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Valentin Fyodorovich Turchin, 1931 – 7 April 2010
Article Type: Communications and forum From: Kybernetes, Volume 39, Issue 7
In a message to the CYBCOM discussion list on 13 April 2010, Francis Heylighen gave the sad news that Valentin Turchin died on 7 April at the age of 79, apparently from complications of the Parkinson’s disease that had kept him virtually silent during the last years since his retirement (archives of the discussion list are at: https://hermes.gwu.edu/archives/cybcom.html). Turchin was the originator, jointly with Cliff Joslyn, of the Principia Cybernetica Project (PCP), in collaboration with Heylighen who is currently its Editor. It has an entry for Turchin at: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/TURCHIN.HTML. Both Turchin and Heylighen have also been involved in a “global brain” project jointly with Ben Goertzel and a comprehensive account of Turchin’s involvement in this is at: www.goertzel.org/benzine/turchin.htm. In this context Heylinghen refers appreciatively to a paper (Turchin, 1993) in this journal.
Valentin Turchin was a remarkable combination of scientist, philosopher and courageous political activist. The idea behind the “global brain” suggestion is that modern communications will allow emergence of an entity worthy of such description, and Turchin not only discussed this as a theoretical possibility, but also invented a computing language, and followed up ideas for a SuperCompiler that would achieve the necessary unrestricted communication. He also founded a Moscow chapter of Amnesty International and wrote a book critical of the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union.
The following brief biography is adapted from the Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentin_Turchin (quoted also as part of Heylinghen’s announcement).
“Turchin was born in 1931 in the Soviet Union. In 1952, he graduated from Moscow University in Theoretical Physics, and got his PhD in 1957. After working on neutron and solid-state physics at the institute for Physics of Energy in Obninsk, in 1964, he accepted a position at the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics in Moscow. There he worked in statistical regularization methods and authored REFAL, one of the first AI languages and the AI language of choice in the Soviet Union.
“In the 1960s, Turchin became politically active. In 1968, he authored The Inertia of Fear and the Scientific Worldview (Turchin, 1981), a scathing critique of totalitarianism supported by an emerging cybernetic social theory. Following its publication in the underground press he lost his research laboratory. In 1970, he authored The Phenomenon of Science (Turchin, 1977) a grand cybernetic meta-theory of universal evolution, which broadened and deepened the earlier book. By 1973, Turchin had founded the Moscow chapter of Amnesty International and was working closely with the well-known physicist and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. In 1974, he lost his position at the Institute, and was persecuted by the KGB. Facing almost certain imprisonment, he and his family were forced to emigrate from the Soviet Union in 1977.
“He came to New York where he joined the faculty of the City University of New York in 1979. In 1990, together with Cliff Joslyn and Francis Heylighen, he founded the Principia Cybernetica Project, a worldwide organization devoted to the collaborative development of an evolutionary-cybernetic philosophy. In 1998, he co-founded the software start-up SuperCompilers, LLC. He retired from his post of Professor of Computer Science at City College in 1999.”
Turchin, V.F. (1977), The Phenomenon of Science, Columbia University Press, New York, NY
Turchin, V.F. (1981), The Inertia of Fear and the Scientific Worldview, Columbia University Press, New York, NY
Turchin, V.F. (1993), “The cybernetic ontology of action”, Kybernetes, Vol. 22 No. 2, pp. 10–30