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'If my hands are closed, I can't imagine a piano piece'


Pitirim Sorokin
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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There was a wonderful man named Pitirim Sorokin and I took his course on History of Civilization or something. He was sort of... I’m told he’s… compares… compared to Spengler, who wrote this huge book on the decline of the West and... Sorokin had written this rather big book called Contemporary Sociological Theories, which sounds pretty boring, but each chapter is about some person who made a theory of history. So I forget what’s in it, but, you know, there'd be a chapter by Spengler and a chapter by HG Wells and just about every historian. Not by them... it would be Sorokin’s summary of… of Hegel’s theory of society and... I was fascinated by this man who knew all of the history of these theories of history and... we became friends and he played some music for me that I had never heard and... sort of like meeting Aldous Huxley, who I never met. But Sorokin was this scholar who had just… knew… knew more different things than anyone I’d ever met before. And, being at Harvard in those days... every classroom had such a person. Maybe they still do.

[Q] Amazing. Your contact with non-academic people... it was quite limited I suppose.

I think so. It’s hard to... there are just so many days… hours in the day and days in the week. So… I don't… have almost no non-technical friends.

Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was one of the pioneers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, founding the MIT AI lab in 1970. He also made many contributions to the fields of mathematics, cognitive psychology, robotics, optics and computational linguistics. Since the 1950s, he had been attempting to define and explain human cognition, the ideas of which can be found in his two books, The Emotion Machine and The Society of Mind. His many inventions include the first confocal scanning microscope, the first neural network simulator (SNARC) and the first LOGO 'turtle'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Contemporary Sociological Theories, Harvard University, Pitirim Sorokin, HG Wells, Oswald Spengler, GWF Hegel, Aldous Huxley

Duration: 2 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 13 May 2011