6.12.1913  -  12.12.2002

Books of N.M.Amosov

Digression. A Man at Society

Man is so closely linked to society that his nature cannot be analyzed apart from it. Therefore, I will briefly, and without any claims as to my qualifications to write about such a matter, analyze some problems of the impact of different social systems on man and, on the contrary, the impact of the biological nature of man on society.

It seems to me that a systems approach is just as useful in cognizing society as in any other complicated system. If we take the most generalized scheme of society, we shall have to distinguish the bodies of management and "working" subsystems. Any type of management envisages optimization criteria. They are reflected in constitutions and are outlined in the activities of governments. These criteria are material and social progress, and, of late, there has appeared another criterion — environmental protection. However, for capitalism, these wordings are misleading and are used to camouflage particular criteria of the ruling class, according to which its representatives rule the country, supposedly on behalf of people.

The concept of "wealth" in our interpretation is a high level of moral comfort. Here we have to distinguish between an average level, the level of different social classes and groups, and also to analyze the components of feelings of which moral comfort consists. The significance of these components is differently and arbitrarily interpreted by ideologists; moreover, no serious research has been conducted concerning this matter.

The criterion of the maximal level of moral comfort should be analyzed not by average parameters, but from the point of view of distribution by groups and maximal and minimal departures from the average level with due account for the future. The significance of these or other needs changes depending on many factors, adaptation among them. At the same time, the problem of the significance of the future is extremely complicated. For a lonely elderly man, the moral comfort of future generations is less significant than for a grandfather who has beloved grandchildren. This solitary man would not like to sacrifice the present for the future. It is only strong altruistic convictions that can change the egoism of the present. Or another side of this problem: the government which is wholly dependent on the mood of heterogeneous public is oriented towards the present day. The government of a country that is building a new society is another thing entirely. For such a government, the significance of the future is more important, and for the sake of this future, the government is capable of calling for sacrifice in the present.

The criterion of material progress is more particular, but has the same aspects: an increment of material provision — an average one for selected groups at present or in the future. It is important to see what these things "are used for" — for which needs and convictions. Fast food is the present day need along with fashionable clothes, frequently updated. This represents wasted labour, whereas TV sets, books, and music develop and rear man with a proper ideology.

Social progress is expressed in levelling out the living conditions of the working class and other groups — their level of moral comfort — and in making truly human relations possible between people. Apparently this should be related to growth of consciousness and a change in the spectrum of convictions.

Of late, due to the rapid growth and implementation of technology, nature conservation has become one of the most important criteria for an optimal society. Much has been written on this subject, so I will not repeat these well-worn maxims. No one doubts the significance of the type of social system with respect to these problems.

The evolution of society — changes in its impact on man — takes different directions. The first is a change in the significance of needs. With an increase of public wealth, famine, cold and threats to personal safety recede to the background, since these needs have been met, although not everywhere and not in full if we take the whole world into account.

It seems that the significance of public needs has remained unchanged: urbanization has increased population density, but has hardly expanded the scope of personal contacts between people. Social progress has diminished elementary suppression of the personality by force and changed the nature of human interdependence, although it has failed to make these dependencies less stringent.

The need for information and creative activity has sharply increased; physical stress at work has also sharply decreased, although the level of monotony has increased for many people. On the whole, work has become much easier, and possibilities for rest and entertainment has increased. True, possibilities for the degradation of weak individuals have increased respectively. It is difficult to say whether the role of convictions has increased in opposition to biological needs.

An important feature of evolution is the expansion of the scope of people to whom a man thinks he belongs. Very long ago it was his family and kin; later, men were united by tribe, social class, work collectives, common religion, nations or states, and, finally this com­monness has extended to the global level. In other words, the significance of other people to whom he is tied but with whom he does not have personal contacts, has increased for the individual.

The concepts of equality and justice expand respectively. All this is explained by increases in the information level and changes in convictions. No doubt, the chief manifestations of this evolution to a common humanism are the ideas of socialism and communism.

