Biographical sketch of hugh everett, III. Eugene Shikhovtsev


Daughter Liz (1957) and mathematical models (1956-1964)



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Daughter Liz (1957) and mathematical models (1956-1964)


Meanwhile Everett was taken up with the life of young father. He and Nancy had been married in 1956 and their daughter Liz was born on July 7, 1957 (she lived only until July 11, 1996) [28]. However, Everett's wife and son later confessed that he, like John von Neumann and Einstein, “wasn’t really made for family life.” Everett lived mainly in the world of intellect [56, 57], and his work demanded a permanent fountain of ideas.

Here is how he succinctly characterized his work in 1965: “Responsible for research in mathematical techniques and models; selection, programming and operation of WSEG computing facility; project leader several WSEG projects; developed numerous mathematical models and techniques in field of military operations research; developed numerous computer programs, subroutines, and utility routines in support of WSEG projects” [14]. His obituaries spoke more revealingly about this period of his life. He made major contribution to national security, pioneered the application of game theory and optimization methods in the practical analysis of policy alternatives (almost superpositions!) [58], and in WSEG, which was assigned problems of particular challenge and complexity, he was the recognized leader—the one to whom everyone went for advice and counsel. Also in the solution of practical problems Everett was often ahead of his time. For example, in the late 1950s he created a computer text editor with page layout (what would now be called a word processor), which he later described as the most complicated task he had ever worked on. The term "Everett algorithms" is commonly used among mathematicians; these algorithms were the most effective in their time [13].

Needless to say, much of what Everett worked on was classified Secret or Top Secret. Only recently has some of that come to light. In 1957 WSEG participated in global-scale UFO research [59] and investigated the efficiency of Minuteman missiles. Later [60], this organization developed anti-noise radar techniques [61]. But most of the archives of IDA are still strictly classified. There are but two unclassified publications by Everett in eight years of activity in WSEG/IDA, not counting a monographic article on recursive games [23] in his "doctoral" year (mathematicians refer to this article as a “thesis” [29]). The two other unclassified articles are "The Distribution and Effects of Fallout in Large Nuclear Weapon Campaigns" [62], co-authored with one of his best friends, George E. Pugh, and a pioneer article on Lagrangian relaxations [63]. I will discuss these below in part.

Quanta of theoretical physics (1958-1960s)

Everett's connection to theoretical physics weakened year by year. Early in 1958 Everett received an inquiry and sent his article on relative states to the Institute for Theoretical Physics, Budapest [64, 65]. In the spring of that year, Wheeler visited Everett at the Pentagon. They carried out a brisk conversation and had lunch with George Pugh [66]. (It is perhaps during this visit that Wheeler learned that Everett “had reprogrammed nearly all the computers” in the Pentagon [24a, pp. 270-271].) In January 1959 Wheeler wrote Everett [67] about interesting work of Michael May (the capability to state how the outcome of a measurement is connected to the accuracy of the apparatus [68]), and incidentally invited Everett to speak in the beginning of May at Princeton at a special seminar on the theory of relative states. It is not known whether Everett did (or could) accept this invitation. In fact, by May 1959 his career in physics had received one more setback.

Visit to Bohr. Lagrange multipliers (Spring 1959). Son Mark (1963).

At Wheeler's insistence [38], Everett in March 1959 visited Copenhagen in order to meet with Bohr (and with Petersen and Misner as well [2]). Evidently Wheeler wanted to know the attitude of his mentor to the theory of his graduate student [19, page 8]. Everett, with his wife, stayed in Copenhagen for six weeks, until April 21 [19, page 8; 69]. The meeting with Bohr did take place, but the 75-year-old patriarch was not inclined to discuss seriously “any new (strange) upstart theory” [70] and, it seems, did not give Everett a chance to express himself. Everett has only the most gloomy memories of this meeting, and was rather reluctant to recollect it at all [19, page 8]. From Frank Tipler I have learned that Mrs. Everett said in a private conversation with L. David Raub that “Bohr refused to talk to Everett about the MWI [many-worlds interpretation]” [70a].

