The crisis will not be resolved by inhibiting this or that apparently particularly obnoxious form of technology. For one thing, the parts of technology, as well as the underlying sciences, are so intertwined that in the long run nothing less than a total elimination of all technological progress would suffice for inhibition.

Can We Survive Technology? (1955)

Portrait of John von Neumann

John von Neumann

Mathematician, Physicist, and Computer Scientist
December 28, 1903 – February 8, 1957

John von Neumann was a Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, engineer, and polymath who made significant contributions to various fields. He was known for his broad expertise in both pure and applied mathematics and was considered the last representative of the great mathematicians who excelled in multiple disciplines. Von Neumann's contributions spanned mathematics, physics, economics, computing, and statistics. He played a key role in the development of quantum mechanics, game theory, and the concepts of cellular automata and the digital computer. During World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project and contributed to the design of nuclear weapons. In the 1950s, he held influential positions in defense committees and was recognized as a leading expert in nuclear weaponry. Von Neumann's achievements and contributions led to his recognition as the Financial Times Person of the Century in 1999.


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Can We Survive Technology?

John von Neumann discusses how rapidly accelerating technological progress is creating a crisis as human capabilities outgrow the limited size of the planet. He explores potential future technologies like nuclear energy, automation, and climate control, warning that while beneficial, they could cause global instability and conflict without proper governance. Von Neumann advocates flexibility, patience, and judgement to navigate this crisis rather than restraining progress itself.

Cover image for The Computer and the Brain

The Computer and the Brain

John von Neumann’s unfinished book, begun shortly before his death and published posthumously. He discusses how the brain can be viewed as a computing machine, touching on several important differences between brains and computers of his day (such as processing speed and parallelism), as well as suggesting directions for future research.

Cover image for Theory of Games and Economic Behavior

Theory of Games and Economic Behavior

This is the classic work upon which modern-day game theory is based. What began more than sixty years ago as a modest proposal that a mathematician and an economist write a short paper together blossomed, in 1944, when Princeton University Press published Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. In it, John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern conceived a groundbreaking mathematical theory of economic and social organization, based on a theory of games of strategy. Not only would this revolutionize economics, but the entirely new field of scientific inquiry it yielded—game theory—has since been widely used to analyze a host of real-world phenomena from arms races to optimal policy choices of presidential candidates, from vaccination policy to major league baseball salary negotiations. And it is today established throughout both the social sciences and a wide range of other sciences.

Mentioned in 9 documents

Robert Anton Wilson

Acceleration of Knowledge

Throughout history we hairless primates have been jumping higher, living longer, and getting smarter every century. From Thai stir-fry to Roman roads, knowledge doubled faster as it drifted West—till now it jumps each year! Space migration? Check. Intelligence increase through yoga, drugs, or machines? You bet. Genetic tinkering? It's coming. And indefinite lifespans? We're on the yellow brick road to divinity, to roam the stars forever, to boldly go where no ape has gone before. The future's so bright I gotta wear shades. Keep hope alive and party on!

Ludwig von Bertalanffy

General System Theory

In his seminal work, biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy outlines a theory of systems that breaks down disciplinary boundaries and argues that there are general principles and laws applicable to systems of all kinds. He contends that phenomena should be viewed not in isolation but as components of systems interacting with their environments. Bertalanffy proposes that there are commonalities across biological, physical, and social systems that can be explored through systems thinking. He suggests the need for an overarching systems science to uncover these universal system principles. The book develops key concepts like open and closed systems, steady states, growth, feedback, homeostasis, differentiation, hierarchy, and emergence. General System Theory was groundbreaking in its interdisciplinary approach and helped foster the growth of systems theory across academia and society.

Heinz von Förster

Interview on Cybernetics

Heinz von Förster delves into the enigmatic realm of cybernetics. The conversation dances around the essence of this field, exploring its core principles of circularity, self-organization, and the nature of information. Together with Sherwin Gooch, he grapples with profound questions surrounding the definition of life, the Gaia hypothesis, and the tantalizing possibility of replicating human consciousness. Ultimately, the dialogue underscores the intricate interplay between observer and observed, challenging conventional notions of information and reality.

Gregory Bateson

Mind and Nature

Renowned for his contributions to anthropology, biology, and the social sciences, Bateson asserts that man must think as Nature does to live in harmony on the earth and, citing examples from the natural world, he maintains that biological evolution is a mental process.

Richard Buckminster Fuller

Progress Through Fear

A talk on the impact of science and technology on man's role in the natural world.

Jacob Bronowski

The Long Childhood

In this final episode, Bronowski—poet, playwright, mathematician, philosopher—draws together many threads of the series. He takes stock of man's complex, sometimes precarious, ascent, and argues that man's growth to self-knowledge is the longest childhood of all.

Terence McKenna, Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph Abraham

The Evolutionary Mind

What could have been the cause for the breakthrough in the evolution of human consciousness around 50,000 years ago? Part of the Trialogues at the Edge of the Unthinkable held at the University of California.

Frank Tipler

The Omega Point as Eschaton

Frank Tipler presents an outline of the Omega Point theory, which is a model for an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, evolving, personal God who is both transcendent to spacetime and immanent in it, and who exists necessarily. The model is a falsifiable physical theory, deriving its key concepts not from any religious tradition but from modern physical cosmology and computer science; from scientific materialism rather than revelation. Four testable predictions of the model are given. The theory assumes that thinking is a purely physical process of the brain, and that personality dies with the brain. Nevertheless, he shows that the Omega Point theory suggests a future universal resurrection of the dead very similar to the one predicted in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. The notions of “grace” and the “beatific vision” appear naturally in the model.

Marvin Minsky

The Society of Mind

Marvin Minsky (one of the fathers of computer science and cofounder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT) gives a revolutionary answer to the age-old question: How does the mind work? Minsky brilliantly portrays the mind as a 'society' of tiny components that are themselves mindless. Mirroring his theory, Minsky boldly casts The Society of Mind as an intellectual puzzle whose pieces are assembled along the way. Each chapter, presented on a self-contained page, corresponds to a piece in the puzzle. As the pages turn, a unified theory of the mind emerges, like a mosaic. Ingenious, amusing, and easy to read, The Society of Mind is an adventure in imagination.