Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chapter 26 - "Fate And Freedom": Part 2 - "Fate and Freedom"

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.

By the end of November, Alfred and Mira were still not fully packed. Moreover, Alfred was getting ‘distracted’ with invitations to speak. One of them from Henry A. Lane, president of The Detroit Mathematics Club, held particular interest. Lane wrote that most of the members in his organization of high school mathematics teachers had read Manhood of Humanity. Lane knew Keyser, who had told him that Korzybski “would give our Club a thought-provoking lecture.”(8) Would he address their group? How could Alfred resist? 

With openings to speak in January, March, or April, Alfred chose the January 11 date. Even though he would get only travel expenses and a small speaker’s fee, he could use his trip to Detroit as a final opportunity to visit and speak at a few other places in the Midwest—Urbana for instance. He longed to hear the responses of people who might have some sympathy for his emerging ideas about qualitative mathematics, etc., and give him some useful comments. Alfred and Mira once again postponed their departure.

Otto Sprengler, who ran a clipping service Alfred had started to use, had already invited Alfred to speak at an ethnic German literary club in New York City. Sprengler suggested the title, “Fate and Freedom”, based on the subtitle of Mathematical Philosophy.(9) That suited Alfred, since he was already developing related material from the “Brotherhood” article in the lectures he was giving once a week at Polakov’s studio. He would use “Fate and Freedom” as the title of his upcoming Midwest lectures as well. In the meantime, he was working on writing down the ‘backbone’ of his presentations—unusual for him until then, since he liked to speak as extemporaneously as possible.

Significantly, in his reply to Sprengler, Alfred made a specific request to speak to the German group in English. He told Sprengler, “...[S]everal of my foreign languages have been entirely paralysed by the last acquisition namely English, so I could not for the time being lecture in German neither in my own language. For the time being I am able to express myself scientifically only in English.”(10) Sprengler replied that this would not be a problem for his group. Korzybski’s sense of dependence on English for his work probably served as one of the factors that would make it difficult for him to leave the United States and return to Poland to live.

Two of the ideas in “The Brotherhood of Doctrines” loomed as especially significant— “logical fate” and the view that “all man can know is a joint phenomenon of the observer and the observed”. These notions interconnected—you could look at each of them in terms of the other. For example, thinking in terms of logical fate, it seemed clear that the necessity of an observer-observed relationship in any observation served as a basic postulate in the new relativistic worldview Alfred saw developing. Conversely, one of the most important aspects of what any observer contributed to his observations consisted of his framework of ‘logic’ (his postulates, doctrines, beliefs), i.e., logical fate.

As Alfred developed his new lecture material, he was able to bring out details he had cut or hadn’t developed in “Brotherhood”. More connections seemed to unfold, stimulating to be sure but also increasing the possibility of getting lost amidst the ‘thicket’ of formulations. When the lecture was finally published in the following year, Keyser wrote to him, “…I have read carefully your Fate and Freedom and think it excellent. It contains, however, too many [ideas]—the reader will not pause to digest so many.”(11) Perhaps so, but—in a way—that could not be helped. Korzybski was trying to do something of great difficulty. He could only do his best to express his ideas as clearly as possible. He could only hope to find some sympathetic listeners.

Korzybski interwove considerations of logical fate throughout the lecture. He pointed out the circularity in human knowledge: “No matter where we start, we must start with some undefined words which represent some assumptions or postulates. We see that knowledge at every stage presupposes knowledge of those undefined words.”(12) There was no getting around this, as Keyser had pointed out in Mathematical Philosophy: “If he [an author] contend, as sometimes he will contend, that he has defined all his terms and proved all his propositions, then either he is a performer of logical miracles or he is an ass; and, as you know, logical miracles are impossible.”(13) Alfred wanted to make clear that if it wasn’t possible to verbally define all your terms, at least you could try to discover your undefined terms and state them clearly. This was one of the cutting edges where traditional mathematics had begun to shift into Korzybski’s ‘qualitative’ mathematics. In traditional ‘pure’ mathematics, the examination of basic assumptions had become more obvious in the work in mathematical foundations, symbolic logic, etc. In mathematical physics, basic terms and the basic assumptions behind them had also recently begun to undergo major examination. It seemed apparent to Korzybski that such analysis needed to be carried out in everyday life as well as in science.(14) 

