Academician Constantin Bălăceanu Stolnici, you are, today, in 21st century Romania, one of the most brilliant and active personalities in the digital life of the Citadel. You are a brand of Romania. You are, I believe, part of the tangible and intangible heritage of our country, as an exceptional citizen and a producer of intellectual, cultural and scientific added value. Your business card is a real Library.
First, with your permission, I will summarize some of the milestones of your academic, scientific and professional biography. Please consider the following a tribute to you from a humble admirer of yours. So, Constantin Bălăceanu Stolnici, a descendant of the Bălăcenilors, an old noble family, is a Romanian scientist, neurologist, one of the founders of neuroscibernetics.
He is a researcher in the field of neurophysiology, neuropsychiatry, geriatrics, history of medicine, history of Romanian Lands, physical and cultural anthropology. Author of numerous books and hundreds of studies. He is a Professor at the University of Ecology, where he teaches courses in neuropsychology, genetics and anthropology. Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici is an honorary member of the Romanian Academy. He was a testamentary ephor of the Brancovenetian Settlements (Domnița Bălașa Church), former member of the National Assembly and of the National Council of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
Full member of the Academy of Medical Sciences.
Full member of the Academy of Scientists.
President of the Romanian Athenaeum Society.
Honorary President of the Romanian Society of Geriatrics.
You have been awarded the Romanian Star, the Patriarchal Cross, the Moldavian Cross and the Maltese Merit.
You are a recipient of the Grand Prix of the French Society of High Synthesis .
You are Doctor honoris causa of the University “Gr. T. Popa” [Iași], the University “Vasile Goldiș” [Arad], the University “Andrei Saguna” [Constanța], the Ecological University of Bucharest and the University of Petroșani.
Head of the International Centre for Drugs and Human Rights (CIADO).
In short, you are a complex, multifaceted, multifaceted personality. And here, with your permission, I invoke the spirit of Plato, who, in the Timaios dialogue, describes the four polyhedra, associated with the four fundamental elements [water, air, earth, fire]. But say a few words about the fifth polyhedron, atypical and exceptional: the dodecahedron.
To me, you are a dodecahedron.
About this polyhedron, Plato said only this: “…the god used it to arrange the constellations throughout the sky”. Transferring this mysterious image of Plato into your biography, I could say that the God used you to arrange the constellations on the sky of Romanian history, spirituality and culture.
This was a short introduction – homage to Your Lordship, the last descendant with the title of Count of the Holy Roman Empire.
- And now the first question, which is a bundle of questions. How do you present yourself to your contemporaries? How do you present yourself to history? How will you present yourselves at the Last Judgement? Do you consider that you had and have a mission, here on earth, in Romania, in Romanian culture and science? Please respond.
Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici: I am a more modest man, I don’t like to present myself like that, as you introduced me, for which I thank you. I was educated by my parents and by the great teachers I had to walk through life creating useful things, making a maximum effort not to bother others and with modesty to present myself to the citizens of this country, as a man who fulfills his duties to himself, because every man owes a debt to himself, to my family which has a historical past, to the citizens in whose midst I live, for a troubled era that I have crossed almost a hundred years. That was my belief.
- A multiple diagnosis: what is the state of the nation in the current historical, socio-political context? What is the state of Romanian culture in the context of globalization? What is the state of Romanian education in the current competitive context? And I’m thinking of the world ranking of universities, where the top ten are in the United States. And I am thinking about this brain drain, this haemorrhage of intelligence, of grey matter from Romania to Europe and America. Is there a solution? A therapy? How could this brain drain be properly managed and controlled? How could Romanian education benefit from investing in the intelligence of new generations?
Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici: To answer all these questions would take a whole book. We are living in an era that for me, at my age and the way I was brought up, is troubled and dark. There is a general trend away from culture and spirituality. In my youth, over 80, 90 years ago, things were different; there were the old cultural and spiritual landmarks that have left us the legacy of the whole spiritual culture of Europe, and especially that of the Age of Enlightenment. Today, because of the disruptions caused by the tragic events of the 20th century in particular, but also by technological progress, which is also to blame for all of this, we are seeing a departure from traditional spiritual and cultural values which is a general phenomenon, not Romanian, not European, but global. There is an almost radical pragmatism and the old benchmarks that referred to spiritual, intellectual values are being replaced by new benchmarks, the most important of which is the size of bank accounts. This is a tragedy. One. A second thing, this modern technology, smart phones in particular, the internet are positive, if you know how to take their constructive side. Everywhere you look, on trams, on buses, on train stations, on the street, everybody is typing focused on their phone. Which has many, many negative consequences, two of which are the most important. It is the alienation from concrete reality, a shift of human concerns and integration from the real to the virtual environment. This is something that, for the moment, has not yet been well studied, but I think it is quite serious. Secondly, a move away from the benchmarks we used to have: the beautiful, the moral, the spiritual. Read the texts that are put on these instruments – grammatical, vulgar and sometimes exceeding the limits of good manners, especially those that are protected by anonymity. In addition, it mobilises some people who are neuropsychologically similar to that of drugs, especially young people, to sit like emperors on their consoles, on these electronic devices, chatting amongst themselves and wasting hours in front of their consoles. No more little girls playing with dolls, no more boys playing with cars, electric trains, lead soldiers and so on. All with these electronic games that are also aggressively designed. Almost all of these games cultivate the image of the negative, violent, criminal, criminal hero, who is presented with a special aura and who has an impact on young people and guides them in the choices they make, the plans they make, the paths that are more dark than bright. This is reflected not only in young people, who are very sensitive, but also in the media. The press is no longer a press whose mission is to inform and form opinions, but a press that wants to make money. Every television station wants to get the highest ratings, every newspaper, every shop wants to sell the highest number and then makes unforgivable concessions to the ethics that should govern them. What I see in the current press is a disaster, where the floodgates are wide open to conspiracy theories and you have seen the real damage done to our populations by the pandemic that has hit us.
The ministries in charge of culture try to uncouple teaching programmes from the great works of culture. You don’t see cultural programmes any more. Children, if you ask them who Michelangelo was, they have no idea, who Raphael was, they have no idea, who Plato was, who Aristotle was. They’ve heard of Aristotle, he’s quoted by people who don’t even know who he is. There is a lack of concern, there is also a programmatic tendency to eliminate real history. History has always been interpreted, obviously. You can never say that a historian is absolutely objective, because he comes with his own personality, his own ideas, his own baggage of knowledge and so on. Now there are guidelines, history is full of misinformation, some important figures are eliminated, personalities of science, culture, spirituality are censored. We have seen in America that the statue of Washington is being overthrown. It is a very tragic moment. The analyst I’m reading right now said that “man is a political animal” – zoo politikon – but political to him does not mean meddling in fights in parliament or on the Acropolis. It is about social life with all its spiritual and cultural dimensions.
Church. The communists tore down churches and had programs criticizing the church. Today the Church is ridiculed, humiliated, insulted, which even Lenin did not do, who, among other things, you know, created the post of Patriarch of Moscow. That is to say, we live in an area where young people are oriented towards pragmatism, towards these modern technologies, towards a globalism that was originally thought of as a cultural and communication globalism. It is now being thought of as a cultural pan-globalism, primarily to erase the cultural specificity of each nation, of each ethnic group, and to paint a uniform greyness from which are missing those bright spots that have attracted us since childhood, where those in charge of education were in charge of education, not of training automatons. I am very sad about this. Maybe I’m wrong, and that’s the right direction, to be automatons producing something all the time, as Charles Chaplin criticized in the film New Times, if you remember. As Bernard Shaw said, there will be specialists who will know an awful lot about smaller and smaller fields until they know everything about nothing. This is the situation, which I find quite dangerous because human societies have evolved since the Paleolithic. Look at the splendid frescoes in the caves of southern France, look at the statues, look at the engravings from Vilhonneur, near Angoulême, made 25,000 years ago, because they have survived; they already had aesthetic concerns, they had a vision that went beyond everyday pragmatism, which was very harsh, very cruel, because they were hunters and gatherers, which means they worked from morning to night for a little food to survive. Today, when they have the comforts they have, when they have more time, because people no longer live 40-45 years, the average life span has gone up – some, like me, reach almost 100 years. It’s a tragedy for me, maybe I see things through a different lens. I think that one of the causes of the great misery we live today and all these manipulations rather unethical of those who are destined to educate us, to form our mentality. Maybe all these things are part of a historical destiny of our species, I don’t know what to tell you. I see that I am at the limit, at the threshold where a less comfortable culture, perhaps, but with more values, is left behind for a much more comfortable culture, which we mock in the end, for petty ideals and sometimes so concentrated that almost all people become autistic.
