66) Cybernetics as Voodoo science

Ludwik Kowalski (May 26, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043



An example of excommunication of the entire field of science (genetics) in the Soviet Union was mentioned in item 64. This reminded me of another example; cybernetics was also initially branded pseudo-science in the Soviet Union. To refresh my memory I went to the Internet and found some interesting quotations. According to

http://web.mit.edu/slava/homepage/disint.htm

"No other scientific or engineering discipline underwent such frequent and profound changes of attitude in the Soviet Union as cybernetics. In 1954, the Short Philosophical Dictionary defined cybernetics as a 'reactionary pseudo-science, an ideological weapon of imperialist reaction.' In the late 1950s, cybernetics was portrayed as an innocent victim of political oppression and 'rehabilitated,' along with political prisoners of the Stalinist regime. The Soviet lag in computing was blamed on the earlier rejection of cybernetics. In the 1960s, cybernetics was canonized in a new Party Program and hailed as a 'science of communism'."

And according to:

http://www.pact.sscc.ru/history/early.html

“Norbert Wiener’s book ‘Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine’ published in 1948 was actually banned in the USSR, because some ideas expressed by Wiener did not agree to the official Soviet doctrines. In 1953, the leading ideological journal ‘Problems of Philosophy’ published a notorious article ‘In whose service is Cybernetics?’ [3]. The author who hid himself under a pseudonym ‘Materialist’ wrote, in particular: ‘The theory of Cybernetics, trying to extend the principles of modern computing machines to a broad variety of natural and social phenomena without due regard for their qualitative peculiarities, is mechanicism turning into idealism. It is a sterile flower of the tree of knowledge resulting from a one-sided and exaggerated blowing of a particular trait of epistemology’. And further: ‘The imperialists are unable to resolve the contradictions splitting the capitalists’ world. They cannot prevent the approaching inexorable economical crisis. They try to find salvation not only in the frenzied arms drive but in the ideological weapon as well. In the depth of their despair they resort to the help of pseudo-sciences giving them some shadow of expectation to lengthen their survival.’

In the article ‘Cybernetics,’ in the 4th edition (1954) of ‘Concise Dictionary of Philosophy’ [4] this science was defined as a ‘reactionary pseudo-science which appeared in the USA after the World War II and became also wide spread in other capitalist countries; a kind of modern mechanicism’. One can easily imagine what it meant to defend and disseminate a ‘reactionary pseudo-science’ at those times in the Soviet Union!” Nevertheless, some scientists (described on the same web site) were brave enough to defend the field excommunicated by ideologically motivated officials. These scientists are now honored as pioneers of new technology. The two quoted references are:

3. "Voprosy Filisofii", 1953, No.5, pp.210-219.
4. “Kratkiy Filosofskiy Slovar”. Moscow, 1954, pp.236-237.

P.S.
Naturally, Stalin’s persecution of genetics was very different from the withdrawal of support for cold fusion in the US; nobody was imprisoned or killed here for promoting heretical ideas of cold fusion. But the phenomenon of pseudoscience is very real and society should be protected from those who exploit ignorance in order to benefit from unscientific claims and manipulations. Making money on therapeutic magnets, for example, is a scam; the healing effects of such gadgets have not been validated, as far as I know. The same applies to devices delivering electric energy from a so-called “vacuum.” How can society be protected from con artists without confusing charlatans with honest scientists addressing non-conventional topics?

In my opinion cold fusion researchers should be as active in exposing pseudoscience as those who do so under the banner of mainstream science. How actively have they done this? How often do cold fusion researchers criticize each other? I suspect that this does not happen too often. I noticed, for example, that journals publishing cold fusion papers also publish papers devoted to topics of more questionable validity, such as perpetual motion devices, antigravity or hydrinos. Many cold fusion researchers probably disagree with such articles. But how often do they express this openly? I do not know.

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