Computation and Metaphysics
An Archaeology of Computing in Russia
Georg Trogemann, Alexander Nitussov, Wolfgang Ernst (Eds.),
"There is little doubt that our present
thinking machines are hardly more than wooden
horses." Gotthard Gunther
Beyond Marxism and Cybernetics
Gotthard Günther (1900-1984) was a man and a thinker
of the in-between and frontiers  . This was not the
result of his emigration from Germany to USA - he was not a victim lacking a
Heimat - this was his decision as a result of radical thinking. However, he
did not see himself as fitting within the contemporary movements of his
time, rather he perceived himself as being much ahead of an arriving future.
Also one eyed he could see far more into the
landscape of the future than most of us could ever see with three eyes.
For his colleagues at the BCL 
he was a continental philosopher, for his philosophy colleagues in Germany
he was an American cybernetician, for the GDR ideologists he was a western
metaphysical idealist and for the BRD philosophers he was a dialectical
materialist. For the German New Left he was a logical positivist, for the
positivists he was a Hegelian transcendentalist. For himself he was a
transcendental logician but then discovered that he was a dialectical
materialist, but in the sense of Lenin and Schelling emphasizing the
heterarchical polycontexturality of grounds. In his thinking he didn´t
accept any compromise, but for his special food he had to go to a
lorry drivers inn. Günther was never a name in the singular, they had always
been called The Günthers : Gotthard and Marie .
He was a good friend of thinkers of very different origins like Ernst Bloch
the Marxist philosopher at the time of his emigration in the USA and his
main work "Idee und Grundriss
einer nicht-Aristotelischen Logik"  written in the
50´s was supported by the Platonist at Princeton, Kurt Gödel.
Günther himself was
never involved in politics. He liked the clear sky and the fresh air of his
gliding and skiing. In the fresh air of the wintry mountains of New
Hampshire and focussed with only one eye, he was able to make distinctions
which would have been confused by more disturbance. This was the place he
found to his radical metaphysical and logical decisions about the future of
thinking. Back from the mountains down in the cities there had been
mismatches everywere. 
With the "Hyäne des Pentagon" at
the Checkpoint Charley
With his passion for skiing - he had to give up
gliding - he became an academic spy, even a double spy; at least their were
some people who liked to believe that. After he became a professor emeritus
in1972 he gave lectures in philosophy at the university of Hamburg and he
made his home there. The Academy of Science in Berlin, former capital of
GDR, wanted his secrets about
the newest developments of US cybernetics as developed at the BCL - they
received from Günther a hard lesson about the necessity to change their
dialectical materialism towards transclassical operational dialectics. The
US Air Force paid his trip back to the wintry mountains. Some philosophical
reports about cybernetics in Berlin (East) were delivered. The BCL was known
only by a few specialists in the West as well as in the East in the 70´s.
Today it is the source of the new German ideology: Radical Constructivism,
Second Order Cybernetics and Autopoiesis with Heinz von Foerster and
Humberto Maturana as the leading figures. 
At this time - I invited Günther to the Free
University of West Berlin and accompanied him to his lectures at the Academy
of Science - we had a crucial point in common: both of us had to pass the
mysterious Checkpoint Charley; now part of a museum. By passing this place
of technological secrets Gotthard told me that he is a "Hyäne des Pentagon"
(or that the other side told him this). I didn´t really understand, probably
because I was hearing something sounding more like Princeton then Pentagon.
I couldn´t believe that there could be any precious secrets at the Academy.
Also fully involved in
multiple-valued logic and perfectly informed by the JPRS 
Günther did not mention anything about the first implementation of a
ternary computer in1958 by a Russian team at the Computing Center of the
Moscow State University  but had to respond to a hard
critique from the Moscow logician Alexander Zinovyev about some problems
involved in his place-value system of logic .
Günther, a lifelong emphatic
skier, earned his money as a research professor for the foundations and
philosophy of computation and cybernetics . Since the
appearance of symbolic logic in the 30´s he was convinced that dialectics
could only succeed and prove its supremacy over Aristotelian logic if it
could find a formalism beyond all logical formalisms for its realisation .
