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E. T. Jaynes

Edwin Thompson Jaynes (1922–1998), photo taken circa 1960.
Born July 5, 1922 (1922-07-05)
Waterloo, Iowa
Died April 30, 1998 (1998-05-01)
St. Louis, Missouri
Fields Physicist
Institutions Washington University
Alma mater Princeton University
Doctoral advisor Eugene Wigner
Known for MaxEnt interpretation
Jaynes around 1982

Edwin Thompson Jaynes (Waterloo, Iowa, July 5, 1922 – St. Louis, Missouri, April 30[1], 1998) was Wayman Crow Distinguished Professor of Physics at Washington University in St. Louis. He wrote extensively on statistical mechanics and on foundations of probability and statistical inference, initiating in 1957 the MaxEnt interpretation of thermodynamics[2][3], as being a particular application of more general Bayesian/information theory techniques (although he argued this was already implicit in the works of Gibbs). Jaynes strongly promoted the interpretation of probability theory as an extension of logic.

In 1963, together with Fred Cummings, he modelized the evolution of a two-level atom in an electromagnetic field, in a fully quantized way. This model is known as the Jaynes–Cummings model.

A particular focus of his work was the construction of logical principles for assigning prior probability distributions; see the principle of maximum entropy, the principle of transformation groups[4][5] and Laplace's principle of indifference.

Jaynes's last book, Probability Theory: The Logic of Science gathers various threads of modern thinking about Bayesian probability and statistical inference, and contrasts the advantages of Bayesian techniques with the results of other approaches. This book was published posthumously in 2003 (from an incomplete manuscript that was edited by Larry Bretthorst).


  1. ^ mirror Physics Today obituary
  2. ^ E. T. Jaynes (1957) Information theory and statistical mechanics, Physical Review 106:620
  3. ^ E. T. Jaynes (1957) Information theory and statistical mechanics II, Physical Review 108:171
  4. ^ E. T. Jaynes (1968) Prior Probabilities, IEEE Trans. on Systems Science and Cybernetics SSC-4:227
  5. ^ E. T. Jaynes (1973) The Well-Posed Problem, Found. Phys. 3:477

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