Anokhin Petr Kuzmich PRINCIPAL ISSUES OF THE GENERAL THEORY OF FUNCTIONAL SYSTEMS (1973) – and Soviety Cybernetics

Thanks to Arseny Krasikov, a little exploration of Soviet Cybernetics:

Victor Glushkov (ooh – he shares a birthday with me and Stephen Fry :-))

His OGAS (“National Automated System for Computation and Information Processing”)

‘A lost cyber utopia’

source (in Russian – I used Google Chrome’s automatic translation function)


Anokhin Petr Kuzmich



It is difficult to find a moment in the history of civilization that could be said that it was then that the idea of ​​integrity, of the unity of the world, arose. Probably, already at the first attempt to understand the world, a thinking person was faced with an amazing harmony between the whole, the “universe”, and separate details, parts.

           In essence, this problem is relevant not only for biologists, but also for physicists, economists, and other specialists. It is enough to follow the extremely interesting discussion between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein to understand what a burning problem is the development of these new principles of a holistic approach to the object under study. In this discussion, two approaches to the question of how to ensure the level of a specific whole in scientific research, for example, an organism, collided, and at the same time not lose the huge advantages of the level of the finest analysis.

As you know, Niels Bohr expressed his point of view in a concept known as the “principle of complementarity.” According to this concept, a whole and holistic approach should give the researcher the opportunity to find additional characteristics of the studied object, more or less expressing the specific features of the whole. He believes that the observation conditions, i.e. the perspective in which we observe the object under study can change in the course of research and this provides additional support points for a comprehensive knowledge of the object. At its core, this approach, expanding the possibilities of studying a holistic object, puts the researcher in the position of an observer who determines how the observed phenomena develop.

Albert Einstein, on the contrary, sought to find an approach that would replace Bohr’s phenomenological approach with a dynamic approach that allows one to penetrate into the nature of internal interaction in some complex integral phenomenon.

While with the help of the phenomenological approach to the whole process it is possible to determine how the objects under study are arranged, Enshtein’s approach is to present the empirically found regularity as a logical necessity.

It is now important for us to emphasize that the discussion between the two greatest scientists of our time takes as something definite and obligatory the search for the transitional principle of a holistic approach to phenomena. The point is only in what form this principle could be most effective for a specific research work, since a holistic approach in general, while remaining a researcher’s dream, did not provide any constructive solutions at the same time for formulating the tasks of everyday research. “Whole” and analytical experimentation still coexisted in two parallel planes, without enriching each other.

The emergence of a systems approach gave scientists some hope that, finally, the “whole” from a diffuse and non-constructive form will take on a clear outline of an operational research principle. However, before analyzing the reasons why this principle was not found, we want to give a brief assessment of the development of a systems approach in various physiological schools.

The term “system” has a very ancient origin, and there is hardly any scientific direction that did not use it. It is enough to recall the “circulatory system”, “digestive system”, etc., which are still accepted by some researchers as expressing a systematic approach. For the most part, the term “system” is used when it is about something brought together, ordered, organized, but, as a rule, the criterion by which the components are assembled, ordered, organized is not mentioned.

These common disadvantages are natural. We must not forget that the consistent application of the systemic principle to phenomena of various classes (organism, machines, society) is not a simple change of terminology, a rearrangement of only the order of research methods. The systematic approach to research is a direct consequence of the change in the theoretical approach to understanding the objects under study, i.e. to some extent, a consequence of a change in the very form of thinking of the experimenter. Naturally, such a process cannot be instantaneous.

As will be shown below, the most characteristic feature of the systems approach is that in research work there cannot be an analytical study of some partial object without an accurate identification of this particular in a large system. Thus, from a strategic and practical point of view, the researcher should first of all have a specific concept of the system, which should satisfy the basic requirements of the very concept of the system, and only then formulate the point of the system that is subject to specific research.

In the field of physiological research, I.P. Pavlov was perhaps the first to use the expression “system” for some special cases of his experimental work. It is primarily about the formation of a dynamic stereotype. As you know, this system is created by the fact that the stereotyped order of the same conditioned stimuli is repeated from day to day. As a result of a long training session, this order of stimuli, detected by the amount of saliva specific for a given stimulus, manifests itself even when the same stimulus is used.

Direct electroencephalographic studies of the brain at the time of creating such a dynamic stereotype, carried out in our laboratory by A.D. Semenenko, showed very interesting properties of the brain as a whole. Thus, for example, it turned out that to each forthcoming stimulus in the case of a strengthened dynamic stereotype, the brain automatically, i.e. only on the basis of previous training and regardless of a real external stimulus, prepares a state that qualitatively reflects exactly the stimulus that was used in this place many times in previous trainings. Of course, the stereotypical states of the brain created in this way, reflecting the complex of conditioned stimuli of a given experimental day, are far from their physiological sense from that systematic approach, which is booming recently. Nevertheless, these experiments showed that the brain, on the basis of the acquired experience, can create some integral states that combine the stimuli of a whole experimental day and open up independently of the actual experimental situation.

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