Herbert A. Simon biography and books

Herbert A. Simon - Toolshero

Herbert A. Simon (Herbert Alexander Simon: June 15, 1916 – February 9, 2001) was an American economist, political scientist, sociologist, and psychologist. His primary focus was on researching decision-making within large organizations and was best known for his theories on bounded rationality and satisficing. Herbert A. Simon received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1978 and the Turing Award in 1975. He spent most of his career working for Carnegie Mellon University.

Herbert A. Simon biography

Early life

Herbert A. Simon was born Herbert Alexander Simon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 15, 1916. His father, Arthur Simon, was a Jewish electrical engineer who moved from Germany in 1903 after receiving his engineering degree from Darmstadt Technical College.

Arthur Simons was an inventor and independent patent attorney. Herbert Simon’s mother, Edna Marguerite Merkel, was a professional pianist. She too came from a family with a Jewish, Lutheran and Catholic background.

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Student life

Herbert A. Simon attended Milwaukee Public Schools. Here he developed his interest and passion for science. He also established himself as an atheist during this time. While in high school, Simon wrote a letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal. This editor defended the civil liberties of atheists.

Unlike other families, the family gave Simon the idea that behavior could also be studied scientifically. His uncle Harold Merkel, a brother of his mother, was one of his first influences in this field.

Harold Merkel (1892-1922) studied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Herbert Simon discovered his interest in the social sciences through the books he wrote on economics and psychology.

Although Herbert A. Simon was interested in biology, he chose to study mathematics and social sciences. This was mainly due to his color blindness and clumsiness in the laboratory. He discovered his color blindness at a young age and thus learned that the outside world is not the same as the perceived world.

The most important influence during his student days came from mentor Henry Schultz, an econometrician and mathematical economist.

In 1936 Herbert A. Simon received his B.A. and in 1943 his Ph.D., both from the University of Chicago. He then became a research assistant for Clarence Ridley. The studies he was involved in took him to the field of organizational decision-making. This subject also became the subject for his dissertation.

Professional career of Herbert Simon

After graduating from university, Simon obtained a research assistantship. This was later turned into a directorship at the University of California. Between 1942 and 1949, Herbert A. Simon was a professor of political science at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

Here he also attended seminars organized by the staff of the Cowles-committee. Others who contributed to this were Tjalling Koopmans, Jacob Marschak and Trygve Haavelmo. Together with them, he began a deep study of economics in the field of institutionalism. It was Jacob Marschak who wanted him on board to help them research the future economic effects of atomic energy.

From 1949 to 2001, Herbert A. Simon was a faculty member at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In 1949 he also became a professor of business administration and chairman of the industrial management department. Herbert Simon later also started teaching psychology and computer science.

Artificial intelligence

During his time at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Herbert A. Simon worked on exploring different areas of organizational theory and developing both mathematical and economic modeling. Many of his works have been collected in the 1957 book Models of Man.

From the year 1955 he began to develop the belief that a deeper understanding of decision making required a theory that looks at solving human problems and knowledge through computer science. In the same year, he co-developed the Logic Theorist with Allen Newell and J. Clifford Shaw.

This later became known as the first operational computer program for artificial intelligence. This program was the first to use heuristic rules to prove theorems.

In 1957, Herbert A. Simon predicted that the computer would surpass human chess skills within ten years. In reality, it took about forty years.

In the early 1960s, psychologist Ulric Neisser claimed that machines would never be able to recognize and replicate emotional cognitions, such as pain, pleasure, and desire.

Simon responded to this in an article on emotional cognition. This article was published in Psychological Review in 1967. His contributions were ignored for years, but through the contributions of Sloman and Picard attention was brought back to Simon’s article.

In 1965 Simons switched completely to studying AI operational research.

Nobel Prize Herbert Simon

1978 was a big year for Herbert A. Simon. He received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations. The choice of Simon as the winner surprised many, but Simon said he was lucky to be part of the Econometric Mafia.

Simon further received a number of other honors and awards before leaving research and died at the age of eighty-four.

Personal life

Herbert A. Simon married Dorothea Pye in 1938. They remained together until Simon’s death 63 years later.

In January 2001, Herbert underwent major surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his abdomen. The operation was successful, but Simon died of complications that followed. He left behind his wife and three children. His wife died a year later, in 2002.

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Famous quotes

  1. “The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way.”
  2. “If you want to go somewhere, it is best to find someone who has already been there.”
  3. “When people are lame, they love to blame.”
  4. “Academic qualifications are important and so is financial education. They’re both important and schools are forgetting one of them.”
  5. “We go to school to learn to work hard for money. I write books and create products that teach people how to have money work hard for them.”
  6. “A lot of people are afraid to tell the truth, to say no. That’s where toughness comes into play. Toughness is not being a bully. It’s having backbone.”
  7. “I have a problem with too much money. I can’t reinvest it fast enough, and because I reinvest it, more money comes in. Yes, the rich do get richer.”
  8. “You have to be smart. The easy days are over.”
  9. “When times are bad is when the real entrepreneurs emerge.”

Books and publications by Herbert A. Simon et al.

  • 1997. Models of bounded rationality: Empirically grounded economic reason (Vol. 3). MIT press.
  • 1996. Situated learning and education. Educational researcher, 25(4), 5-11.
  • 1993. Altruism and economics. The American Economic Review, 83(2), 156-161.
  • 1991. The architecture of complexity. In Facets of systems science (pp. 457-476). Springer, Boston, MA.
  • 1990. Invariants of human behavior. Annual review of psychology, 41(1), 1-20.
  • 1986. Rationality in psychology and economics. Journal of Business, S209-S224.
  • 1980. Expert and novice performance in solving physics problems. Science, 208(4450), 1335-1342.
  • 1978. Individual differences in solving physics problems.
  • 1976. From substantive to procedural rationality. In 25 years of economic theory (pp. 65-86). Springer, Boston, MA.
  • 1972. Human problem solving (Vol. 104, No. 9). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-hall.
  • 1967. Motivational and emotional controls of cognition. Psychological review, 74(1), 29.
  • 1958. Selective perception: A note on the departmental identifications of executives. Sociometry, 21(2), 140-144.
  • 1958. Heuristic problem solving: The next advance in operations research. Operations research, 6(1), 1-10.
  • 1956. Rational choice and the structure of the environment. Psychological review, 63(2), 129.
  • 1956. Dynamic programming under uncertainty with a quadratic criterion function. Econometrica, Journal of the Econometric Society, 74-81.
  • 1955. On a class of skew distribution functions. Biometrika, 42(3/4), 425-440.
  • 1951. A formal theory of the employment relationship. Econometrica: Journal of the Econometric Society, 293-305.
  • 1949. Note: some conditions of macroeconomic stability. Econometrica, Journal of the Econometric Society, 245-248.
  • 1946. The proverbs of administration. Public administration review, 6(1), 53-67.

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Janse, B. (2022). Herbert A. Simon. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero: https://www.toolshero.com/toolsheroes/herbert-simon/

Original publication date: 01/13/2022 | Last update: 09/08/2023

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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