6.12.1913  -  12.12.2002

Books of N.M.Amosov

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The Second Day... Sasha

My office. Well, it isn't so bad, after all. The walls are nicely painted. It is airy and light. The curtains are a bit old-fashioned, dark, heavy, with little knots all over them. I ought to change them for something bright and modern. But then, what for? With the years I'm losing my taste for possessions. Perhaps I'll understand Diogenes when I grow really old. A barrel would do fine, provided there is a bathtub in it.

'Sit down, Genya. Let's start.'

We are writing laboriously, I in the journal, and he in the case history folder. We are trying to remember all the smallest details. The operation is still new, it must be described meticulously. Later on the surgery reports will grow shorter and shorter, until there will be nothing to say but 'normal' and 'usual'.

It is interesting to consider one's thought process: it works on several levels at the same time. Here is one plane: thoughts about the operation. On another, thoughts about Sasha, medicine in general, surgery, blood circulation, artificial heart valves. In between there come all sorts of nonsensical trivia, some immediate impressions absorbed by eye and ear. The curtains again, the broken fountain pen on the desk, the picture of Lenochka in a frame. A sort of sub-current of thinking.

I feel peculiar now. Excitement, clarity, freedom from all anguish. This differs strikingly from the pre-operation jitters. Then I was crushed by the anticipation of danger. There was a single thought chain, the operation and everything connected with it. Also excitement, but of a completely different kind, tense and unpleasant. Fear, an unhappy realization that this is now unavoidable, and that I must go through with it. Nervous concentration. But now everything is clear, interesting, sharp, vibrating. All surgeons I suppose treasure moments like these.

Finally the report is finished.

Genya is leaving.

'Tell them to call me in if necessary.'

'Nothing will happen, professor. The operation was wonderful.' (I also think so.)

It is six-thirty. A whole hour after the operation. I'll wait for a couple of hours more, then go home. All will be well, of course, but still I'd better wait a little. It is best not to make plans and be ready for anything. Haemorrhage, kidney trouble, oedema. Anything. Some surgeons make appointments half an hour after operations. That I don't understand.

I light a cigarette. 'I'm trading bread for drags of stale tobacco -'. There is a soldier's song that goes like that.

I wish I could listen to some music. I should get a tape-recorder like they have now in all the 'best houses'. There are professors who work only with tape-recorders. Nonsense. My dictating is too limited. Music? Also impractical. How many minutes like this come my way, combining both free time and happiness?

Has anyone spoken to Ray a? I don't want to do it. Maria is friendly with her; she has probably already told her everything. I was too abrupt with Raya this morning.

What shall I do now? Read some dull dissertation? I'm sick of them. The life of a scientist is full of papers. First you write them, then you read them, correct, criticize, listen to them during meetings.

It is funny: I am a scientist. Deep inside I can't accept it. I am a doctor, a physician.

Shall I go down again and chat with my boys and girls? Somehow this doesn't work so well nowadays. I realize with sadness that I'm becoming more and more separated from them. My age? Or perhaps, as some say, my new sense of self-importance? No, that can't be true, because honestly I know that there is no reason to feel that way. I am a good doctor, but many of those boys and girls will be better than I. This is the main thought, a sort of mental close-up. But in the background there stirs another one: 'Nonetheless I am I. I have accomplished many things which others couldn't do. My latest victory, the valve. I have written reams of scientific papers, published several books. If one counted up my dissertations alone.' Stop, professor! Just let vanity get out of hand, and it puffs up like a toad. A scientist indeed! Don't fool yourself, your so-called works are not worth the printer's ink used in them. In a few years no one will even read them they will become so hopelessly outdated. No one can stop the progress of surgery. We operated on stomachs first, then oesophagi, then lungs. My papers and books on abdominal surgery are forgotten today; the same will happen to my works on heart surgery. But again there is an egotistical little thought: 'Still, I have been a part of this progress.' Yes, of course, but have I really originated anything? And if I have, has it changed the world? Do I want to change the world? Yes. Everybody wants to. Everyone wants to eliminate war, to make all mankind fine and decent.

