Saturday, January 8, 2011

Norbet Wiener: A Poor Description

I read Zero Hedge from time to time because they often have some sharp edged observations and lead one to think in another direction. Yet today they besmudged Norbert Wiener, and that I cannot stand still on.

The writer states:

This stands in stark contrast to Norbert Wiener’s approach to constructing a view of the world.  He was the first to rigorously characterize Brownian motion, but he exclusively used a (then) challenging and formal measure-theoretic construction.  Wiener avoided drawing connections to probabilistic methods because probability theory had a bad reputation among mathematical colleagues of the day.  Probabilistic intuition and measure theory reinforce each other:  many who could have benefited most by the advance were left out of the discussion.

 The author just does not know Wiener at all. Yes he was first a Mathematician, but he was also a tinkerer. There is a fantastic bio on Norbert by Masani and also one can read Wiener's own bios. He did stuff, really stuff, for example he and his team designed one of the first closed loop dynamic tracking systems used on MIT Rad Lab radars, just below my first faculty office in old Building 20. He was the fellow who created the first Boston Arm, the first prosthetic which actually worked, and the first with McCullogh to design neural networks.

Wiener was a genius, somewhat burdened with the weight of such, Von Neumann was also a genius but a self possessed and elegant gentleman who adapted to the post war way of dealing with institutions. Wiener was and remained the independent thinker, the leader of small groups, the mind of the type which existed for centuries, not the group mind of Neumann.

As such I believe the writer was quite unfair to Wiener and mis-spoke on what he had accomplished, you see I knew the man, and he was not what the author portrays, at least amongst the many he knew him and understood his accomplishments.

As to math in finance, my famous concern on Black Scholes was that in reality the approaches always suffer from instabilities due to the unknown. Look at LTCM, it went unstable because they linearized everything. Thus the conclusion is correct yet picking on Wiener is a poor touch.