Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen passed away two days ago.  He was a giant of a scholar.  Here’s Dan Hirschman’s post with some details.  Here’s a memorial page for him, (put together by Jerry Davis).  Here’s the Facebook memorial page.  Here’s the University of Michigan, School of Information’s announcement.  What a huge loss.

Many certainly knew Michael far better than I did.  But I thought I would nonetheless say a few things.  He left an indelible impression on me.

I first met Michael at a conference I co-organized in Helsinki.  My first chance to meaningfully interact with him was on the ferry from downtown Helsinki to the nearby island where the conference was to be held.  Michael had an extremely relaxed manner about him, and before I knew it we were engaged in a highly interdisciplinary discussion about causation in the history of the world.  It was quickly evident to me that Michael was different.  No topic seemed to be outside his realm of expertise, curiosity and interest.  He was wildly interdisciplinary.  For a young scholar, talking to him was pure intellectual joy.  I thought back to that interaction frequently.  He was a scholar’s scholar, with amazing intellectual breadth.

Subsequent to that interaction, Michael was kind enough to write a short essay for a special issue we later edited.  Here’s his essay: Perceiving and Remembering Routine Action.

Just two months ago, Michael came and visited our school.  He was working with a colleague of mine, Curtis LeBaron.  I had a chance to visit with him one-on-one (and over lunch again), and the discussion once again was (for me) breathtaking: art, religion, complexity theory, Dewey, computer science, economics, routines and evolution, etc.  Again I marveled at his breadth, and his passion.  I brought up names and ideas (surely he had not read this obscure stuff?!), from 17th and 18th century rationalism and romanticism, poetry, and sure enough he was more than familiar with it all.  As in Finland, I ended up with a set of things I needed to read (I just pulled up his reading recommendations from that meeting: his Complexity book with Axelrod, the work of Barfield, etc).

Michael will obviously be remembered for his research, particularly his famous garbage can model.  I’m guessing he’ll also be remembered for his intellectual curiosity and breadth.  Each of the interactions I had with him was memorable.  It was evident to me that he was interested in ideas, just for ideas sake.  Refreshing.  There was no agenda.  And, he was just nice.  Really nice.  I also loved his passion for interdisciplinary investigation.  He was a rare Herbert Simon-type, throwback scholar who was comfortable talking to anyone in any discipline.

Michael will be missed.

Written by teppo

February 4, 2013 at 8:12 am

Posted in uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. I only recently noted that Michael also had a blog (with a dozen or so posts), Routine Matters:



    February 5, 2013 at 5:29 pm

  2. Remembrance of Michael Cohen @ OMT blog:

    Including thoughts from Sid Winter:



    February 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm

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