Photo of Patrick Suppes

Patrick Suppes

  • National Medal of Science
  • Behavioral And Social Science

For his broad efforts to deepen the theoretical and empirical understanding of four major areas: the measurement of subjective probability and utility in uncertain situations; the development and testing of general learning theory; the semantics and syntax of natural language; and the use of interactive computer programs for instruction.

A philosopher with a degree in meteorology, Patrick Suppes is renowned for bridging the divide between the empirical and social sciences, and for bringing about the age of computer learning. Among many other things, Suppes studied how brain activity related to associative learning models, and developed a new form of set theory (think Venn diagrams), which helped account for contradictions that arose from existing methods.

In the late 1950s, Suppes founded the Institute for Mathematical Research in the Social Sciences at Stanford University, which he directed for 30 years. In 1967, he founded the Computer Curriculum Corporation, which focused on incorporating interactive computer programs in the classroom. He remained dedicated to the field of education his entire life, finding ways to connect with both gifted and struggling students.

For his 90th birthday in 2012, colleagues, former students and other leading thinkers gathered at a conference Stanford held to celebrate Suppes, unveiling a collection of papers building on his work and teachings. The papers were compiled into a book commemorating his influence, and an advance copy was laid to rest with him in 2014.

By Lauren Clason