Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chapter 22 - "Just Work, Work, Work": Part 4 - Sweet, Sweet Delights of Human Relations

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 the summer progressed, Mira was finishing up whatever work she had found in Santa Barbara.They planned for her to rejoin Alfred at the start of September. Then they would head to southern California where they might find better painting opportunities for her. From there they planned to make their way back across the country, visiting Mira’s sister in Kansas City, and earning what money they could with a few painting commissions for her and lectures for Alfred before going on to New York City, and then to Europe. In the meantime Alfred was working on publicity for Manhood, working on his new book project, and making friends—and a few enemies.

Soon after they came to San Francisco in May, Alfred had met biologist Calvin B. Bridges, a brilliant young colleague of geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan in their pioneering experimental work exploring the mechanism of heredity in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Bridges had studied and worked with Morgan for a number of years in Columbia University’s famed “fly room” where he had already made a number of major discoveries of his own, and co-authored several books and papers with Morgan. He was known as one of the brightest and most productive men in Morgan’s lab. Indeed Morgan recognized this, later sharing the prize money of his 1933 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Bridges and Bridges’ lab colleague, A. H. Sturtevant. Bridges—considered a major figure in the history of genetics—might have gone on himself to win the Nobel Prize but unfortunately died suddenly from a heart infection in 1938 before the age of 50.

Both Bridges and Morgan were finishing extended working visits in the Bay Area when Alfred arrived there. Bridges, in Berkeley with his family, was planning to soon return to New York. Alfred bowled him over. After only a short time, Bridges had read a draft of Manhood (about a month prior to the publication of the book), and became an immediate fan of Korzybski’s work. The two men would remain good friends until Bridges’ death.
Calvin Blackman Bridges (1927)

Korzybski met Morgan around the time he met Bridges. Unlike Bridges, Morgan seems to have taken an immediate dislike to Alfred. After Manhood was published, Alfred learned from Bridges that Morgan often saw the book on Bridges’ desk and seemed compelled to have a “daily kick at it, moral as well as Physical, he had to take it in his hands, curse it and throw it on the table”.(9) Wishing to avoid a confrontation with Morgan, Alfred avoided him when visiting Bridges at the biology lab where they were working. But one day, he found himself face-to-face with Morgan, who made some snide remarks about the people who had provided supportive comments for the cover of the book. With what he described as cold politeness, Korzybski told Morgan, “[S]ome of those people THINK occasionally…if the study even of flies involves SOME thinking, therefore even a fly master should be interested in CORRECT thinking.”(10) It’s unlikely Alfred could have said anything to improve Morgan’s estimation of him or his work. This statement certainly didn’t.

Bridges was preparing to return to New York with his family. Before he left, Alfred consulted with him on a pressing concern. Alfred and Mira badly wanted to make a baby and hadn’t succeeded. Although both were in their 40s (with Mira almost 50) Alfred’s sperm had ‘passed’ whatever fertility test was done at the time. Mira was apparently fertile, as she was still having a period. Doctors examining her had said her cervix was narrowed and that this anatomical variation might make it more difficult for her to conceive. Bridges, a professional biologist and a ‘progressive’ in politics, had more than a passing interest in the birth control movement, eugenics, woman’s rights, etc. and had apparently already done some practical consulting work on this kind of problem. When he got back to New York, he promised to make up a kit for Alfred and Mira involving a suction tube they could use for inserting Alfred’s semen deeper into her womb after intercourse, thus increasing the probability of conception.

Before he left, Bridges also introduced Alfred to Cora Lenore Williams, an educator in Berkeley who would become a friend to both Alfred and Mira and a booster of his work. Miss Williams operated the Williams Institute of Creative Education, a private school located at the landmark Spring Mansion in the Berkeley hills.(11) Miss Williams’ school, influenced by the progressive education movement of John Dewey and others, has been described as “a tony elementary and secondary school known for its focus on languages, poetry, music, and literature.”(12) Miss Williams, who had studied and taught mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, wanted her students to be exposed to mathematics and the sciences as well. She soon became a fan of Korzybski’s work. (He gave her a copy of Manhood after he met her.) Miss Williams invited Alfred to speak at her school soon after they met in August. He did so and then returned several times by himself and with Mira. Inspired by Manhood, Miss Williams thought time-binding could be made to form the basis for a new educational philosophy and over the next year wrote several reviews and articles on the subject. Alfred felt grateful for her “push”. He kept contact with her for many years. (The Williams Institute later became a junior college, and Alfred gave a number of presentations there, including seminars, after Science and Sanity was published.)
From Alfred Korzybski Scrapbook,
AKDA 2.705

At the beginning of September 1921, Mira returned. Alfred had already moved out of his room at Luella Twining’s and rented another apartment in San Francisco. Delighted to be together again, Alfred and Mira probably took as many opportunities as they could to use the kit Bridges had sent them. Mira had gotten a lucrative portrait commission painting members of the Spreckel family, San Francisco-area multi-millionaires known as the “sugar kings”. Her work would keep them in the city for another month or so. As soon as she was done they would leave for Southern California.

In August, Alfred had met the zoologist William Emerson Ritter, who had founded the Scripps Institute for Biological Research (later to become the Scripps Institution for Oceanography) in La Jolla, just north of San Diego. Korzybski had given Ritter, who was visiting Berkeley, a copy of Manhood. Ritter, much interested in the theoretical framework and philosophy of biology, became fascinated with the implications of time-binding and invited Alfred to come down to La Jolla for some personal discussions and conferences at the Scripps Institute.

