I've been reading this special issue of the magazine (『現代思想 8月臨時増刊号』; Contemporary Philosophy), featuring the legacy of John von Neumann.

The special issue is an anthology of essays on von Neumann, written by 15 Japanese scholars each having different expertise. It's really a good idea to do it this way, because it would have been impossible to cover all aspects of a gigantic figure like von Neumann by a single author.

The variety of different ways in which von Neumann is described in these essays was truly surprising. Not only is he depicted as "the" father of multiple academic disciplines, such as game theory, quantum mechanics or computer science, his character is also multifaceted.

One essay simply focuses on the his unmatched intelligence, calling him the "genius of the tenth degree of magnitude". Another portrays him as a typical "mad scientist" who prioritize scientific pursuit over ethical values, since Neumann had been one of the main proponents of the atomic bomb. On the other hand, when I read the transcription of his public lecture on mathematics (also included in this issue), the impression I got was a somewhat modest and sincere attitude toward academic issues. (The translator of this transcription, 高橋昌一郎先生, also points out that Neumann had balanced opinion about philosophical issues and wrote in much accessible style compared to Kurt Godel or Alan Turing.)

A person like Neumann is best described by adjectives like "huge" or "gigantic". It is truly astonishing that a single person could accomplish all these things. There is hardly any person like Neumann, and both his sins and achievements are off the scale.

The question that comes to my mind is, is there a von Neumann of today, somewhere on earth? If so, how can one know that he/she is one?


comment 0 trackback 0