He was one of the very first philosophical readers of the "Introduction
" by the Polish logician Alfred Tarski.  Again that
was in contradiction to the mainstream of German transcendental logic and
philosophy. With the raise of Cybernetics in the USSR and its emphasis in
the GDR by Georg Klaus, Manfred Buhr and Günter Kröber 
there was a hope of some possible co-operations in the project of
formalizing dialectics. After having given a lecture in Moscow Günther wrote
one of his last works "Identität, Gegenidentität und Negativsprache"
which tracks back to a lecture given 1976 in Belgrade. In this text Günther
makes a step beyond the dichotomy of number and logos in introducing the
concept of a new type of language for the notation of non-designational
We know at least since his book
"Das Bewusstsein der Maschinen"  that Günther
was proud to be on the payroll of the US Air Force Office of Scientific
Research. This fact was surely one of the main reasons why he was totally
ignored by the German New Left movement. I remember a wild night with some
Maoist comrades in West Berlin. I told Alfred Sohn-Rethel, then a late
member of critical theory, he just arrived from exile in Birmingham, U.K.
that by the irony of history the real thinkers of dialectics are not in the
revolutionary underground of a socialist country but at the BCL sponsored by
the US Air Force.
Since the very beginning of his
academic life Günther was interested in the philosophy of history. It is no
surprise that there are several unpublished papers and book manuscripts
about Russia and Marxism of the former USSR in his Nachlass .
"Cybernetics and the
Dialectic Materialism of Marx and Lenin"  is not
simply a literal translation of the german paper, from a lecture at the
University of Cologne in 1964, but a transformation for the purpose of the
US reader. And this English version also exists in several forms and
Das Bewusstsein der Maschinen" first published in
1957 and then in 1963 with a new chapter "Idealismus, Materialismus und
Kybernetik" gave as some of his Western friends thought, dialectical
materialism too much of a positive image. His answer was that he took both
Apostel Paulus and Lenin with the same seriosness. When attacked by a
readers-letter in Astounding Science Fiction he replied that it is
more dangerous to be a metaphysician than to be a Marxist in the USA of
today (McCarthy era).
With the Science (Fiction)
Gotthard Günther was always into techniques. Not only
was he involved in the science fiction avant-garde with John W. Campell Jr.
and published in Astounding Science Fiction and Startling Stories
in the 50´s he also was the first to introduce American science fiction to
Germany and he had a license for professional gliding and skiing .
All this was too early for the Germans and the books Weltraumbücher"
published by Karl Rauch Verlag Düsseldorf 1952 had to be taken off the
shelf. It was surely enormous luck but perhaps not a total surprise that
Warren Sturgis McCulloch  discovered the importance of
Günthers work for the logical foundations of cybernetics. He arranged for
him a professorship at the BCL where Heinz von Foerster was the director.
Some years before "Cybernetics
and the Dialectic Materialism of Marx and Lenin" Günther presented his
fundamental work "Cybernetic Ontology and Transjunctional Operations"
 on the 1 April 1962. Later published in the famous "Self-Organizing
Systems"  . In this work he proposed a
far-reaching formalization of dialectical und reflectional structures able
to give a foundation for the implementation of subjective behaviours in
machines. As a main step there is the formalisation of the transclassical
operators of rejection and transjunction embedded in his morphogrammatics.
With this background of polycontextural logic, his refutation of the whole
alternative of idealism and materialism, which he had a deep knowledge of,
and the design of a transclassiscal Worldview finally got its scientific
The Vietnam War and the End of
When Günther was proposing machines capable of
self-generating alternatives he was not only fully rejecting the alternative
of Western idealism and Eastern materialism but trying to implement this
same gesture into his idea of a trans-classical machine able of making
refutations. His proposal "A Study of new Development in Dialectic Theory
in Marxist Countries and their Significance for the USA" 
ran in parallel to the complementary proposal for the "Investigation of a
Mathematical System for Decision-Making Machines" .
