Walter Pitts

Walter Pitts (* April 23, 1923, † May 14, 1969 ) was an American logician who worked in the field of cognitive psychology.


Pitts was considered eccentric genius when he started doing research as a non- enrolled student, who had run away from home at age 15, and lateral entrants at the University of Chicago. He taught as a teenager before ancient Greek, Latin, Sanskrit and other languages ​​as well as in logic and mathematics self-study. At age 12, he read the Principia Mathematica by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead in the library and wrote a letter that this after all so impressed that he invited him to England, he attended the lectures of Russell in 1938 in Chicago to Russell. Pitts also impressed the professor in Chicago Rudolf Carnap, after he had given him a provided him with note issue of the logical structure of the world. Carnap then tried in vain for months to find out who he was, since he had not introduced himself, and gave him a menial job at the university, but Pitts sought not graduate as a student and never received a university degree.

He was employee of Warren McCulloch in Chicago, who received him into his house, as he at the time had no permanent accommodation. This resulted in the classic work on early mathematical neuron models (A logical calculus of ideas immanent in nervous activity, 1943) and neural networks. Then the work influenced among other things the mathematician and computer pioneer John von Neumann. McCulloch and his friend Jerome Lettwin, also a physician, mediated Pitts in 1943 as an assistant at the mathematician Norbert Wiener of MIT. He received the items after him the skeptical Wiener, who was once considered as a mathematical prodigy himself, tested by ran away with him on the board his proof of the ergodic theorem. Pitts was adopted by Wiener as a graduate student and he made him even personally a curriculum of different subjects together of mathematics to circuit theory and electronics. 1944 Pitts was also employed by the Kellex Corporation, a company in the petrochemical, also dealt with issues of processing radioactive material.

In 1952, he was to study with McCulloch, Lettvin and Pat Wall part of the group that were hired by MIT professor Jerome Wiesner on the Council of Vienna in the Research Laboratory of Electronics, the functioning of the nervous system. Within this group, the pioneering work in the cognitive sciences, he was one of the leaders with McCulloch, even if he did not look like mentioned in publications and academic degrees and official positions at the University turned down. His way of working was unusual - often we saw him reading at a bar sitting. He remained until his death at MIT, but was increasingly isolated after Vienna for personal reasons (his wife liked McCulloch not ) broke with McCulloch and all persons associated with this, including Pitts. Pitts died in 1969 from bleeding esophageal varices, a frequent co-morbidity of liver cirrhosis.

An important mathematical neuron model is now named after him McCulloch - Pitts cell. The theoretical foundations, which he formulated together with McCulloch, were important for the development of neuro- computer science and cognitive science. He worked on an extensive manuscript on three-dimensional neural networks and finally with Robert Gesteland about the sense of smell.


At the same time as his classic essays on neuron models, he also wrote with Lettwin a hoax article.