.איתמר היה מורה, קולגה וחבר
.מצורפים הדברים שאמרתי בהלוויה
אני זוכר את הפגישה הראשונה שלי עם איתמר, לפני כעשרים שנה, כשהסכים להיות המנחה שלי בכתיבת עבודת המוסמך. לא היו שם גינונים של כבוד והדר ולא היתה הרגשה של מרחק שבין מורה ותלמיד. מאחורי הקול הרם ואפילו קצת מאיים, נתקלתי בגישה עניינית, מפרגנת וחברית. איתמר הבהיר לי את השקפת עולמו בקשר לכתיבת תיזה, שהיתה מאוד תכליתית. התיזה יכולה גם להיות קצרה – פחות מ – 50 עמודים. כדאי לכתוב בשפה פשוטה ומובנת ככל האפשר, וצריך להתמקד בדיון בטענה העיקרית. את ההגיגים הכלליים יותר שאינם קשורים ישירות לתיזה אפשר להשאיר במגירה. אלה קוים שמנחים את תלמידיו של איתמר גם היום
כשעברתי ללמוד בחו”ל גיליתי ממורים שם שבעצם למדתי אצל אחד החוקרים האהודים והמוערכים ביותר בפילוסופיה של הפיזיקה, עם הרעיונות הכי מקוריים והכי מבריקים. סיפורים כאלה ואחרים על איתמר אני שומע מאז כמעט בכל מפגש מדעי. פילוסופית מסטנפורד סיפרה לי פעם שהם ניסו לשכור אותו. אחרי עוד כמה שנים תפסו אותי בפינה החברים מפיטסבורג – המרכז הטוב בעולם בפילוסופיה של המדע – וניסו להבין ממני מה יכול לשכנע את איתמר לעבור אליהם. מאיתמר עצמו לא שמעתי כמובן את אותם סיפורים, אפילו לא ברמז
איתמר היה אהוב ונערץ ע”י תלמידיו, חלקם נמצאים כאן ואחרים כבר פרופסורים באוניברסיטאות מצוינות בחו”ל. אני זכיתי להפוך לחבר טוב ולעבוד איתו על פרויקט מחקרי ועל הקמת התכנית במדעי הקוגניציה. איתמר עמד במשך שנים בראש הועדה הקוגניטיבית, וניווט אותה בהצלחה רבה. חברים בועדה תיראו אותו ואת עבודתו כמופת של שכל ישר, הגינות, מתינות, חום ואנושיות
היו רבים שראו באיתמר סוג של אורקל מבחינת ידע ובהירות מחשבה. מי שכותב בנושאים פילוסופיים הקשורים בקוונטים, יחסות, הסתברות, חישוביות ולוגיקה ידע שכדאי ורצוי ללטש רעיונות בשיחה איתו. איתמר מאוד אהב להיפגש ולדבר פילוסופיה, בעיקר על רעיונות חדשים. דלתו היתה תמיד פתוחה לכולם. אך לא עוד
- אבישי מרגלית
איתמר פיטובסקי: איש אמת
את איתמר הכרתי לראשונה ב”חוגי השמאל” של שנות השבעים. אני סבור שהראשון שגילה על אוזני שנפשו של תלמיד המתמטיקה והפיסיקה הזה חשקה דווקא בפילוסופיה היה מדריכו מאז, איזי כצנלסון. “אנחנו נפסיד חוקר מחונן אבל אתם תרוויחו אדם חכם,” אמר. וכך היה
הייתי נפגש עם איתמר בתדירות די גבוהה. ישובים על כסאות מיס ון-דה-רואה, במכון ון ליר, ומדברים בלימוד. וכך היה גם בשנות לימודי הפילוסופיה של איתמר בארצות הנכר. היו אלה שיחות של פילוסופיה נקייה, חפות מרכילות ואפילו מפוליטיקה. נקיי הדעת מעטים פגשתי בחיי, טהורים וענייניים במחשבתם כאיתמר. וכך גמלה בלבי ההחלטה להביא את איתמר לחוג. זכיתי, שלא בטובתי, לשמש אז כראש החוג. והימים ימי דן פטנקין כנשיא האוניברסיטה. הלכתי אליו כקבוצת לחץ של איש אחד, על מנת שיסכים להביא את איתמר אלינו על מכסת הנשיא
פטנקין הכיר והוקיר את איתמר מאוד מאוד – וכפי שהסתבר לי באותה פגישה עמו, הוא הכירו בין היתר כקרוב משפחה. אבל דן פטנקין היה מחמיר מאין כמהו בענייני נפוטיזם. הוא רצה להרחיק את עצמו מלדון בעניינו של איתמר, שמא יחטא בהעדפת בן משפחה: לא הייתי צריך לשכנע אותו במעלותיו של איתמר, אלא רק להסיר מלבו את החשש. בתום השיחה אמר לי ליד דלת היציאה, “יהיה עליך לשכנע גם אחרים שהוא האיש הראוי.”