Only science can accomplish this. Science in the broad sense of the word: starting with atomic fusion and ending with the education of children. Adults, too.

Sasha, for instance, is a true scientist. (How wonderful it is that he is alive! Medicine has really come in handy here, I shouldn't knock it.) I have learnt a good deal from Sasha. My own work has become more meaningful to me. I have started to see the skeleton of science, the bone structure of thought. Sasha says that true science starts only when it is possible to begin counting and that it was Mendeleyev who first said that.

Should I read Sasha's notebook? I think I have some right to do so, now. The letter, no. It is too private, too personal, but the notebook must contain some impersonal scientific thoughts. Mathematics, probably. Too bad I don't understand it. Whenever I come to a mathematical formula I feel a slight nausea; I quickly pass it over or just abandon the book.

My curiosity begins to be slowly aroused. Shall I just thumb through it?

But supposing they overlook something there in the theatre? What time is it? Just ten minutes since Genya left. I can stay here. Those youngsters are very alert, very clever. And I am so tired I can hardly move at all. Old age. It would be so good to have a cup of tea now. Too bad I haven't organized that department for our evening vigils. Now I must forget about this. Another cigarette. 'I'm trading bread -'

A rather thick notebook. The title covers the entire first page. 'Random thoughts'. Pretty flat. A title for a grammar school composition. But no, let's not judge too severely. Everyone is entitled to a mistake. Haven't I done many stupid things in my life? And some even not altogether honest? Some? Even?

I am leafing through it. A strange notebook. Among the scientific passages there are personal entries, a sort of confidential notes. Obviously this is not written for publication.

'It is sad to realize that death is so near. All that would be left behind me would be some models, moulds, cliches. My articles, this notebook. Letters which are never wholly sincere, some impressions in the minds of others, some photos in albums, but all this is static, frozen, lifeless. It would be nice to leave even one simple working model at least..."

I remember some of our conversations. My contention: why leave anything? All this is vanity, an illusion of immortality. But Sasha had another theory. Man as a biological system disappears, but if one considers a higher system, humanity, something can be left.

This, of course, is true. Humanity is not merely a collection of human beings; it includes the fruits of their activities, the moulds of their thought: things they create, books, pictures, machines, buildings. The man dies but the models created by him continue to live their own lives, independent from the man who created them, and in some instances, begin to live only after his death. Sometimes they are beneficial to humanity, but they may also be harmful. Mostly because all such models (Sasha's favourite word) are lifeless, they cannot adapt themselves to changing conditions, they can't be influenced or argued with, or improved; they lack dynamism, lack life. Now I am beginning to understand Sasha's idea of creating a working model of the human brain which could live and undergo evolutionary changes, grow, improve and create in its own turn.

The dualism of human nature is terrifying. On one hand, an animal, just like a wolf or monkey. On the other, an integral part of society, a higher system governed by a set of ethics.

Very well! At least now we have something. The over-all mathematical interpretation of the world, the universe. Philosophy and mathematics. The question of eternity. I think Einstein claimed that there is no eternity as such, everything that can be measured must have an end. I don't quite understand all this, and I won't even pretend that I do.

The chapter: 'Connective elements, systems and subsystems.' This I understand, he has explained it to me during our talks. The human organism, for instance, is a system composed of sub-systems, the organs. The organs are also composed of sub-systems, the working components. Those in turn are composed of their own sub-systems, the molecules. The molecules have their own sub-systems, some known to us, some as yet undiscovered, and so on, ad infinitum. Going up, we have collective, society, humanity, the systems in which man is a sub-system, and all these systems are connected and correlated between themselves on the basis of physical laws of mutual dependence and compensation, the exchange of energies and physical particles.

