Sunday, August 22, 2010

"My Dear Russell": Korzybski and Bertrand Russell Part III

Korzybski felt a deep indebtedness to Bertrand Russell for his theoretical insights (for years he kept a small photographic portrait of Russell, along with one of Einstein, on his office wall). The two men carried on an intermittent correspondence for years, eventually meeting face-to-face in 1939 when Russell, in Chicago, came for a brief visit to the Institute of General Semantics to see Korzybski there.

Afterwards, although, their correspondence remained polite, Alfred gradually began to vent more of his frustrations to Russell (it would have been out of character for him not to speak bluntly and Russell had demonstrated that he hadn't bothered much with Korzybski's work). In a lengthy letter to Russell in 1946 (perhaps the last one he wrote to him), Korzybski said: 
"Some of my students in London told me some amusing gossips that my Science and Sanity was so against your grain that you threw the book into the Atlantic. Should this be true, it would be sad news, because your great work in Mathematical Foundations is at the very core of a non-aristotelian revision...Well, my dear Russell, your bloody ‘types’ if translated…and applied in daily life do work…Your behavior and platonic verbal fictions, no matterhow clever, and ‘academic’, are read by few ‘intellectuals’, but they cannot be workable, and so cannot be applied in general education. Yet your ‘types’ gave a formulation in crisp terms. I worked it out in a language applicable to life, and when people are trained in it in childlike terms, which applied even to ‘mentally’ ill it works astonishingly…"(1) 

In a short note Russell told Korzybski that he had heard the story too but assured him but that he had not thrown Science and Sanity into the Atlantic. (2)

1.  A.K. to Russell, 7/27/1946. IGS Archives. 
2.  B. Russell to A.K., 8/9/[1946]. IGS Archives. 


Ben said...

The Gulf of Mexico then? :)


Bruce I. Kodish said...