Semen Korsakov :: The Predecessor of Computerised Homeopathy
Homeopathic Journal :: Volume: 1, Issue: 1, Nov-Dec 2007 (General Theme) - from Homeorizon.com
|Article Updated: Aug 25, 2011|
Semen Korsakov: The Predecessor of Computerised Homeopathy
A Few Touches to his Portrait
-By Dr. Alexander Kotok
The name of the Russian, Semen Korsakov is widely known within the homeopathic community as the developer of an original system for making centesimal potencies. In homeopathic literature he has often been erroneously regarded as a General or Count, whilst in reality he was just a petty landlord and nobleman ... but truly of manifold gifts. He gave an undervalued service to homeopathy, and more! The detailed biography of the great man has not yet been written. In this paper I wish to remind you of some little known facts from his life.
Semen Korsakov was born on 14th January 1787 in the Ukrainian city of Cherson, now the district centre. His godfather was the Count Grigory Potemkin (1739-1791), the all-mighty favorite of the Empress Catherine the Great. Although his name sounds as a purely Russian ("korsak" in Russian means a corsac fox), it is most probably associated with the Lithuanian noble family, whose ancestor was the Czech, Zsigmond Korsak that had settled in Lithuania in the 14th century1. "Korsakas" in old Lithuanian means emblem or armorial bearings.
Very early in his life Korsakov lost his father, a military engineer, yet due to the efforts of his mother he succeeded in acquiring an excellent education. From 1805, he worked at the College of Foreign Affairs, and then participated in the St. Petersburg people's volunteer corps through the war against Napoleon in 1812-13. Korsakov fought and was wounded in the battles of Berezina and Polotsk, then in the siege of Danzig, and was awarded a medal for military merit by the King of Prussia.
In Paris, where he came with the Russian army in 1814, he became acquainted with the punched cards of the famous French inventor Joseph-Mary Jacquard (1752-1834), who is known to us as the inventor of the machine to produce broad-designed textiles. The young man was both fascinated and allured by this very promising idea, which, like homeopathy much later on, became his lifelong passion.
After the war, he found employment in the Ministry of Justice, where he occupied post of the head of the Statistical Bureau. It seems quite probable that such routine and monotonous work with catalogues and statistical reports gave him the idea to mechanise it. The employment in the Ministry did not require his constant presence at his workplace. Korsakov thus had enough time to be interested in other affairs, like calculating machines and homeopathy...
Semen Korsakov first discovered homeopathy, then quite a novelty in Russia, in 1829. He was successfully treated for severe rheumatism by his relative, a landlord from the Saratov province, called L'vov. Until then he had been forced to get about on crutches. It was Ledum 3c, which healed him.
During many years Korsakov treated his peasants and all those who came from the neighboring areas with homeopathy, receiving on average some 2300 persons yearly. He also tried to spread homeopathy among his relatives and friends. In 1830 and 1847, during the epidemics of cholera, which terribly shocked the Russian Empire, he occupied a post of district inspector over local cholera hospitals, collecting the statistics on different methods of treatment of cholera, including, of course, the homeopathic one.
He was probably the person who first told Admiral Nicholas Mordvinov (1754-1845), his uncle and a member of the State Council, about this new treatment. Nicholas Mordvinov, in turn, became interested in homeopathy, and several years later he issued the first pamphlet on homeopathy in Russian. His advocacy of homeopathy before the Tsar and the highest officials of the Empire allowed the new teaching to get the legislative approval as soon as the beginning of 1830s, much in advance of other European countries.
"The statistics dealing with homeopathic treatment of cholera in Russia during the epidemic of 1830, were received both from the landlords who treated their peasants with homeopathic medicines and from homeopathic physicians. These landlords either had started practicing homeopathy before the epidemic (L'vov and Korsakov) or had been attracted to practice it during the epidemic. Admiral Mordvinov united the statistics he got from different regions of Russia, where lay homeopathic treatment of cholera was provided during 1830-31. According to these statistics, from among 1273 persons who had been treated with homeopathic medicines, 1192 recovered and 108 died (i.e., the mortality rate was about 11%)"2. At the same time, the mortality rate from allopathic treatment was 60-90%! It seems that just in that time Korsakov developed his single vial method, which was approved and supported by Hahnemann. And it seems that the necessity of selecting symptoms in search for a right remedy revived the idea to mechanise a long and tiresome process.