And people? They communicate with each other with words and symbols. This is also physical, but this is physics of a more complex type. Here is the explanation: a chapter titled 'Information'. We are accustomed to the conventional sense of this word, 'giving out data'. But this is how Sasha treats it: 'changes in physical influences in time and space, taken outside its physical carrier and expressed by various physical means'. (Something rather obscure.) 'In correlation between advanced systems we deal not only with direct physical influences, but with influences modified in time and space and accumulated in the form of models or moulds, i.e. in changes created in structures. An example. One man says something to another. The spoken words are physical air waves. But for some reason they don't affect a fly, or even a cat. This is because man has a capacity of extracting information from these particular air waves, the meaning of words. To achieve this he receives the air waves which are then translated into nerve impulses. They travel to the brain and are registered there in the cerebral matter in the form of thought-moulds, or models, composed of nerve cells. To create sense these models must have a certain successive order, the element of time, which is one of the elements of information. The same effect is achieved by visual symbols transmitted by our eye, symbols or letters, and here we are dealing with still another element, space.

(Now I am beginning to understand the meaning of the term model as used by Sasha. For instance, in the above examples words are models, composed of letters or sounds, but they are understood by the recipient only if they fit the ready models existing in his brain. If someone were to speak Chinese to me I could not extract any information out of that type of air-wave, any more than a fly or a cat!)

'Information is impossible without modelling.' (Just as I said above!) 'A model always represents some sort of structure, reflecting a system, or its modification in time and space. A house built of wooden blocks is a model of the system of a real house. Words written on paper are models, reflecting the relative order of sounds of human speech. A drawing of a machine is a model. Musical notes are models. Mathematics deals with sets of models. When we see a picture a cerebral model is created in our brain, composed of connecting nerve cells. Models can be primitive or precise. A child's drawing of a house is a primitive model, an architect's, a more precise one.'

Interesting perhaps, but too complicated. Information, models. What for? People used to live without them. Physics, chemistry, materialism. All this does not appear to be enough now. I've heard all this from Sasha many times; I understood some of it, but not all. Somehow this sort of abstract science fails to excite me.

A new chapter: 'Learning'.

'Learning is a process of producing models. The brain is a powerful model-producing installation. What is "learning?" It is getting to know the structure of some thing, its system, its relation to other systems, its changes in time. All this information is stored in the brain in the form of thought-symbols composed of nerve cells. Those are models. Sometimes we know something well, a more or less precise model. Sometimes only superficially, a primitive model. But we never know anything absolutely because no model is ever a perfect copy of the original, especially a model composed of nerve cells which in themselves are subject to changes and influences.'

Very well. So the brain is a model-producing machine, a computer. A purely mechanical arrangement using electric impulses to produce action. All this is not easy to accept for a man brought up with the recognition of qualificative differences between living and dead things. But then what does the word 'understand' really mean? 'To get accustomed to and learn to use' something, a definition of some celebrated physicist. I don't know how to use some of Sasha's theories, and therefore I don't understand them. And I don't want to accept anything without understanding, solely on blind faith.

'The limits of learning. No model-producing installation has an unlimited productive capacity. Also it cannot create models of any systems more complex than itself. At best it can reproduce the main structural elements of the original, perhaps generally defining its main functions. The more developed is the model-producing installation, the more precise are the models it can create. If one uses only one thousand wooden blocks one cannot create a model of a large city, but with a million of such cubes the resulting model will be more accurate.

'The speed of learning, information digestion and assimilation, i.e. model producing, is also limited. The total model-producing capacity of the brain is equally limited. So is the brain storage space. It is fortunate that the human brain has a faculty of forgetting, i.e. clearing room in the brain for new information.'

Ah, here is something that might be important to a doctor:

'An average human brain contains fourteen billion cells. The whole human body, over three hundred billion. Therefore the human organism as a whole is a much more complex system than the brain. If we take into consideration the fact that each cell is composed of billions of various molecules, the complexity of the human system is enormous. Can we expect then that the brain model of the human body will ever be precise? No. At best we can expect only very primitive general images. We cannot even expect the brain to model accurately any of the systems composing the human body, or to define its main functions. Neither would such partial modelling be very useful. Unfortunately, the human body is a system in which the behaviour of the whole does not only depend on the function of the components, but vice-versa, the function of the components depends on the function of the whole system. Therefore, in order to understand, create a model of, the human body the analytical study of the components is not sufficient. It is necessary to create a more or less precise working model of the human organism as a whole in which one could observe and study each component, or a number of components, or the whole system, as the case may be.'

