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