חצי משרה חיכתה לאיתמר במסגרת של פילוסופיה של המדע. הבעיה, כתמיד, הייתה “החצי השני של האגרה” – האגרה שעל החוג לפילוסופיה היה לשלם. “אבישי רוצה להביא לנו מתמטיקאי,” היה המשפט שקידם אותי במסדרון. היה ברור לי שנטלתי על עצמי משימה קשה. אך גם היה ברור לי שצריך להביא את איתמר אלינו ויהי מה. לשם כך הייתי מוכן לצאת מגדרי הספרייה של ון ליר ולעלות, מדי יום ביומו, למבוך המקולל שבנה לנו האדריכל רם כרמי בהר הצופים. עסקתי במלאכת שכנוע, ואת חטאי אני מזכיר היום – גם לא מעט במלאכת הטעייה, ולו רק כדי להביא את איתמר לחוג. האמנתי בו אמונה גדולה, והיה לי ברור שברגע שייחשפו לו חברי החוג, יכירו שלפניהם פילוסוף צרוף מחשבה וצרוב ידע מאין כמותו. מי שנתן בו סימנים במסדרון, באותה אמירה של “מביאים לנו מתמטיקאי,” היה מוכן למלחמה של ממש. כדרכם של דברים אצלנו, נידרש היה לחכות בסבלנות עד לנסיעה הבאה של אותו מתנגד לאיזה כינוס מעבר להררי חושך, ואז להביא את עניינו של איתמר לדיון מסכם. הפיתוי “על מכסת הנשיא” עשה את שלו
לא עברו ימים אחדים מאז בואו של איתמר לחוג, ולא היה מי שלא התנאה בו וראה בו את הדבר הטוב ביותר שקרה לנו. כולם גילו שיש לנו ידען גדול באותם עניינים מדעיים שפילוסופים מדברים בהם כדילטנטים גמורים
בכל שנותיי המרובות באוניברסיטה, לא נהגתי כאזרח טוב. המעבר להר הצופים היה בשבילי משבר אישי קשה. בבניין מדעי הרוח הרגשתי זר ומנוכר, ותיעבתי אותו תעוב עמוק. אך די היה לשמוע את קולו הרועם של איתמר באותו מבוך ולראות את מאור עיניו היפות, כדי להתמלא בחדווה. על מעט מאוד דברים בשנות האוניברסיטה שלי אני יכול להתגאות, אך התגלגלה לידי זכות גדולה למלא מצווה גדולה – שבאה בלא מעט עבירה – לעזור להביא את איתמר אלינו, לחוג לפילוסופיה. על זה אני גאה. ועל איתמר הפילוסוף החכם ואיש האמת אני מתאבל
- Gali Weinstein Granek
הגעתי לתוכנית להיסטוריה ופילוסופיה של המדעים בשנת 1994
בהתחלה חשבתי לעשות בכלל דוקטורט במכון ויצמן ולמען האמת כבר התחלתי לעשות דוקטורט במכון ובסוף עברתי לאוניברסיטה העברית… הייתה הזדמנות באוניברסיטה העברית ולכן עברתי.
בהתחלה חשבתי לעשות דוקטורט אצל איתמר. והוא העביר אותי למרה, כי הלכתי לכיוון של היסטוריה של הפיסיקה המודרנית וזה היה בדיוק התחום של מרה.
