
BIOGRAPHY OF EDWIN T. JAYNES ( 1922  1998 )
died Apr. 30, 1998, St. Louis, Missouri, US. 
Edwin Thompson Jaynes (July 5, 1922 – April 30, 1998) was Wayman Crow Distinguished Professor of Physics at Washington University in St. Louis. He wrote extensively on statistical mechanics and on foundations of probability and statistical inference, initiating in 1957 the MaxEnt interpretation of thermodynamics, as being a particular application of more general Bayesian/information theory techniques (although he argued this was already implicit in the works of Gibbs). A particular focus of his work was the construction of logical principles for assigning prior probability distributions; see the principle of maximum entropy, the principle of transformation groups and Laplace's principle of indifference. His last book, "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science" gathers various threads of modern thinking about Bayesian probability and statistical inference, and contrasts the advantages of Bayesian techniques with the results of other approaches.
E. T. Jaynes attended both grade, school and high, school in Parkersberg. However, E. T. Jaynes left Parkersburg in 1938 to enter Cornell
College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. He finished his undergraduate schooling in 1942, receiving a B.A. in
physics.
After receiving his B. A. he intended to return to the Warner Institute for another summer, but his plans changed because
of the war. From 1942 to 1944 he worked for the Sperry Gyroscope Company on Long Island helping to develop Doppler radar.
At the end of 1944, he became Ensign Jaynes, and worked at the Anacostia Naval Research Lab in Washington D. C. developing
microwave systems. During his stay in the Navy he spent some time on Guam. There is one picture of him on Guam holding a
machine gun. When he was discharged in 1946, he was a lieutenant (j.g.). There are two documents written by
Ensign Jaynes: the first is a series of 9 lectures on solving circuit problems using Laplace and Fourier transforms;
the second, is titled ``Theory of Microwave Coupling Systems'' . These two documents constitute the earliest known
professional writings of E. T. Jaynes.
E. T. Jaynes left the Navy in 1946 and headed for California. In the summer of 1946 he worked in the W. W. Hansen Laboratories
of Physics at Stanford on the design of the first linear electron accelerator. At the end of the summer, he enrolled at
the University of California at Berkeley, In ``Disturbing The Memory'' Jaynes notes:
I first met Julian Schwinger, Robert Dicke, and Donald Hamilton during the War when we were all engaged in developing
microwave theory, measurement techniques, and applications to pulsed and Doppler radar; Schwinger and Dicke at the
MIT Radiation Laboratory, Hamilton and I at the Sperry Gyroscope Laboratories on Long Island. Bill Hansen (for whom
the W. W. Hansen Laboratories at Stanford are now named) was running back and forth weekly, giving lectures at MIT
and bringing us back the notes on the Schwinger lectures as they appeared, and I accompanied him on a few of those
trips.
I first met Edward Teller when he visited Stanford in the Summer of 1946 and Hansen, Teller, and I discussed the
design of the first Stanford LINAC, then underway. After some months of correspondence I first met J. R. Oppenheimer
in September 1946, when I arrived at Berkeley as a beginning graduate student, to learn quantum theory from him 
the result of Bill Hansen having recommended us strongly to each other. When in the Summer of 1947 Oppy moved to
Princeton to take over the Institute for Advanced Study, I was one of four students that he took along. The plan was
that we would enroll as graduate students at Princeton University, finish our theses under Oppy although he was not
officially a Princeton University faculty member; and turn them in to Princeton (which had agreed to this somewhat
unusual arrangement in view of the somewhat unusual circumstances). My thesis was to be on Quantum Electrodynamics.
But, as this writer learned from attending a year of Oppy's lectures (194647) at Berkeley, and eagerly studying his
printed and spoken words for several years thereafter, Oppy would never countenance any retreat from the Copenhagen
position, of the kind advocated by Schroedinger and Einstein. He derived some great emotional satisfaction from just
those elements of mysticism that Schroedinger and Einstein had deplored, and always wanted to make the world still
more mystical, and less rational.
This desire was expressed strongly in his 1955 BBC Reith lectures (of which I still have some cherished tape
recordings which recall his style of delivery at its best). Some have seen this as a fine humanist trait. I saw it
increasingly as an anomaly  a basically antiscientific attitude in a person posing as a scientist  that explains
so much of the contradictions in his character.
As a more practical matter, it presented me with a problem in carrying out my plan to write a thesis under
Oppy's supervision, quite aside from the fact that his travel and other activities made it so hard to see him.
Mathematically, the Feynman electromagnetic propagator made no use of those superfluous degrees of freedom; it was
equally well a Green's function for an unquantized EM field. So I wanted to reformulate electrodynamics from the
ground up without using field quantization. The physical picture would be very different; but since the successful
Feynman rules used so little of that physical picture anyway, I did not think that the physical predictions would be
appreciably different; at least, if the idea was wrong, I wanted to understand in detail why it was wrong.
If this meant standing in contradiction with the Copenhagen interpretation, so be it; I would be delighted to see it
gone anyway, for the same reason that Einstein and Schroedinger would. But I sensed that Oppy would never tolerate a
grain of this; he would crush me like an eggshell if I dared to express a word of such subversive ideas. I could do
a thesis with Oppy only if it was his thesis, not mine.
