetics was born on the 13'th of october 1902 in the house of some poor and illiterate peasants from Izvorul Anestilor - Mehedinti.

He went to the high school in Drobeta Turnu Severin and to the college in Bucharest. He became a military doctor. His most important creation "The consonantist psychology" was presented in Psychological Abstracts (1941) but it didn't receive the deserved echo. The cybernetic model, begining from obsevations, intuition and rationality, created by Odobleja in 1938-1939, but used (as we know) ten years later, in the american literature and then in the european one, was used and applied in many scientific fields. Begining with 1972, when he read Norbert Wiener's autobiography, Stefan Odobleja devoted his time to prove that the origin of cybernetics is in psychology. He published a special creation named "The consonantist psychology and cybernetics". He died on the 4'th of september 1978 in misery. His work was better appreciated after his death - in 1982 began the establishment of Stefan Odobleja General Cybernetics Academy and the participants (from Romania and from foreign countries) decided to establish such an Academy in Switzerland too. In all his work, Odobleja tried to answer the questions based on old enigmas. His true value was discussed and recognised all over the world with appreciations like: "You have a golden man, he deserves a golden statue". -- 2006-01-04 22:51

Wiener personally had worked on cybernetics in more influential and diverse fields than Odobleja. He firmly established the discipline of cybernetics. It is also known from the book Dark Hero of the Information Age that Wiener himself painfully coined the magical word 'cybernetics'. The Wikipedia article on cybernetics does give claim to Odobleja as being one of the precursors of cybernetics. I believe any additional credit you wish to provide to Odobleja should be in that article. --ABelani 2006-01-05 03:33 UTC

I do not agree. It's like saying that Traian Vuia's FIRST autonomous flight was not actually fair because his wheel was broken and therefore it isn't a "proper" flight (and this has been said in the US, so that the Wright brothers remained in hold of their title, which is false) Who was first? Odobleja or Wiener? You (and that article) claim that Odobleja is precursor, so you admit he was the first, but you skillfully avoid the truth. That's the story of romanians, and the story of the whole world. Whenever a Romanian did something special he was bashed in the head by the Americans, the French, and any other nation that felt that since they were western they have the right to be the first even when they're not. Darn arrogance. (talk) 21:17, 27 December 2008 (UTC)

If Odobleja's work was a precursor to cybernetics, then it was, by definition, not cybernetics. If you are concerned with Odobleja's legacy on wikipedia you can find another reference regarding his life and work, so the information on that english wikipedia page does not stem from a singular and unverifiable source. (talk) 16:35, 2 May 2012 (UTC)


Finding the article through a general Wikipedia search, I was puzzled by the introductory sentence "Norbert Wiener was the first child of Leo Wiener, a Polish-Jewish immigrant." Immigrant to where? Great Britain, France, Australia, Israel, Kongo? Readers being aware that the article was written as part of the Missouri project, would presumably (correctly??) guess Missouri, but I would think most readers of the article are not in this category. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 21:25, 19 February 2007 (UTC).

It states earlier in the article that he was born in the United States in Missouri.--Scorpion451 17:58, 5 July 2007 (UTC)


I can't really see the value of the "anecdotes" found in the article. This kind of anecdotes is attributed to most famous thinkers; in most cases it doesn't help illustrating the character and the works of the person in question, but only serve to entertain the lesser minds.--K.C. Tang 06:41, 31 July 2007 (UTC)

