Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chapter 17 - Dear Dear Old Men: Part 1 - Introduction

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

As Korzybski would insist throughout his life, without Mira’s encouragement and help he would not have written his first book nor developed his work afterwards. Indeed, as he often stated, he wrote primarily for her. Without her to motivate him, he said he would have likely gone back to Poland and—at most—possibly written a book in the style of “Let the Dead Be Heard”. Perhaps.

But Alfred was clearly not indifferent to his own formulations. His enthusiasm comes through in his writing, his letters, and the reports of other people. It seems clear; he too was struck with the implications of what he had come up with. At a certain point, he developed his work not only because of Mira’s pushing but because he had his own, not inconsiderable, internal push as well.

He wanted a science of man, more specifically a science and art of human engineering. Although his formulation of time-binding was certainly not without precedents, it seemed to him he had made a genuine advance toward such a science and art—an advance in the mathematical ‘spirit’. The sharp term “time-binding” pointed to what seemed the main distinction between the separate classes of humans and animals. His exponential formula for human progress seemed to quantitatively show the entirely different dimension of life humans lived in. But he knew he needed help—not only with editing his English prose.

Perhaps he recalled his final exam back in engineering school, when he and his professor belatedly discovered his theoretical machine, devised on the blackboard, couldn’t possibly work. He wanted someone competent to check what he had done. Through contacts—perhaps by way of Amy—Alfred got a letter of introduction to the University of Chicago mathematician E. H. Moore. By the beginning of July 1920, having completed his manuscript, he and Mira left Lees Summit for New York via Chicago.They checked into the Morrison Hotel there and Alfred went to see Moore.

A world-renowned mathematician, Moore had served as Vice-President and President of the American Mathematical Society. Korzybski seemed to have no difficulty getting an appointment. Moore glanced through the manuscript quickly, immediately taking note of the 
PRT formula. Though Moore seemed intrigued, he honestly told Alfred he had no time to read the whole thing, so Alfred spent the next half hour explaining human engineering and time-binding to him. Moore found it interesting but protested he was not competent to judge Alfred’s idea. He did refer Alfred to Professor Cassius J. Keyser at Columbia University in New York, and wrote a letter of introduction. Alfred felt encouraged. (1)

While in Chicago, Alfred and Mira also met a man named Murray Schloss who had organized something called the “Hilltop Club” where Alfred gave a talk. The club’s purpose was to provide “An interchange, propaganda place, and clearing house for all manner of movements, Philosophies, Organizations and Practical Projects that AIM FUNDAMENTALLY at a Better Age.”(2)  As Alfred and Mira had already discovered, post-World War I America was full of educated people trying to make sense of the war and its aftermath and looking for answers to social problems. Indeed for several years, beginning in 1919, Mira had a “black book” where the two of them kept names and clippings of anyone who seemed to have ‘ideas’ related to Alfred’s. Eventually they stopped bothering with this, since they found many of these individuals had little interest in Alfred’s work. But the people at the Hilltop Club certainly seemed interested and gave him his first public forum to speak about time-binding.

At the end of July, Alfred and Mira, with their multiple trunks and suitcases, took a train to New York City. In a few days, they had found a simple apartment at 1 University Place in Greenwich Village. On August 6, within a week of settling in, Alfred sent a letter to Cassius Keyser—together with Moore’s introduction and a copy of his manuscript

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
1. Korzybski 1947, p. 216. 

2. The Hilltop Club, “Purposes, Principles, Procedures”. AKDA 32.697. 

Part 2

1 comment:

Bob Kent said...

Bruce: My name is Bob Kent and I am writing an article about Murray Schloss. Can you provide me with a source of your reference to Alfred meeting Murray at the Hill Top Club and also a copy of the rules and procedures of the club as noted in reference 2 in chapter 17. Murray also formed Hill Top Clubs in other Cities including Los Angeles.

Bob Kent
Environmental and Western History
Menifee, Ca