Unfortunately lack of
money and the need for more serious military R&D caused by the Vietnam War
made a bitter end to this story . After one last grant
to complete the final archiving of the work done, the BCL closed in1976 with
its "BCL Publications" .
"On the other hand, a machine, capable of genuine
decision-making, would be a system gifted with the power of self-generation
of choices, and then acting in a decisional manner upon its self-created
alternatives. (...) A machine which has such a
capacity could either accept or reject the total conceptual range within
which a given input is logically and mathematically located. It goes without
saying that by rejecting it the machine displays some independence from the
programmer which would mean that the machine has the logical and
mathematical prerequisites of making decisions of its own which were not
implied by the conceptual range of the programme. But even if we assume that
the machine accepts affirmatively the conceptual context of the programme
qua context, this is by no means the same as being immediately affected by
the specifique contents of the programme that the programmer feeds into it.
If we call the first attitide of the machine critical acceptance of the
programme and the latter naive acceptance, then it mus be said that the
difference of their handling a given input in both cases are enormous. In
the first case a conceptual and therefore structural context is rejected
this does not necessarily imply that also the specific content of the
programme are rejected. They still may be accepted, but moved to a different
logical or mathematical contexturality." 
As an expert in skiing, for whom
water skiing was a perversion , Günther wanted at
least to have a transclassical computer system able of reflection, cognition
and volition in his studio before dying. Skiing was his obsession and to
build a transclassiscal computer his profession  .
Computers in the sense of
transclassical cybernetics are not simply a tool or a medium but much more a
radical new step in the understanding and transformation of the world and
human nature in a trans-terrestrial world game .
Computation and Metaphysics today
Questions of cracking identity in formal logical and
computing systems are finally recognized now by leading computer scientists.
"Real-world computer systems involve
extraordinarily complex issues of identity.
Dealing with such identity questions is a
recalcitrant issue that comes up in every corner of computing, from such
relatively simple cases as Lisp's distinction between eq and equal to the
(in general) undecidable question of whether two procedures compute the same
The aim of the Computational
Ontology project is to focus on identity as a technical problem in its own
right, and to develop a calculus of generalized object identity, one in
which identity -- the question of whether two entities are the same or
different -- is taken to be a dynamic and contextual matter of perspective,
rather than a static or permanent fact about intrinsic structure." 
Brian Cantwell Smith
 Gotthard Günther, Selbstdarstellung im
Spiegel Amerikas, in: L.J. Pongratz (Hrsg.), Philosophie in
Selbstdarstellungen Bd. II, Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1975, pp. 1-76
 BCL: Biological Computer Laboratory, University of
Illinois, Urbana, Ill., USA, 1957-1976
 Dr. Marie Günther-Hendel, jewish, teacher and founder of
a Free school in Italy
 Gotthard Günther, Idee und Grundriss einer
nicht-Aristotelischen Logik, Meiner Verlag Hamburg 1959
 Gunther-WEB: www.vordenker.de and www.techno.net/pcl
 Realitäten und Rationalitäten, A. Ziemke, R. Kaehr (eds)
, Selbstorganisation, Bd. 6, Dunker & Humblot, Berlin 1995
 JPRS: Joint Publications Research Service, RAND
Corporation, Santa Monica, Cal., USA
 In 1958 the first full scale implementation of a ternary
computer was completed by a Russian team at the Computing Center of Moscow
State University, and named Setun´. It was used for some time, but both poor
hardware reliability and inadequate software hampered its usage." Computer
Science and Multiple-Valued Logic, (ed.) David C. Rhine, North-Holland,
1984, p. 7, cf. Cybernetics and the Dialectic Materialism of Marx and Lenin,
footnote 18, this book
 Report on Zinovyev. In: Nachlass Gotthard Günther, 21.
Kasten, Mappe 252, Staatsbibliothek Berlin
 Gordon Pask, The Originality of Cybernetics and the
Cybernetics of Originality, 1982, cf. footnotes 25 and 29, this paper.