But in his Copenhagen hotel, the Osterport, Everett came up with a big mathematical idea, which, five years later, became the intellectual contribution to and foundation for the company "Lambda," which brought big money to him [19, page 8]. This idea, scratched, in the best traditions of science fiction, on three sheets of hotel letterhead [69], consisted of the application of Lagrange multipliers to the solution of optimization problems. The idea had to ripen for four years—perhaps because of declassification delays. (As a sign of Everett's transition from physics to mathematics during these years one may take note of a letter from P. Greene to Everett, in which interest to the concept of relative states is claimed in connection with studies of properties of cognitive systems and perceptual machines [71]).

One might say that Everett was a model of punctuality [13, 55]. In two of his main ideas one can discern features of a stable paradigm: Both ideas were born with the help of Bacchus [19, page 1; 69]), and both were published simultaneously with the birth of a child (in the second case it was his son Mark Oliver, born on April 10, 1963 [28]).

Everett's ideas in mathematics as well as in physics have not received due recognition—although mathematicians, with perhaps a twinge of jealousy, say that to reduce Everett only to a physics genius is to diminish him [72]. In some high-school math textbooks, the name Everett has been listed in rather distinguished company: "... an interpolation polynomial may be written in one of the forms suggested by Lagrange, Newton, Stirling, Gauss and Laplace-Everett" [73, also 74]). On the other hand we read: "It was Everett who first suggested, as early as 1963, the use of Lagrange multipliers in discrete optimization problems. However a boom in this area began after the appearance of work by Hald and Charnes devoted to the traveling-salesman problem. " [75]. Abe Charnes was an important figure in mathematics [29], and in 1965 he published a note about Everett’s method [76], from which one could see that the master misunderstood one of Everett's key concepts—the "gap." (As H. Greenberg notes [77], most people in optimization theory now use the term routinely, but hardly any remember it was Everett who defined it first.)

Everett's last printed work, a brief explanation in answer to Charnes’ note [78], obeyed the punctuality paradigm: It appeared simultaneously with the birth of his newest "child," the private corporation “Lambda” [14].


Lambda Division, then Lambda Corporation. Arlington. (1964-1973).

Everett's father retired in 1958 [8] and his mother died in the early 1960s. The 1960s were a trying time in America. First there was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, then an escalating conflict in Vietnam.

Permutations are not unknown in the Pentagon. At the end of August 1964 the Defense Research Corp. (DRC) of Santa Barbara, California, which had been engaged in defense research only [79], announced the formation of Lambda Division [14] (also called the Lambda group), which, in addition to military problems, would work also to solve civilian ones in the general areas of systems analysis and computer modeling [80]. Everett left his post as director of the mathematics and physical sciences division of WSEG and was named head of Lambda [81]. Joining him in Lambda were George E. Pugh from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and three experts from IDA—Lawrence B. Dean, Jr., Paul M. Fitzpatrick, and Robert J. Galiano (very likely, the “Bob” to whom Everett wrote from Denmark about Lagrangian methods) [79]. Lambda Division set up its headquarters in a new building at 1401 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, with over a million dollars in government study contracts (a hefty amount in 1964) [80, 81]. Later Lambda moved to 1501 Wilson Boulevard [1a]. The photos illustrating the newspaper articles about Lambda show a highbrow young Ph.D. in glasses and with a soft smile, rather similar to that of Mona Lisa [81a].

It is generally accepted that scientists are impractical people, but Everett didn't fit that stereotype. After working less than a year in the Lambda division of DRC, he, with the same four partners, founded an independent firm—Lambda Corporation—and on July 1, 1965 he was elected its President. Apparently, civilian problems in the new company took second place, because the scale of its military work increased. Two employees recalled Lambda Corporation as the organization that was responsible for much of the strategic analysis work in support of the systems analysis program at the Pentagon while Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense [82], and in an obituary, Princeton's Graduate School praised Everett as a strategic adviser and analyst during the Vietnam War (it said also that he “was in part responsible for the application of game theory to the analysis of ballistic missile performance”) [83].