Religions, in their time, also preached the principles of universal love of all people, but they were only appeals unsubstantiated by practice. Religious intolerance flourished, quietly sanctioned were all types of exploitation of the poor and the weak by the strong, the distinguished and the rich, offering the Kingdom of Heaven instead of earthly comfort.

Technical progress (the development of productive forces) has provided for a substantial increase in the material and educational level of all people in capitalist countries. However, it has not altered the orientation to exploitation and division of classes, inequality and, what is most important, it did not change the accent in the scale of values: priority is given to wealth, prestige and personal success, to the right of the strong and rich, and only then to altruism, sympathy and charity.

The most important quality of a society as a system is self-organization, which means changes in structure and functions in the course of activity and development. Its source is the creative activity of people in interaction with their biological needs. The history of different cultures has common features — for instance, similar stages in the development of the economy and methods of management, even if there were no contacts between these cultures. Nevertheless, within the framework of similar public formations, each country creates its own cultural, social and linguistic traditions which leave their imprint on people and attach substantial differences to them. They may be designated as national or even historical peculiarities of a particular people.

It is difficult to indicate to what extent these differences are pronounced without a special survey. Even genetic factors cannot be admitted as fully identical, since in two or three million years of separate evolution, certain differences have surely appeared. They should not be exaggerated, since the regularities of public life, biological needs and the properties of intellect remain common. It is namely this commonness that explains similar stages in historical development.

People differ not only by race and nation, but, to a great extent, in terms of their history, social system and ideology. In fact: convictions and upbringing form man to a large extent, affecting activity, these or other needs, in other words, the deeply ingrained features of his personality which could even serve as measures. These features are noticeable, but they cannot be recognized as particularly stable.

With a modelling approach to society, it is necessary to show quantitatively, for instance, to what extent the feeling of property or leadership is changing. It is not the conviction that this is bad or good; but namely a change in the need as a result of the change in the number of cortical models related to its centre and affecting its activities.

In other words the same limit of upbringing, realized by the system of ideas, life experience and upbringing in the given society. However it is difficult to separate a genuine change in a need from the convictions that regulate it; it is difficult to imagine the methodology of a survey which would allow for the determination of the genuine upbringing of an individual. However we can say that a change in needs is possible if upbringing begins in early childhood. Convictions and necessity alone are effective in a later period. For a long time these concepts do not raise any doubts; arguments involve only the level of upbringing, the amount of compulsory educational efforts, and the ability of a society to organize these efforts.

Another thing is whether the biological specificity of man erects natural boundaries for self-organization of the society — for its structures and functions. Let me try to be more explicit. Man invented social institutions just as he invented instruments of labour, and later, modern technology. Ideas were born in the process of everyday activities; later they were realized and tested in practice — unsuccessful ideas died away, while successful ones were implemented. For instance, during the Stone Age, it was impossible to invent the steam engine, just as it was impossible to create the social institutes of capitalist society, to say nothing of socialism.

To create a new structure for society, a new structure for science and technology, man has to experience the historical conditions which prepare the prerequisites for the next stage. Although they do not determine this stage, they establish certain limits of what is possible. In the same way as the state of technology limits the possibilities for creating machines, human biology limits the possibilities of arbitrary changes in man's structure and functions.

The main element is man and his biological nature which has already been altered in previous generations. However, the sum of technology and science is also an important element in a society. One cannot conceive of a developed socialist society based on the technology of the past century.

Technology has its role to play not only in providing people with material means, but also in materializing their upbringing. We may assume that electronics and cybernetics will allow us to enhance substantially the effectiveness of the impact of upbringing in the future. However, this also has its limits.

In this way, the specificity of the needs and limits of human upbringing are important factors that determine the effectiveness of a society, in other words, the optimal level applicable to criteria set by the ideology which reflects the interests of the ruling class or all the working people.