This lesser mind begs to differ on all points except the first (regarding your inability). --Gwern (contribs) 01:50 2 August 2007 (GMT)
Merge, if sourced - I just don't see anecdote collections being encyclopedic, per se. Essentially, they're "trivia" in another format, and the suggestions of Template:trivia apply: The article could be improved by integrating relevant items into the main text and removing inappropriate items. However, if proper sources indicate that being an "absent-minded professor" was a notable aspect of Wiener's character, then an anecdote or two illustrating that would be an appropriate part of a section discussing his personality. Furthermore, they need to be properly sourced. As noted elsewhere, such gossipy stories are relatively common, and the same stories often get attributed to multiple people. Without a source, it's just a rumor. Studerby 03:56, 2 August 2007 (UTC)
Merge, if sourced or delete, if not, per above.--K.C. Tang 08:47, 2 August 2007 (UTC)
I believe that Wiener's absentminded-professor behavior is one of the defining aspects of his character, and should be given some mention. While many anecdotes about him are surely apocryphal, I believe that his return to his old home unsure of his new address, only to find his daughter waiting for him there, is reasonably well sourced. At least it's been repeated enough times that I imagine it should be included in wikipedia as something he supposedly or allegedly did. Derekt75 23:52, 3 August 2007 (UTC)
I agree that the anecdotes are part of the Wiener legend, and for that reason at least a few of them should be restored (with proper sourcing, including a disclaimer that the more colorful ones are probably false). I seem to remember that Paul Halmos's autobiography "I Want To Be A Mathematician" says a few things about them. P. R. Masani's biography of Wiener also has a few. (talk) 19:21, 10 August 2008 (UTC)
The "Anecdotes" this talk items is talking about were removed in 2 August 2007, see here -- Marcel Douwe Dekker (talk) 21:23, 10 August 2008 (UTC)
I read a version of the "new address" story in "What is the name of this Book", by Raymond Smullyan. In that version, Mrs. Wiener reminds him of the move every day for month, so that he will get on the correct bus after work. In repeating this story, Smullyan says that he believes the story is apocryphal. (talk) 04:23, 10 December 2008 (UTC)
Direct quote (but not published anywhere that I know of) from his daughter, the late Peggy Wiener Kennedy, upon being told the 'joke' (where he does not recognize his daughter) by someone who did not know who she was: "Father was always absent minded, but he never forgot who we were." It's apocryphal, but it's still a good story. Snezzy (talk) 22:09, 10 September 2013 (UTC)
It was often told at MIT - so it is quite likely true that he kept having to be reminded of which bus to take. Collect (talk) 13:46, 10 December 2008 (UTC)

Freeman Dyson on Wiener:

"When Professor Wiener walked to and from class, he typically read while he strolled. In order to keep his eyes on his reading material when reading and walking, he used his free hand to feel his way along the wall. Students would see him coming and always cleared the path. As he approached the classroom, he often began speaking before he actually entered the room. By the time he picked up the chalk, he was two or three sentences into the day's lecture. Usually his lectures consisted of complex mathematical proofs and, frequently, he became "stuck" somewhere along the way. When this happened, he would step back from the chalkboard, staring intently at his field of abstract symbols, and call for his student and assistant, Donald Brennan, to finish the exercise. Professor Wiener would sit down in the front row while Donald finished the proof and then offer his approval with the comment, "Now, that's much better." Norbert Wiener was a true legend at MIT and was much revered by the students. Looking back, perhaps his eccentricities were a bit studied. It is sad to learn now that his life was somewhat troubled but, to the students at MIT of the Wiener era, he was an inspiration."

--Gwern (contribs) 15:50 27 March 2009 (GMT)

Per the link, that quote is from Bill Troutman, not Freeman Dyson. (talk) 11:12, 4 January 2011 (UTC)


Unless I've missed it, the article doesn't say why he died, or explain why he was in Stockholm. I'd posit that a brief mention of this is a necessity for any biographical article. Mimetic Polyalloy (talk) 23:31, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

Ah, this bio has a bunch more biographical info - is it a reliable source? Mimetic Polyalloy (talk) 23:33, 25 January 2009 (UTC)

Copy-paste registration[edit]

-- Mdd (talk) 22:59, 3 November 2009 (UTC)

Please at least mention Stefan Odobleja[edit]

I see that this issue has already been raised before but I thought I'd raise it again.

I would like to appeal to the authors of the article to at least mention that others consider Stefan Odobleja as the founder of cybernetics. It won't make Norbert Wiener look smaller.


Dianasisu (talk) 13:32, 8 January 2010 (UTC)Diana Sisu

We need a reliable source saying Odobleja was the founder or co-founder. --NeilN talk to me 13:57, 8 January 2010 (UTC)

Segal profile[edit]

Biographical profile of Wiener by Segal: —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:50, 25 June 2010 (UTC)

Harvard faculty cat[edit]

This is a very minor point, but should Wiener really be listed under the Harvard faculty category? He was a lecturer there very briefly after earning his PhD but was unable to get a permanent job at Harvard. GabrielF (talk) 17:01, 10 January 2011 (UTC)