Lambda was intended as a company where people with extraordinary intelligence and problem-solving ability (which indeed describes its small staff, and certainly its leader, Everett) would be assigned problems exceeding the usual degree of complexity and challenge. It is such problems that are interesting to such people. The staff included physicists, mathematicians, and chemists (among them were those who had worked in the Manhattan Project) [1]. The idea succeeded very well [13]. From recently written memoirs by Joseph George Caldwell, an ex-member of the technical staff of Lambda Corporation who developed there a practical method for applying the famous John Nash solution [1a] (for which Nash later received a Nobel Prize), one learns that “Lambda Corporation’s specialty was solving constrained optimization problems, especially two-sided optimization problems, such as occur in warfare." Lambda developed the Quick General War Game Simulator for the Department of Defense.

Turning to the personal side of life at the company, Caldwell wrote, "Every Friday afternoon was 'Sherry Hour' at Lambda Corporation. Once a month we had a 'pot luck' square-dance dinner. Once a month we played poker in the Lambda poker group, which evolved from the WSEG poker group. There was an annual Lambda family picnic. Hugh and Fred Miercort bought a beach condo in Charlotte Amalie in the US Virgin Islands, and a number of us stayed there. Hugh was married to a very pleasant, down-to-earth lady.” Mr. Caldwell adds some private recollections about Everett: “His home had an indoor swimming pool. He . . . enjoyed eating in fine restaurants. He enjoyed taking pictures with the microfilm camera that he always carried in a small case attached to his belt. He smoked his cigarettes with a filter, had long, swept-back black hair and a mustache/goatee, which he stroked while reviewing his poker hands” [1a]. Caldwell also recalls Nancy Everett: “She enjoyed the Lambda monthly square dances, and the wives of the Lambda staff (most were men) enjoyed chatting with her. Although her husband was the founder and president of Lambda, there was not a trace of her taking advantage of this social position, as many women would. She chatted with the other women on a 'peer-to-peer' basis.” [83a]

So, in the 1960s Everett was recognized as an applied mathematician. Inquiries now came to him concerning Lagrange multipliers [84, 85]. In print he is mentioned in the same connection [86], and many his colleagues of those years found out only years later that Everett was also a physicist [29]. An operations research student, H. Greenberg, introduced to Everett by Dr. Mandell Bellmore, recollects that in 1967 and later he discussed with Everett the Lagrange multiplier method, as well as other subjects. Everett liked solving problems, especially those that others could not solve. Greenberg admired Everett, his honesty, his generosity with compliments, and his encouragement. Everett taught him some of his techniques of application of his method, and was open with his ideas, even though he was in a highly competitive business [29].

Administration probably attracted Everett less. After being the president of the Lambda Corporation for three years, he was succeeded by L. Dean, reserving for himself only the post of chairman of the board. Fitzpatrick by that time had left the management of the firm, and Galiano and Pugh served as vice-presidents. The board of directors included three leaders of General Research Corp. (a firm that G. Pugh would later join [66]), the president of Boston Capital Corp., and a vice-president of Control Data Corp. [87] An overview of the Lambda Corp. is given by Mr. Caldwell as follows: “Lambda Corporation grew rapidly until the early 1970s. With the advent of massive spending on the Vietnam War, and the 'Great Society' welfare programs, defense budgets became tight, and the firm was eventually absorbed by General Research Corporation (formerly Defense Research Corporation) of McLean, Virginia” [1a]. During its "civilian" period Lambda did some contract work for American Management Systems (AMS) and about 1970 “was awarded (from Merck & Company) the largest private operations research contract ever awarded, to conduct an analysis of the economic feasibility of modular manufacturing methods for production of chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs” [1a].

A recollection by Dr. John Y. Barry shows that Everett's relations with client companies were not always smooth. (Barry, despite his negative view of Everett's ethics, held his intellect in highest esteem): “I knew Hugh Everett when we both worked in the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group in the Pentagon during the early 1960s. . . . In the middle 1970s I was in the basic research group of J. P. Morgan and hired Lambda Corporation to develop . . . the Bayesian stock market timer. He refused to give us the computer code and insisted that Lambda be paid for market forecasts. Morgan could have sued Lambda for the code under the legal precedent of 'work for hire'. Rather than do so, we decided to have nothing more to do with Lambda because they, Hugh, were so unethical. We found that he later used the work developed with Morgan money as a basis for systems sold to the Federal Government. He used us. . . . In brief a brilliant, innovative, slippery, untrustworthy, probably alcoholic, individual.” [87a]

