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UCD-STAFFORDBEER  September 2010

UCD-STAFFORDBEER September 2010

Subject:

anecdote - von Neumann, Wiener and McCulloch

From:

Roger Harnden <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Forum dedicated to the work of Stafford Beer <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 17 Sep 2010 15:53:58 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (42 lines)

 From same paper...

Roger



“Lorente de Nó and I, as physiologists, were asked to consider the  
second of two black boxes that the allies had liberated from the  
Germans. No one knew what they were supposed to do or how they were to  
do it. The first box had been opened and exploded. Both had inputs and  
outputs, so labelled. The question was phrased unforgettably: “This is  
the enemy’s machine. You have to find out what it does and how it does  
it. What shall we do?”

By the time the question had become that well defined, Norbert was  
snoring at the top of his lungs and his cigar ashes were falling on  
his stomach. But when Lorente and I had tried to answer, Norbert rose  
abruptly and said: “You could of course give it all possible  
sinusoidal frequencies one after the other and record the output, but  
it would be better to feed it noise - say white noise......you might  
call this Rorschach.” Before I could challenge his notion of a  
Rorschach, many engineer’s voices broke in. Then, for the first time,  
I caught the sparkle in Johnny von Neumann’s eye. I had never seen him  
before and I did not know who he was. He read my face like an open  
book. He knew that  stimulus for a man or a machine must be shaped to  
match nearly some of his feature-filters, and that white noise would  
not do.

There followed a wonderful duel: Norbert with an enormous club chasing  
Johnny, and Johnny with a rapier waltzing around Norbert.......at the  
end of which they went to lunch arm in arm.”

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