20th World Congress of Philosophy Logo

Comparative Philosophy

Two Specialists in Cybernetics: Stefan Odobleja and Norbert Weiner. Common and Different Features.

Nicolae Jurcau
Universitatea Tehnica Din Cluj-Napoca
jurcau@utcluj.ro or

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)

ABSTRACT: Among the Romanian forerunners of cybernetics (i.e., Daniel Danielopolu, Paul Postelnicu), Stefan Odobleja is, undoubtedly, the most important. European recognition of his contribution to the foundations of cybernetics took place twenty years ago when his paper, "Diversity and Unit in Cybernetics" (presented at the Fourth Congress of Cybernetics and Systems in Amsterdam, August, 1978), was received with great acclaim. His work has been used by other Romanian scientists and philosophers like Constantin Noica, Mihai Draganescu, Alexandru Surdu, Georghe M. Stefan, Constantin Balaceanu, Mihai Golu, Pantelimon Golu,Victor Sahleanu, etc. Meanwhile, another scientist-philosopher, Norbert Wiener, reached conclusions similar to Odobleja's. It is interesting to note that two individuals who worked in and came from such diverse backgrounds and media, reached such similar conclusions within the interval of a decade.

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)

Out of the Romanian forerunners of cybernetics (ex: Daniel Danielopolu, Paul Postelnicu), Stefan Odobleja is - undoubtedly - the most important. A European recognition of his indisputable contribution to the foundation of cybernetics took place 20 years ago. At that time his paper, entitled "Diversity and Unit in Cybernetics" was of a very successful. This paper was defended at the 4th Congress of Cybernetics and Systems, at Amsterdam, 21-25 August 1978 by Stefan Odobleja's emissary, engineer Stelian Bajureanu. This was his most enthusiastic admirer. Being ill, Stefan Odobleja could not be present that very important scientific manifestation. In Romania, doctor Stefan Odobleja's merits as a Romanian scientist's at the foundation of the generalized cybernetics were well - known at the academic level, at the same time with the publication of two collective works. These works are: "Romanian Forerunners of Cybernetics", published in 1979 and "Odobleja between Ampere and Wiener", published in 1981. The former work has a Preface also translated into English that is signed by Mihai Draganescu and the latter being entirely printed in English. The Romanian also known on an international plane has dedicated themselves, with a great consideration and competence, the work of this pioneer of cybernetics, who was Stefan Odobleja. These important scientists and philosophers are: Constantin Noica, Mihai Draganescu, Alexandru Surdu, Gheorghe M. Stefan, Constantin Balaceanu, Mihai Golu, Pantelimon Golu, Victor Sahleanu, etc.

It is interesting to notice how two scientists who were, at the same time, of science and philosophers (Stefan Odobleja and Norbert Wiener) arrived at very close conclusions in their subjects within a decade. They lived and worked on so for off meridians, originating from very different media. Their names are mentioned in a chronological.

STEFAN ODOBLEJA (1902 - 1978) who originated from a family of peasants in Romania, was obliged to be a self-educated man (that is, as a self-taught person) the last forms of the High School and the Faculty of Medicine he was able to finish only with the financial support of the Medical-Military Institute of Bucharest (whose scholar he was). Endowed with an uncommon capacity of work and with an astonishing spirit of inventivity, Stefan Odobleja has dedicated the greatest part of his life to the problems of knowledge in general, to the knowing of human nature, especially. In spite of the vicissitudes which the unfair fate gave to him, this great scientist of Romaine (and of the world!) left an impressive work to the posterity. This work was comprised in about 50.000 pages. The most important of these writings is "Psychologie consonantiste". This book which in the Princeps edition (vol.I in 1938 and vol.II in 1939) totalized almost 900 pages and included 300 figures in the text. The author considers that "this book is rather a table of contents, an index or a dictionary of psychology, a general plane for a great Treatise of Psychology that should contain 20-30 volumes". This fact confirms us the proportions of the work at whose achievement the bold personality of Stefan Odobleja engaged himself .

In this work Stefan Odobleja was laying the theoretical foundations of the generalized cybernetics. It was forgotten for over 35 years, maybe also because of same difficulties caused by the Second World War. The book was printed in French and diffused by the famous "Librairie Maloine" from Paris

The appearance of this pioneer work in the domain of cybernetics drew the attention of the scientists through only two published review. The first was published in a Romanian magazine (in 1939) and the second in the well-known American magazine "Psychological Abstracts" (p.59-60), in January 1941. S.M. Strong was signing the latter. It is also to be noticed that the author himself - Stefan Odobleja - has diffused the prospect by which he announced the participants at the International of Military Medicine about the appearance of this paper "Psychologie consonantiste". That Congress took place at Bucharest between 8-12 June 1939. At this Congress also participated a delegation of the Military Navy of USA, lead by Dr. W.S. Bainbridge.

