Name: Stoyan Kurtev
AUBG Class of: 1995
Major: Double major in Computer Science and Business Administration
Graduate/Advanced degree: MA in Philosophy, PhD in Neuroscience
Home country: Bulgaria
Current occupation: Scientist (Research Fellow)
• Where do we find you at this moment?
At Coventry University in the UK, but soon to move on to new opportunities.
• What was your first destination after AUBG? Describe your career path.
Following up from my workstudy at the accounting office at AUBG, I worked for about 3 years for George Soros’s Open Society Foundation installing accounting software systems in countries in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. But my passion was in science and philosophy, so I left my job and went on to study philosophy and cognitive science at Binghamton University in NY, USA. It turned out that I can also take courses as an exchange student at Cornell University, which was nearby, so I spent around two years there and got an MA degree in philosophy. Then I moved on to study for a PhD in neuroscience at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. After graduating (finally, after 12 years of studies in higher education!) I worked as postdoc in psychology at the University of Leicester on two occasions and then as research technician and finally as research fellow at Coventry University in the UK, where I am now.
• How have the years at AUBG prepared you for your career?
Unfortunately, AUBG did not offer at the time the subjects that I was really interested in, such as philosophy, physics and psychology/neuroscience, but studying computer science was interesting too, and it turned out to be very beneficial for my future career as a scientist, because even in psychology experimental work involves using computers and specialized equipment, like EEG, eye-tracking and neurophysiology systems, and programming and technical skills are a valuable asset which only few people in this discipline possess. Having had the opportunity to get Western style education, especially in the early 90’s, made a world of a difference to me and opened many opportunities. Maybe I would have been able to achieve something similar with education obtained from a Bulgarian university, but I’m sure it would have been a lot more difficult, even if only because my knowledge of English would have been poorer, never mind the knowledge in the subjects I studied.
• What class had the most significant impact on you?
The courses on Introductory Physics, philosophy (Language, Thought and Reality) and Artificial Intelligence Programming felt special, I really enjoyed them and I felt like this is what I really want to study. I found most of the other courses interesting too, but I would not say I would have chosen to study them if I had the option to take courses like those that I really liked. However, learning the basics of programming and computing turned out to be important for my work later on, so I should include also courses like Data Base Systems, Fundamentals of Programming Languages, Discrete Structures and Finite Mathematics as having significant impact on my future career. And, of course, everything else that I studied is not lost, it broadened my world view and I think I am one of those who have benefited more from the liberal arts model of education than what I would have benefited from the traditional model.
• Knowing what you know now, what would you want to tell your student self? If you could change something back what would it be?
I would not want to change myself as much as I would want to change the university from what it was back then to what it is now. I think now AUBG has a lot more to offer, although the students nowadays also have a lot more choice of educational institutions and formats of study. Although our generation is fond of the romanticism and pioneering spirit that prevailed during our time as students, I would have preferred to be student now, with all the amenities of modern life and the new, expanded curriculum that AUBG has to offer. I would be studying for a double major in psychology and physics and I would be thoroughly enjoying it!
• What are the things that make you tick? What is your greatest passion or motivation at present?
I went to study philosophy and sciences related to the brain because I am really interested in the fundamental questions of existence – the most profound one that I can think of is what is reality? and this is what I have been trying to understand in the past 20 years. I believe I have made great progress and I have an answer that is satisfactory at least to myself. The key to understanding what is reality is understanding everything that exists through the concept of representation. I have described how that works both for physical particles that are the constituents of matter and also for the brain and consciousness in my book “What is the World,” which I self-published in 2013. (For those who are interested it is available from the publisher as an e-book for only $3.99 and on Amazon UK and Amazon US as e-book and printed version.) My views have matured since then, and I am currently trying to develop an even more advanced theoretical framework that would allow me to understand in more practical terms how exactly the conscious processes work inside the brain in order to model them with computer simulations. According to me, that has a lot to do with quantum physics (which is a minority view among researchers working on these topics), and it will become possible to be realized only after we have developed viable quantum computers. However, it would not go in vain to use one’s imagination and to try to anticipate the new capabilities that will be brought about by future developments in technology in order to understand how one can create artificial consciousness, of the same kind as the naturally occurring one in the human brain. That for me is the ultimate frontier in science.
• Future projects and plans that you look forward to with anticipation?
I believe I have made some discoveries in data from typical cognitive psychology experiments that indicate the possibility of quantum-level processes in the brain on the micro-scale affecting behavior on the macro-scale and my immediate goal is to publish those results. That would probably allow me to get a proper academic job and to earn my living by doing research. Should I have enough time and funding, I would like to write a sequel to my first book, which would include all my new ideas that have emerged in the meantime. I believe that would be an even more valuable contribution to science than my experimental findings.
• May fellow alumni keep in touch with you for mentorship and career advice? (optional)
Yes, of course! Especially those who have shared interests with mine.