Thursday, April 22, 2010

Buckminster Fuller on Alfred Korzybski

Buckminster Fuller had at least one meeting with Alfred Korzybski, probably sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s in Chicago. Each man certainly knew of the others' work, although there is no evidence that either man had much influence on the other.

I see Fuller and Korzybski as important 'fellow travelers' on the ever-ascending spiral path of human knowledge and development. Although both had an engineering mentality (not separating knowledge and practice) they had somewhat different concerns. Whereas Fuller (like L. L. Whyte) sought comprehensive knowledge of the structure of the universe in order to develop universal design principles; Korzybski designed universal methods of evaluation based on a comprehensive search to understand the structure of human knowledge. Fuller focused on what is and can be known about the world, though not entirely neglecting the knower. Korzybski focused on what could be known about the knower, not neglecting what is and can be known about the world. If, as Fuller and Korzybski both knew, there exists no known without a knower, Fuller's work and Korzybski's concerns meet somewhere 'in the middle', along the hyphened continuum between the two.

After Korzbyski died in 1950, Fuller joined the teaching staff of the Institute of General Semantics, lecturing for several years at the IGS summer seminar-workshops. In the "Introduction" of his book Synergetics, he had some words to say about Korzybski.
The human brain is a physical mechanism for storing, retrieving, and re-storing again, each special-case experience. The experience is often a packaged concept. Such packages consist of complexedly interrelated and not as-yet differentially analyzed phenomena which, as initially unit cognitions, are potentially reexperienceable. A rose, for instance, grows, has thorns, blossoms, and fragrance, but often is stored in the brain only under the single word-rose.
As Korzybski, the founder of general semantics, pointed out, the consequence of its single-tagging is that the rose becomes reflexively considered by man only as a red, white, or pink device for paying tribute to a beautiful girl, a thoughtful hostess, or last night's deceased acquaintance. The tagging of the complex biological process under the single title rose tends to detour human curiosity from further differentiation of its integral organic operations as well as from consideration of its interecological functionings aboard our planet. We don't know what a rose is, nor what may be its essential and unique cosmic function. Thus for long have we inadvertently deferred potential discovery of the essential roles in Universe that are performed complementarily by many, if not most, of the phenomena we experience. But, goaded by youth, we older ones are now taking second looks at almost everything. And that promises many ultimately favorable surprises. The oldsters do have vast experience banks not available to the youth. Their memory banks, integrated and reviewed, may readily disclose generalized principles of eminent importance.


Kerrick Murray said...

Hey Bruce,

Nice comments on Bucky and Korzybski.

Recently stirred the pot with the structural-integrators. Hope it brings you business.

regards, Kerrick

James Romine said...

Hi Bruce,

Very cool reading your comments on Fuller and Korzybski. No doubt Bucky was very conscious of his abstracting!

¨Since I only see inside of me,
what brain imagines outside me,
it seems to be you may be me,
if that is so there´s only we,
you and me two,
which love makes three,
Universe, perma-embracing It-Them-You-and-We¨

Anonymous said...

I believe Fuller did one of the early Alfred Korzybski memorial lectures. I saw his name on the list but I could not access the transcript. Does anyone know something more about this?

Anonymous said...

Here is the link to the list of memorial lectures. Notice the Fuller lecture is the only one not available in transcript.

Bruce I. Kodish said...

There was no transcript. Charlotte Read requested the notes or text of his AKML speech, but Bucky wasn't able to find it and get it to her. Lost in his piles of stuff perhaps. I know all this because I saw their correspondence and indeed made a copy of it which I have somewhere, lost in my piles of stuff.

Timothy Wilken said...

Buckminster Fuller's 1955 Korzybski Memorial Lecture is online as an audio file at the Stanford University R. Buckminster Fuller Collection.

You have to join to gain access, but it is free.