Eugene Wigner became Ed's thesis advisor in 1948.
His dissertation was a calculation of the electrical and magnetic properties of ferroelectric materials. Ferroelectric
materials are crystalline substances which have a permanent electric polarization (an electric dipole moment per unit
volume) that can be reversed by an electric field. His dissertation ``Ferroelectricity'' was finished in 1950 and he
received his Ph.D. in physics. He published his first paper in 1950 while still at Princeton. It
was titled ``The Displacement of Oxygen in BaTiO3'' . This paper is essentially a one page summary of some of his thesis results. The paper is so short that it does not begin to hint at the amount of work and original thought that went into his thesis calculations. Joel Snow, one of Jaynes' early graduate students, refers to ``Ferroelectricity'' as a ``tour de force''.1 Jaynes' thesis was extensively modified and later published by the Princeton University Press in 1953 [3] in the series Investigations In Physics. It was vol. I of this prestigious series. Investigations In Physics has featured many famous authors, including John Von Neumann, Eugene Wigner, and Eugene Feenberg.
After finishing his degree, Jaynes returned to Stanford in 1950. He stayed through 1960. In his early work Jaynes was
both theoretician and experimentalist. For example, his fourth paper was on the observation of a paramagnetic resonance
in a single crystal of barium titanate , essentially an experimental paper. His second paper, on the concept and
measurement of the impedance in periodically loaded wave guides , had both theoretical and experimental aspects.
Jaynes continued to maintain an active research laboratory well into the 70's (many years after moving to St. Louis).
Indeed, among his papers there was a copy of the Sunday magazine supplement of the St. Louis GlobeDemocrat
dated May 30, 1967 containing a photograph, of E. T. Jaynes in his laboratory in Crow Hall on the Washington University
campus. The photograph shows him working with a high energy laser. During this period his students were testing some
of the predictions of neoclassical and quantum theory.
While he was an Associate Professor at Stanford he also supported himself consulting with Varian Associates, the
U. S. Army Corp of Engineers, and the University of California at Livermore. While consulting he wrote a number of
reports for both Varian and the U. S. Army. Many of the U. S. Army reports still survive, but are not available for
general release; a condition that will change shortly. Two of the reports done for Varian still survive, but are only
available from the main Varian corporate library. Varian, at that time, was a young upstart company that could not
afford to pay E. T. Jaynes in cash, so they paid him in stock. Additionally, Jaynes' records indicate that he continued
to buy Varian stock throughout most of this period. At the time of his death this stock constituted about one fourth of
Jaynes' total wealth.
Prior to 1957 Jaynes published a total of 6 articles. These articles
essentially grew out of his thesis work.
However, his interest were varied as illustrated by the fact that these 6 papers covered such diverse research areas as
solid state, thermodynamics, classical electrodynamics, electron spin resonance, and nuclear magnetic resonance. Yet these papers are all
related, they are all applications of classical electrodynamics to real physical problems. Jaynes had essentially four
different areas of research: his first could be called applied classical electrodynamics; his
second, information theory
(entropy as a measure of information); his third, probability theory;
and finally, semiclassical and neoclassical radiation theory.
During the years preceding 1957, Jaynes was preparing a set of lecture notes on probability theory. This material
eventually was presented to the Field Research Laboratory of the SoconyMobil Oil Company. This group in turn published,
at least internally, a collection of five of these lecture notes . Jaynes did try to publish the first of these
lectures, ``How Does The Brain Do Plausible Reasoning,'' in 1960. However, this work was also rejected by the referee
and Jaynes eventually gave up on publishing it. It was later rediscovered in the Stanford Microwave Laboratory library
and, with Jaynes's permission, it was published in 1988; some 28 years
after Jaynes first tried to publish it.
In 1957 Jaynes published his first articles in information theory, ``Information Theory and Statistical Mechanics''.
In these two articles Jaynes reformulated statistical mechanics in terms of probability distributions derived by
the use of the principle of maximum entropy. This reformulation of the theory simplified the mathematics, allowed for
fundamental extensions of the theory, and reinterpreted statistical mechanics as inference based on incomplete
information. These articles were published over the objection of a reviewer. (Jaynes comments on this review in ``Where
do we Stand on Maximum Entropy,''). Jaynes kept that review, framed and hanging on the wall of his office for more
than 40 years.
The two 1957 articles, by themselves, would have been a career for most scientists; but Jaynes was far from finished.
In the three years he remained at Stanford he published articles on wave guides, relativity, information
theory, masers and 50 others after moving to Washington University in St. Louis.
In the years immediately preceding his departure from Stanford (1960) he was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with
the publish or perish mentality plaguing Stanford, a condition he talked about in ``Backward Look to the Future''.
So in 1960 he packed his belongings, sold his house, and moved to St. Louis, Missouri where he joined the physics faculty
of Washington University.
Upon arriving in St. Louis, Jaynes set out on his remaining research interest, reformulating quantum electrodynamics
to avoid quantization of the electromagnetic field. Jaynes published his first paper on this subject in 1963 with Fred
Cummings. It was titled ``Comparison of Quantum and Semiclassical Radiation Theory with Application to the Beam Maser''.