התחלתי לעבוד עם מרה והיו לנו הרבה רגעים משעשעים. למרה היה חוש הומור נהדר. ואז יום אחד מרה נפטרה כמעט בגיל 60. חשבתי שבזה נגמרו הטרגדיות של התוכנית.
אחר כך פגשתי את איתמר באירועי התוכנית ובכלל בכנסים של התחום. הוא תמיד היה נורא נחמד אלי. ואז יום אחד שלחו לי הודעה שהוא נפטר. כמו מרה בלר. ובאותו הגיל. לא האמנתי ששוב טרגדיה הכתה בתוכנית.
אני מרגישה היום שהמדע לא נותן לי תשובות לשאלות החשובות. לשאלות הקיום. אני מבינה את המתמטיקה ואפילו מבינה היטב את המתמטיקה הכי מסובכת. אבל לא מבינה כלום וממש כלום בשאלות הכי בסיסיות, כמו למשל, מאיפה העולם בא, מאיפה אנחנו באנו, לאן נלך והכי חשוב, מדוע שמישהו ילך בטרם עת?
יהי זכרו ברוך
גלי וינשטיין גרנק
- מאיר בוזגלו
שתי הערות בעקבות הרצאות ששמעתי ממנו. האחת בעקבות הרצאה בענייני יהדות, אמר “הלוואי והיו לי גרושים כמו מספר הפעמים ששמעתי על תנורו של עכנאי”, ופעם אמר כשאני רואה במה אחרים עוסקים אני ממש שמח שבחרתי לעסוק במה שאני עוסק, וכך עוד הרבה אמירות שכל מי שהיה במחיצתו נושא עימו לחיים, יהי זכרו ברוך.
- מיכל ברקת
לי היה הכבוד ללמוד אצל איתמר קורס לפני כשנתיים. הוא היה מרצה מעורר השראה בצניעות וביושר שלו. החום האנושי שלו קרן ממנו. לא אשכח כיצד הסכים לי פעם להביא לשיעור את בני. אור שלי ישב וצייר לאחר שנואש מלנסות להבין משהו מהסינית הזאת שזכתה לכותרת “פילוסופיה של ההסתברות”. לאחר השיעור איתמר ניגש אל אור, אז בן 5 התעניין בציוריו וצחק את צחוקו הטוב. כך שבר את הקרח וגרם לאור לצאת מהשיעור עם חיוך במקום עם טראומה מהאקדמיה.
- Badziag, Bengtsson, Cabello
The three of us never met Itamar personally but we knew him through the wonderful things he wrote and had the priviledge of working with him. Like us, in the future, many people will remember him through all the beautiful things he left behind. Our condolence to his family and friends.
Piotr Badziag, Ingemar Bengtsson and Adan Cabello
I met Itamar when he was a graduate student. Our friendship and lengthy conversations about the foundations of quantum mechanics in many places and times around the world. I guess the last time I saw him was several years ago when he gave some well-received lectures at Stanford. Our very last communication was an encouraging email from him about some work I have been doing Stephan Hartmann, typical of his generous and helpful advice on many topics.
- Amit Hagar
I have an idea; I think it is a good one. Some weeks pass, and I start having doubts. I know there’s no other way. I must seek the Oracle to verify if there is any point to it. A trip to Jerusalem ensues. I walk through the beehive corridors of Mount Scopus and up the stairs to the Philosophy Department. The first door in the corridor to the right is yours. There used to be a funny New Yorker cartoon with a quote from Einstein on it. I knock and enter the small office.
You would sit and listen, and in a few moments my destiny would be decided. Like a true Oracle, your knowledge was unbounded. With just a short remark you would save months of straying in dark allies, or start me working like crazy because of a sentence you said. The exact sciences were like an open book for you, and your clarity was so refreshing that I could sit and listen forever.
I first came to know you almost 17 years ago, as an undergrad at HUJI. I took three of your classes: QM for philosophers, Godel’s theorems, and decision theory. I still have those course notes; I will cherish them forever along with your book. In that year I was hooked. When I returned to HUJI for my MA, I took more of your classes, and finally asked you if you’ll be willing to advise me on my thesis. You agreed, and I was thrilled.
