Saturday, May 20, 2017

Tjalling Koopmans: pioneer of optimization models

Tjalling Koopmans (1910-1985) was an influential economist best known for optimization models and applying linear programming to general equilibrium models. He was also director of the Cowles Commission (1948-1955) and is 1975 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics says,
Koopmans showed the conditions required for economy-wide efficiency in allocating resources. He like Kantorovich, used his activity analysis techniques to derive efficient criteria for allocating between the present and the future.
Economist Thomas Sargent said,
Koopmans complained that macroeconomic models weren't satisfactory because they didn't handle randomness. (Conversations with Economists by Arjo Klamer)
This post is a collection of quotes from Koopmans talking about the philosophy of economics.

Philosophy of economics

"One is led to conclude that economics as a scientific discipline is still somewhat hanging in the air." (Three Essays, 1957)

"We looked upon economic theory as a sequence of conceptual models that seek to express in simplified form different aspects of an always more complicated reality." (Three Essays, 1957)

"It is worth pointing out that in this particular study our authors have abandoned demand and supply functions as a tool for analysis, even as applied to individuals... [The problem] has been reformulated as one of proving that a number of maximizations of individual goals under interdependent restraints can be simultaneously carried out." (Three Essays, 1957)

Pierre-Simon Laplace and probability theory

Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827) was an influential mathematician and scientist best known for his contributions to probability theory and celestial mechanics. Mathematician Morris Kline says,
Laplace created a number of new mathematical methods that were subsequently expanded into branches of mathematics, but he never cared for mathematics except as it helped him to study nature.
Journalist Kathryn Schulz says,
Pierre Simon Laplace refined the distribution of errors, illustrated by the now-familiar bell curve... Laplace used the bell curve to determine the precise orbit of the planets... By using the normal distribution to graph... individually imperfect data points, Laplace was able to generate a far more precise picture of the galaxy... aggregate enough flawed data, and you get a glimpse of the truth.
 This post is a collection of quotes from Laplace talking about the philosophy of probability.


"Imaginary causes have gradually receded with the widening bounds of knowledge and disappear entirely before sound philosophy, which sees in them only the expression of our ignorance of the true causes." (Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, 1812)

"The theory of chance consists in reducing all the events of the same kind to a certain number of cases equally possible..." (Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, 1812)

"All these efforts in the search for truth tend to lead it [the human mind] back continually to the vast intelligence... but from which it will always remain infinitely removed." (Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, 1812)

"The most important questions of life... are indeed for the most part only problems of probability." (Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, 1812)

Marie Curie and the philosophy of science

Marie Curie (1867-1934) was an influential chemist best known for her pioneering work in radioactivity. Wikipedia says,
She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes.
This post is a list of quotes from Currie talking about the philosophy of science.

Philosophy of science

"If I see anything vital around me, it is precisely that spirit of adventure, which seems indestructible and is akin to curiosity." (Quoted in Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie Labouisse)

"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained." (Quoted in Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie Labouisse)

"In science, we must be interested in things, not in persons." (Quoted in Madame Curie: A Biography by Eve Curie Labouisse)

"All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child." (Pierre Curie, 1923)

"I am one of those who think like Nobel, that humanity will draw more good than evil from new discoveries." (Quoted in White Coat Tales by Robert B. Taylor)

"...humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit. Without doubt, these dreamers do not deserve wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organized society should assure to such workers the efficient means of accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and freely consecrated to research."

Friday, May 19, 2017

John von Neumann and mathematical science

John von Neumann (1903-1957) was an influential mathematician best known his contributions to game theory and working on the Manhattan Project during World War II. Von Neumann also made contributions to statistics and quantum mechanics. His daughter Marina von Neumann Whitman said,
...throughout much of his career, he led a double life: as an intellectual leader in the ivory tower of pure mathematics and as a man of action, in constant demand as an advisor, consultant and decision-maker to what is sometimes called the military-industrial complex of the United States... He had the scientist's passion for learning and discovery for its own sake and the genius's ego-driven concern for the significance and durability of his own contributions.
This post is a list of quotes from von Neumann talking about mathematics.

Philosophy of mathematics

"A large part of mathematics which becomes useful developed with absolutely no desire to be useful, and in a situation where nobody could possibly know in what area it would become useful; and there were no general indications that it ever would be so." (The Role of Mathematics in the Sciences and in Society, 1954)

"When we talk mathematics, we may be discussing a secondary language built on the primary language of the nervous system." (Quoted in John von Neumann, 1903-1957 by Oxtoby and Pettis)

"Young man, in mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them." (Quoted in The Dancing Wu Li Masters)

"The calculus was the first achievement of modern mathematics and it is difficult to overestimate its importance. I think it defines more unequivocally than anything else the inception of modern mathematics; and the system of mathematical analysis, which is its logical development, still constitutes the greatest technical advance in exact thinking." (Quoted in Bigeometric Calculus by James Stewart)