This is sad, but true. No one human being, no matter how brilliant, can understand and know the entire human body and all its functions, and since there is a complete interdependence of all component parts, without understanding the whole one cannot understand fully the function of component parts, or organs and systems composing the human organism, and vice-versa. Up until recently medical science held that it was sufficient for one specialist to concentrate on one function of the body, another on another, etc. and then for an overall specialist to combine all this knowledge, and treat people. This is clearly impossible because there is no such super-doctor who can absorb and evaluate all such information and use it properly, and therefore we are working with approximations and generalities. And if sometimes we are successful it is only because the human body is a self-regulating structure which compensates for all our ignorance and many of our mistakes. It would be indeed wonderful to create a mechanical super-doctor which could combine the brains of all specialists. And this is exactly what Sasha is aiming at.

Do you see what clever things I know? Cybernetics. Yes, I have learnt to respect it deeply. 'The science of the correlation of living organisms with mechanical systems.' All our medicine is an attempt to regulate living systems by mechanical and chemical means. The problem is that it is far from being precise. It can't be precise because there are no precise models, and there are no precise models because our model-producing mechanisms are not sufficiently developed to produce them. Also the brain is far too slow. That is why we always make mistakes: our brain is not quick enough to absorb and digest the great volume of information thrown at it in the course of even a simple surgical operation. This has become especially apparent since we started to operate on the open heart, disconnecting it from the system. Here the self-corrective faculty of the system is interfered with, and we are left more or less on our own. And we often can't cope with the amount of information which we must absorb, evaluate, digest and act upon with split-second precision. Hence, the mistakes. We make them even when we know basically what must be done, and could do it given the necessary time.

Probably the same thing happens to everyone attempting to operate any very complex mechanism whose action once started cannot be arrested. I suppose the pilot of a passenger aeroplane feels this way when confronted with some mechanical malfunction while flying over terrain excluding the possibility of an emergency landing.

The 'limit of knowledge' theory is an interesting one. One must think deeply to understand it. I know, for instance, that my own brain is definitely limited. I can construct only a very simple model of a complex system, but a simple one is fully within my mental grasp. The thousand wooden blocks. One can build a rather good model of a barn with them, but to build the Moscow University skyscraper? At best it would be a very approximate likeness.

The limitation of the speed of learning is easy to understand. The process of memorizing goes on with a certain velocity, a totally insufficient one. And that is the extent of brain capacity in time.

I read on: 'Human learning is collective. We are learning about the world almost entirely from ready models created either in the past or by our contemporaries. This greatly extends our brain modelling capacity, but not indefinitely. A limited collective, just like an individual, cannot fully absorb the entire amount of information necessary to understand a very complex system because there is no effective way to combine many brains to create a single gigantic modelling installation, a colossal super-brain.'

I can see the logic of this thinking from my own experience. Dozens of physicians, precise specialists in their respective fields, examine a patient with their mechanical aides. They produce hundreds of analysis sheets and charts. But another man, some tremendously clever doctor, must evaluate, absorb, combine all this material to understand the workings of this particular human system, and to act with sufficient speed when time is limited to minutes as, for instance, during open heart surgery. But the trouble is that there is no such super-doctor. Specialists are extremely helpful because they furnish us with their fairly precise models, but to combine all this information into a single working model is the task which I, for instance, cannot perform. My own modelling installation is not sufficiently developed for that. Therefore much of this precise information remains unused, or else I digest and absorb it too slowly for practical application.

