The title might mislead you. So, let me clarify upfront. I am not on a mission to self appraise. I am to talk about the autobiography of ‘Noerbert Wiener’, titled ‘I am a Mathematician’. This is a piece of book I am reading currently. Since I have heard a lot of stories about Wiener and having known some (percentage is minuscule!) of his work, the presentation of the book didn’t provide disappointment. Rather, it is a very very interesting sketch of his life, put in his own style.

I mentioned about stories being heard about him. There are many of them. I am not saying this candidly, because I hardly checked the authenticity of such tales. Nevertheless, I get ready to laugh everytime, I begin to hear anything about him. The mathematical work of this once child prodigy is very well known and is treasured. His wit and absentmindedness are quite unique. Some of the anecdotes, I have heard about him are;

1.During one of these trips down the hallway at MIT, Wiener was interrupted by several of his students who talked to him for several minutes about what they were working on. After the conversation had ended, Wiener asked one of them “Could you please tell me, in which direction was I traveling when you stopped me?” One of them replied, somewhat confusedly, “You were coming from over there [gesturing] this way [gesturing].” Wiener replied, “Ah, then it is likely that I have already had lunch. Thank you.” and continued down the hallway to his office. (A somewhat similar story is attributed to Einstein as well. As far as I heard, this is when Claude Shannon was giving a lecture at Princeton. It was well attended. Einstein made a back door visit when Shannon was in full stream. Shannon obviously noted Einsteins coming in, chatting with someone in the last row and the leaving soon. The curious Shannon (after the lecture) went to the folks to whom Einstein seemed talking. To Shannon’s surprise, Einstein was apparently asking them ‘where the tea was served’.)

2: After several years teaching at MIT, the Wieners moved to a larger house. Knowing her husband was likely to forget where he now lived, Mrs. Wiener wrote down the address of the new house on a piece of paper and made him put it in his shirt pocket. At lunchtime, an inspiring idea came to the professor, who proceeded to pull out the paper and scribble down calculations, and to subsequently proceed to find a flaw and throw the paper away in disgust. At the end of the day, it occurred to Wiener that he had thrown away his address. He now had no idea where his home was. Putting his mind to work, he concocted a plan: go to his old home and wait to be rescued. Surely Margaret would realize he was lost and come to pick him up. When he arrived at the house, there was a little girl standing out front. “Excuse me, little girl,” he asked, “would you happen to know where the people who used to live here moved to?” “It’s okay, Daddy,” the girl replied, “Mommy sent me to get you.” (Decades later, Norbert Wiener’s daughter was tracked down by a mathematics newsletter. She said the story was essentially correct, except that Wiener had not forgotten who she was.)

Description on the image: Norbert Wiener with Amar Bose (Bose audio fame) and Lee (the early MIT pioneers): Source of this image is [1] [1]