The first edition in Romanian of this work of an inestimable value appeared only in 1982.

NORBERT WIENER (1894 - 1964) was born and grown up in a family of a Jewish scientist. As he himself said this father "could speak about forty foreign languages". These word were cited from the second volume of his autobiography, entitled "I am mathematician" (London, 1956). His father was a teacher of Slavonic languages and literature at Harvard and he made he son learn classic and modern languages from a child. Unlike the Romanian scientist, who as we have previously mentioned was obliged to be a self-taught man, because of the financial problems all through to fight his struggling life, the American scientist, this precocious child, who took his doctor's degree in philosophy, at the famous Harvard University, at his age of only 18 - he was lucky to get teachers and mentors like Bertrand Russell, Edmund Landau and David Hilbert. Landau, as Norbert Wiener will write later in his autobiography mentioned above - "his spoilt child of Mathematics "originated in a family of Jewish bankers and he also was a kind of precocious child". And, going on with the compassion, while the cruel fate always kept Stefan Odobleja far from the university life so important for stimulating his interest towards the scientific knowledge and deprived him totally of the financial means necessary to realize the most modest journey for a scientific documentation abroad (the only one that "travelled" was his Work - and even it, not sufficiently!!!), Norbert Wiener had - according to his own confessions - the great chance to travel the world over and to work permanently in a favourable academic life. The American scientist published his work that brought him the laurels of Nobel Prize - "Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine", Herman, Paris, 1948 - also published in the capital of France (like Stefan Odobleja's work!). What a coincidence! And, yet, how much difference, at the same time: whereas Cybernetics "represents the beginning of the material welfare which I am enjoying at present"- as Norbert Wiener has noted in his autobiography - because "it became a scientific best-seller fact that amazed all of us, and especially me" (see chapter 15, "Nancy..." from the above autobiography), "Psychologie consonantiste" has not brought to its author, Stefan Odobleja, even the hope of a decent living and over the work of the Romanian scientist there passed three and a half decade of silence.

As, the "scientific best-seller" of the American scientist is very well know in the whole world, we shall try to remember here same of the Romanian scientist's ideas. This is the first monumental work in literature in which starting from a profound study of a particular domain (psychology) that supposes real mechanisms of a great complexity, he comes to the generalising conclusions of a cybernetic nature. We should notice that Odobleja was a pioneer in the "science of the XXth century", as cybernetics was called.

For a correct understanding of our position, we want to specify that we subscribe for our compatriot opinion, Prof. Mihai Draganescu, who, in this "Introductive study" at the edition in Romanian of the "Psychologie consonantiste" said: "...Stefan Odobleja cannot be considered as the founder of Cybernetics, this merit undoubtedly belongs to Norbert Wiener, but, Stefan Odobleja is not only a forerunner of cybernetics but he also has world priority of a generalized cybernetics idea considering as first the feed-back (closed loop) that is, with a reverse connection, as a universal law. Out of all we know, till him nobody has had such a vision of the general role of the feedback in nature and society. Odobleja is the first one who tired to apply the feedback law (the law of reversibility) to as many domains as possible, in the main, to all the domains. In this way he delimitates himself from all the peculiar cases in which reverse connections have been revealed". "Psychologie consonantiste"- a title that proved not to be well chosen - is "the paper on general methodology of the scientific knowledge, with an applicable opening in all the domains, even in technic, a substantiation work of general cybernetics" (wrote Mihai Golu in "Preface" at Stefan Odobleja's book "Psihologia consonantista si cibernetica", Romanian writing publishing house, Craiova, 1978) and it exposing an original conception crystallized on the basis of a comparative analysis of a large fan of scientific knowledge - Physics, Mechanics, Medicine, Biology, Neurophysiology, Psychology.

The author's hypothesis: on the work "Psychologie consonantiste" is that there a certain level of approaching the reality where a series of valuable universal laws many by defined; having, at the same time a strong operational character too, which makes that this level distinguishes clearly from that of a Philosophical approach. Later, such a level was characterized as being cybernetics. This author formulates a cybernetic premise of a special importance, namely the existence of some laws common to all domains of research which refer specially of the behaviour at the system. The presentation of the general laws which govern the cognitive steps in any scientific domain is followed, in the vast work of the Romanian scientist, by the presentation of the way in which the stated principles are applied to the particular domains of scientific investigation. These domains range from the socio-economical to the mathematical and philosophical ones.

As concerns the psychical activity, for example, Stefan Odobleja said that this develops between entrances and exits (input and output) and that it supposes, first, memorising operations. He made a description of the psychological functions using the general scheme of a cybernetics system in which the organs of sense were considered as entrances (input, which captivate the events from the environment) and the muscles were considered as exit (output), which transfer, over the environment the reactions determined in the nervous system by the entrance stimulants. The organs of senses represent the entrance gate of the psyhism, they having the of translation (codification or coding), some of them also having a selection function role.