I know what Sasha is driving at, his ace in the hole: a mechanical brain. Here it is! 'Even collective learning cannot fully assimilate and retain all the information inherent in a complex structural system, and therefore cannot handle the problems of using and governing it. But now science offers us an opportunity of creating artificial working models of theoretically unlimited complexities. Scientists can deposit all their knowledge into such a mechanical brain, as a writer puts his thoughts into a book. But there is an important difference: a book is dead and static while an electronic brain can live, develop and create out of the elements deposited into it. For instance, various specialists would be able to deposit all their knowledge of various functions of the human body into the machine and let it function as a whole. In time a precise working model of the human system can be created mechanically, ready to operate, or live. All that one would have to do would be to switch on the current and the model would come to life. Then a precise model of a morbid germ could be introduced into it and the machine would become sick, and the whole complex of sub-systems, organs and cells, would react to counteract this invasion. This would be a true working model of the human body, so complex that no single human brain, or collection of brains, would be able to even imagine all its capabilities. In this way, human genius would take the first step towards dynamic accumulation of information on an unlimited scale. This, in my opinion, is the most staggering development in the entire history of humanity.'

I have heard all this before from Sasha, about this mechanical accumulation of knowledge. At first I was sceptical. But then, if one compares the volume of knowledge in ancient Greece, for instance, and today, the gap is gigantic. This has been achieved by the gradual accumulation of knowledge in the collective human brain, already a very primitive form of storage battery, but this accumulation process has been acquired by absurdly insufficient means compared with the capabilities of electronic accumulation of the same knowledge. The amount of thought material lost in the process has been appalling. Still the amount of this accumulated knowledge is growing all the time and urgently requires more advanced means for digesting and storing it, and using it. With the old system of recording knowledge in books, very imperfect models, no single human brain could absorb and apply this information wholly and usefully; some details could be absorbed, but never the whole picture. To a doctor this limitation is very well known, it would be a blessing indeed to have a working model of the human body, for instance, where all the problems could be solved by simply pushing a button and getting a precise answer. Only then could we hope to be able to treat people without mistakes.

Also books are dead, they do not develop. All medical works of fifty years ago are ridiculous to us today while the working model would be living and developing constantly, at least that is what Sasha promises.

Perhaps one day this may be possible. The first electronic computers, still very primitive models, are already solving instantly the most complex mathematical problems out of reach of any single human brain. They will become more and more complex, more and more precise, and through them, man, no, humanity, will master the foremost secrets of nature and life, and learn to work with them. According to Sasha, there is absolutely no limit to the mechanical capabilities of such super-brains endowed with the capacity of not merely working with the information fed into them, but producing their own information.

A devilishly exciting idea! If an artificial heart valve can be built, why not a brain? I am too old to participate personally in this work. I don't know mathematics, my profession squeezes everything out of me, it taxes my brain beyond its capacity. But I'm looking with hope and admiration at people like Sasha who will fulfill, or at least advance this work. Of course Sasha may be over-optimistic in his estimations, but then science seems to develop with ever-increasing tempo, more has been achieved in the last twenty-five years than during the last three centuries, and if the process continues at this speed, there is practically no limit to what can be achieved.

Exciting, yes. At the same time one feels a sense of frustration watching this process. Here man stands before a tremendous river of knowledge rushing at him, and all he can do is to take a miserable little gulp. When I was young I thought I could cope with everything coming my way, that there were no limits to what I could learn. Now this self-assurance seems simply stupid.

How are things going in the operating theatre ? Have they taken him into the ward yet? Of course not. It has only been half an hour since I left. Shall I go there or read a little more? After all, Dima has a pretty good modelling installation on his shoulders, and I would only be in his way. Somehow the presence of a senior colleague often inhibits one's activities.

And so I read on. Here Sasha goes into a rather complicated theory of programmes. The precise codes of behaviour allegedly developed in our brain which rules all our actions through nerve impulses. Simple programmes, complicated programmes. According to Sasha, they are being formed all the time, and then activated under certain conditions to produce the dynamic process called life. They are all interrelated, one programme producing and activating another, all in accordance with precise physical and mathematical laws.

Programmes, programmes. He has spoken to me at length about them. Everyone knows this word. There is a programme of a concert, for instance: the successive order in which the participating artists appear. The compere holds a piece of paper, the model, in accordance with which he conducts the concert. There are programmes for economic development, programmes of political parties, etc. But Sasha treats this term differently.

This is how he explains it: 'According to each programme one element of the system acts upon another, passing on the necessary information, whereupon the certain action of a series of actions are produced in accordance with the model of the programme.'

