Howard Pattee has always been a forward-thinker.
From the late 1960s on, his ideas about theoretical biology, the origins of life, complex systems, artificial life, biosemiotics, biocybernetics, physics of codes and symbol systems, along with papers such as “Can Life Explain Quantum Mechanics” were provocative and pushed thinking forward.
Specifically, his contributions to the symbol-matter problem have been influential, with over 1,000 paper citations since 2011 alone.
He came to Binghamton University in 1975 and was one of the founding faculty members of the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science when it was established in 1983. He retired from teaching in 1998.
Now a professor emeritus in the Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Department (SSIE), Pattee has continued to push new ideas to the next level with a gift of $50,000 to the Watson School. The money will help purchase new equipment to teach the next generation of engineers.
“The gift was in recognition of the growth and leadership of the Watson School. I try to support excellence wherever it exists,” Pattee, 89, says.
“Simply stated, these are the kind of gifts that will ensure that the Watson School remains on the cutting edge of both education and research for the foreseeable future,” Watson School Dean and Distinguished Professor Krishnaswami “Hari” Srihari says. “The contributions of people like Dr. Pattee to society go far beyond any set financial numbers. However, his generosity is an example of the kind of support that the Watson School has from not only our notable alumni network, but from our brilliant current and former faculty.”
Originally from Pasadena, Calif., Pattee earned his PhD at Stanford University in 1953. He was a senior research associate at Stanford in 1960, went on to be named director of the Stanford Biophysics lab in 1967, and then became a research professor in the Department of Biophysics and Center for Theoretical Biology at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1971. In 1975, he joined the Department of Systems Science in what was then the School of Advanced Technology at Binghamton University.
“He has a significant following as one of the important thinkers and scholars in the field of systems theory around the world,” Harold Lewis III, SSIE associate professor and graduate director, says. “In many ways, Howard was a researcher ahead of his time. A key focus of Howard’s research had always been the connections between evolutionary processes and systems thinking.”
Pattee was named an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow in 1984.
“Over the years I have had more than a thousand MS students in my classes. I hear from some of them on internet blogs,” Pattee says. He maintains an active online and research presence even though he isn’t in the classroom any longer. “I have also been on many PhD committees, and I am actively in touch with some of my former PhD students.
I remember fondly all the systems science faculty and many other Binghamton faculty.”