Nobel winner known to speak his mind

Aumann says that he does not foresee an end to the Middle East conflict in the near future.

yisraelrobertaumann 88 (photo credit: )
yisraelrobertaumann 88
(photo credit: )
Prof. Robert J. Aumann is not shy about expressing his views, which often conflict with his colleagues in academia, but Israel’s eighth Nobel Laureate is, nevertheless, very well respected and liked by his colleagues. “His views often conflict with the more left-wing inclined academic community but he’s a great guy, who has suffered tremendous personal loss, and is liked by everyone,” Professor Hershel Farkas, chairman of the Institute of Mathematics at the Hebrew University said in an interview Tuesday. The 75 year-old great-grandfather of two and grandfather of “18.99,” as he put it (he’s expecting number 19 by the end of the week), who lost a son in Lebanon in 1982, repeated in interviews Tuesday what he said in his first public address after receiving the award Monday -- that he did not foresee an end to the Middle East conflict in the near future. “Some conflicts you just can’t solve, I don’t see how using my theory or any other can bring this one to an end,” Aumann said in response to a question about whether he felt his work in using game theory in conflict resolution, for which he received the prize, could be effective in bringing an end to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. German-born Aumann, who with his aliya from the US in 1956 was appointed immediately to the department of mathematics at Hebrew University, today serves as Chairman of the university’s Center for Rationality, which he co-founded. The center works to bring people together from different backgrounds, such as mathematics, biology, psychology, etc. to use their disciplines to attack problems from varying angles and Aumann, who doesn’t stop working, Farkas said was really the driving force behind the center. Aumann shares the award with Thomas C. Schelling, a retired professor from the University of Maryland. The prize recognizes their work done in the 1960s and 70’s “that helped defense analysts use models to map out options available to an adversary and thus predict what the opponent might do in a confrontation,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said. It noted Aumann’s work in repeated game theory - the study of the emergence of patterns in behavior - in announcing the award. While the subject of the thesis for his Ph.d, which he received at age 25 from MIT, was centered around Knot theory, Aumann moved to game theory when he came to Israel, working closely on the subject through the years with Israeli born Prof. Michael Mashler at Hebrew University. “Under the guidance of Aumann and Mashler, our mathematics department became the world center for game theory,” Farkas said. Today, he added, Aumann’s research has centred around the theory of games with many players, with practical applications in election scenarios, large markets and traffic patterns, by way of example. The Mathematics department is hoping the Nobel Prize will raise the profile of mathematics amongst the general population and the importance of research in government circles, as the university is less able to support graduate work due to major budget cuts over the past few years. The government has cut its subsidies to the university by approximately NIS 220 million over the past six years, Farkas said.