- You are one of the pioneers and founders of neuroscibernetics. How do you appreciate the progress of biotronics, nanorobotics, neurocybernetics as a scientist, but also as a philosopher, “anatomist of the soul”. Do you think science will ever be able to know all the mysteries of the human brain, or perhaps there is no need for it? What about the mysteries of heaven? Please answer, if you can, from a Kantian perspective. And I refer to a famous phrase of Kant’s, with which – of course – you absolutely agree: “Two things fill my soul with ever new and growing admiration: the starry sky above me and the moral law within me”.
Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici: First of all, I have to say that I was one of the pioneers of the introduction of mathematical models, of cybernetic concepts in neuropsychology and in biological and psychological neurology. This was a step forward, but not a final step, we understand much better the functioning of the brain, because we have understood a fundamental thing, that this apparatus that we have in our head and which is the most complex structure in our solar system – there is nothing more complex – is an information processor. We have given information a value that it had exclusively in the semantic field, more in linguistics and in several speculative aspects of philosophy. Today it has become a fundamental element that makes up the universe, along with energy and matter. Cybernetizing the central nervous system was difficult because we encountered a lot of difficulties. I have a letter from the President of the French Academy of Medicine, who was very critical of me, saying how you could apply the principles of an electronic machine to the human brain in 1970. Things have changed since then, of course. So this mathematization of biology, this extension of Descartes’ mater universalis, this field was a step forward. But the Universe is much more complicated and there is one area that we cannot or cannot yet address, that of consciousness, of subjective life. We don’t know why we see blue and what this blue is, which certainly doesn’t exist in the Universe, because in the Universe there are only electromagnetic waves at different frequency lengths, there are no colours. What is pain? Pain does not exist in the Universe. It is something we construct in the subjective space, which still remains an enigma. The transition from the objectivity of signals in neurons to the subjectivity of subjective experiences is difficult to explain today. It is one of the thresholds over which science has not been able to cross since Plato, Aristotle, perhaps even Pythagoras until today. It was like looking at constellations for a different view of world realities. Indeed, you read the complexity of the Universe, its dimensions, and when you look like this, one evening, lying on your back in a clearing in a starry sky, you have the impression that you are in front of an extraordinary wonder. But not only that… Look at how complicated this damn virus is, what a complicated structure it has, and what havoc an element you can barely see with an electron microscope wreaks. When you look at the mechanisms underlying genetics, which are of a subtlety and complexity that no technical apparatus has, you realise that somehow things are impossible to explain in the way that sceptics want. It has strengthened me in my spiritual aspects – I am a man of faith, I was brought up that way, that’s how I stayed – but as a child it has not strengthened me more than the minutiae of the human biological machine. I don’t have to look at the stars, I can look at my hand, look into your eyes and see things that are of a complexity that we cannot explain by chance alone. We often discuss this, even with His Beatitude the Patriarch. The question is, however, and this is a pessimistic question… I am a very optimistic man, all my life I have been an optimist, in the most tragic moments I have always seen the bright side of the glass, but here things are different. How are our brains, our cognitive capacities, capable of knowing reality in all its complexity? Material existence itself. Not to mention whether this capacity for knowledge can also understand the mysteries of human spirituality. It’s good to remember that there are things we know, things we don’t know and things we will never know. I always tell my students in class. By 1937 this question was raised: whether the human mind, through its cognitive efforts over the next centuries, would discover all these truths. He was a great mathematician, dealing with virtual spaces, who made a monumental demonstration in which he showed that yes, we will know: “Wir werden alles wissen” (“We will know everything”), to the applause of all the intellectual elites, and in two or three years Godstorm, there are some limits to human cognition, with its theorems, we will never know certain things. This I said long ago, there are things that we cannot understand, we must accept them as mysteries, as mysteries that explain as for intelligences that exceed that of man. Whenever someone comes up with this question, “What is the human soul?” I wrote a book, two books even, about the human soul – I wrote in a historical way, because it was the communist period, and to talk about the soul in the communist period was an act of courage on my part and on the part of Sântimbreanu, who ran the Albatros publishing house and who published this book. You see, we worry, we want to know, man is very curious, perhaps the most curious being on Earth, but that’s all we have the capacity to know, and revelation texts are made for this intelligence. How could God speak to shepherds or shepherdesses in antiquity, except in a language in which, however, in a metaphorical way, if you know how to apply a certain hermeneutics, you can see that this complex element is contained and hidden somewhere under images that are more symbolic, as Mircea Eliade said, a language of symbols and myths. These languages were made