The years passed. The trips to Jerusalem gave way to email correspondence, then to occasionally meetings around the world, and finally to the annually spring meetings at Jeff’s house in DC, or in summer at Givat Ram’s cafeteria. You were always there for me when I needed an advice.
Watching you giving a talk was a real treat; you were a true gentlemen. Some philosophers, once “on stage”, like to tear their opponents apart. You were the exact opposite. In the rare occasion that someone would ask a question that would challenge you, a big childish smile would appear on your face, as if you were astounded that your point, so clear and correct, wasn’t taken. When you were in the audience, you demanded the same clarity, but always in a gentle way. How many times I sat in talks and discussions, saying to myself: if only Itamar were here to sort out the muddle…
I will miss you Itamar, and the calm sunshine of your mind.
Many years ago, still a fresh PhD student, I encountered a paper that dealt with a very peculiar quantum state: A particle in a superposition of its charge. One has to measure it in order to determine whether it’s an electron or a positron. Then, if one switches to another reference frame, the electron ought to be a positron and vice versa. I was intrigued. This guy from Jerusalem played magic with both QM and relativity, enticing them one against the other so as to render mother Nature even weirder then she is known to be! And when I later encountered other papers of yours which demonstrated equal mastery of statistical mechanics and thermodynamics, my admiration soared.
A few years went by. The cheerful scholar from Jerusalem became one of my PhD dissertation’s readers. A few years later he has assumed similar roles in the dissertations of three of my own students. What else could I ask for?
Much more, Itamar, so much more. The last of my wishes was shattered this week when my talk scheduled for the Givat Ram group was canceled in favor of reading your last paper. It was not that which brought my tears but the loss of the listener whose opinion I sought, dreaded and cherished most. Alelai rabbi aleicha, aleicha mori alelai (Woe is me for you Master, for you Mentor woe is me)!
Like your legendary hero you were obsessed with “elements of reality,” constantly seeking to refine and gain deeper insights into them. Heeding his advice you were the proverbial chameleon, at times a physicist, at times a philosopher, professing positivism, for the sake of the argument, at one moment, then turning into a naïve realist, just for the fun of it, at the next. Is, Itamar, your particle “really” a positron or an electron? Are “charge” or “spin” elements of reality or somethings far subtler?
Now that our reality is impoverished by your passing, your inspiration is its next precious element.
- Mark Hogarth
I met Itamar at the very first seminar I attended as a grad student in Cambridge. It was October 1989 and he was visiting Wolfson College for the term. At the meeting Michael Redhead was giving each new grad student a problem to work on and Itamar sketched an idea of his own about performing supertasks in relativity theory. He and I discussed it further and I took it on as my first problem in the philosophy of physics. It later became the subject of Earman and Norton’s paper “Forever is a day: Supertasks in Pitwosky and Malament-Hogarth Spacetimes”. I owe him a great deal.
It is very hard for me to write this note for Itamar. I was amazed and shocked to receive the message that Itamar had passed away – I felt very sad and very sorry that I did not have the chance to separate from him appropriately and tell him that I like him very much, that he is a beautiful person in very many ways, that for me he is a model of a truly curious intellectual and that he is rare in this much-too cynical and aggressive world, in succeeding to stay authentic and unspoiled.
We had many occasions to meet – as friends and as colleagues, in scientific meetings and in university committee in in concerts. He was wise and tremendously knowledgeable; assertive when needed and with a certain sense of humor. He was constructive and to-the-point, he was warm and welcoming. Really an amazing combination of qualities – someone to admire.
In his burial ceremony – with so many friends sharing this impossible realization that we will not meet Itamar in person anymore – Itamar enabled me to feel what I must have felt for him and for Leora for years. I assume that were he heard this he would look at me with his blue-good eyes and would tell me “lets meet soon”
- Leo Corry
Itamar embodied a model to be followed by anyone working in history and philosophy of science. Not just because his knowledge of both the broad picture and the technical details of so many fields of physics and mathematics, but also because his keen philosophical analysis truly illuminated — in a sense and with a depth that can be accorded to very few works in our disciplines — what would otherwise remain obscure in those fields. Much more importantly: while his academic standing and reputation continued to thrive, his pleasant, unassuming personality, and his willingness to support younger students and colleagues remained unchanged even at hard times.
