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I saw the following scrawled on a math office blackboard in college:

1 + 1 = 3, for large values of 1

Credit: Matthew Holtz


Von Neumann and Norbert Wiener were both the subject of many dotty professor stories. Von Neumann supposedly had the habit of simply writing answers to homework assignments on the board (the method of solution being, of course, obvious) when he was asked how to solve problems. One time one of his students tried to get more helpful information by asking if there was another way to solve the problem. Von Neumann looked blank for a moment, thought, and then answered, "Yes".

Wiener was in fact very absent minded. The following story is told about him: When they moved from Cambridge to Newton his wife, knowing that he would be absolutely useless on the move, packed him off to MIT while she directed the move. Since she was certain that he would forget that they had moved and where they had moved to, she wrote down the new address on a piece of paper, and gave it to him. Naturally, in the course of the day, an insight occurred to him. He reached in his pocket, found a piece of paper on which he furiously scribbled some notes, thought it over, decided there was a fallacy in his idea, and threw the piece of paper away. At the end of the day he went home (to the old address in Cambridge, of course). When he got there he realized that they had moved, that he had no idea where they had moved to, and that the piece of paper with the address was long gone. Fortunately inspiration struck. There was a young girl on the street and he conceived the idea of asking her where he had moved to, saying, "Excuse me, perhaps you know me. I'm Norbert Wiener and we've just moved. Would you know where we've moved to?" To which the young girl replied, "Yes daddy, mommy thought you would forget."

The capper to the story is that I asked his daughter (the girl in the story) about the truth of the story, many years later. She said that it wasn't quite true -- that he never forgot who his children were! The rest of it, however, was pretty close to what actually happened...

Credit: Matthew Holtz


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