Cerebral Mechanisms in Behavior the Hixon Symposium

By Lloyd A. Jeffress; California Institute of Technology Hixon Fund | Go to book overview

The General and Logical Theory of Automata*

JOHN VON NEUMANN The Institute for Advanced Study

I have to ask your forbearance for appearing here, since I am an outsider to most of the fields which form the subject of this conference. Even in the area in which I have some experience, that of the logics and structure of automata, my connections are almost entirely on one side, the mathematical side. The usefulness of what I am going to say, if any, will therefore be limited to this: I may be able to give you a picture of the mathematical approach to these problems, and to prepare you for the experiences that you will have when you come into closer contact with mathematicians. This should orient you as to the ideas and the attitudes which you may then expect to encounter. I hope to get your judgment of the modus procedendi and the distribution of emphases that I am going to use. I feel that I need instruction even in the limiting area between our fields more than you do, and I hope that I shall receive it from your criticisms.

Automata have been playing a continuously increasing, and have by now attained a very considerable, role in the natural sciences. This is a process that has been going on for several decades. During the last part of this period automata have begun to invade certain parts of mathematics too -- particularly, but not exclusively, mathematical physics or applied mathematics. Their role in mathematics presents an interesting counterpart to certain functional aspects of organization in nature. Natural organisms are, as a rule, much more complicated

____________________
*
This paper is an only slightly edited version of one that was read at the Hixon Symposium on September 20, 1948, in Pasadena, California. Since it was delivered as a single lecture, it was not feasible to go into as much detail on every point as would have been desirable for a final publication. In the present write-up it seemed appropriate to follow the dispositions of the talk; therefore this paper, too, is in many places more sketchy than desirable. It is to be taken only as a general outline of ideas and of tendencies. A detailed account will be published on another occasion.

-1-

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