Together we supervised the work of several graduate students and discussed that of some others. It was not only a honor and a pleasure: I truly learnt a lot in each such opportunity.
I will miss him greatly.
- James Ladyman
I did not know Professor Pitowsky well but on every occasion on which I encountered him I was hugely impressed by his learning and insight, and greatly appreciated his openness and enthusiasm. His work is of lasting importance and he will be sorely missed.
- Ofra Magidor
When I was an undergraduate student at Hebrew U, I took several classes with Itamar. I really loved his classes: Itamar knew so much about the topics and in every class he plunged straight into new and exciting material. Moreover, Itamar had a real talent for explaining technical material in an extremely accessible way. I learned a lot from him – he will be greatly missed.
- Orly Shenker
Integrity and modesty – such values best describe Itamar’s intellectual personality. Moral values guided him in using his enormous knowledge and unique capabilities: Itamar was open to hear criticism, slow to criticise others before making sure that he got all the details right, and careful to check and weigh every step before making a claim. Because of these, Itamar became an almost ad-hominem criterion for the prima facie acceptability of ideas: we used to bring him new ideas, and ask for his opinion before pursuing them. His wise comments saved us from making embarrassing mistakes on the one hand, and on the other hand – gave us courage to pursue unconventional ideas and new ways of thinking.
Itamar accompanied me throughout my career in the philosophy of physics: even before I began my studies, his paper on quantum logic in the Hebrew journal “Iyyun” raised my interest to such a degree, that I made up my mind to study physics, and was excited to discover that he was assigned to be my supervisor during the first degree. Itamar was also my PhD supervisor, and remained an intellectual authority for me ever since. During the past few weeks we found ourselves working on the same topic – that of Typicality, and we discussed our papers and exchanged drafts and comments. The paper Itamar wrote, and finished about two weeks before his death, was intended for a volume dedicated to him, which includes papers given in a conference held a year ago in Jerusalem, in his honour.
- Chris Finlay
Never knew him personally but have read his book ‘quantum probability quantum logic’ I wish his rational approach to the issues surrounding the interpretation of quantum mechanics was more widely known. His demonstrataion that the Bell Inequalities are an essential feature of classical probability is a masterpiece of clairity of thought and nothing to do with speciific physical situations at total contrasts to the quantum mystics.
At least his work lives on
- Daniel Rohrlich
Among Itamar Pitowsky’s many admirable qualities, I admired most his capacity for thoroughly exploring incompatible points of view, approaches and theoretical frameworks. We tend to ignore approaches that are incompatible with our own. It is a natural tendency. It takes work to overcome it. Itamar worked hard to understand all points of view, which led to another of his of his admirable qualities, his comprehensive knowledge. He was a true philosopher – love of knowledge and understanding animated him. As a result, whether in a seminar on campus or at a demonstration on a street corner, he most often understood all the points of view better than anyone else did. The Talmud (ברכות סד, א) expresses this capacity in a adage, “תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם” – “scholars bring peace to the world” – which Rabbi Avraham Kook (1865–1935) explained as follows:
Some people mistakenly believe that world peace demands uniformity of views and practices. When they see scholars studying philosophy and Torah and arriving at a plurality of views and approaches, they see only controversy and discord. But – on the contrary – true peace comes to the world only by virtue of its plurality. The plurality of peace means appreciating each view and approach and seeing how each has its own place, consistent with its value, context and content. (From עולת ראיה ח”א ע’ של; my translations.)
- Kent Peacock
I had the great honour of knowing Itamar in the early 1990s when I was a post-doc and later sessional instructor at the University of Western Ontario. We even shared an office for a while. I told him he should help himself to my large pile of scrap paper, and he said he could not because it contained my “wisdom.” I had to assure him that it contained only “obsolete wisdom.”