This seemed fine to Alfred. For the time being, he had decided to stop writing. As he had written to Luella Twining previously, he still felt “[t]he world needs a complete scientific REVOLUTION, to bring science to sanity again.”(13) But the issues involved with connecting relativity, mathematical logic, etc., with the foundations of human engineering had begun to appear more complex than he had previously imagined. In relation to what he wanted to do, his understanding was not ripe. He decided for the present to do more reading, note-taking, and cogitating. Ritter, who had written a two-volume work on “The Unity of the Organism” and was writing a book on the natural history of human intelligence, seemed to have some parallel interests. Alfred was sure he could learn some things from Ritter relevant to his own research. The two men began a serious correspondence of multi-paged, theoretically-laced letters. (For Korzybski, who liked to work out his ideas in letters, this was not unusual.) Alfred was eager to get down to La Jolla for face-to-face time with the zoologist. He and Mira hoped she would be able to find some good commissions once they got to Southern California. And some speaking engagements, and other opportunities involving some income, might also arise for him.

In the meantime, in September the first public controversy concerning Korzybski’s work occurred. He described the gist of it in his 1947 memoir:
There was a curious thing which happened in Berkeley. It was an ex-engineer, Mr. Smyth. Oh, he wrote whole pages in a Berkeley paper attacking my work from the point of view that everything I had to say in my Manhood, was taken, stolen directly from his work. As a matter of fact I never saw [his work.] …I never knew his work, and I believe he actually produced nothing. His name is unknown. Just a crank. But the curious part of it is that that fellow Smyth, …He somehow was friendly with some most important mathematical logician, B. A. Bernstein who is still [in 1947] in the field an important man. He’s a real important man. And he backed Smyth against Manhood of Humanity. And they were some sort of friends and since I never met Bernstein, and since he was my enemy, and he’s really an important man, personally I don’t know him, but you can important mathematician, real important, a mathematical logician in the University of California which means an important institution, and if he can be connected with a crank and because of the opinion of the crank, get against me, those are sweet, sweet delights of human relations. (14)

In response to Smyth and Bernstein’s attacks, Walter Polakov wrote a letter to the editor of the Berkeley paper and Keyser wrote to Bernstein, attempting to explain Korzybski’s theory. After writing a letter to the Berkeley paper as well, Alfred decided the best thing he could do would be to ignore the attacks, although he was glad Walter and Keyser had risen to his defense. In October, as he and Mira were preparing to leave the San Francisco area for southern California, Alfred’s confidence was also bolstered by some distinguished visitors: Professor Mellen Woodman Haskell, Dean of the Mathematics Department at the University of California, Berkeley, and his wife; along with Florian Cajori, who held the history of mathematics chair at Berkeley, and Cajori’s wife. Both mathematicians thought highly of Manhood. Haskell, whom Alfred had already met by means of Keyser, described how he had defended Korzybski’s work against Bernstein, a former graduate student of his, at a faculty presentation. Korzybski and Cajori exchanged autographed copies of their books.(15) 

Around this time in New York, Keyser and Bridges both wrote to Alfred about more ‘sweet delights’ from T. H. Morgan, who by that time had also returned to New York City. Keyser reported that Morgan was bad-mouthing Korzybski at Columbia faculty gatherings.(16) Morgan seemed to be pursuing some kind of personal campaign against Korzybski. Bridges wrote that Morgan had come up to psychiatrist Stuart Paton at an International Eugenics Congress in New York and upbraided Paton for having written a favorable review of Manhood. Bridges told Alfred he approached Paton afterwards and told him to ignore Morgan’s remarks.(17) 

This kind of behavior must have had at least a damping effect on Korzybski’s dreams of universal agreement. He had already expressed to Polakov the hope that the Time-Binding Club might serve as a unifying core for an eventual worldwide organization of interested laypeople and, in particular, scientists. But how could the scientists of the world unite with the close-minded, petty actions of influential men like Bernstein and Morgan standing in the way? What they were doing in relation to him seemed anything but scientific in attitude. Throughout his career he would encounter others, like these two men, who seemed to take offense at some aspect of him and his work. But he was learning to become immune to petty criticisms.

The enthusiasm of friends like Keyser, Polakov, Bridges, and Williams, and of people he met like Ritter, Haskell, and Cajori, seemed sufficient to keep him from getting discouraged. He also took heart that others whom he hadn’t met, including influential people in the sciences, were reading his book and finding it valuable. For example, in the fall of 1921 George Hale, the founder of the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, wrote to Mira (whom he had met through a mutual friend) about his positive impressions of Manhood of Humanity after a first reading.(18) In the next few years, Alfred and Mira would also meet other people who would express enthusiasm about the book, displayed proudly and prominently on their sitting-room tables, with its pages uncut and unread. He was not going to let being a ‘famous author’ go to his head. 

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. 
9. AK to C. J. Keyser, 10/7/1921. AKDA 12.92. 

10. AK to Keyser, 10/7/1921. AKDA 12.92. 

11. “Berkeley Private School Attracts Wide Attention”. Berkeley Daily Gazette, 8/16/1921. AKDA 1.129. 

12. (accessed Oct. 16, 2006). [See Also:]

13. AK to Luella Twining, 7/18/1921. AKDA 11.172. 

14. Korzybski 1947, pp. 226–227. 

15. AK to C. J. Keyser, 10/24/1921. AKDA 11.756. 

16. C. J. Keyser to AK, 10/11/21. AKDA 6.425. 

17. C. B. Bridges to AK, 10/4/1921. AKDA 6.445. 

18. “[Korzybski] has certainly done a great service by defining so clearly and emphatically the chief characteristic of man—his time-binding capacity. I can appreciate this in some measure, though I cannot claim competence to follow all his reasoning or to estimate the probable practical bearing of his conclusions. If applied literally, they would apparently involve revolutionary changes, but whether these are feasible or even in all respects desirable is another matter.” George Hale to MEK, 10/21/1921. AKDA 6.471.

< Part 3      Part 5 >

No comments: