Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Chapter 25 - "The Brotherhood Of Doctrines": Part 3 - Fate and Feedback

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.

Alfred saw huge implications in Keyser’s psychological approach to mathematics, not only for mathematical/scientific practice but for understanding and dealing with problems of human behavior in general. Logical fate highlighted the role of doctrines, not only in science and mathematics but also in personal life. As part of what Korzybski was calling his physiological point of view, an individual’s internally-held postulates (doctrines, beliefs, etc.) significantly determined that individual’s behavior, affecting their ‘emotions’, physiology, etc. To apply this postulational approach, (a sine qua non of human engineering for Alfred) a person would have to look within, i.e., make a detailed internal self-examination of his attitudes in the manner, for example, Alfred had used to examine and challenge his own previous antisemitic views. As he had already formulated in his “spiral theory” in the Biology Appendix in Manhood, ‘thought’ influenced physiology and behavior and, thereby, subsequent ‘thought’. 

The notion of logical fate did not provide a fully detailed theory of psychology. But what it suggested clashed with the stimulus-response approach of environmental determinism (behaviorism) becoming more and more popular in psychology departments around the United States in the first half of the 20th century. Alfred would early and openly criticize behaviorism. Despite this, he also later sought to show the connection of his formulations to those of Pavlov (as well as to those of Freud).

Unfortunately, a psychological theory adequate for accommodating Korzybski’s work did not appear until some twenty years after his death, with perceptual control theory (PCT), William T. Powers’ rigorous application of feedback theory to human behavior first published in book form in 1973 in Powers’ Behavior: The Control of Perception. According to PCT, every human (indeed every living thing)—as a negative feedback control system—controls his or her own inputs or perceptions, i.e., behaves in such a way so as to establish intended states of affairs. Circular—more exactly, spiral—causation governs its workings. Continuous signals from the environment (negative feedback) are received and compared to an intention; behavior then ongoingly gets modified as needed to produce the intended state. Simply stated: “We act to bring about (or maintain) what we want.”(6) What we want (our intentions/purposes/goals) are arranged in a hierarchy of increasing complexity and generality. For humans, the highest levels of intention—those of what Powers calls Principles and Systems Concepts (one’s basic beliefs, doctrines, self-image, etc.)—provide the most general formulations of what we want and so direct a person’s general behavior in order to produce the desired perceptions—logical fate redux. If anything, the ‘response’ controls the ‘stimulus’ not the other way around.

Korzybski, who had long emphasized the importance of circular causation in human behavior (his spiral theory), grabbed onto the notion of feedback when he became aware of it in the late 1940s, calling Norbert Wiener’s elaboration of it in Cybernetics “a turning-leaf in the history of human evolution and socio-cultural adjustment.”(7) But during his lifetime, as the stimulus-response model became pervasive in academic psychology and elsewhere, Korzybski’s work seemed destined to appeal mostly to those students of human behavior who rejected behaviorism.

While Alfred was pondering the implications of the premise that we are guided by our premises, he and Mira were preparing to leave their physical premises in southern California. Since Ritter had left La Jolla in mid-March for business in Berkeley and Washington, Alfred’s main reason for staying at the Scripps Institute—his conferences with Ritter—had disappeared. Then too, he felt frustrated with the attitudes of many of the other biologists at Scripps, who didn’t seem to get what he was driving at—except for George McEwen. Alfred had loaned him a copy of Mathematical Philosophy and McEwen seemed smitten. Alfred wanted to promote 
Mathematical Philosophy as much as he could. He was passing out and mailing flyers for Keyser’s book, and discussing it at every opportunity in letters and in person. But given that Keyser had bestowed so much attention to Alfred’s work, Alfred did not think it wise for him to submit his own review of the book to a major publication like Science. Instead, he and McEwen came up with a plan to write a joint review (Alfred would mainly guide and advise) that they would submit to Science under McEwen’s name. They began to meet about the project.