Like everyone who knew him, I was impressed with Itamar’s depth of knowledge and speed of comprehension. He could give a lucid three-hour graduate seminar on the intricacies of Bell’s Theorem and the Kochen-Specker Paradox without (hardly ever) resorting to notes. (Of course, this was in the days before Beamer and Powerpoint.) I only began to attain a glimmer of understanding of Bohm’s theory after hearing Itamar explain it.
He was always gentlemanly and friendly, and yet had a tremendous passion for his work. I recall a hallway discussion he once had with John L. Bell (not John S.!) at Western about the Riemann zeta hypothesis, in which the two of them nearly set the walls quivering.
I will probably never fully grasp much of Itamar’s work, but I have gained from his insightful and authoritative analysis of Bell’s Theorem and its relationship to the work of George Boole. Itamar showed that Bell’s Inequalities are simply special cases of Boole’s “conditions of possible experience,” essentially consistency conditions on correlations based on the presumption that one can examine a reality without disturbing its properties. Itamar also showed that if the Bell/Boole inequalities are violated, there are only a very few mathematically viable explanations available. In a tour de force, he showed that it is possible to explain violations of Bell’s Inequalities on the basis of the Banach-Tarski paradox, but no one (least of all Itamar) thought that this had any physical significance. The only explanations of Bell’s Theorem that can be taken seriously, he argued cogently, are those involving some sort of influence of the measurer upon the object of measurement—and this of course leads us into the lap of nonlocality. In the end, I do not agree with Itamar’s conservative view that relativity is a “principle” theory that must be preserved at all intellectual costs, even in the face of nonlocality—but at the same time I am well aware that in disagreeing with his position I am no doubt walking on very thin ice. Itamar Pitowsky was a uniquely insightful human being who will be greatly missed.
Kent A. Peacock
Professor, Dept. of Philosophy,
University of Lethbridge.
- Bob Coeck
At the coming Quantum Physics and Logic, Oxford, May 29-30, a session will be dedicated to Itamar. He was one of the great proponents of structural embodiment of conceptual ideas.
Personally, I had the great fortune to have known him, and to have several discussions with him. I had the highest respect for him.
On behalf of the Council and all the members of the International Quantum Structures Association, I would like to express our deepest sorrow caused by Itamar’s passing away. We all knew him as a great scientist, a distinguished personality, a dear colleague, and a highly respected member of the IQSA. We have learned about his death at a moment when the IQSA Nominating Committee was about to ask him whether he would agree to stand, in the next IQSA elections, for the office of the President of the IQSA. His untimely death is a great loss for our Association.
Jaroslaw Pykacz, President of the IQSA
It is hard and saddening to imagine a world without the gentle and at the same time powerful intellectual presence of Itamar. We met occasionally over many years and I enjoyed each encounter, be it in person or through his written work, and I learnt much on each occasion. I have no doubt that generations after us will continue to benefit from his insights into the nature of the physical world, which he laid down in such clarity.
I send my condolences to his family and loved ones.
- Malcolm Forster
Itamar and I went through the PhD program in philosophy of science at the University of Western Ontario together in the early 1980s. I have fond memories of Itamar as a lively, intellectually energetic, generous, and very likeable person. Out of all the people I had the privilege of getting to know during that time, he will probably live the longest in my memory.
- Yonatan Ullman
I feel I have a different perspective on Itamar’s participation in this world than others. I have been wonderfully privilege to be a close friend of the younger of his daughters. I believe people, especially as they mature, build their own living experiences and create their own identities. However, I am likewise a great believer in the influence that our parents have on the initial shaping of our values, virtues, our beliefs and our ways of viewing the world, interpreting it and participating in it. Michal, from my acquaintance with her, serves testimony to yet another level of greatness in which Itamar spent his time. I recognize in her a unique combination of qualities that I can’t help but to relate to her father. An uncompromising integrity, a unique sense of humor, an originality and creativity of thought, and a refined emotional sensitivity that enables her to fully see others as well as to be seen, exposed and open. This unique combination is a rare service to this world. It is personalities such as hers that serve this world justice. I relate these, in great part, to her father’s influence on her. One can only wish more people could have been exposed to his influence in the same manner that his loved ones were. He will be missed.
