Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jerry's "Elegy to Building 20"

Elegy for Building 20

Place of work is part of mind,
Memories imprint the wall,
Shabby artifacts recall
Crystal concepts, well-defined.

Down the halls of empty wings
Expurgated rooms extend;
When the wrecker comes, they end,
Broken down to formless things.

I'm not Faust, and will not pray
Time to take the time to dwell;
Status quo is gait of hell.
let those rooms be done away.

Academic monies buy
Only what it pays to know;
Newer fabrications grow
Where the older legends lie.

As the building comes apart,
Driven by a subtler trend,
Means that justify and end
Subsidize the wrecker's art

Past, reknown for past renown,
Cannot generate returns,
Just the interest it earns.
Tear that tattered engram down.


Brilliant ideas

Michael Brill has blogged an account of his first experiment in Jerry's lab.

Articles about Jerry

I've also started an online collection of articles about Jerry. I only have three up so far, but I have a huge collection of newspaper and magazine articles that I will start scanning and adding as I have the time.

Thanks to Leslie Lawrence and Sam Bertie for the articles already posted.

Another website

It has taken a while, but I have finally gotten control of The Lettvin Group website. This will let me post some documents and photos that I haven't yet been able to link to nicely. David Atkin and Bill Saidel sent some pictures and you will find links to their collections here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Memorial News

Yesterday I sent out information on the memorial for Jerry. If you wish to attend the memorial and have not received an email from me about it, then either you are not on my list, or my contact information for you is out of date.

If you wish to attend, please send me an email with your contact information (and perhaps a brief note about the intersection of your life with Jerry's) and I will put you on the list for future notifications, and an invitation to which you will need to RSVP.

The event will be a full day alternating between scientific talks and personal reminiscences about Jerry. Recorded recitals of Theodore Lettvin, Jerry's brother, will be part of the event too.

So please get in touch if you were a student, colleague, enemy or arch-enemy, especially if you would like to present a talk or memory and even if you cannot attend, but would like to be notified when materials from the memorial are available.

The memorial will be:

Sunday 9/25:
MIT Room 32-123,
Cambridge Mass (site of old Building 20)
from 0900-1615

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

More on the debate

Wonderful seeing the Lettvin-Leary poster you posted. For many of us, that debate was one of the touchstones of that era. One of my last wonderful memories of Jerry -- aside from the several random run-ins I had into him and Maggie enjoying a coffee at the outdoor Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square -- was his attendance at the screening of a tape of that debate at my class's 35th reunion, June '05. It was wonderful to listen to Jerry's reminiscence of the planning for and behind-the-scenes at the debate -- a treat for the content and for the obvious pleasure Jerry took in the memories and our company.

I've attached a photo of Jerry at that screening. 
(David's note: Sitting next to Jerry are my son Mo and his wife Lindsey.) 

No surprise, given our times, also found an on-line video of that, very entertaining, debate at:

as well as copy of the MIT Tech issue reporting on the debate:

Sam Bertie

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Embodiments of Mind

For those who are interested, three of Jerry's papers:

  • Effects of Strychnine with Special Reference to Spinal Afferent Fibres
  • Reflex Inhibition by Dorsal Root Interaction
  • What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain

are reprinted in Warren McCulloch's Embodiments of Mind. Jerry also contributed the introduction to this edition.

The original poster!

Jon Chosiad has sent us a real treasure!

"... a jpeg rendition of the original MIT Lecture Series Committee (LSC*) poster which I and Mike Oman worked on 40-some-odd years ago announcing the upcoming debate between your father, Dr Jerome Lettvin and the notorious Dr Timothy Leary. The lecture was held at MIT's Kresge's auditorium. If I can get the jpeg cleaned up and no one objects I would forward it to Dr Lettvin's memorial blog or wherever you thought appropriate.

The Cast of Characters receiving this email are (these first two are the sons of the recently deceased Dr Lettvin); the last 3 and myself were under-graduate residents of MIT's Burton House dormitory, 5th floor, overlooking the [then] not-so-scenic Charles River:
  • Jonathan Lettvin - Software Consultant, AER - I worked with Jonathan at Lotus in the late 80's 
  • David Lettvin - a New England based essayist, novelist, and historian, a classmate at Commonwealth School in the '60's. 
  • Larry Stelmack - Electronics and Computer engineer turned computer-aided artist; a dorm-mate who might be willing to restore the poster to its original grandeur if he ever gets the time. 
  • Richard Stern - CMU PhD and Professor in a multitude of auditory-related subjects, musician, harpsichordist and the archivist who saved a copy of the poster for 30 years. 
  • Mike Oman - another dorm-mate and collaborator on the original poster, whereabouts currently unknown to me. I am guessing at his e-dress. 
I and the ravages of time have left the original silk-screening in its present sad condition. The faux-Peter Max style font (I call it "MIT Psychedelic") hides the actual announcement in the leaves and fruit of the tree. It says: DR JEROME LETTVIN, DR TIMOTHY LEARY, LSC* 8PM WEDNESDAY MAY 3 KRESGE $1/2

*LSC stands for Lecture Series Committee (not a mis-spelling of Dr Leary's favorite recreation). LSC was the producer of all MIT-sponsored extra-curricular movies, lectures, plays etc. Kresge was the auditorium where the event was held. The stylized yellow oval in the lower right was the logo for CHOMAN, Mike and my artistic collaborative. "

Jon Chosiad

Administrative stuff

Almost all of Jerry's papers are being cataloged for archiving at the American Philosophical Institute in Philadelphia (Warren McCulloch's papers are there too). However, I am also developing an online archive. Any materials, photos, tapes of lectures, transcripts etc. whether digitized or not, will be gratefully accepted and put in this online archive.

Tomorrow I will publish a list of names of some of Jerry's contacts for whom I have not been able to find a valid email address. If you are listed, or know someone who is listed, please contact me with the information.

Stories or memories of Jerry are accepted and republished on this blog with the name of the submitter, but unless you specifically request it, your addresses either physical or email will not be divulged.


The genesis of the title

I have loved and admired both Maggie and Jerry for many decades and was able to visit them last summer and share a token 90th birthday cake with him (I reached 90 last fall). Jerry and I worked and published together - his ideas tested in my axon voltage clamp equipment.

They visited me in Woods Hole from time to time. On one occasion they brought the manuscript of his most famous publication to me, then a guest editor of the Proceedings of the IRE. I read and accepted the paper as is but rejected the original title (by Pitts or McCulloch) and insisted that he give me his title. He immediately responded with "What the frog's eye tells the frog's brain". I struck out the original title and wrote in Jerry's title and sent it off to the press. The result was that this paper became widely known by almost all neuroscientists in spite of the fact that this journal was not a place they would normally look; nevertheless it has been widely reproduced on the web.

John Moore

Abject apologies

Sorry! Mea culpa. The entire month of July just slipped past without me noticing. I will not catalog the distractions but merely say that they existed.

There will be several posts today to try to bring things back into alignment.