The Computer and the Brain


You are viewing an older version of the Yalebooks website. Please visit out new website with more updated information and a better user experience:

Third Edition

John von Neumann; With a foreword by Ray Kurzweil

View Inside Format: Paper
Price: $17.95
Our shopping cart only supports Mozilla Firefox. Please ensure you're using that browser before attempting to purchase.

In this classic work, one of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century explores the analogies between computing machines and the living human brain. John von Neumann, whose many contributions to science, mathematics, and engineering include the basic organizational framework at the heart of today's computers, concludes that the brain operates both digitally and analogically, but also has its own peculiar statistical language.

In his foreword to this new edition, Ray Kurzweil, a futurist famous in part for his own reflections on the relationship between technology and intelligence, places von Neumann’s work in a historical context and shows how it remains relevant today.

At the time of his death in February 1957, John von Neumann, renowned for his theory of games and his work at the Electronic Computer Project at the Institute for Advanced Study, was serving as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission. Ray Kurzweil is an inventor, author, and futurist who has written six books including The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

"This book is the earliest serious examination of the human brain from the perspective of a mathematician and computer pioneer. Prior to von Neumann, the fields of computer science and neuroscience were two islands with no bridge between them."—Ray Kurzweil, from the foreword

"This book contains exactly the line of reasoning that inspired the architecture underlying Watson, the machine that beat the best human champions at Jeopardy!. A must read for any new computer scientist and reread for all of us who enjoy the stunning power of thoughtful observation and objective reason."—David Ferrucci, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center

"Highly original and intensely stimulating. His ideas will have great value to further investigation."—S. Ulam, Scientific American (from an earlier edition)

"This innocent-looking little book lies at the eye of a hurricane. It represents a locus of clarity and calm at the center of a vast vortex of powerful arguments and competing research programs."—Paul and Patricia Churchland, on the earlier edition

"On opening The Computer and the Brain, I expected to find it 'of historical interest only' (as one of my own professors used to say rather loftily of Principia Mathematica). To the contrary, the book abounds with insights so deep they have not yet been internalized by any but a very small number of specialists."—John Derbyshire, New Criterion

"The mind of the later Dr. von Neumann was so luminous, so lucid, and so far reaching that interested laymen can read this book with occasional flashes of comprehension that justify the groping."—American Business (from an earlier edition)

"Perhaps the most powerful, lucid and penetrating mind in the history of computer science, von Neumann's observations about the language of the brain resonate with remarkable insight. Decades ahead of his time, he launches a thread of reasoning based on his unmatched understanding of computing that suggests the human nervous system is best understood, not as a digital machine but has a statistical one. . . . 'The nervous system is a computing machine which manages to do its exceedingly complicated work on a rather low level of precision....what matters are not the precise positions of definite markers, digits, but the statistical characteristics of their occurrences, i.e., frequencies. . . .' It is exactly this line of reasoning that inspired the essential architecture underlying Watson, the machine that beat the best human champions at Jeopardy! There is no precise mathematics to human language and yet it is the foundation for expressing human thought. Von Neumann reasons his way from analog machines to digital machines to delivering unparalleled insight into the computational paradigm underlying the human brain. A must read for any new computer scientist and reread for all of us who enjoy the stunning power of thoughtful observation and objective reason."—David Ferrucci, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center

"This sparse book, from the time when giants walked the halls of academe and government and laid down the basic notions of what it is to compute, remains an essential text for those interested in understanding how brains differ from computers."—Christof Koch, Allen Institute for Brain Science, and author of Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

"Brilliant mathematician John von Neumann was prescient in his investigation of the parallels between computers and the brain. Biology is now an engineering project and reverse engineering the brain will be one of the most important accomplishments of all time, a venture that was seeded with this book."—Sonia Arrison, author of 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith

"Von Neumann was one of the top experts in all aspects of computing . . . and one of the most rigorous minds ever to discuss the computational organization of brains. His last book presents one of the most sophisticated comparisons ever made between computers and brains. . . . It’s a landmark in the history of computing, psychology, and neuroscience, and it’s required reading for anyone interested in the foundations of those disciplines."—Gualtiero Piccinini, Minds and Machines

"An outstanding example of J. von Neumann’s insight, brilliance and clarity."—Mathematical Reviews

"This work from the earliest days of computing reminds us of von Neumann’s deep thinking and clarity of expression."—Dag Spicer, Senior Curator, Computer History Museum

ISBN: 9780300181111
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
144 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
The Silliman Memorial Lectures Series
Black Holes

The Membrane Paradigm

Edited by Kip S. Thorne, Douglas A.

View details
The Material Basis of Evolution


RIchard Goldschmidt

View details
The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination

Jacob Bronowski; Foreword by S.E. Luria

View details
Mankind Evolving

The Evolution of the Human Species

Theodosius Dobzhansky

View details
The President’s Scientists

Reminiscences of a White House Science Advisor

D. Allan Bromley

View details
Man Adapting

With a New Chapter by the Author

René Dubos

View details