Vannevar Bush

Vannevar
Bush
1890
1974

American Engineer, Inventor and Science Administrator known for his work on analog computers

Author Quotes

Fear cannot be banished, but it can be calm and without panic and it can be mitigated by reason and evaluation.

Presumably man's spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his record more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory. His excursion may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.

The pioneer spirit is still vigorous within this nation. Science offers a largely unexplored hinterland for the pioneer who has the tools for his task. The rewards of such exploration both for the Nation and the individual are great. Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.

Two centuries ago Leibnitz invented a calculating machine which embodied most of the essential features of recent keyboard devices, but it could not then come into use. The economics of the situation were against it: the labor involved in constructing it, before the days of mass production, exceeded the labor to be saved by its use, since all it could accomplish could be duplicated by sufficient use of pencil and paper. Moreover, it would have been subject to frequent breakdown, so that it could not have been depended upon; for at that time and long after, complexity and unreliability were synonymous.

Give these people money, let them play, and they'll come up with something.

Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose. If the aggregate time spent in writing scholarly works and in reading them could be evaluated, the ratio between these amounts of time might well be startling. Those who conscientiously attempt to keep abreast of current thought, even in restricted fields, by close and continuous reading might well shy away from an examination calculated to show how much of the previous month's efforts could be produced on call. Mendel's concept of the laws of genetics was lost to the world for a generation because his publication did not reach the few who were capable of grasping and extending it; and this sort of catastrophe is undoubtedly being repeated all about us, as truly significant attainments become lost in the mass of the inconsequential.

The publicly and privately supported colleges, universities, and research institutes are the centers of basic research. They are the wellsprings of knowledge and understanding. As long as they are vigorous and healthy and their scientists are free to pursue the truth wherever it may lead, there will be a flow of new scientific knowledge to those who can apply it to practical problems in Government, in industry, or elsewhere.

We cannot meet it the threat of dictatorship if we turn this country into a wishy-washy imitation of totalitarianism, where every man’s hand is out for pabulum and virile creativeness has given place to the patronizing favor of swollen bureaucracy.

A belief may be larger than a fact. A faith that is over-defined is the very faith most likely to prove inadequate to the great moments of life.

He who would tell us with the authority of scholarship a complete story of why we exist, of our mission here, has a duty to speak convincingly in a world where men increasingly think for themselves.

Science can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of a team, whether the conditions be peace or war. But without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world.

The responsibility for the creation of new scientific knowledge — and for most of its application — rests on that small body of men and women who understand the fundamental laws of nature and are skilled in the techniques of scientific research. We shall have rapid or slow advance on any scientific frontier depending on the number of highly qualified and trained scientists exploring it.

We puzzle as to whether the universe is bounded or extends forever; whether, indeed, it may only be one universe among many. We speculate as to whether our universe began in a vast explosion, whether it pulsates between utter compression and wide diffusion, whether it is self-renewing and thus unchanged forever. And we are humble. But science teaches more than this. It continually reminds us that we are still ignorant and there is much to learn. Time and space are interconnected in strange ways; there is no absolute simultaneity. Within the atom occur phenomena concerning which visualization is futile, to which common sense, the guidance from our everyday experience, has no application, which yield to studies by equations that have no meaning except that they work. Mass and energy transform one into another, Gravitation, the solid rock on which Newton built, may be merely a property of the geometry of the cosmos. Life, as its details unfold before us, becomes ever more intricate, emphasizing more and more our wonder that its marvelous functioning could have been produced by chance and time. The human mind, merely in its chemical and physical aspects, takes on new inspiring attributes.

A mathematician is not a man who can readily manipulate figures; often he cannot. He is not even a man who can readily perform the transformation of equations by the use of calculus. He is primarily an individual who is skilled in the use of symbolic logic on a high plane, and especially he is a man of intuitive judgment in the choice of the manipulative processes he employs.

If scientific reasoning were limited to the logical processes of arithmetic, we should not get far in our understanding of the physical world. One might as well attempt to grasp the game of poker entirely by the use of the mathematics of probability. The abacus, with its beads strung on parallel wires, led the Arabs to positional numeration and the concept of zero many centuries before the rest of the world; and it was a useful tool— so useful that it still exists.

Science has a simple faith, which transcends utility. Nearly all men of science, all men of learning for that matter, and men of simple ways too, have it in some form and in some degree. It is the faith that it is the privilege of man to learn to understand, and that this is his mission. If we abandon that mission under stress we shall abandon it forever, for stress will not cease. Knowledge for the sake of understanding, not merely to prevail, that is the essence of our being. None can define its limits, or set its ultimate boundaries.

The scene changes but the aspirations of men of good will persist.

Whenever logical processes of thought are employed— that is, whenever thought for a time runs along an accepted groove— there is an opportunity for the machine. Formal logic used to be a keen instrument in the hands of the teacher in his trying of students' souls. It is readily possible to construct a machine which will manipulate premises in accordance with formal logic, simply by the clever use of relay circuits. Put a set of premises into such a device and turn the crank, and it will readily pass out conclusion after conclusion, all in accordance with logical law, and with no more slips than would be expected of a keyboard adding machine.

A record, if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted.

In my opinion such a thing is impossible for many years... People have been talking about a 3000 miles high-angle rocket shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb and so directed as to be a precise weapon... I think we can leave that out of our thinking.

Science, by itself, provides no panacea for individual, social, and economic ills. It can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of a team, whether the conditions be peace or war. But without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world.

The world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it.

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities. The patent attorney has on call the millions of issued patents, with familiar trails to every point of his client's interest. The physician, puzzled by its patient's reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy and histology. The chemist, struggling with the synthesis of an organic compound, has all the chemical literature before him in his laboratory, with trails following the analogies of compounds, and side trails to their physical and chemical behavior.

A special button transfers him immediately to the first page of the index. Any given book of his library can thus be called up and consulted with far greater facility than if it were taken from a shelf. As he has several projection positions, he can leave one item in position while he calls up another.

In the outside world, all forms of intelligence, whether of sound or sight, have been reduced to the form of varying currents in an electric circuit in order that they may be transmitted. Inside the human frame exactly the same sort of process occurs. Must we always transform to mechanical movements in order to proceed from one electrical phenomenon to another? It is a suggestive thought, but it hardly warrants prediction without losing touch with reality and immediateness.

Author Picture
First Name
Vannevar
Last Name
Bush
Birth Date
1890
Death Date
1974
Bio

American Engineer, Inventor and Science Administrator known for his work on analog computers