quote by Enrico Fermi

I remember my friend Johnny von Neumann used to say, 'with four parameters I can fit an elephant and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.'

— Enrico Fermi

Superior Von Neumann quotations

All stable processes we shall predict.

All unstable processes we shall control. Describing John von Neumann's aspiration for the application of computers sufficiently large to solve the problems of meteorology, despite the sensitivity of the weather to small perturbations.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Johnny Von Neumann and the rest of us.

I see a bright future for the biotechnology industry when it follows the path of the computer industry, the path that von Neumann failed to foresee, becoming small and domesticated rather than big and centralized.

As a mathematician, von Neumann was quick, brilliant, efficient, and enormously broad in scientific interests beyond mathematics itself. He knew his technical abilities; his virtuosity in following complicated reasoning and his insights were supreme; yet he lacked absolute self confidence.


John von Neumann was the only student I was ever afraid of.

He [John von Neumann] had the invaluable faculty of being able to take the most difficult problem and separate it into its components, whereupon everything looked brlliantly simple.

John von Neumann draws attention to what seemed to him a contrast.

He remarked that for simple mechanisms, it is often easier to describe how they work than what they do, while for more complicated mechanisms, it is usually the other way around.

John von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don't have to be responsible for the world that you're in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility as a result of von Neumann's advice. It's made me a very happy man ever since. But it was von Neumann who put the seed in that grew into my active irresponsibility!

... The approach of von Neumann and Connes to the use of non-commutative algebra in physics is naive, the situation is much more complicated.


Use "entropy" and you can never lose a debate, von Neumann told Shannon - because no one really knows what "entropy" is.

Running overtime is the one unforgivable error a lecturer can make.

After fifty minutes (one microcentury as von Neumann used to say) everybody's attention will turn elsewhere.

Those two teachers [Kathleen Blackshear and Robert von Neumann] were just fantastic, I thought. They never directed you in a single direction, but they just encouraged you to think for yourself.

If you didn't know what you were trying to do, [Robert von Neumann] wouldn't say a word. He would just turn and walk away. So you very quickly learned to think that you'd better be attempting to do something in that painting class.

Robert von Neumann taught painting, and when I finally got into a painting class of his, he reacted in much the same way.


Pascal and C are special-purpose languages for manipulating the registers and memory of a von Neumann-style computer.

Von Neumann languages do not have useful properties for reasoning about programs. Axiomatic and denotational semantics are precise tools for describing and understanding conventional programs, but they only talk about them and cannot alter their ungainly properties. Unlike von Neumann languages, the language of ordinary algebra is suitable both for stating its laws and for transforming an equation into its solution, all within the "language."

There was a seminar for advanced students in Zürich that I was teaching and von Neumann was in the class. I came to a certain theorem, and I said it is not proved and it may be difficult. Von Neumann didn't say anything but after five minutes he raised his hand. When I called on him he went to the blackboard and proceeded to write down the proof. After that I was afraid of von Neumann.

...where were answers to the truly deep questions? Religion promised those, though always in vague terms, while retreating from one line in the sand to the next. Don't look past this boundary, they told Galileo, then Hutton, Darwin, Von Neumann, and Crick, always retreating with great dignity before the latest scientific advance, then drawing the next holy perimeter at the shadowy rim of knowledge.