I first met Itamar in late 2002 when I started my M.A. in philosophy of science and was looking for an M.A. supervisor for my master’s thesis on the Interrelationship between Science and Technology. All the people I have consulted with had strongly recommended that I should talk to him. At that time, although I was certainly most pleased that Itamar agreed to be my supervisor, I did not fully realize how fortunate I was. Only years later, after having read and learned more, I started comprehending what a major position Itamar held in the realm of the philosophy of physics in general and quantum physics in particular. Much of this late realization was the result of Itamar’s truly humble nature. In all our meetings throughout the years I have never heard him talk even once about his own achievements or mention the importance of his work.
Even though my M.A. research was not directly related to Itamar’s field of research, his vast scientific knowledge and clear logical thinking have always assisted me in finding the right path and his intuitions led me to discover new ideas.
In 2005, after having finished my M.A., I naturally turned to Itamar again when I decided to continue my studies for a Ph.D.. This time, Itamar has again kindly consented to guide me, but suggested that I would take a second supervisor with a stronger technological background. When I turned to Professor Yitzhak Ben Yisrael from TAU, an extremely busy person whom I had never met before, I was almost sure that he would turn me down. But as soon as I mentioned Itamar’s name, Yitzhak Ben-Israel agreed at once; such was Itamar’s reputation in the philosophy of physics community.
It was at the time when I started my Ph.D that I first became aware of Itamar’s serious illness. Although I later learned that he had been diagnosed much earlier, I must confess that I have never noticed any signs of his medical condition. He has never complained about anything and even at a much later stage, when often coming and going in and out of hospitals and undergoing harsh treatments, he always seemed to keep his usual good spirits and his positive approach to life. It seemed to me as if he was regarding his illness with the same so called “objective” composure reserved for his scholarly work.
Although we have had many long and interesting discussions over the years, it is only after he is gone and after having met some of his friends and relatives during the Shiva, that I realize now that the Itamar I had known as a teacher and mentor was only one aspect of a multi-faceted personality, which regrettably I haven’t had the chance to get acquainted with. For that I am truly sorry. For what I have experienced, I am most thankful.
You will be missed.
Itamar and I overlapped as graduate students and remained friends since then. Aside from at the occasional conference, we met annually when he came to Canada and argued over whose turn it was to buy lunch. We talked politics as much as philosophy of science, sharing a common outlook, including, for instance, support for Peace Now, even when it seemed a lost cause. He possessed a strong sense of fairness for all, and though he often despaired over the political situation, he was invariably full of good humour.
Two of his remarkable philosophical achievements profoundly changed my view of parts of mathematics. In one he showed how to construct a local hidden variable model that satisfied the quantum statistics. The moral to be drawn was that the laws of probability are not necessary truths, but more like laws of nature. The second example showed how the properties of Turing machines depend on the nature of spacetime. The moral is that computability is in part dependent on physics. These two examples suggest that probability and computability are more like geometry (Euclidean, non-Euclidean) than like arithmetic, etc. These are profound results that are still far from being digested.
When I was a graduate student in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario, between 1992 and 1997, Itamar’s regular “visits” to the Department were greeted with excitement by both the faculty and the graduate students. He was a serious philosopher, and it was always a pleasure to discuss your research with him. Indeed, he was a source of pride for the Department of Philosophy at Western Ontario, as he was one of the most accomplished and respected philosophers of science to graduate from the programme.
He was also a very warm person, and his friendliness was almost contagious. In 1999 or 2000, when I was teaching at the University of British Columbia I met a new graduate student who had just arrived from Israel. I asked him if he knew Itamar. By the warm smile he gave me, I knew he knew Itamar as well. The student was Amit Hagar!
Itamar will surely be missed.