Toward the end of March, Alfred also had a five-hour interview with H. L. (Roy) Haywood, an ex-minister and Freemason living in National City, just south of San Diego. Haywood had become the editor of The Builder, a nationally-published monthly journal for students of Freemasonry published by the National Masonic Research Society in Animosa, Iowa. Haywood, who was planning to move to Animosa, had learned about Korzybski from his friends the Gronbergs, owners of the Artemsia Book Shop in San Diego, who arranged for the two men to meet. They became lifelong friends with Roy later serving as one of the editorial readers of Science and Sanity. Haywood was much taken both with the notions of time-binding and of logical fate. Alfred gave him a copy of Manhood, which Haywood reviewed in the August 1922 issue of 
The Builder. Alfred also had a copy of Mathematical Philosophy sent to Haywood who read it enthusiastically and reviewed it for the October 1922 issue. For Haywood, the connection between Freemasonry and Korzybski’s and Keysers’s work seemed clear.(8)

By the beginning of April, Mira and Alfred’s plans were set. They would head east at the end of the month. Mira had some business in Los Angeles and preceded Alfred there, staying at the Gates Hotel. Alfred left his cabin on the beach about a week later, traveling to Los Angeles with McEwen, with whom he had a number of meetings during his first week in the city. The two men read Keyser’s book together and worked on McEwen’s review for Science. Alfred also spoke at a meeting of the Southwestern Philosophical Association at Occidental College. After McEwen’s return to La Jolla, Alfred and Mira busied themselves with packing and with meetings and visits with friends.

Harry Bateman of the Caltech Math department had invited Alfred to speak there in mid-April. Alfred addressed about two dozen faculty and students from the math, physics, and chemistry departments. He wrote to Keyser about his lecture and about one of the scientists he met there, Paul Epstein, who had recently come to Caltech from Europe to teach theoretical physics:
I hope my lecture was a success. I spoke one hour and half, but nobody did want to go away, and I had to speak more. Comments of Bateman and Epstein were very favorable. Bateman is a Cambridge man. Epstein is a Polish Jew educated in Germany a friend of Einstein and a new star on the physicomathematical firmament, his discoveries in the quantum theory, I was told by Millikan are epoch making. Of course he is a relativist, but I was amazed to find his “philosophy” has not been affected at all by the theory of relativity, he still is a mixture of an absolutist and a relativist. I had to speak about the Einstein revolution as well, and I was told a complement by E. that I said things that were new to him. (9) 

During this time, Alfred also made a trip to the town of Fullerton, south of Los Angeles, to tour a gasoline processing plant there run by the redundantly named Texas Gasoline Company of Texas. ‘Naturally’ the company had its headquarters in San Diego where Alfred and Mira had become friendly with Frank Avery, the secretary of the company, and Avery’s wife Sally. Alfred and Mira met with them socially and also became interested in investing in the enterprise which had at least two processing plants, the one in Fullerton and the other actually in Texas. Alfred had a friendly correspondence with both Avery, and J. Arthur Thompson, an L.A. real estate developer, who served as the company’s Vice President. Alfred and Mira had even looked into getting a bank loan, using some of Mira’s stock certificates in other companies as collateral, in order to get the money needed to become stockholders. But it doesn’t appear that they made the investment. They did maintain contact with the Averys, however. Within the next decade, Frank died but the Korzybskis continued to correspond with Sally, who later came east to visit them when they lived in Brooklyn. Finally on April 23, Alfred and Mira, with their 775 pounds of luggage, boarded the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe bound for Salt Lake City, through Denver, to Kansas City, Missouri. (10)

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. 
6. Robertson, p. 230. Korzybski would have felt delighted to know that his work influenced Powers, who wrote the following to me on 11/17/2009: 
“...when I was in high school, a hopeless SF [science fiction] addict, I read A. E. van Vogt’s The World of Null-A and was intrigued to find that the chapter quotes were from a real book, Science and Sanity by our mutual friend. I rushed to the library and read the whole thing, and from then on, the word was not the object and the map was not the territory. I took courses in General Semantics in college from Lee and Hayakawa. These experiences had a definite influence on my thinking when the development of PCT [Perceptual Control Theory] began, in around 1953.” Comment on “Historic Breakthrough Promises Major Progress Throughout the Life Sciences 
7. Korzybski qtd. by M. Kendig in “Book Comments”, General Semantics Bulletin 1 & 2, p. 46. 

 8. “Introduction by the Editor of “The Brotherhood of Doctrines”. The Builder Magazine, April 1924, Volume X – Number 4 in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 53. 

9. AK to C. J. Keyser, 4/23/1922. AKDA 8.326. 

10. “775 pounds of luggage”, Jas. B. Duffy (Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe General Passenger Agent) to AK, 5/11/1922. AKDA 8.214. 

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