Photo of Herbert A. Simon

Herbert A. Simon

  • National Medal of Science
  • Behavioral And Social Science
For his fundamental contributions to our understanding of human problem-solving behavior and decision making, particularly in organizations.

He knows what you’re thinking. Herbert A. Simon mastered the science of decision making.

When shoppers look at two items in the grocery store and settle on the one that is good enough, they’re “satisficing,” according to Simon, his term for both “satisfy” and “suffice.” Simon is famous in the world economics for this theory, called bounded rationality.

Simon’s theory went against the grain of classical economists that believed people make rational shopping decisions to get the best item at the best price. Simon argued that is not possible because too little time and too many choices prompts shoppers to pick the first item that meets their needs, even if it’s not the best.

Simon aimed to make behavioral science mirror physics and chemistry by infusing mathematics. His obsession with understanding human thinking led him to incorporate computers to study the thinking process. His work revealed computers could do more than mere calculations in the 1950s, but could help when studying patterns and launched the field of artificial intelligence.

“I realized that you could formulate theories about human and social phenomena in language and pictures and whatever you wanted on the computer,” he told the Post-Gazette.

By Christine Ayala