precisely to fill the gap left by the impossibility of human cognitive functions to decipher all the mysteries of the world. This is why we should not absolutise a radical atheism in our school curricula. Spirituality is discussed in religion classes, some discussions of spirituality are done in philosophy, in the exact sciences; the great scientists, Einstein, were all religious people and it cannot be disputed that they were elites of the human intelligentsia. We need to know our noses, especially since our noses are pretty much hooked in the field, and admire the complexity of creation and seek to discover its secrets, not just satisfy our own academic curiosity. But let us also find solutions to resolve certain difficulties, difficulties of our lives, here we must be pragmatic, let us fight for the quality of life, for the improvement of the functioning conditions of the human brain and the human body, not to promote a dry, radical, negative atheism. A team of sceptical professors from America once came to me and I told them that you say what you say, we have been a Christian people for 2000 years, it does not mean that we impose Christianity, but it does mean that we have an openness to the horizon of spirituality. A few weeks ago I gave a lecture in anthropology on the Christian roots of Europe; it was a plea for the fact that we are Europeans and we claim to be Europeans and our culture has managed to infiltrate everywhere, precisely because at its roots, apart from the brilliant contributions of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, there was also this extraordinary contribution of Christianity. Not because it is Christian, but because it is an open door to a monotheistic spirituality, which gives a metaphysical explanation of the realities of the world, which it is good to know for the good of us all. Because moral values themselves must have a metaphysical underpinning… Here there is a kind of presentation of morality, a support which has a supernatural prestige and which in this way imposes itself, disciplines itself. That’s why I say that this grey world in which I live and from which I will soon leave, I’m sorry to leave it in a moment of crisis from which I don’t know how it will emerge.
- You have taken part in all the major conferences since the beginning of computer science. Do you think that, in the end, the invention and development of information technology, the internet, the digital universe will be beneficial for the physical, genetic, mental, spiritual evolution of the human being?
Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici: When we started dealing with certain mathematical models of neurons, of neural networks, especially the ability that Fritz and his collaborators showed, that neural networks can even do reasoning and use elements of logic. It never occurred to me what would happen. Someone would have said the generalization of phones, the internet, I think he was laughing. Computer science has done a great deal for the development of knowledge of reality. And for me: I have this computer and with it I can go on trips, I can see museums, I can read works I can’t get to, I can communicate with whoever I want and even see their face. It is an enormous amplification of neural capacity that has served and will serve not only technological progress and more subtle, elegant neurological progress to satisfy academic curiosities. For me it was a joy. I sit here and read books that are somewhere lost in a library, I can work on articles, I see, I take a walk on Mount Athos. So it’s a positive thing. It is also a negative thing that it polarises all activity, especially that of young people, towards the playful aspects of this device, towards aspects that lack this mark of goodness, of wisdom of human behaviour and opens the door to some, let’s say, evasions in the virtual world, fanciful, that destroy the great landmarks of human behaviour and lead to a lot of aberrations; among which, I give as an example the use of drugs, one of the most important causes, which is looming for the degradation of our species and to which no head of state gives importance, because they like to do something that the newspapers talk more about, as it helped the health sector or the education sector, but they do not think how to fight drug use. We should not criticise technology as such, but the moral standards of those who use technology. When atomic energy was developed, the prospects were, they had an energy source, they had a new class of drugs, these radioactive drugs, suddenly this horror of the atomic bomb came along. But we have to admit that, in general, every great invention is like a medal, it has a positive and a negative side. As great, as ample, as honourable as the positive side is, so terrible is the negative side. And right now we live in fear of the negative face of the discovery of atomic energy. What I would have done, a lot of those researchers would have withdrawn and blamed themselves for, I didn’t know, leading to such a catastrophe.
- You are, in my opinion, a Napoleonic personality or, to make a pun, a Napoleon-Leon, although you were born under the sign of Cancer and Napoleon was born under the sign of Leo. You have had many campaigns. You’ve seen a lot of battlefields. You have been crowned, metaphorically, by many prestigious institutions. Fortunately, you have not been exiled to any islands. I am reminded of those immortal words spoken by Napoleon during the Egyptian campaign: ‘From the top of these pyramids I look down on you for forty centuries of history’. And now, in your presence, I say to myself out loud: “From the height of this Spirit, called Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici, a century of history, culture and science looks down on me”. Question: Do you recognise yourself in this Napoleonic pose? Do you recognise yourself as a fighter who takes on victories and defeats? Do you consider yourself a witness and an actor of modern history? [arguments, example].
Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici: The question is difficult. For me Napoleon is not likeable, first because he is an aggressor who massacred thousands and thousands of people absolutely unnecessarily and second because he treated our country very badly at a very difficult time, after 1812. It was not a moral model. On the other hand, he was still a man who in his greatest moments did not forget culture. He was in Moscow and was giving the rules of the French Comédie Française. He was a subtle mathematician, he was a great mathematician specializing in conic theory; he was a member of the Academy, not as a favor, but it was because he had merit. This man who seemed to be a destructive spirit, a spirit to annihilate an entire historical past, turned out to be a great mathematician. He was a man of great culture. What leader do you know who has embarked on a campaign, taking a team of scientists with him? He was a general of the republic, he took them and took them to Egypt and on this occasion he brought out a book, the volume brought out by Napoleon’s regime about Egypt, that nothing was known. Champollion was able to decipher Egyptian writing, he discovered a culture. In many of his gestures we see that he did not forget culture; which is quite remarkable for a small officer from a small noble family, from a small island. On the other hand I didn’t like many things about him and I don’t consider him a role model, although he is perhaps the most popular personality in the world, both in the world of normal people and in the world of abnormal people, most of the delusions are with Napolepon, I’ll give you an example. I didn’t consider myself a fighter who wanted to overthrow a culture, a civilization. I considered myself a man embedded in a culture which I served, which I served as much as I could; on the one hand theoretically, in my scientific research, on the other hand pragmatically by practicing medicine. My main work, my main contribution was not as a researcher, not as a thinker, not as a teacher, but as a doctor. You don’t know what a joy it is when you manage not only to heal, but to stop someone’s pain. I did this and I was lucky enough to be well guided by outstanding teachers, such as Professor Reiner, Professor Popa, Professor Nicolae Ionescu-Șișești, State Drăgănescu and others. They were medical professors of immense moral quality, apart from their professional qualifications. I loved this, contributing to the welfare of the suffering. I have been to war, I have known what war medicine is, how many legs I have not cut off, how many hands I have not amputated, because I had no choice, how many people I have not seen die in front of me. We have experienced the greatest drama of mankind, to have more doctors than they can care for; there are ten doctors and they can only care for five. Who gives him the power and the right to choose whom he saves and to condemn the one he cannot save? Not because he doesn’t want to, because he’s outdated. Know that it is a drama, one of the most terrifying dramas a man can go through: I have two people, I can only save one, which one do I save? This is a negative side of our profession, which is one of the most beautiful, precisely because it pursues people’s well-being, brings happiness into the home and cures you of suffering.
- A global and metaphysical question: where is the world heading? What if it’s heading? Or rather, where is the world going? Dialectics and protective spirits urge us to hope that there are solutions and Salvation. Of course there are crises, crashes, collapses and apocalypses. But from an optimistic perspective: where is the world heading?
Constantin Bălăceanu-Stolnici: Someone was talking to Churchill and telling him where the world is going, and Churchill said that one of the great enigmas is the future. Man as any being lives in the present and the present starts from the past that remains known in the need of the people in the face of a future about which he knows absolutely nothing and on which he can project according to his knowledge and mental capacities some scenarios with a certain coefficient of probability of realization. That’s all we know. For us the future is an enigma. I’ll give you an example, which I lived through, the oil crisis; it was fabulous at the time. No economist in the world predicted this, when it came it was a general surprise. The advent of the internet, no one ever thought of this tool, was a surprise. That is, there are possible surprises everywhere, precisely because the determinations of events are made by multiple factors, factors that escape knowledge, because that is how the Universe is made. The future is something that does not exist, because if we could foresee the future, we would have to conclude that no matter what we choose, what we do, there is no free will, because it is determined. If I know what will happen in a hundred years, it means that the murderer of a hundred years ago has no guilt, because it was known beforehand that it would be, it was determined by something, predestination. This is why I say that we cannot predict where the future will go, neither from a technological point of view, nor from the point of view, let’s say, of its vision of social integration. At the moment we are obsessed with environmental issues. Our Ecological University even has as a program to deal with ecological issues. Our university, we are involved in a certain campaign to form mindsets that take into account – be careful – you are responsible not only for your existence, but also for the existence of future generations. But we don’t know what will happen then.
One last question, but – fortunately! – one last question does not exist. Because the dialogue will remain open and – with your permission – we will continue it, whenever we are at a crossroads, disoriented, without a compass or GPS. We will come to you for advice. Thank you. With deep gratitude.
Interview by Prof. Dr. Narcis Zărnescu, MC, AOȘR; Member of the Order of PALMES ACADEMIQUES in the rank of Knight.