Here's an impression by another ex-colleague of Everett, Dr. Paul Flanagan (who was a Lambda employee): “Hugh was the smartest man I have known, but only smart in some areas. His understanding of emotions and people was limited and he hurt many people by how he treated them. Hugh the thinker was very different from Hugh the human being.”. [87b]


DeWitt reminds physicists about Everett (1970s)

During those years, Everett's contact with quantum mechanics was limited essentially to reading Physics Today. [88] In 1968 the theory of relative states was mentioned in a book by Aage Petersen [89], but on the whole Everett's concept was largely forgotten or treated as if taboo. Bryce DeWitt recollects [38] that even the recognized expert on the history of quantum mechanics Max Jammer, who visited DeWitt in 1969, had never heard of his interpretation.

(Here is one more vivid scene. About 1970 Everett interviewed a young Ph.D., Donald Reisler, for a job at Lambda Corp. After lunch, he rather timidly asked if Reisler had read his paper on the relative-state formulation. Reisler thought for an instant and replied, Oh my God, you are that Everett, the crazy one who wrote that insane paper. I had read it in graduate school and chuckled, rejected it out of hand, and went on with my straightforward business. [90] They quickly became friends.)

DeWitt resolved to rectify this situation [38]. He wrote an article for Physics Today, which appeared in September 1970 [91], after which Everett could no longer be ignored. (A flood of reader responses, with comments by DeWitt, followed [92-93].) Soon after the publication of the article DeWitt contacted Everett asking whether the large work (about which Everett has written to him in 1957) still existed, and Everett promised to look for the manuscript [88]. At this point Wheeler withdrew his support for Everett's view (because he disliked the publicity surrounding it, in DeWitt's opinion [38]).

DeWitt, with the help of his student R. Neill Graham, reviewed some 500 articles on interpretations of quantum mechanics [94, 38]. And in 1971, after receiving from Nancy Everett the unique saved copy of the "large" thesis, he asked Everett what he thought of the idea of publishing it. [38] Everett gave his permission with the proviso that he not be responsible for the technical work of editing, proofreading, etc. [88]. DeWitt accepted this condition (those duties were performed by Neill Graham), and in April, 1972 Princeton University Press received DeWitt’s proposal for a collection including Everett's long work and articles by leading physicists on the subject [95]. Four months later the proposal was accepted, although not without remarks about how much time had passed since Everett's work was written and about its unpopularity in many quarters [95]. It was at first planned to issue the book in the winter, then in the spring; in fact it was published only in the autumn of 1973 [97-99]. For the past fifteen years it has been hard to find a copy of the book [36, 100], but the preface by DeWitt (with elegant and appropriate epigraphs from the writing of Jorge Luis Borges and William James added) is accessible on the Internet [101]. It is Everett's last (and most important) publication. (Later reprints have appeared.)

DBS Corporation. Don Reisler. McLean, VA (1973-1982)

The appearance of this book is consistent with the paradigm "a publicationa child." In that year (1973), Everett resigned from Lambda Corp. [102] and with his friend Don Reisler founded DBS Corporation in Arlington, Virginia, a company devoted, at least initially, to civilian developments solely in the sphere of information science and data management [103, 58]. Reisler and Everett had been friends for three years [72, 1] and apparently had markedly similar natures [72, 1, 55, 90]. Both were "solution people", rather than “utility people.” Reisler took on the administrative duties of the president and Everett became the chairman of the small (15-employee) company [104]. They put copies of their dissertations in a box and made a pact that they would not open the box or discuss its contents for ten yearstime that should be devoted to building the business. If they succeeded, they reasoned, then after ten years they would have time to read and discuss the material. If they did not succeed, then they would also have time since the business would have folded [90].

The Everetts moved to a house in an upscale Washington suburb, McLean, VA. Everett’s father, with his wife Sara T., settled in nearby Berryville, VA [102]. Hugh and Nancy's children acquired from Everett if not his talents in sciences, then definitely his commitment to rituals and his ability to focus relentlessly on a single thing. Their older child Liz, each day after school, listened to an album of Neil Young, "After the Goldrush," from beginning to end. Mark, the younger child, was a terror at home playing his toy drum set, purchased for him at the age of six at a garage sale next door [5].

