“Wiener’s Colleague Dr. Amar Bose 1929-2013” – Ken Jacob

Download mp3 HTML Transcript

“Wiener’s Colleague Dr. Amar Bose 1929-2013” – Ken Jacob

Good afternoon. Good morning to everybody, and it’s an honor to be here. I’m a Research Engineer at Bose. I studied under Dr. Amar Bose at MIT and joined Bose in 1984. I was inspired by Miss Bateson’s remarks at the end of her lecture on interdisciplinary education. It occurred to me, for the first time, that audio in acoustics is inherently interdisciplinary, because you need to bring together physics, electronics, electrical engineering, magnetics, mechanics, and perception, (I think I’m missing a few) in order to do anything meaningful in the field. Maybe, that’s 1 reason that Dr. Bose was so attracted to Dr. Wiener and vice-versa.

I also would share a personal story about, I think you implied the difficulty involved in interdisciplinary education, in higher education, and that was certainly my experience. I had to put together a hand-rolled degree at the University of Minnesota, and I had to get faculty members from 3 different departments, in my case, mathematics, architecture, and music, in order to receive an undergraduate degree. I think it’s a little more effort than taking a more typical degree. The same thing is true at MIT. There is no degree in Acoustics at MIT. If you take one (and you have to take one) in one of the more traditional subjects, you will be, in fact, discriminated against, because if you try to study Acoustics by definition, you won’t be studying the core-curriculum of that sponsoring department, which is what happened to me.

Today, I’m going to let Dr. Bose do most of the talking. I’m going to share with you a video. I’ve been involved, over the last few years, in trying to do a good job of archiving what we have, in terms of audio and video recordings, of Dr. Bose. This is a short, 3 minute or so segment, where he talks about his relationship with Dr. Wiener, certainly in a way, much better than anything I could say, so let’s start with that, and then I’ll come back.

The last book he wrote, which was Learning Your Problems In Random Theory, was written on my blackboard, over a period of oh, 2 to 3 years, if I remember. Wiener was a right-handed person, and he always took the eraser in his left-hand, and he went like, this. Then, he started again. He needed a blackboard, only, that was this high. He’d write all this huge, long equation, but by the time he actually got to the end, the first part was gone. He did this for a couple of years. He’d come in, and I could understand maybe 10%, or maybe 20%, of what he was doing, or at least I thought I could.

One day, he came in and he wrote a huge equation down and he said, “Bose, that’s it. Write it up.” About 20 minutes of discussion followed for me trying to convince him, A, I didn’t understand it, B, you never left it on the board, because you erase with your left hand, everything you write with your right hand, and there’s no way. “Oh, you understood it. Don’t worry.” He really thought that other people had that same kind of ability, couldn’t conceive that they didn’t. It took about 20 minutes until I could, somehow, make him believe that I didn’t, and to tell him to come into a classroom, put all the stuff on the board. “We’ll photograph it. We’ll tape record you, and then we’ll produce the book.”

I did that with a group of Doctoral students, also. We would go home at night and we’d come in the next day on a clout, “My God, Wiener made a mistake and we caught it.” We were really feeling great. Well, I’ll tell you a phenomenal result. There wasn’t 1 result, in that whole book, that was an error. What is was, is that he could see. He developed this ability to see over the fence. It was all mundane stuff in between. In fact, sometimes, he’d catch his own mistakes. We wouldn’t point it out to him, even if we did see it, in the class. Well, he would catch his own mistakes and he’d get so depressed. He would go leave, just leave the classroom, go back, and I would go back to his office afterward, and he would say, “Bose,” he said, “I’m going to leave MIT. I’m simply going to resign.”

He said, “I can’t even do arithmetic,” and he’d be as down as a child. You’d have to slowly bring him back up and a couple days later, he’d decide again, to resume the class. What it was, was he had developed this incredible ability, in his mind, to see over all those steps, were just, were a nuisance, and see what could be done and what the answer was. The only day I ever saw him, in his life, that he was angry, he came steaming into my office and oh boy he was puffing and, “What the matter?” Well, there was a world-renowned Mathematician that was working with him. In fact, there were tons of Mathematicians used to hover around his office, like bees, hoping to get one little thing that would cause them 5 … they could work on for 5 or 10 years. Basically, he said, “This particular fellow,” he said, “Ah, it’s so frustrating. He can’t see over the fence. He stumbles on all the things that are in front of the fence.” That gave me some insight to the way that this man thought.