 Gotthard Günther, Logistik und Transzendentallogik,
in: Beiträge zu einer operationsfähigen Dialektik, Bd. I, Felix Meiner
 A. Tarski, Einführung in die mathematische Logik,
Verlag Jul. Springer, Berlin 1938
 Aus heutiger Sicht sind diese Versuche einer
mathematischen Modellierung dialektischer Widersprüche bestenfalls von
historischem Interesse. Sie haben weder die Philosophie noch die Kybernetik
substantiell bereichert." K. Günter Kröber, Kybernetik als mathematische
Theorie dialektischer Widersprüche, in: Kybernetik steckt den Osten an -
Wiener's Ideen in Osteuropa und der DDR, Kolloquium der Gesellschaft für
Kybernetik e. V., Nov. 2000; cf.
 Gotthard Günther, Identität, Gegenidentität und
Negativsprache, in: Wilhelm R. Beyer (ed.), Hegel-Jahrbuch 1979,
Pahl-Rugenstein, Köln 1980, pp. 22-88
 Gotthard Günther, Das Bewusstsein der Maschinen, Eine
Metaphysik der Kybernetik, Agis Verlag, 2. Aufl., Baden-Baden 1963
 Gotthard Günther, Die amerikanische Apokalypse, Kurt
Klagenfurt (ed.), Profil Verlag München, Wien 2000
 this book
 Phäidros und das Segelflugzeug. Von der Architektonik
der Vernunft zur technischen Utopie. Gespräche mit Claus Baldus. In: Das
Abenteuer der Ideen. Architektur und Philosophie seit der industriellen
Revolution, Katalog zur internationalen Bauausstellung, Berln 1987, pp.69-88
 Gotthard Gunther, Number and Logos, Unforgettable
Hours with Warren St. McCulloch. In: Selbstorganisation, pp. 318-348
 Gotthard Gunther, Cybernetic Ontology and
Transjunctional Operations, Technical Report No. 4, Electrical Engineering
Research Laboratory, University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill., Sponsored by:
National Science Foundation, Grant 17414, Washington 25, DC.
 Self-Organizing Systems, M.C. Yovits et al (eds.),
Spartan Books, Washington, D.C., pp. 313-392, 1962
 Gotthard Gunther, A Study of new Development in
Dialectic Theory in Marxist Countries and their Significance for the USA, 13
 Gotthard Gunther, Proposal for the Continuation of a
Mathematical System for Decision Making Machines, Under Grant AF-AFOSR
68-1391 for One Year From 15 October 1970, July 31, 1970
 "But then came the Mansfield Amendment. Most of the
early work on cybernetics had been supported by the Office of Naval Research
and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. But in about 1968 the
Mansfield Amendment put an end to research projects supported by the
Department of Defense which were not clearly related to a military mission.
It was intended that the National Science Foundation and other agencies
would pick up the support of projects that had been funded by DOD. The
problem of course was that these agencies did not have people who were
familiar with the work in cybernetics. There followed several frustrating
years of searching for new sources of support. Meanwhile Ross Ashby and
Gotthard Gunther had retired and left the University. Finally in 1975 Heinz
retired and moved to California." Stuart A. Umpleby, Heinz Von Foerster, A
Second Order Cybernetician. In: Cybernetics Forum, Vol IX, Fall 1979, N. 3,
 BCL, The Complete Publication of the Biological
Computer Laboratory, Wilson, von Foerster (eds.), Illinois Blueprint Corp.,
Peoria, Ill 61603, 1976
 Gotthard Gunther, Proposal for the Continuation, pp.
 Personal remark. I gave him a beautiful book about
water skiing from the American thrift shop Berlin.
 Gotthard Günther, Lebenslinien der Subjektivität,
Kybernetische Reflexionen, CD, c+p 2000 suppose, Köln 2000
 Gotthard Günther, Beiträge zu einer operationsfähigen
Dialektik, Bd. I-III, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1976 ff.
 Brian Cantwell Smith, SMITH-bio.html, 1999, cf. B.C.
Smith, On the Origin of Objects, MIT Press, 1996