In 1832, Semen Korsakov submitted a project to the Imperial Academy of Sciences. The project represented a description of a machine, called by Korsakov "machine for comparing ideas". In the terms of modern language we would call it a system for information search. The punched cards were the data carriers of the system. According to the project, they were to be kept in special card indexes to be chosen mechanically in correspondence with their characteristics. A brochure, written in French, was attached to the proposal.3 Korsakov was particularly perspicacious, realising that this was only the first step.
"Like telescope and microscope reinforces our eyes, so the intellectual machines will infinitely enlarge the frames of our mind, as soon as prominent scientists utilise their knowledge to study the principles of the process and compose tables, which are necessary in many fields of human knowledge..." 4.
In fact, Korsakov offered 5 kinds of machines of various complexities, intended to work out information by comparison of characteristics. It is quite natural that homeopathy was taken by him as an example how this system can be useful in day-to-day practice.
On fig. 1 one can see a machine, called by Korsakov "the linear omeoscope (i.e. homeoscope - AK) with movable pieces". It was supposed to find among the tables a certain basic idea, and then find another one (to be compared), containing in it all details of the first idea.
The fig. 2 demonstrates "the linear omeoscope with movable pieces". The task was the same; yet additionally it was able to point out which of the compared ideas coincide or differ.
"The flat omeoscope" (fig. 3), keeping all the functions of the previous two, was able to compare ideas by 10000 (!) characteristics.
Fig 4 shows "the ideoscope", which was supposed to immediately compare complex basic ideas by characteristics, whose number might have exceed 100, while the number of punched cards, utilised through the process, supposed to be less than 100.
And, finally, fig 5 presents "the simplex comparator". It had to do the same job as "the ideoscope", but for two ideas at once. However it didn't require the punched cards.
It is not my intention to dwell on the subject of the first effort of building up a mechanised homeopathic repertory, which is of course what these were, "the intellectual machines" of Semen Korsakov. More special research is needed. I must state that he surpassed "the Hollerith's tabulator", invented by Herman Hollerith in 1887, to work out results of the national census in the USA, for 55 years, while the first machines, utilised the border perforation, appeared only at the beginning of the 20th century! Semen Korsakov remains unchallenged as the inventor of the first system for mechanical repertorisation. His role in developing computers can be successfully compared with that of the British Charles Babbage (1792-1872), who is considered the father of the modern PC. Like Semen Korsakov, he observed the invention of Jacquard and tried to apply it, but for calculating, not for classification, like Korsakov did.
Unfortunately, it is all too common that contemporaries rarely recognise inventions, which are ahead of their time. The special committee of the Academy, headed by a brilliant young mathematician, a member of the Academy Mikhail Ostrogradsky (1801-1862), did not take seriously the ideas and proposal of Korsakov.
The decision of the committee was concluded in the following remark: "Mr. Korsakov spent too much of his intellectual power, trying to teach other people how to live without the latter altogether".
It is interesting to add here that when submitting his proposal, Semen Korsakov had no interest in patenting it. On the contrary, he wanted to offer it to the public at large! I believe that it also deserves a special mention that Semen Korsakov was the founder of the first information bureau in Moscow.
In 1835, he passed to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where he was employed as an official for special commissions. In 1845, he retired in a civilian rank, corresponding to a general in the military, and settled down in his family estate Tarussovo, not far away from the city of Dmitrov (the Moscow district). He was held in deep respect by all but reamined modest, delicate, sincere and mild by all accounts, he was blessed with four daughters and six sons. One of them, Mikhail Korsakov (1826-1871), became the governor of the East Siberia, and the city in the Sakhalin district is named after him.
Semen Korsakov passed away on January 12, 1853 in Tarussovo. His grave, common with his wife Sofia, has been successfully and thankfully kept due to many benefits, he provided for the common people such as a school, church, built in his name.
- Dvoryansky vestnik, 1(2) 1993, p. 7
- Carl Bojanus, "Gomeopatiia v Rossii" (Homeopathy in Russia), Moscow, 1882, p. 1. For more information on the first experience of homeopathic treatment of cholera in Russia see the chapter "The cholera years" in Kotok A. "The history of homeopathy in the Russian Empire
until World War I, as compared with other European countries and the USA: similarities and discrepancies". PhD thesis, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 1998. Available on-line at http://homeoint.org/books4/kotok/index.htm
- Apercu d`un procédé nouveau d`investigation au moyen de machines à comparer les idées par S. Korsakof.
- I cite the paper of Alexander Nitussov "Semen Korsakov and "the machine for comparing ideas", published in the Russian journal PC Week/RE №26, 19.07.2005, р. 28. Available on-line at http://www.computer-museum.ru/precomp/korsakov.htm
Note : The figures used in my paper are reproduced with kind permission of Mr. Nitussov.