Dr. Bose was profoundly influenced by Wiener and you can see that, I believe, in what you just saw, this ability to see over the fence and not get sidetracked by all of the obstacles that anyone can think of, when you have an idea. Remarkably, I mean, you might look at this and you might think, “Oh, he’s speaking to erudite audience at MIT or some place like that.” In fact, he’s speaking to the employees at the recently inaugurated manufacturing plant in Columbia, South Carolina, with this message.

Now, I don’t know if you saw or heard Dr. Bose say that the trick for helping Wiener with his last book was to get him to not erase with his left hand, as he wrote with his right. It’s funny, because Dr. Bose is left-handed. Dr. Bose was sort of dragged into teaching, against his will. Once he started teaching, became a renowned Teacher/Professor at MIT, and worked extremely hard on his classroom technique. One of the most remarkable things about Dr. Bose’s teaching, was his blackboard technique. He was left-handed. He could write with his left hand, and erase simultaneously with his right, in order to make space on the blackboard.

We have some amazing video of him doing this, in a totally second-nature way. Well, so they got Wiener to slow down. I know that I only have a few minutes left, and I think I’ll be fine, thank you. They got him to slow down by taking photographs after he would finish an equation, and then you heard him say, “And, tape record.” Well, I came across this video, I don’t know, 5 years ago, or something. I always wondered, “Are the photographs around?” They’ve never turned up. About a month ago, after it, I had accepted the invitation to speak here, Ursula Bose, Dr. Bose’s widow, was going through some of his things (he died a little less than a year ago) and came across this.

She called me right away. Now, it’s going to be hard to read, but it says, “Wiener lecture 15, April 15th, 1958,” and “Wiener lecture 16, April 22nd, (a week later) 1958.” As an Audio Engineer, I looked at these. Of course, I came right out of my skin with the possibilities. You can’t see it with the light on, but you’ll see that whoever rewound this tape (It’s still hard to see. It doesn’t matter. I’ll explain it.) rewound it, in fast speed. Any Audio Engineer knows that that is the worst way to store tape, because what happens, it doesn’t wind flat, on the reel. Over time, that can be a disaster for tape. This looked like it was taped from 1958.

We sent it to a very special place, Iron Mountain Digital, which has a laboratory 600′ underground, for doing careful, digital transfers of potentially valuable things, like this. They worked on the John F. Kennedy Library material, for example. We thought, “If anybody can get whatever might be on this tape off of it, it would be Iron Mountain Digital. You can imagine, I almost drove it out to Pennsylvania, myself, because … Then, I thought, “FedEx is probably better at this than I am,” in terms of risk. It came back and it is, in fact, 2 lectures from 1958. It is, in fact, the lectures that Dr. Bose and the Graduate Students recorded. I’m going to close by giving you … It is the last 2 lectures of this series. I’m going to play the last part, of the last lecture, which is only about a minute long.

It’s Wiener’s farewell to this group of students and to Dr. Bose for this particular class. I’m not going to tell you what I take from it. I think you’ll get a very strong sense, though, of some of the things that Dr. Bose mentioned in his video, and some of the things that, undoubtedly, you know about Wiener, far more than me.

Dr. Wiener:
What one needs to do, to get a fairly good grasp [inaudible 00:11:32] (This would apply to a plasma [concept 00:11:34]) is to find some mathematical trick, which were to flip the energy right out of the [infinitely 00:11:43] high frequencies, and which will reconstitute the roughness of the randomness, the reckless rupture, each time, seems to be destroyed. I think that can be done. I think that way, we can get at least, a first approximation to that strictly by this sort of method, here.

Gentleman, I thank you for the course, for being with me through this. I thank you for the enormous help you’ve given. I thank you for your bearing with me when I’ve been pretty clumsy the last few days, clumsy partly because the work has been difficult, partly because I’m clumsy in arrangement. I don’t think there’s any use, trying now, to polish stuff that would take me months or years to get it in good shape, again. I thought that when I would come to get this in good shape, in another year, some or all of you will be with me and we’d work together, again. Thank you.

Speaker 4:
Thanks very much, Ken. Fantastic resources, the film and the audio, really, really terrific and well wrapped-up by you.