Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chapter 21 - Leibniz's Dreams: Part 2 - Leibniz's Dreams

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.

To what extent Alfred knew of Leibniz’s work before meeting Keyser remains unknown. But Keyser had referred to Leibniz and his dreams in his own writings. Undoubtedly by the summer of 1921, Alfred had at least seen these references in his readings of Keyser’s work. In Leibniz, Alfred sensed a kindred spirit and he went on to study Leibniz’s life and work. 

Leibniz was born in 1646 at the tail-end of the Thirty-Years War in Germany. Although he received a doctorate in jurisprudence and had been offered a university professorship, Leibniz spent most of his professional life in the service of German princes, first the Elector of Mainz, and then two successive Dukes of Hanover. These latter patrons deemed that the most significant work that one of the greatest intellects in human history could do, was to write a chronicle of the Hanover family. (The family now seems important mainly because of its connection to Leibniz.) In his ‘spare time’, among other accomplishments, Leibniz managed to invent the differential and integral calculus (independently of Isaac Newton), founded the disciplines of symbolic logic and analysis situs, i.e., topology (although he failed to develop either of these to any significant extent), and carried on extensive scientific-philosophical and diplomatic activities and correspondence throughout Europe.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)
Perhaps at least in part because of the era of European disharmony he had been born into, Leibniz was obsessed with dreams of universalism and unification. One of his dreams was of universal peace in Christian Europe. He had floated a scheme for unifying the Protestants and Catholics (at least in Germany) after more than a century of conflict since the start of the Reformation. The scheme never got off the ground. He also wanted to unify the various areas of knowledge. He wrote, “The entire body of the sciences may be regarded as an ocean, continuous everywheres and without a break or division.”(7) He felt strongly that the sciences were the “greatest treasure of mankind”.(8) In addition, his experience as a mining engineer in the Harz Mountains of Germany may have reinforced his conviction about the necessity of uniting theory and practice in order to gain the greatest benefit from this treasure.

As the Duke of Hanover’s librarian he had access to texts from all over Europe and even China. As an inventor cum mathematician cum scientist he had been stimulated and encouraged by his meetings with some of the age’s best “natural philosophers”. These experiences fed further dreams of the unification of the sciences and scientists. While living in Paris and visiting London, he had become a member of both the French Academy and the Royal Society of London. This inspired him to work at establishing other societies in Europe for the sharing and dissemination of scientific knowledge. In this regard, he helped found the Prussian Academy in Berlin and before his death in 1716, corresponded with Tsar Peter the Great, in an effort to found a Russian Academy in St. Petersburg.

Scientific unity could be promoted in other ways too. Leibniz dreamt of a universal encyclopedia. Even at the end of the 17th Century he was worrying about the effects of the “horrible mass of books which keeps on growing” and “the indefinite multitude of authors”.(9) 
…[W]ith books continuing to increase in number, we shall be wearied by their confusion…some day a great, free and curious prince, a glorious amateur, or perhaps himself a learned man, understanding the importance of the matter, will cause to undertake under the best auspices what Alexander the Great commanded Aristotle to do with the natural sciences,…namely that the quintessence of the best books be extracted and joined to the best observations, not yet written, of the most expert in each profession, in order to build systems of solid knowledge for promoting man’s happiness. …such a work would be a most durable and great monument of his glory and constitute an incomparable debt which all mankind would owe him. (10) 

Such a system, he speculated, could lead to new discoveries “by examining each science with the effort necessary to discover its principles of discovery, which once combined with some higher or general science (namely, the art of discovery), may suffice to deduce all the rest or at least the most useful truths without needing to burden the mind with too many precepts.”(11) 

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. 
7. Leibniz 1979 (1951), “The Horizon of Human Knowledge [After 1690]”, p.73. 

8. Ibid, “Precepts For Advancing The Sciences And Arts” [1680], p. 33. 

9. Ibid., pp. 29–30. 

10. Ibid., p. 32. 

11. Ibid., pp. 39-40. 

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