World learns of MWI (1976)

Sales of the DeWitt-Graham collection were not bad. By February, 1974, a few months after its publication, 485 hardbound and 326 paperbound copies had been sold, more than half of them abroad [87]. The book bore fruit, as Everett began to be mentioned by physicists [105-107], and finally general readers heard of him tooat least, readers of science fiction and the popular magazine Analog [108]. The Everetts were visiting in New York when an issue of Analog including reference to his work appeared. Unfortunately, Everett learned about this issue only later, by which time unsold copies of the magazine had been recycled. But as the result of an inquiry sent to the editors [109], the Everetts apparently obtained some copies, one of which was sent in Princeton, where it created a small furor. A Xerox copy was made for Wheeler, who by then had moved to teach at the University of Texas in Austin [110].

Before long the many-worlds view became a whole branch of science fiction, and posthumously Everett himself became a character in stories and novels [111-113, etc.]. As usual, it seems that writers invented it all before the scientists. Fans have found in a 1938 story by half-forgotten Jack Williamson, "The Legion of Time," this statement: "Geodesics have an infinite proliferation of possible branches, at the whim of subatomic indeterminism" [114]. Other many-world stories appeared early, including Philip K. Dick's “Captive Market,” written in 1954 and published in April, 1955 [114a]. However, the science-fiction ideas were more anti-Everettian than either pre- or pro-Everettian: The principal distinction is that an Everettian observer can observe only one branch world. (The next conceptual revolution was proposed only in 2000 [114b], but that is quite another subject.)

Family life of the Everetts (1960s-1980s)

This sketch cannot avoid a glance at the family life of the Everetts. Whether you look at it with today's standards or through the filter of the 1970s, the Everett's family life was certainly not ideal. The history of their son Mark tells part of the story. In June 1997 Gina Morris, an interviewer of “Select Magazine,” quoted words of rock star E (a.k.a. Mark Everett), who had been a pupil at a private school in 1969: “. . . father, a physicist, was never around. At home, irony and sarcasm were substitutes for love.” She went on: “[Mark] became dangerously introverted, and was regularly visited by the psychologist” [114c]. Suffering from spiritual loneliness, Mark found rebellious escape in music (from the drums he shifted by the age of 11-12 to making up little songs on the family's upright piano) [5]. In school, his loneliness was replaced by sudden popularity as “a cute little drummer kid” in the school band [114c]. In the wide-open 1970s he fell victim to the temptations of that time, and in 1976 was arrested and expelled from school for using alcohol, marijuana ("grass"), and apparently other drugs ("powder") [5, 115]. Fortunately, drugs did not take over his life or ever become a big problem for him [9]. After a five-year course of therapy Mark defeated his addictions [116]. Afterwards he and his rock group eels followed a dizzying path of popularity from the bottom to the top of the charts. [5].

Hugh Everett had his own hobbies: wine making, photography (he never parted with his miniature camera), and CB transmitting (he was lovingly called “The Mad Scientist” by his CB buddies [82]). He also enjoyed ocean cruises [13].

Everett’s businesses of the 1970s. Elaine Tsiang.

On the business front, Everett never slowed down. He diversified into the mini-computer business and, with one of his ex-employees, Elaine Tsiang Reisler, he founded the software engineering company Mono-Wave. (She was Elaine Tsiang when she had worked for Everett and, earlier, when she was DeWitt's student. Her married name was pure coincidence. Her husband was no relation to Everett's friend and colleague Don Reisler.) Mono-Wave is the only one of Everett's firms still in operation: its main business is speech recognition [117] He also delivered other software products to the market [54, 118]. And he branched out beyond scientific applications. Everett was founder and owner of Key Travel Agency in Rosslyn (a district of Arlington) and owned a condominium rental unit on St. Thomas. [54, 119]. Yet all of these were, as his wife wrote, "side ventures" [54].

Everett's business in DBS included such things as designing “a novel means of protecting computer files and programs, a method for detecting inefficiencies in the use and application of computers, an algorithm for scheduling the operation of a large-scale chemical plant, a method of optimizing the routing of school buses, techniques for data handling, and so many others” [13].




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