W.S. McCulloch


To me he was a myth before I met the man. In a single speech he had disclosed all that the Bell Laboratories, and their competitors, had laboriously learned of filters, and much that they hoped to learn, as special cases of his general theory.

I first laid eyes on him at dinner with Rosenblueth when they, with Bigelow, were mechanizing teleology. He told me promptly what I could expect of my own theories of the working of the brain. Time proved him right. Then it was that the dream began of team play between biologist, mathematician and communication engineer, which eventually flowered into Cybernetics, for Norbert had not only the imagination to invent but the burning desire to share his notions of the useful and the good.

Here in the halls of M.I.T., he was a familiar sight, standing splayfoot, his cigar poised in his right hand at the level of his mouth, pouring out on student, janitor, business manager or astounded colleague witticisms or profundities of science with equal gusto. He was generous to a fault, and has embarrassed many of us by attributing to us the creation of hardware when what we had, in fact, was only an understanding of his theory.

But I think I know him best through his students, to whom he taught the art of theorizing, not just his theories and their proofs. One and all they say of him that he taught them their business.

We are too near the man to see his greatness in perspective. Genius like his rarely takes the time or trouble to grow armor to shield it from the roughness of the world, and retains the charm of childhood throughout life. For this, and in this I think I speak for all who really knew him, I can say we all loved Norbert. One thing is certain: Neither Medicine nor Engineering nor Mathematics will ever be the same as if he had not been.


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Keywords: Wiener, Theory, Age, Science, Laboratories, Mind, Framework, Speech, Realism

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1 Reprinted from The J. of Nervous and Mental Disease, Vol 140, No.1, 1965.