Pitts & Wiener Defy Logic

With Pitts and McCulloch together again, and with Wiener and Lettvin in the mix, everything seemed poised for progress and revolution. Neuroscience, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, computer science—it was all on the brink of an intellectual explosion. post


Wiener figured that if Pitts was going to make a realistic model of the brain’s 100 billion interconnected neurons, he was going to need statistics on his side. And statistics and probability theory were Wiener’s area of expertise. After all, it had been Wiener who discovered a precise mathematical definition of information: The higher the probability, the higher the entropy and the lower the information content.

That winter, Wiener brought Pitts to a conference he organized in Princeton with the mathematician and physicist John von Neumann, who was equally impressed with Pitts’ mind. Thus formed the beginnings of the group who would become known as the cyberneticians, with Wiener, Pitts, McCulloch, Lettvin, and von Neumann its core. And among this rarified group, the formerly homeless runaway stood out.


Nature had chosen the messiness of life over the austerity of logic, a choice Pitts likely could not comprehend. He had no way of knowing that while his ideas about the biological brain were not panning out, they were setting in motion the age of digital computing, the neural network approach to machine learning, and the so-called connectionist philosophy of mind. In his own mind, he had been defeated.