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What I think of Alexander Bogdanov's "Tectology"

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1. What is "tectology"?

  • "Tecton" (Greek) - to build. Hence, this is a science of building in general, a kind of a general constructor, anticipating "universal constructor" of John Newmann, and later "universal assembler" of nanotechnology.
  • The goal of the study is to grasp the common organizational principles that underlie all systems.
  • The goal of tectology is monism of knowledge. Monism of knowledge implies that there is a single law governing the development of the universe, the human society and (social) knowledge.
  • At the beginning of XX century a Russian physiologist Vladimir Bekhterev has formulated 23 universal laws  which he said apply to social and psychological processes.
  • Tectology is related to cybernetics, which is defined as a science of effective organization.
  • Tectology is seen as a precursor of "General Systems Theory" of Bertalanffy
  • Tectology is a kind of "meta-physics", i.e. a kind of science which manipulates results obtained in all other sciences.
  • Tectology is meant as a science for the new man to be created in the process of socialist revolution. This man is to live in a collective. The science is the means for unifying the millions of people into a single collective. This is to be a classless collective, hence no specialized forms of knowledge will do. The current forms of knowledge are based on division of "male" and "female" tasks, on division of theoretical and practical knowledge, on division between "city" and the "country", and specialization of each of these branches of knowledge. Thus, the current forms of knowledge correspond to a class society. And in a classless society, there is to be knowledge without artificial walls.
  • The organizational conscience of Bogdanov is opposed to thinking in stereotypes, according to "a stencil". Hence, this type of conscience is what we call "creativity" today. Creativity is exactly that attitude which applies both to theoretical and practical tasks at hand. Foundations of the laws of creativity were prepared by Altschuller (in his "Theory of Development of a Creative Personality"). Any building task is essentially creative.
  • An attempt to find structural unity for different kinds of experience, or knowledge, is an attempt at a socialist orientation of knowledge.
  • Practical activity of Bogdanov consisted in running the Institute for Blood Transfusion (he died during one of the experiments, in 1928). However, we're free to note that practical activity can be any specific thing: sailing a yacht (as Jules Verne did), or flying, or leading a group (organization), etc. All practical acivities help us to gain theoretical insights into unifying forces of the Universe.
  • Any new knowledge is called forth by the needs of development of our civilization and culture. For example, the study of astronomy and the revolution made by Copernicus was called forth by the needs of seafaring of its time. Similarly for tectology. The need for a unifying knowledge is dictated by the need for development of socialism.
  • The worst enemies of progress today are "specialists" and "professionals". That's why we like the advice of the late Steven Jobs: "stay hungry, stay foolish".   

2. Insights of tectology.

  • In any developing system, two opposite tendencies are developing at the same time. A system's contradictions develop into "crisis", which resolves either into a "revolution", or a death of the system. Thus, any revolution is preceded by a crisis. Seeing and bringing forth a revolution out of a crisis is what leadership of a revolution consists of. This is true for any revolution: social or in knowledge.
  • In knowledge, there is on the one hand a tendency towards a specialization of sciences, and on the other hand, a tendency towards unification of sciences. For example, after WWII in theMacy Conferences  (1941-60) we see a conscious attempt at unification of sciences. However, unification of sciences goes as far back as Saint-Simon (1820's) and his student August Compte. It can be seen as a result of the French revolution. 
  • At the basis of tectology is isomorphism of laws governing different processes. Isomorphism means identical structure of laws. 
  • Difficult problems can be solved if they are posed in a general form. Generalization is a kind of simplification of a problem. For example: measurement of the distance from the Earth to the Moon is a difficult problem before we pose it in the general form of how to measure a distance to an object we have never been to (here, we see a relation to heuristics .)
  • Any complex problem consists of a number of simple elements, or simple problems, each of which can be solved, or created (if it is a material production), by an "average" man. Hence, the main difficulty consists in seeing how to break up a complex problem into a number of simple ones. 
  • The deepest chasm that exists in nature is that between unconscious nature, "spontaneity", and consciousness, or even stronger: self-consciousness. For example, every day, when we experience transition between sleep and being awake, we have to overcome this chasm. 
  • Previous forms of knowledge that attempted to unify all knowledge:
  1. speech - a tectological tendency is present from the very dawn of human history in development of speech, which unifies all sorts of experiences. It is for this reason that a language teacher can be a "universal" teacher: s/he doesn't teach this or that special knowledge (if they teach only grammar, they are not better than beginners), but they can teach all knowledge, for it is all in the form of a language.
  2. Music - a rhythm is present in nature and in speech. Hence, development of music, as a unifying tendency.
  3. Religion - developing from polytheism (many gods) to monotheism (one god).
  4. Math - objects of these sciences are not particular things (e.g. fingers, stones, etc.), but all thigs that can be counted and measured.  Pythagoras claimed that "all things are a number". 
  5. Logic - a discovery of common principles that govern the Universe. The logic of Aristotle, Francis Bacon ("New Organon"), George Hegel (dialectics), and John Stuart Mill are the most known examples. No study comparable to these great attempts has been made since the middle of XIX century.
  6. Marxism - a kind of unifying knowledge, not limiting itself to any one subject (e.g. history or philosophy or economics or anthropology or politics) but ranging over all. 
  7. Information - concerns all, both practical and theoretical. E.g. if we need to fix a radiator, we go on to the Internet. Or if we need to understand the definition of knowledge, we go on to Internet. It is a common "cure all" for all problems.
  • Thinking is a conversation of a "soul" with itself. In children, we notice them talking to themselves, which is naive thinking, thinking aloud.
  • The common verb for all human activity is "to do". For example, philosophers "do philosophy", artists "do" art, and workers "build" a boat, which is another word for "doing". So, you can say that tectology is the study of doing in general
  • The problem in development of this study is to systematize our "organized" experience, i.e. productive, creative, collective experience of mankind.
  • A planned system of production includes 3 main categories: 1) production of people, “sexual revolution” and "education", 2) production of things, “Economy”, 3) production of ideas, "knowledge". Tectology is meant as a singly unifying concept to all of these 3 aspects of production.
  • Concepts become possible due to the development of speech. Speech organizes our impressions, images, chaotic thoughts, into concepts. Thinking is a person having a conversation with himself, without the actual use of words. Intimacy between a man and a woman (or between persons of the same sex) is a similar kind of dialogue and interaction without words.
  • Knowledge is a kind of organization of experience.
  • A. Bogdanov more anticipates the new form of knowledge than actually develops it. That’s why it is so interesting to read his introductions, but not the work itself. The main problem with developing any new form of knowledge is not trying to jump immediately to the “ultimate” conclusions, but, as Francis Bacon pointed in “The New Organon”, to go gradually from empirical facts to first, simple generalizations, and then, once we accumulate these simple generalizations, to grand generalizations. Then, we should come back to "practice", by drawing implications from our general knowledge, applying knowledge.
  • The categories of the new knowledge are not yet known. First goal can be to analyze simple analogies, isomorphism, metaphors of language, etc. and try to understand their common structure, and hence establish some first, tentative categories. For example, what is common between the theory of gravitation of Newton (discovered in 1666) and Coulomb’s law (discovered in 1785)
  1. F=G*m(1)m(2)/R2- Newton’s law
  2. F=keq(1)q(2)/r2 - Coulomb’s law
  • However, before actually investigating “isomorphism”, or fractals, we should understand what has already been done in this direction (“history of thinking on the subject”). 
  • Criticism of tectology and other forms of systems theory: they don't seem to study any one of the general processes in detail. For example, a study of revolution, in different forms.

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