Jaynes continued to publish articles on both semiclassical and neoclassical radiation theory more or less
continuously until he retired. However, much of this research is in the theses of his
graduate students and has never been published in the open literature.
Sometime in early 1980 Ray Smith and Tom Grandy, both at the University of Wyoming, organized a conference on the use of
Maximum Entropy and Bayesian methods. They solicited Jaynes' advice on whom to invite. The meeting was held in June of
1981 at the University of Wyoming. The list of attendees included such people as John Parker Burg, John Skilling,
John Shore, Tom Grandy, Ray Smith, B. R. Frieden, Ted Ulyrch, and David McGomery. While at this meeting Jaynes presented
two papers ``Where Do We Go From Here,'' and ``Entropy and Search Theory''. This meeting was to be the first
in a series of meetings that have continued to this day. Jaynes regularly attended these meeting until roughly 1990.
While his graduate students were working on semiclassical and neoclassical radiation theory, he was continuing with his
other research interests. For example, in statistical mechanics he published 14 articles
from 1960 onward. In probability
theory, especially during the 80's, he published 21 articles. These
articles addressed fundamental questions within
these theories and often extended them to new application areas. Many of these articles are published in proceedings
volumes. It was commonplace for mainstream journals to reject his manuscripts. Consequently, he often had to wait many
years to respond in print to a critic.
In 1982 Jaynes took a two year sabbatical. He spent the first year at the University of Wyoming as an Adjunct Professor.
While there he taught statistics, gave a few colloquia, generally renewed old friendships, enjoyed himself, thought, and
wrote. Ray Smith told me that he, his son, and Gary Erickson took Jaynes camping in the Snowy mountains. Apparently
Jaynes enjoyed this experience so much that when he returned to St. Louis he went out and bought a tent and sleeping
bag in the hopes of going camping again some day.
The second year of his sabbatical was spent as a Fellow at St. John's College in Cambridge, England. The time Jaynes
spent at St. John's college was the highlight of his life. Had it been possible, he would have stayed. During the time
at Cambridge he attended the weekly meetings John Skilling had with his graduate students. He wrote a number of papers
related to the discussions that were going on at these meetings; ``Monkeys Kangaroos and N'' being the most notable of
these. He wandered the campus thinking about the history and magnitude of human accomplishments that are associated
with Cambridge. He mentioned spending parts of several weeks trying to find the tomb of
Rev. Thomas Bayes. He succeeded
at this, because in his possessions were a number of pictures of Bayes' tomb.
Jaynes retired in 1992 after a long and productive career. Jaynes' contributions to science were of the highest caliber.
His work in reformulating statistical mechanics has illuminated the foundations of that theory and enabled extensions
to nonequilibrium systems. His dedication to
rooting out contradictions in quantum mechanics is legendary.
He must have singlehandedly sparked more debate in quantum mechanics
than any other person in the last 50 years.
The verdict on his neoclassical radiation theory is still not in, and may not be for many more years. It may yet prove
to be a better description of nature than quantum electrodynamics. He also helped take an interpretation of probability
theory from being virtually unknown to a healthy research area that is being applied daily in economics, biology,
physics, nuclear magnetic resonance and many other disciplines. His writing helped to clarify the foundations of
probability theory in a way never achieved before. He wrote profusely, in a warm and friendly way that enabled one to
see complex points as if they were intuitively obvious. He spoke as he wrote. When he criticized someone's work,
he always stuck to the facts; he never reverted to name calling. His friendship was hard to earn, and hard to keep,
for he had little tolerance for incompetence. He would undoubtedly be uncomfortable with all of the attention being
lavished on him now that he is dead.
The ideas of E. T. Jaynes were reviewed and discussed in the book:
"PHYSICS AND PROBABILITY: Essays in Honor of Edwin T. JAYNES, Edited by W. T. Grandy and P. W. Milonni,
Cambridge Uni.Press, 1993.
There is E. T. JAYNES CENTER in Germany:
E. T. Jaynes Center
German Physical Society
MaxPlanckInstitut fur Plasmaphysik
Centre for Interdisciplinary Plasma Science
Garching b. Munchen
There are a few places where the biography of E. T. JAYNES can be found.
Wikipedia electronic Encyclopedia(http://en.wikipedia.org/) , an article E. T. JAYNES.
BIOGRAPHY of the BAYES SOCIETY.
DATABASE OF WEB RESOURCES ON E. T. JAYNES.
Quick SEEK ENCYCLOPEDIA, an article E. T. JAYNES.
Joel A. SNOW "RECOLLECTIONS OF AN INDEPENDENT THINKER".
OBITUARY NOTE of Wyoming University.
Paper of T. Toffoli "HONESTY IN INFERENCE" in AMERICAN SCIENTIST, MarchApril 2004.
BIBLIOGRAPHY of the published works of E. T. Jaynes consists of 74
items.
Additional information on the development of the
MAXIMUM ENTROPY PRINCIPLE can be found at:
http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/s0450736/maxent.html
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