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Neumann, John von - The design for a computer



Type of spiritual experience


I have put in two balancing observations and a diagram. 

Keen to support science and the measurement of things in the physical Neumann constantly stressed the idea of empirical knowledge. 

But then he ocasionally lets slip in a very quiet way - because letting slip this sort of remark was like saying to the inquisition you quite liked the Upanishads - that he thought that most ideas come from the spiritual - and indeed even more precise 'God'.

He was such a logical man, with a vast memory, that in general empirical ideas were all he was ever going to get, but if we look at the design for the computer, it has three basic parts - Will, Memory and Reasoning - and this was inspired; so sometimes maybe things did get through when it counted.

Input/output = perceptions

Arithmetic logic unit - Perception plus reasoning

Memory = memory

Control unit = Will

A partial model of the mind

A description of the experience

"The Mathematician", in The Works of the Mind (1947) edited by R. B. Heywood, University of Chicago Press, Chicago

I think that it is a relatively good approximation to truth — which is much too complicated to allow anything but approximationsthat most mathematical ideas originate in empirics. But, once they are conceived, the subject begins to live a peculiar life of its own and is … governed by almost entirely aesthetical motivations.


There probably is a God. Many things are easier to explain if there is than if there isn't. As quoted in John Von Neumann : The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence and Much More (1992) by Norman Macrae




The source of the experience

Neumann, John von

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image