Peter Pitirimovich Sorokin

peter sorokin
Peter Pitirimovich Sorokin, 84, of South Salem, NY, passed away on Thursday, September 24. He is mourned by his wife of nearly 38 years, Anita; their children Elena and Paul; and his brother, Sergei.

Peter was born on July 10, 1931, in Boston, MA, the son of Elena Petrovna Sorokin and Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin. He grew up in Winchester, MA and attended Winchester High School and Harvard University. He received a B.A. in 1952, and a Ph.D. in Applied Physics in 1958, also from Harvard.

Peter was a laser pioneer. For 43 years, he worked as a physicist at International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), mostly at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY. With his colleagues, he invented the world's second and third lasers. Another notable achievement was the co-invention of the dye laser, which is used in many applications. For these and other discoveries, Peter received the Albert A. Michelson Medal in 1974 from the Franklin Institute, the Comstock Prize in Physics in 1983 shared with Theodor W. Hansch from the National Academy of Sciences, the Harvey Prize in 1984 from Israel's Technion University, and the inaugural Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science in 1991 from the American Physical Society. A fellow of the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He was also an IBM Fellow, the company's highest technical honor, from 1968 until his retirement in 2000. He never dwelled on these distinctions, and in fact preferred to discuss his latest area of scientific inquiry.

In retirement, Peter shifted his focus to the stars. He pursued a question in astrophysics: why is light from some very bright stars absorbed at specific wavelengths? Is it due to absorption by particles in interstellar dust, as many astronomers have speculated, or is it due, as Peter's detailed theory explains, to laser-like effects produced under certain conditions by hydrogen, the most common element in the universe? Peter continued to research and publish his theory about hydrogen in space until shortly before his death. He published his most recent paper, "Evidence of H2 Four-Wave Mixing in 2175 Å "bump" stars" (Optics Communications, 2013). Peter loved to discuss his work, and anybody who knew him remembers his enthusiasm for research, his warmth, and his originality.

Aside from his work, Peter loved spending time outdoors. He walked and hiked whenever he could, whether in South Salem during the 21 years he lived there, or on mountain trails throughout the Northeast. He also loved spending summers at the family cabin in Canada, and could adeptly cut the grass there using a traditional scythe. He enjoyed listening to classical music. Peter had a whimsical sense of humor and laughed easily. He delighted in encouraging his family in all their intellectual and creative pursuits. He was a gentle, generous, highly principled person, and a loving husband, father, and brother.


 Recent Academic and Memorial Events in Komi

Pitirim Sorokin ConferenceOn August 21-22, 2014, an International Conference entitled “Pitirim Sorokin and Paradigms of Global Development in the Twenty-first Century” was held in Syktyvkar,  capital of the Komi Republic in northern Russia where Pitirim Sorokin was born. In several chapters of his autobiography “A Long Journey” [1963], he vividly remembered the land and the lives of its people at the time of his youth.

Over a hundred social scientists attended. They represented colleges and research institutes in Russia and abroad, including Kazakhstan, Belarus, Canada, and the United States.  Our Foundation was represented by Dr. Sergei Sorokin, Dr. Richard Hoyt, and Dr. Pavel Krotov. Dr. Sorokin was invited to give a welcoming speech to the Conference and to unveil a newly erected statue of his father in front of Syktyvkar State University, Komi’s leading institute of higher education.

The conference had three main goals. For social scientists it was a forum to share their research and to honor the name of the famous sociologist. For the government of Komi, principal sponsor of the event, it represented a high point in an over thirty-year process to reintroduce Pitirim Sorokin to his countrymen and to end the ostracism he experienced during the Soviet period. For the University, both the forum and the opening ceremony signified a new stage in its development resulting from merger with the Pedagogical University, Syktyvkar’s second largest college, and renaming the enlarged institute after Pitirim Sorokin. Renaming was officially approved by the Federal Ministry of Education in September, 2014.

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'A Long Journey' in Komi Translation

cover of Long Journey in Komi

Pitirim Sorokin's autobiography has recently appeared in an edition translated into the Komi language. Published in the Republic during the the 125th anniversary of Sorokin's birth (2014), it is intended for Komi-speaking natives and particularly for school children to study, learning about their esteemed countryman as they strive to improve their own fluency with his native tongue.

The Komi Republic recognizes that most of its population is made up by four nationalities. Among these, greatest attention is given the original Komi nation, now numbering about 24% of the population. Its distinctive culture has provided much of the character the land still retains. Recognizing this, the government has supported many programs to preserve Komi culture and its language, which is now a required subject for study in schools.

Influence of Pitirim Sorokin's Studies in Japan

This year's Congress of International Sociological Association (ISA) takes place in Yokohama (Japan) from July 13th to July 19th. Its subject for 2014 is given as "Facing an Unequal World: Challenges for Global Sociology." Vice-President of ISA Raquel Sosa emphasized the importance of studies that go beyond the boundaries of one discipline, which are "organically plural" in current sociological terms. She finds that studies having a more "macro" outlook are better able to offer solutions to major challenges of the present-day world than those based on a more narrow, or specialist perspective.

Such a vision surely encourages revisiting Pitirim Sorokin's ideas regarding integralism in the social sciences as well as his studies aimed "at preservation of human life and societies." How Sorokin's ideas have been received in Japanese social science may be of current interest considering that this Congress is to meet in Japan.

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How Well is Sorokin's Name Known in Russia and Neighboring Lands?

During his life in the United States, Pitirim Sorokin was often asked for his views on social, cultural, and political issues by newspaper reporters and authors writing for periodicals, so that his name became fairly well known to educated members of the general public. In 2014, the 125th anniversary of his birth, this no longer is true here, but in Russia his name recognition has gradually increased during the period following the collapse of Soviet Russia. One way to estimate how well present-day Russians have been exposed to his name and to aspects of his legacy is through use of the Russian-language internet search engine yandex.ru. and examination of the references obtained. Using the entry "Pitirim Sorokin 125" over 1000 references were found, and about 200 when restricted to the one month period enclosing his birth date (January 10-February 10).

About half of the references came from various places in the Komi Republic, Sorokin's birthplace and the site of celebrations during his 125th year [see below]. The remaining came from a wide geographical area: Moscow and St. Petersburg, Central Russia (Ivanovo and Arzamas), Northern Russia (Murmansk, Archangelsk, Novgorod, Yarensk), Siberia (Tom'), Ukraine (Kharkov), and Northern Kazakhstan (Pavlodar). About 60 percent of these references originated from various news agencies, about 30 percent came from on-line library sites or book stores and included term papers posted by promising students as well as other ready-made "products" for sale to lazy ones less keen on their course work. The remaining 10 percent contained links to social media forums, interviews, announcements of book exhibits, and analytical materials where Sorokin's name appears.

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