- Anthony S. Travis
Itamar Pitowsky was nothing but a charismatic figure. I first met him in 1986 when he was director of the Edelstein Center for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I was then a post-doc working in history of industrial chemistry. It was a field far removed from Itamar’s academic interests. But there quickly developed a mutual respect and collegiality, no doubt engendered because we were both serious about our work. Two years later, I had the pleasure, in fact I would now say privilege, of acting as Itamar’s deputy at the Edelstein Center. During the following years, he gave me tremendous “silent” encouragement; I would even humbly count my own publications as part of the legacy he left of achievements by his students, assistants and colleagues.
Itamar had a clear mind. He had no time for timewasters. He set, and maintained, the highest standards. And his fairness was manifest. Our brief discussions were stimulating and memorable in that they were wont to end with a humorous story.
Itamar’s publications won him international recognition and acclaim. He was one of the finest people I have ever known. His presence at Givat Ram will be greatly missed. But his inspiration will not be forgotten.
- Gil Kalai
On Thursday, three weeks ago, Itamar, Oron Shagrir, and I sat at our little CS cafeteria and discussed probability in physics. What does probability mean? Does it just represent human uncertainty? Is it just an emerging mathematical concept which is convenient for modeling? Do matters change when we move from classical to quantum mechanics? When we move to quantum physics the notion of probability itself changes for sure, but is there a change in the interpretation of what probability is? A few people passed by and listened, and it felt like this was a direct continuation of conversations we had while we (Itamar and I; Oron is much younger) were students in the early 70s.
That was our last meeting, and Itamar’s deep voice and good smile are still with me.
In spite of his illness of many years which Itamar dealt with courageously and with class and grace, Itamar looked in good shape. A day later, on Friday, he met with a graduate student, Yonatan Yaari, who is working on connections between philosophy and computer science. Yet another exciting new frontier. The next Wednesday Itamar passed away from sudden complications related to his illness.
Itamar was a great guy; he was great in science and great in the humanities. He could think and work like a mathematician, and like a physicist, and like a philosopher, and like a philosopher of science, and probably in various additional ways. And he enjoyed much the academic business, and took it seriously, with humor. I am amazed about the many unexpected places where our interests crossed, like the study of “cut polytopes” and our common interest in the Erdos-Turan conjecture. And also about the many cases in which I became interested in matters many years after Itamar, be it Arrow’s theorem, or the “effective Church-Turing thesis,” or quantum probability.
Itamar had an immense human wisdom and a modest, level-headed way of expressing it. I will greatly miss him.
A couple of years ago, I heard three lectures by Professor Pitowsky at Stanford. Although not being a philosopher of physics, the lectures made a lasting impression on me: they were wonderfully clear, philosophically illuminating, and mathematically beautiful. It was a real pleasure hearing Professor Pitowsky speak, and he kindly explained further aspects of quantum logic to me over coffee and by email. He will be missed greatly.
I was involved in the first steps of inviting him to a position at the HU, and felt proud of it ever since. He was excellent in every respect. He will remain a gem in my memories. Issachar.
- David Heyd
It has become a legendary quip in our department in the last decade:
Meeting Itamar in the corridor after the first class of the semester in October, he sighs: “this semester stretches like a chewing gum”.
I was pleasantly surprised when Itamar, whom I did not know that well, (having primarily met him during a semester when I served as visiting professor in his Program as well as in other Programs) agreed with enthusiasm to play a part in Mara’s play “Copenhagen – Another Round”. By the time I recruited him, I already acquired experience with “staging” Mara’s play in several countries, including Genova, Annecy, Paris, and Boston, mostly as a post-dinner entertainment at conferences, with the latter only being done at the Dibner Institute, where many fellows were in residence, without the benefit of a conference. On most occasions, I kept the best role – that of the villain Heisenberg – to myself because it was the best “part”. Indeed, I assumed that Itamar will play Bohr and I was taken by surprise when he chose to play Heisenberg. I am glad to report that I agreed to his wish without a fight, and the “event”, held in Mara’s presence in the amazing surroundings of a house with a straight view of the golden mosque (Misgad Omar) that belongs to Yemima’s sister-in-law, was a great success. Itamar relished his “role” and made an artistic effort to reflect the drama of those physical encounters of the third kind. This also happens to be my last memory of him, as an improvised actor enjoying his performance of a great historical and philosophical role! Yehi zichro baruch!