Philosophy of science

"Truth.. is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations." (Quoted in The Works of the Mind by R. B. Heywood)

"It is exceptional that one should be able to acquire the understanding of a process without having previously acquired a deep familiarity with running it, with using it, before one has assimilated it in an instinctive and empirical way… Thus any discussion of the nature of intellectual effort in any field is difficult, unless it presupposes an easy, routine familiarity with that field. In mathematics this limitation becomes very severe." (Quoted in The World of Mathematics by James Roy Newman)

"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." (Method in the Physical Sciences, 1955)

"If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is." (Quoted in Archaeology of computers)

Isaac Asimov and science fiction

Isaac Asimov (1920-1994) was an influential writer and biochemist best known for writing science fiction books with an emphasis on scientific accuracy. Computer scientist Simson Garfinkle says,
...the true value of Asimov's insight is his reflections on his life - and, in his mind, Asimov was first a genius, second a prolific writer, and only thirdly a sci-fi writer. (Asimov the Explainer Explains Himself, 1994)
This post is a collection of quotes from Asimov talking about science.

Philosophy of science

"Science doesn't purvey absolute truth. Science is a mechanism. It's a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature. It's a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match. And this works, not just for the ordinary aspects of science, but for all of life." (Interview on Bill Moyers, 1988)

"I believe that every human being with a physically normal brain can learn a great deal and can be surprisingly intellectual. I believe that what we badly need is social approval of learning and social rewards for learning." (Quoted in Newsweek, 1980)


"The machine is only a tool after all, which can help humanity progress faster by taking some of the burdens of calculations and interpretations off its back. The task of the human brain remains what it has always been; that of discovering new data to be analyzed, and of devising new concepts to be tested." (I, Robot, 1950)

"Well, I hope [the shuttle program] does get off the ground. And I hope they expand it, because the shuttle program is the gateway to everything else. By means of the shuttle, we will be able to build space stations and power stations, laboratory facilities and habitations, and everything else in space." (Quoted in Southwest Airlines magazine, 1979)

"All we need is the political go-ahead and the economic willingness to spend the money that is necessary [referring to space travel]. It is a little frustrating to think that if people concentrate on how much it is going to cost they will realize the great amount of profit they will get for their investment." (Quoted in Southwest Airlines magazine, 1979)

Philosophy of art

"The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers." (The Roving Mind , 1983)

"Books... hold within them the gathered wisdom of humanity, the collected knowledge of the world's thinkers, the amusement and excitement built up by the imaginations of brilliant people. Books contain humor, beauty, wit, emotion, thought, and, indeed, all of life. Life without books is empty." (Puzzles of the Black Widowers, 1990)

"Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not." (How Easy to See the Future, 1975)

Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia

Jimmy Wales (1966-now) is an internet entrepreneur and co-founder of the website Wikipedia. Tim Adams said in an article for the Guardian,
The more time I spent on the site the more I came to think of Wales as some kind of Queen Ant, letting the vast colony go about its work, at the centre of a system where the knowledge of the community is infinitely larger than the sum of experience of all its individuals. (For your Information, 2007)
This post is a collection of quotes from Wales talking about Wikipedia.

What is Wikipedia?

"It turns out a lot of people don’t get it. Wikipedia is like rock’n’roll; it’s a cultural shift." (Quoted in Computerworld, 2006)

"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing." (Quoted in Wikimedia Founder Jimmy Wales Responds by Robin Miller 2004)

"Wikipedia is first and foremost an effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language." (Wikipedia-l mailing list, 2005)

"Wikipedia is a non-profit. It was either the dumbest thing I ever did or the smartest thing I ever did."  (Keynote Speech, SXSW 2006)

"We are growing from a cheerful small town where everyone waves off their front porch to the subway of New York City where everyone rushes by. How do you preserve the culture that has worked so well?" (Quoted in ExpressIndia, 2005)

Thomas Edison and inventions

Thomas Edison (1847-1931) was a famous inventor best known for developing the phonograph, a longer lasting light bulb and many other things. Edison had 1,093 patents in the United States. Physicist Nikolai Tesla said,
If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
This post is a collection of quotes from Edison talking about inventions.

How to make an invention

"I find out what the world needs. Then, I go ahead and invent it." (Quoted in American Greats by Wilson and Marcus)

"I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory." (Quoted in Harper's magazine, 1890)

"I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come indirectly through accident, except the phonograph. No, when I have, fully decided that a result is worth getting, I go about it, and make trial after trial, until it comes." (Quoted in A Photographic Talk with Edison by Theodore Dreiser)

"Through all the years of experimenting and research, I never once made a discovery. I start where the last man left off... All my work was deductive, and the results I achieved were those of invention pure and simple." (Quoted in Makers of the Modern World by Louis Untermeyer)

"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk." (Quoted in in Behavior-Based Robotics by Ronald C. Arkin)