If you look at Herbert A. Simon's bookshelves, you find an amazing
of books representing writing in dozens of academic fields: psychology,
computer science, economics, mathematics, politics, philosophy, biology,
physics, linguistics, astronomy, chess, classical literature, poetry,
dictionaries of dozens of languages. An even closer look reveals books
from the first third of the 1900's, books that Herbert acquired in
childhood. There's his handbook on insects and beetles, where he learned
the classification and Latin names of beetles, an enduring fascination
throughout his life. His seventh grade history book (U.S. to 1865)
his teacher's name written in young Herbert's hand inside the front
Another school book about Wisconsin--its history, geography, politics,
industry dates from the same period. A book on inland waters hints
of young Herbert's interest in hiking, camping, and canoeing in Wisconsin
lakes and rivers. There's a volume of ornithology of the mid-west
Herbert learned to identify birds. And a similar volume where he learned
to identify trees and shrubs of the upper mid-west.
One can imagine young Herbert,
always a voracious reader--son of Arthur
Carl Simon, an electrical engineer/inventor/patent lawyer, and Edna
Simon, a pianist-turned-homemaker--growing up in a household in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, with his brother Clarence (5 years older), his maternal
grandparents, and for a short while his uncle, arising very early
morning, running to a nearby park, and climbing a tree where he read
time for the return run home for breakfast. As a young boy, Herbert
developed and pursued, quite alone, interests in stamps, beetles,
chess. But he was not just a solitary child. Beginning in high school,
joined the Boy Scouts and a variety of school clubs (debate, science,
Latin, and student council) and became a leader in many of them.
Dinnertime with his family
was also a stimulating social time when the
family heatedly discussed politics and science. He loved to listen
adults, and just as much he loved to ask them questions. In these
questioning and reading, he guided his own education with frequent
to the public library and museums; referred to the Encyclopedia and
almanac, and read his uncle's and brother's books. It is interesting
note that even as a young boy, Herbert showed a similar wide-ranging
interest in manifold subjects that was to characterize his adult
intellectual and professional life. Early on, when asked what he wanted
to be when he grew up, he answered in standard ways to satisfy the
questioner, but deep down he knew he loved learning best, and he knew
wanted to be an intellectual.
Herbert always loved the
out-of-doors. The family vacationed rustically
in the wilderness of Wisconsin's North Woods while Herbert was growing
As a teen, he spent several summers farming on a marsh in Wisconsin,
tract in which his family owned an interest. As uncharacteristic as
may seem, this self-proclaimed young city-born and bred "intellectual"
described his experience on the marsh as the "real adventure"
life. Sporadically throughout his life Herbert climbed and camped
mountains in various parts of the world. His last serious climb took
place in the Alps in 1981 when he had his 65th birthday. During that
solitary week he wandered by himself from inn to inn.
After high school, he attended
the University of Chicago where, under
Hutchins' New Plan, he met several players who became significant
collaborators and colleagues for the rest of his life. Two who have
remained close friends are Harold Guetzkow and William (Bill) Cooper.
Herbert and Harold met on the train to the University of Chicago as
set off to begin their freshman year, and Herbert and Bill met in
dormitory where both lived. The University of Chicago at that time
ideal place for a man like Herbert who had such diverse tastes. Herbert
often bragged that he only took one course as an undergraduate, and
was boxing. He received a "B". For the rest, he studied
on his own,
attended only the lectures he chose, and graduated by taking (and
all the required exams. During Herbert's graduate student years, Bill
introduced Herbert to Dorothea Isabel Pye and they married December
1937. Herbert and Dorothea began their family in 1942 when Kathie
born, followed two years later by Peter, and two years after that
Herbert's colleagues and
fellow research collaborators can speak better
than I about his academic and intellectual life. But there is one
incident that stands out like a bright star in our family memory.
Barbara, I, and our mother remember keenly the first demonstration
"machines can think". After working with Allen Newell and
Cliff Shaw on
the theoretical underpinnings of a process to instruct a computer
problems, Herbert was ready to try out the heuristic. One evening
early January 1956, he invited us (his family) to a classroom at Carnegie
Tech to participate in a trial run of the theory he, Newell and Shaw
been working on. I (age 13), Peter (11), and Barbara (9), my mother,
Al Newell and at least one graduate student were there. Our roles
each "be" a subroutine that performed a specific function
in a computer
program. Herbert and Al laid out the logic problem we were to solve.
of us was given a card with an assignment and a list of instructions
written on it. We were told to follow the directions on the card exactly.
