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Motivation

 

In this virtual exhibition we attempt to give a short overview of the life and scientific work of three great computing scientists: Ole-Johan Dahl, Edsger W. Dijkstra and Kristen Nygaard. All three were born around the beginning of the nineteen thirties and died in 2002. All three were among the brightest stars of early informatics (or computing science).
All three were strong individuals with very different views and styles. However, there are also a number of similarities among them. Not only did Dahl and Nygaard work together for decades; indeed they also shared the trait of consistently looking for ever better solutions without compromise. All three had a very high level of general education as well. Dahl and Dijkstra were not only enthusiastic listeners of classical music; both of them played the piano at a high level too. Nygaard had a great interest in photography and especially in social and political issues. This suggests that a wide range of interests is a good foundation for unprecedented results in science, even when the actual scientific work is focused.
Human individuality cannot be captured; it can, at most, be felt. It seems to be easier to get a precise feeling for strong individuals than for others. We know this phenomenon well in literature or the arts. When we read the books of Thomas Mann or listen to the music of

 

Johann Sebastian Bach, we start to develop such a “well-shaped” feeling that their works become impossible to confuse with the works of others. Even if an artist hides himself behind a role, as Thomas Mann did in his novel “Der Erwählte” (The Chosen) – which he wrote in the style of a medieval Irish monk – it is still clearly a work by Thomas Mann. The individuality of authors of poor works is hidden by clichés.
In the case of scientists, especially in the field of technical sciences such as informatics, it seems to be much more difficult to find the individual styles of the human beings behind their work. Why is this so?
One relatively obvious reason is that modern science (since the time of Descartes) strives for objectivity, for independence from respectful persons (such as Aristotle or Augustine were for medieval science). On the one hand, striving for objectivity freed science to an unbelievable extent, leading it to new horizons. On the other hand, due to this development, the individuals behind science disappeared almost entirely from the focus of interest. It is often forgotten, however, that even the most objective science must be carried out by someone. There is no way to avoid individual human contribution.

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[Source: People behind Informatics, Laszlo Böszörmenyi and Stefan Podlipnig]

 

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