Generally Sasha's style in this chapter is not too good. There is a tiresome repetition of the same awkward terms. According to Sasha, all these programmes are developed and stored in the human brain. Some of them are simple, some complex, some brief, some lasting, such as for instance a programme for a surgical operation. The model of each of such programmes is composed of precisely pre-arranged actions, each causing and activating the next. There are variations in such programmes, a choice of several variants, but basically they are all there and activated in a certain precise manner.

He wrote this probably after listening to my description of operations, I told him once that there is little actual thought in the surgeon's brain during surgery, that your hands react to the developing situation almost automatically. I said it more or less as a joke (though basically this is true), but to Sasha this is no laughing matter. He is dead serious about his programmes.

Still it is hard for me to believe that all our actions are governed by programmes physiologically forming in our brain, and that there is nothing more exciting and spontaneous behind them.

A picture: a violent argument during a meeting of the Surgical Society. I have called a certain professor a stupid ass, and run out of the room, slamming the door. I sit now in the dressing room near the window, smoking, deeply ashamed of my conduct. Were all these actions deposited in my nerve cells? Was my stupid outburst just an activation of one of my programmes? Of course there are fourteen billion cells in my brain and mathematicians can create absolutely endless combinations out of them with more zeros than the human brain can imagine, but still.

Another picture. I am sixteen. My native city. A park in Solennyi Gorodok. (Meaning Salty Suburb. Why salty?) An evening. A bench under some chestnut trees. I am sitting with Valentina, reciting a poem of Essenin to her. (We were all overwhelmed by Essenin then.) In my mind I repeat: Valentina. Valia. Valechka. Valushenika. Darling1. My palms are wet with emotion. I don't want to touch her or kiss her. I'm filled with emotions which can be described only by an old-fashioned word, exalted. I am ready to perform any prodigy for her. I am praying for an opportunity. Was that also a programme? No, I can't believe it.

All right, to hell with it, let it be a programme. If there are fourteen billion cells, it makes little difference whether this is God or a conscious freedom of will. The terrifying thought is that they threaten to reproduce all these things mechanically. I can imagine! A computer in love!

There is something about this in Sasha's notebook. 'The programme of human behaviour.' I suppose he attempts here, with the help of cybernetics, to give mathematical answers to the unanswerable questions: 'What is man?' and 'How can one know oneself?'

I am turning the pages. This chapter is too long, too verbose. I really must go downstairs and see how everything is going. Suddenly the name of Sigmund Freud catches my eye.

I remember our talks. Freud, Freudism. Sasha is violently opposed to these theories. He is enraged because we haven't produced anything to rival them. As I remember his arguments ran something like this:

'Freud is a psychiatrist. He works with morbid material, diseased human mind, and based on his experience he attempts to create a system covering the entire human behaviour. If one accepts Freud, one must forget communism once and for all. Therefore, if we want to build an ideal society, we must create a new psychology without which any planning of any new society is impossible. Conscience is governed by life, but this also works the other way around. As the cultural and economic prosperity of people grows, the close correlation between life and idealism grows as well. One cannot throw one of them aside. And this is exactly the growth stage through which we are passing now.'

All right, let's see. 'The programme of human behaviour.'

'Man is a complex self-regulating, self-adjusting, self-educating, self-correcting system.' Self, self, self. For a while I am confused by this ever-repeating prefix. I suppose what he means is that this particular system is so complex that it can produce its own programmes. Self-education means that it collects experiences and adjusts itself to them. Self-correction means that it is capable, in conjunction with other factors, of changing even its basic structure. This we in medicine know very well. And so on.

All actions of man just as of any other system are carried out in accordance with certain programmes; in other words, they are governed by the organic function at each given moment. The programmes change as certain portions of them become fulfilled, or under the influence of outside factors, which is true of any self-correcting mechanism such as, for instance, a simple compass. However all such changes are limited to the structural limitations of each system, in other words, each system acts only within its programme. Physically there is no basic difference between man and some very complex machine. In both the complexity of structure governs the complexity of behaviour programmes. This premise should not frighten us by its seemingly crude mechanical approach. We must bear in mind that there is no limit of complexity which can be developed in any mechanical arrangement.'

No, this is something I can't accept. No machine can be as sensitive as a human being.

Now Sasha attacks so-called freedom of will. According to him, this is a misnomer; all behaviour is governed by purely physical impulses and elements. He admits, however, that the human being has two sets of programmes, animal and human. The first set has an organic connection with the animal origin of man; the second is produced by the society in which he lives. Society is the only factor which makes man human. Without it, man would remain an animal, like children brought up by wolves and monkeys.

The animal programmes are instincts which are innate in human structure. They are powerful, often overwhelming. The human programmes are acquired, but they are equally powerful, often keeping all animal programmes in submission. Instincts are found in all living forms, but even some animals living with man develop some human qualities which make them act contrary to their instinct interests. There are known cases of dogs consciously sacrificing their lives for their masters in utter defiance of the self-preservation instinct, the most powerful one of them all.

There is nothing particularly new in all this. But the thought of animals is close to me. Our lesser cousins. They love, they hate, and more important, they suffer. And they are brutally abused. Man is cruel. Hunters, for instance. I can understand the destruction of predators. But what about birds and squirrels?

Sentimentality. What can we expect from animals when we haven't learnt to be human to each other? However I am sure that in the future many of the inhuman facets of life will be corrected. Chemistry will provide steaks.

I suddenly remember a true story about animal fidelity which I heard some time ago.

Siberia. The taiga, virgin forest wilderness. A trapper found a wolf cub and brought him up. They spent most of their time together in a forest cabin. When they went to the village, the young wolf would stay close to his master. The trapper probably loved him very much.

1941. The trapper is drafted into the army. A sad parting with his pet. The trapper leaves the wolf with his old taiga hunter friend.

Three years of war and suffering. The trapper returns, crippled. His family had disintegrated. The old man tells him that the wolf had refused food and finally escaped back into the taiga. The trapper is sad, but what can he do? He returns to his forest cabin, finds the window broken in and a wolf skeleton in the corner.

In his next chapter Sasha deals with ethics which he also explains on a physiological basis. A rather imaginative approach again firmly based on the programme theory. Physiology of imagination, inspiration, talent. According to Sasha all this can be eventually built into machines, and they would then write poetry and compose music. Even create philosophical theories.

'Freud maintains that base influences, dictated by instincts, always overcome social ethics.' This may be true in psychiatric experience, but not in life. Man differs from animal by his capacity to develop human programmes in his brain so powerful that they can crush instincts. History and daily life provide many examples of that. This gives humanity hope of the eventual creation of the future perfect society, communism.

'However one must not feel complacent. Social programmes can overcome animal instincts, but this is not an automatic or easy process. When instincts are highly aroused they may temporarily sweep aside all moral principles ingrained in man by education. It is necessary to remember that men differ greatly from one another on the level of their moral development. Therefore, we arrive at an important premise: the society must not only ensure correct social education, but also create conditions which are not conducive to over-stimulation of base instincts.'

Yes, with this I agree. The elimination of hunger is not enough to achieve universal happiness. There must be justice, a set of workable laws governing marriage, divorce, education, housing conditions, child welfare, all human relationships, but also one more condition, the minimum limitation of the reflex of freedom.

All this Sasha has preached to me. The thought is clear. It is not necessary to repeat the instances and examples which he cites in this chapter, they are self-evident.

But to build such a perfect society is not an easy task. The mechanics involved here are extremely complex and the modelling capacity of even a collective brain is sorely limited. That is where we need all Sasha's wonder-working machines.

It is the same thing with medicine. Without complicated machines the proper work in this field is impossible, and even with machines it would have been extremely difficult without the self-correcting and self-regulating faculties of the human body. And, of course, without the most accurate controls. I remember the lecture of one academician: no proper planning in any sphere of modern life is possible without electronic computers.

Another thought: instincts and their suppression. Hunger, for instance. The association: Leningrad during the siege. Love of one's country. Masses of people suppressed hunger for it. Unto death. Eight hundred thousand people died of hunger in Leningrad during the three years of the siege.

And the contrary example: for lust, for greed, people violate every moral law. Criminals. One often reads about them in newspapers, and wonders: why?

And what about myself? No. I have weaknesses. I am no paragon of virtue, but certainly no criminal.

I must go.

It is almost seven o'clock.

I will smoke another cigarette and go. Is there anything there to read further? No, just literature. Suppositions, theories. I'll read all this later. A chapter about the conscious and subconscious. The physiology of thinking processes, creating models, the activating of some, temporary suppression of others and relegating them into an active reserve of the mind. All this is fairly well known. And here, another line of arguments against Freudian theories.

I am no specialist on Freud, but I think his main theory has defects. Much too much stress is placed upon the sex instinct in its darkest and most obnoxious forms. There is no denying it is powerful, but surely not powerful enough to dominate life in all its forms, in arts, science, politics.

Stop it! This is not your sphere.

But then, why not? This is medicine. In the Freudian teaching about the subconscious there are many logical premises. I think Sasha has borrowed a few things from Freud. He denies it, however. He claims that he works on the plane of pure information. I can't judge. I can't quite understand this plane. Until recently in our country they did not recognize any instincts or any subconscious. They claimed that man could be moulded into any desired form. All people could be turned into angels very quickly.

This is a question open to argument. Sasha claims that it can be solved scientifically on the basis of pure mathematics.

Nonetheless, paradoxically, the so-called medical intuition has been always recognized and accepted. A doctor looks at a patient and comes up with a precise diagnosis. This is nonsense. Without knowledge no diagnosis is possible. Perhaps with very experienced practitioners the necessary information is stored in their brains and then comes out suddenly as though by a miracle. I don't know. This has never happened to me. I would prefer to have a good diagnostic machine to work with a computer.

I turn over the pages. I see that further on Sasha attempts to deal with passions, extreme interests, fixations, tries to find a physical law for them. 'False ideas can seize upon the human brain just as strongly as true ones.'

Yes, the possessed. Have they been responsible for culture? Passionate scientists, revolutionary heroes, eccentric inventors? The cracked ones, as our kids call them. It seems so to me, but I may be mistaken. Normal people want more money, they build, construct, create, this is also progress. Greed and vanity are instincts but they often stimulate cultural achievements. And passion is a human quality. A beautiful quality.

But how it can lead one astray! One can become passionately involved in an absolutely worthless idea. There have been many examples of passionate but misguided people. Fanatics. Therefore, an intellectual check is important. Or at least a well-developed set of moral controls.

It seems that I too begin to preach cybernetics and rationalism. Some specialist!

And still true enthusiasm is a great thing.

Another chapter: 'Subjectivity'.

'The impression of the universe and selection of one's behaviour in it are often distorted not only by the limitation of one's learning mechanism, but by the function of one's own reaction sphere.'

Here follows a long explanation. It appears that every time information is fed into one's brain it is compared with moulds already existing there, and the selection of a fitting mould is often influenced by one's own preference for one of them. This often leads to the distortion of one's logical behaviour. At least this is how I understand it. There are many cumbersome technical terms in this chapter. And so the limitations, faulty selection and subjective preferences often make the human behaviour of an individual unexpected, unreasonable and illogical.'

Well, one must accept this. When such behaviour is based on ignorance or stubbornness one must have patience to understand and explain. With most normal people this is usually possible.

Ah, here's a really interesting chapter! 'Happiness'. This I must read. A dream of happiness -'

Suddenly I stop dead.

There are running footsteps approaching. My heart sinks into my stomach.

The door flies open.

Someone in white stops in the doorway.

'His heart's stopped!'

'Good God!'

I leap up and rush out. I actually run, taking several steps at a jump, risking a fall and a broken hip. And in my head there are snatches of thought:

'This is it, the end. But why? What for?'

   1Russian endearment of the name Valentina. The derogatory form would be Valika.


Translated from the Russian by George St.George
© George St.George, 1966