Each social system has its own ideas, its set of convictions geared toward managing different needs. Effectiveness can differ according to diverse criteria and depends on the correlation between ideology and organization of the social system. The scope of biological needs is so broad that by employing selective training of some needs while suppressing others, we can create different social models. The only problem is how stable they will be.

Conventionally, two tendencies can be distinguished in self-organization of social models, and both of them are based on opposing properties of human nature. The first is manifest in the expansion of diversity in promoting strong and aggressive personalities with the prevalence of private interests over common ones. It is based on leadership, property and fear. Apparently it tallies with the biology of man as a gregarious animal with a cruel hierarchy of force. The second is based on the enhancement of the collectivist, altruist properties of the individual, limiting the aggressive tendencies of certain persons. Ap­parently, in some cases, systems of the first type are more effective in terms of overall material expression, but the second, no doubt, provides for a higher and more equal level of moral comfort.

Social, as well as other systems can be analyzed by models. But this is a different subject entirely, which I reserve for later discussion. I shall draw your attention rather to a particular problem — the reflection of man in them.


society model

In the most generalized form, a model of society is shown in present scheme. People of different social classes and groups work with different intensity; their work is closely related to "technology" and organization, as a result of which a "product" is manufactured — in other words, material benefits and information — which is distributed by "governing bodies" in the form of a "scale of payments" for different social groups. Part of the product is used for the expansion of the material basis — this is done for the future. It is quite evident that in complete models full account is taken of the economy. "Payments" should be presented not only in their material expression, but also in the form of information, upbringing, etc. This is also modelled in detail. People are represented by generalized models of personality for different social groups, and in detailed models, for different types. Their output, aside from "work" includes "statements" and "actions," expressing relations, claims, or convictions.

A generalized model is detailed in a different way for different social systems, for instance, material relations between social classes are introduced. But we are interested in a man, his feelings, level of moral comfort, and "output" into society which return to him in a transformed form, having passed through "redistribution." The model reproduces the "material balance" of a society, from the viewpoint of production, distribution, accumulation and the expenditure of material values for public and individual consumption. "Information" values accumulate in the same way. Another component is the balance of "statements and actions" on the most important aspects of ideology and relations between social groups, between social groups and society at large. Statements include mass media and art, which, as a result, form the "field of ideas." Modelled also are persecution and limitation measures on the part of the state in the form of special scales. Calculations are made according to time periods, and the dynamics are expressed by the stages of accumulating different parameters.

Many variations of models with different variables are possible. We can model an abstract social system, a state, or introduce relations between nations — up to a global scale.

The most important criterion for an optimal society is the level of moral comfort of its citizens. Its distribution into social classes and groups, its dynamics are calculated by models of generalized individuals. "Inputs" and "outputs" are related to the society, to social classes. The most important index of a social personality model is work for the benefit of the society and the feelings accompanying it. In second place is the modeling of public relations, and third is ideas and convictions.

Studies of models, taking due account of inborn characteristics of needs and how they alter with upbringing, and also of convictions, has allowed us to assume that some fairly interesting patterns exist. I will present them in simplified form.

The effectiveness of social groups is determined by the tensity of labour. To achieve maximum productivity, strong individuals require progressive "payment" — they work intensively and acquire job skills in this way. Weak personalities who do not benefit from progressive pay scales require the threat of a radical reduction of payment for low-intensity labour. This reduces down the level of their moral comfort but prompts them to work harder and preserves the necessary skills level. Without this, weak personalities forget their skills and degenerate.

Material incentive remains the most important one in the balance of the level of moral comfort. However, with the improvement of the cultural and information level, it is successfully competed with interest in various activities — curiosity and pleasure derived from work. True, it cannot provide for very high and stable stress levels. The dependence of the substitution of "money for interest" has a complicated nature and is closely related to the individual correlation of needs.

The factor of prestige — the assessment of the collective — is extremely important. However, it has a levelling effect; it reduces the labour intensity of the strong, and increases that of the weak.

Convictions, as the sole incentive, can promote high labour intensity, but only for a comparatively short period of time. However, convictions are very important as supplements to other motives and as a means of introducing corrections for biological needs.

