Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chapter 24 - A Visitor From Mars: Part 3 - The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge

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.

The contacts, correspondence, and mutual recognition between Korzybski and the people he was meeting in the winter of 1921-22 gives a reasonable picture of the kinds of relations he had with scientists and other brain-workers throughout his career. From the beginnings of his efforts, he saw what he was attempting to do—to found a new field, human engineering (as he was calling his efforts then)—as a scientific enterprise. Despite attempts later on by people like journalist Martin Gardner to depict him otherwise, Korzybski didn’t isolate himself from, nor was he isolated by, the scientific community. He sought and received advice, approval, and criticism from many of the leading scientists and mathematicians of his day. Nonetheless, it was apparent even in La Jolla that what he was doing was outside the realm of conventional scientific categories.

Since Korzybski was trained as an engineer, he had no credentials in the academic fields his work seemed to touch upon the most. He had called it “mathematical sociology” to start with, which didn’t help much. But his coinage of “human engineering” didn’t fit into many people’s conceptual boxes of engineering either. Figuring out what he was up to was a problem for a number of the people with whom he came in contact. It was a problem for Alfred as well. The scope of Korzybski’s concerns—so general yet so practical—attracted some people but puzzled, or even repelled, others.

Korzybski’s fellow Pole, sociologist Florian Znaniecki, discussed the various kinds of scientific workers in his 1940 book, The Social Role of the Man of Knowledge. In Znaniecki’s terms, the role Korzybski had taken followed the path of the scientific “explorer”, a “creator of new knowledge”. “All new developments in the history of knowledge”, Znaniecki wrote, “have been due to those scientists who did more in their social roles than their circles wanted and expected them to do.”(12) According to Znaniecki, two broad and overlapping areas were open for scientific explorers: the discovery of new facts and the discovery of new problems. Although Korzybski had studied the facts of history—including that of scientific and technological developments—and made use of accepted facts from the scientific studies of others, he had not discovered new facts. Instead, with his theory of time-binding, he had discovered a new way of looking at what was already known. His theory led to a new set of problems.

If humans by definition ‘bind time’, then every area of human life—including people’s personal lives—is affected by the growth or stagnation of knowledge and its applications. In studying the mechanism of time-binding, Korzybski had begun focusing on people’s methods for gaining knowledge: understanding facts, formulating theories, and approaching problems. So he was interested not only in the content of what mathematicians, scientists, and other scholars had discovered but also in the pathways and pitfalls of their acts of discovery.

In addition, although he was focusing on mathematics and science, especially the exact sciences, he realized that the areas of knowledge relevant to the study of time-binding spanned the humanities and sciences. Indeed, he believed the study of time-binding and its mechanism would help achieve the Leibnizian dream of unifying the various fields of knowledge. At the start of 1922, Alfred wrote the following to H. D. Brasefield, an Oakland, California high school principal interested in his work:
…My aim is to unify science, and give a base for the brainworkers to unite around some constructive scientific as is possible doctrine. As a matter of fact we all speak about the “brotherhood of man” but such thing is impossible as long as we will not have a “brotherhood of doctrines”. Our mental processes are so scattered between the thousands of doctrines which each one is leading somewhere else…The old system is breaking down, what next? No new doctrine is workable for the time being…What [is] the way out? To provide a new method of analysis which would show clearly the valuations and thus help all to unite toward the same end. My book makes obvious that what we need today is more the RE-EDUCATION of THE EDUCATED than the education of the masses…(13) 
In an era of growing specialization, his problem was to find an audience that would consider his unifying vision on its own terms without trying to stuff it into the container of one or another different, and more limited, standard discipline. He had special hopes of gaining the interest of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. But there was no getting around one fact—as a scientific explorer and theoretical synthesizer, it didn’t seem likely the formulator of time-binding would find an adequate home in any particular academic field.

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. 
12. Znaniecki, p. 164. 

13. AK to H. L. Brasefield, 1/5/1922. AKDA 8.691.

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