Norbert Wiener was perhaps the greatest U.S. mathematician in the first half of the twentieth century, revered among his colleagues for his brilliance. He was also famous for his absent-mindedness.
After a few years at MIT, Norbert Wiener moved to a larger house. His wife, knowing his nature, figured that he would forget his new address and be unable to find his way home after work. So she wrote the address of the new home on a piece of paper which she made him put in his shirt pocket. At lunchtime that day, the professor had a inspiring idea. He pulled the paper out of his pocket and used it to scribble down some calculations. Finding a flaw, he threw the paper away in disgust. At the end of the day he realized he had thrown away his address. He now had no idea where he lived.
Putting his mind to work, he came up with a plan. He would go to his old house and await rescue. His wife would surely realize that he was lost and go to his old house to pick him up. Unfortunately, when he arrived at his old house there was no sign of his wife, only a small girl standing in front of the house. "Excuse me little girl," he said, "but do you happen to know where the people who used to live here moved to?" "It's okay daddy," said the little girl. "Mommy sent me to get you."
P.S. Norbert Wiener's daughter was recently tracked down by a mathematics newsletter. She denies he forgot who she was, but admits he lost the house.
Monday, October 19, 2009