The level of moral comfort resulting from different payments in the sphere of work strongly depends on the correlation of the "payment scales" for different groups. Marked inequality lowers this level and this is not compensated for by the absolute values of "payments," since it depends on the claims made and level of expectations. The higher the information level, the bigger this dependence.

Adaptation to moderately low payments is rather easy if this reduction concerns all groups.

I shall not discuss other spheres of activity (family, relations, rest, entertainment, etc.) and their proportion in the integral level of moral comfort, although the differences in social systems definitely have an impact. I would like to mention in passing that although limitations on statements and actions lower the level of moral comfort, this reduction is small if everything is favourable in the sphere of material life and information. Only a few personalities have a heightened sensitivity to such restrictions.

A study of models of social systems demonstrated that the criteria for the largest possible material effectiveness of society does not coincide with a maximal and uniform level of moral comfort for all citizens. We have to make some criteria important and then optimize the model according to their sum. The variables used in optimization are the following. The scale of material "payments" from minimal — "payment for zero contribution" — to maximal; diversity of scale in social groups, particularly the correlation between "interest and money," limitations on individual property; the correlation between capital expenditures on the one hand, and information and products on the other; "the ratio of the future" — expenditures for the expansion of production, taking account of output at different periods; limitations on statements and actions, on self-organization of social groups under different conditions for forming governing bodies. Calculations are carried out assuming initial similar external conditions and natural resources. The most important index is the per capita level of production, education, science, and the mass culture, related to them.

Even a pleliminary study showed that it was impossible to "design" a social model which yielded the maximum according to the main criteria. Some compromises had to be made in every case.

The stability criterion turned out to be particularly "freakish."

A tendency for "strong personalities" to emerge as leaders began to manifest itself rather rapidly, and it is difficult to establish boundaries for this, be it in the economy or in management. At the same time, artificial levelling of possibilities inhibiting any leadership limits the rate of progress of the society, since its strongest representatives work at half their potential, and this detrains them. Their potential is lowered, to say nothing of the level of their moral comfort. The second difficulty is weak personalities. It is difficult not only to create a sufficient level of moral comfort for them but also to keep them from complete detraining and vice. Apparently, they do not respond to positive incentives.

Heuristic models of complex systems are not convincing. They should be analyzed only as hypotheses presented in formalized language. Nevertheless, they do provide certain information.

Does a heuristic model of society allow for predictions concerning the state of people in the remote future? Both yes and no. The main index of development is productive forces. Apparently their quantitative growth is decelerated due to limited resources and, probably, people will realize the fruitlessness of the drive for more material wealth — it does not add to happiness.

We may assume that optimization of the society under conditions of limited resources would lead to the rationalization of consumption: the limitation of things with the improvement of their consumers' effec­tiveness and the lowering of the dictates of fashion. The information industry will expand, and its technical progress will allow for great economizing, for instance via telecommunications and cybernetization of information which, in their turn will allow us to dispense with large personal libraries and record libraries. Hiring and public use will, to a great extent, replace property.

The biggest changes may be predicted in the sphere of labour. Technology must be changed substantially so many people's work will no longer be tedious and monotonous. This can be done with the help of automation, robotics, and changing methods of organization, for in­stance, combination and change of professions and types of work. It is quite possible that this will somewhat lower the economic effectiveness of work, but will give big returns in the attractiveness of such labour as compared with present-day assembly production.

Will man become much better in terms of his moral qualities? Here, I would answer with great care: he will become better. Each man in the future will be born with his own genes, and they cannot be altered radically, al least before the onset of the epoch of genetic surgery. The possibilities of upbringing, particularly of upbringing within the family are limited; whereas public upbringing is far from being perfect. In a future society people will have stable altruistic convictions. It is quite possible that their intellects will become more perfect, and all this will make their behaviour more humanistic and restrained. But nature and thinking mechanisms will always have their effect and draw man farther from the ideal he hopes to achieve.