Peter remembers sitting in a row of chairs and standing up when it
turn to perform his subroutine ("not p"). Barbara (the theorem
subroutine) remembers sitting in a circle. My memory is of writing
branching process on the chalkboard (I was the branching subroutine.)
was the executive program. Each of us at appropriate times, following
instructions on our cards, did exactly what the card told us to do.
worked! We humans had simulated a computer solving a logic problem!
cannot recall exactly the group response when we reached the solution
evening, but we all knew what we had done was somehow important. We
felt and shared the "inventors'" excitement of discovery.
I believe the
story is true, as some have reported, that my father walked into his
later in January and announced that over the Christmas holiday he
Newell and Cliff Shaw had invented a "thinking machine".
Other recollections we
have are of family vacations, packed into our tight
little car, driving across country for the summers when my father
at the RAND Corporation in southern California. After vacationing
him on the beaches of Santa Monica for a couple of weeks, we continued
north with our mother to spend the rest of the summer with her family
the Bay Area, meeting up again with Herbert in August for the return
to Pittsburgh. We rarely took "just a vacation." Vacations
coupled with a conference or other work engagement. This was wonderful,
thought, because it took us from Georgia to Maine to California, and
occasionally to Europe. Peter remembers a wonderful visit with our
parents, meeting in Marseille and driving through Northern Europe.
Barbara visited Mexico with them one winter, and a few years later
travelled with them to England, Ireland, and Scotland. My family and
toured with our parents in Norway to see the midnight sun when my
not yet 1 year old. And, of course, we all remember December 1978
Stockholm, Sweden when we joined Herbert when he received the Nobel
I remember Thursday evenings
during my teen years walking with my father,
both of us in intense conversation, four blocks to the Bookmobile
returned the books we'd read, selected new books together, then came
and began reading.
We remember sitting in
the dining room after dinner dishes had been
cleared, homework spread out over the table. In the adjoining living
room, Dad played phonograph records on a hi fi that one of his graduate
students built for him. We listened to music by Beethoven, Bartok
Stravinsky most often, but Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Brahms
were also favorites. Dad sat right next to the phonograph player,
or learning a language. There was such a sense of community then,
us doing what we needed to do with the others available whenever a
Herbert not only listened
to music, but was skilled as a pianist. He
studied piano as a child, motivated, no doubt, by his mother. He played
every day, usually choosing his favorite Bach Inventions and Preludes
Fugues or some Mozart or Beethoven piano sonatas. This may have served
"thinking time" for him, I always suspected, because no
interrupted him when he was playing. For the past several years, he
nothing more than the evenings when his friend Fred Reif came to the
apartment to play music with him, Fred on the violin, Herbert accompanying
him. And recently, for a while a student joined them with his viola.
is so characteristic of my father to enjoy playing music with others--true
always to his desire to collaborate! A few years ago when our
parents moved out of their house on Northumberland Street to a condominium
on North Craig Street, the only possession my father insisted he had
move was his piano, the baby grand he had inherited from his mother.
We all loved playing together
with words and ideas. Sometimes the play
began with Herbert reciting or reading a poem or a section of a classical
piece of literature. Sometimes we were set off by a particular
combination of sounds or a notion that came to one of us. Then we
to play with what we heard. Often we all ended up laughing so hard
tears flooded our eyes.
Herbert was a self-professed
workaholic. All of us knew that his work
came first, Mom was clearly next, and we were third. But, while third,
didn't feel unvalued. I remember only that Herbert made time for his
and children. He answered questions, shared interesting stories about
daily contacts with others, taught us things when appropriate, and
referred us to sources where we learned we could find information
to answers. Our family dinners, like Herbert's as a child, were full
talk about politics and science, as well as stories of our daytime
activities. "And what did you do today?" invited our responses,
turn. Usually, at least once a meal, someone jumped up to grab a volume
of the Encyclopedia or almanac from the nearby bookshelf to check
or embellish a viewpoint for Herb was an impassioned debater, often
arguing as the Devil's advocate for the sport of it.
Barbara and I both remember
Dad waking us up summer mornings before sun-up
when we were teens to dress in the cool morning, arriving at the tennis
courts just as the sun slid above the horizon. We played tennis until
felt very warm, then went home for breakfast. Herbert also joined
members in the garden evenings after dinner, sitting cross-legged
grass, pulling weeds, hour after hour after hour. Another time to
I suspect, but in our company.
Despite Herbert Simon's
dedicated and prolific professional life, he lived simply: one car,
one hi-fi, no television. He owned a particular beret, one at a time,
the new one purchased in the same shop each time the current one wore
out. He and Dorothea lived in the same house for 46 years, never desiring
to move to anything fancier. He walked a mile to work and another
home each day. In a piece he wrote to himself, he mused that he was
sure he held the record as the only person on earth who had ever walked
25,000 miles on Northumberland Street. I am sure he's right.
Peter A. Simon, Barbara
M. Simon, and Dorothea P. Simon made valuable
contributions to these recollections.