The reversibility law (feedback) is present at the interpretation of all the domains that Stefan Odobleja approached. Examples:

  • psycho-physiology: "The intellectual exercise develops the brain and its development incites to the development of the intelligence";
  • psycho-pathology: "Between the cerebral structure and the cerebral function, between the cerebral pressure and mental disorder there is reversibility and reciprocity of determination, The lesion produces disorder and the mental disorder produces lesion";
  • language: "The image evokes the spoken word; in its turn, the spoken word evokes the image";
  • Sociology: "The functioning of a society determines its structure but (the structure) influences, in its turn, upon the functioning"; philosophy: "Any philosophy is the crop of the past experience, in its turn any philosophy determines the experiments and behaviours in future";
  • Aesthetics: " Art is the product and the expression of the individ and society which comprises him; in is turn, art influences the individ and the society". The examples might continue.

Stefan Odobleja's great merit is that he has discovered the general character of the feedback and has tried (and succeeded, we say) to put it into evidence in the most various processes and phenomena. The quotations above are selves evident in this respect.

Supposing the Romanian scientist's thoughts and the scientific debates (and, may be of others, too which we have not known by now), Norbert Wiener would have noticed later, in his autobiography: "Other persons were doing at the same time, the same thing, in other countries but I do not think that one of their solutions proved to be more satisfactory than that I have given at last". The American scientist referred definitely to the task which the Electrotehnical section a Massachusetts Institute of Technology committed to him that is, the task of finding a logical base for Heaviside calculation (it is about Heaviside's work about which Norbert Wiener wrote that it may be translated word for word into the language of the generalized harmonious analysis). The syntagm "Other persons were doing the same thing at the same time with other countries" is also good for the wider frame of cybernetics, with the specification that this thing wasn't made just "simultaneously" and that as it also results from the above concise presentation the solutions they reached the two scientists (Romanian an American) were similar. The two ways of working of Odobleja and Wiener were similar and yet different. While Stefan Odobleja was operating with the dyad "substance-energy", Norbert Wiener has operating with triad "substance-energy-information", this last concept - with such a great value - Romanian scientist missing it. Together with our compatriot Gheorghe M. Stefan we say that "the birth certificates" given by the history to different sciences are not always enough substantiated. Also, the history has demonstrated that an idea may possibly by emitted by a scientific personality but, its imposing supposes a scientific community which has to act in a strong enough institution for having a penetration, by its attitude, in a wider social context. It is well known that Heron from Alexandria discovered the steam engine -as an example - in the antiquity, but it was indispensable only when it appeared in the full industrial revolution in England. The same happened with Cybernetics, too. The ideas of the "Great lonely person" who was the Romanian scientist Stefan Odobleja could not impose themselves because - as we have previously shown - he was not lucky to enjoy any scientific community, a strong enough institution and a favourable social context, as well.

Our paper does not put the problem in the terms of the priority because a priority is anytime disputed by supplementary investigations or by a new way of approaching the problem. The Romanian scientist's contribution to the foundation of Cybernetics must be defined by its referring to the concept of participation and this thing is indisputable. Therefore, we consider that such a wide-world Congress at which we participate must also register, among others, the contributions of a world importance in the vast domain of human knowledge brought in by the Romanian scientist, Stefan Odobleja, who proved himself so confident in man's powers to create, in a very near future, what he has called "the thinking machine" (that is, the artificial intelligence) which - he was convinced - would lead to a considerable increase of the high efficiency of thinking, whose productivity and efficiency will be centupled".

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)


Odobleja, Stefan. (1938-1939). Psychologie consonantiste. Librairie Maloine, Paris

Odobleja, Stefan. (1978). Psihologia consonantista si cibernetica. Editura "Scrisul romanesc", Craiova.

Odobleja between Ampère and Wiener. ( 1981). Editura Academiei Romane, Bucuresti.

Odobleja, Stefan .(1982). Psihologia consonantista. Editura stiintifica si Enciclopedica, Bucuresti.

Odobleja, Stefan. (1984). Introducere in logica rezonantei. Editura "Scrisul romanesc", Craiova.

Precursori romani ai ciberneticii .(1979). Editura Academiei Romane, Bucuresti.

Wiener, Norbert .(1972). Sunt matematician. Editura Politica, Bucuresti.

Wiener, Norbert .(1966). Cibernetica sau stiinta comenzii si conducerii la fiinte si masini. Editura stiintifica, Bucuresti.

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)


Back to the Top

20th World Congress of Philosophy Logo

Paideia logo design by Janet L. Olson.
All Rights Reserved


Back to the WCP Homepage