Korzybski had thus defined one of his major tasks: to uncover and revise the untenable presuppositions in science and life obstructing time-binding, i.e., the development of human knowledge and fuller human potential. He would make sure to include the diagram he had used before in “Brotherhood”. To consciously make use of logical fate, as the diagram indicated, a limited role existed for logic: to discover and remove the inconsistencies (indicated by the diagonal line), between the results people said they wanted and the basic principles they professed.(15) It was becoming clear, even to him, that he had grabbed a rather ungainly ‘bull’ by the ‘horns’.
Korzybski's Logical Destiny diagram 
from "Fate and Freedom" (

If one of the ‘horns’ was logical fate, the other horn was the observer-observed relation. In this new lecture, Korzybski would delve more deeply into the role of the observer (for Alfred an ‘essential’ aspect of relativity), and the related concepts of abstracting, and what he called the “physiological point of view of mathematics”. Some of his correspondence from this time indicates how much he had been mulling over these factors. 

Lionel Robertson, a friend in Chicago, had written to Alfred after getting a copy of “Brotherhood”, requesting a first step in applying what he had read.(16) In his reply, Alfred indicated that, with regard to understanding the new orientation, he had no shortcuts to offer, only study. He gave Robertson a list of recommended books. One thing seemed clear, he wrote, if talking and thinking were crucial to the time-binding class of life, then how we talk and think had supreme significance. ‘Science’ was in many cases not ‘scientific’ because many ‘scientists’ had neglected this. Scientists needed to unite to investigate and revise their old doctrines. The Einstein theory provided a practical example of such revision. In the light of relativity, ‘space’ and ‘time’ in the Newtonian sense, had lost their absolutistic meanings. ‘The’ geometry of Euclid had become ‘a’ geometry. These concepts, as abstractions from events, did not and could not include everything about those events.

Alfred especially recommended to Robertson the recent works of Whitehead—The Organization of Thought, and in particular, The Principles of Natural Knowledge and The Concept of Nature, both of which he considered ‘epoch-making’.(17) Among other things, Whitehead’s treatment stressed the indivisibility of matter, space, and time, not only space and time as Einstein had formulated them.

As he wrote his upcoming lecture, Korzybski made sure to start out by acknowledging his time-binding debt to five authors in particular: Whitehead, Russell, Poincaré, Keyser, and Einstein. But his particular interest in Whitehead’s work at this time is indicated by the fact that he ended up quoting from and mentioning Whitehead more than any of the others, even Keyser. He gave particular attention to Whitehead’s discussion of abstractions, events, and objects from The Concept of Nature. From Whitehead’s work, Korzybski had derived a triad of notions related to making abstractions: 1) space-time events “that we can not recognize” or experience directly, 2) objects, i.e., those “things which we can recognize”, and 3) labels, i.e., words we attach to objects. There were true and false propositions and statements neither true nor false but meaningless because they contained inadequately-defined terms, or labels. Some terms represented formulations, which had what Poincaré had called “logical existence”. These were defined in terms of other formulations and were “free from contradiction”, such as the concepts used in ‘pure’ mathematics. Other concepts in science and everyday life needed to be defined in relation to some existing objects. The “central problem of all human knowledge” involved pseudo-symbols, labels that symbolized nothing, but which were taken as definite. In his lecture, Alfred said,
As we observed before, events, in the Whitehead sense, cannot be recognized, but the things we can recognize are called objects. An event is a very complex fact, and the relations between two events form an almost impenetrable maze. Events are recognized and labeled by the objects situated in them. Obviously an object is not the whole of the event, nor does the label which symbolizes the object cover the whole of the object. It is evident that everytime we mistake the object for the event we are making a serious error, and if we further mistake the label for the object, and therefore for the event, our errors become more serious, so serious indeed that they too often lead us to disaster. As a matter of fact, we all of us have from time immemorial indulged in this kind of mental stultification, and here we find the source of most of the metaphysical difficulties that still befog the life of man. (18) 
If he was unable to give Lionel Robinson an exact formula, here at least was a set of distinctions which seemed highly relevant. “Intellectual life” was “one long process of abstractions, generalizations, and assumptions…aspects of one whole activity…[which] materialize[s] in symbols which we call words.”(19) This process eventuated in “one vast (probably infinite) system of doctrines and doctrinal functions in the making, inherently governed by logical fate.” Distinguishing between events, objects, and labels seemed crucial to navigating safely within this system.

The process of ‘thought’ (making abstractions, generalizations, assumptions) had humble, organic beginnings. Korzybski elaborated in his lecture about this physiological point of view:
Thought, taken in its broad meaning, is a process. Man thinks with his whole being;….at the various stages of this process, there is a striking difference in respect to what may be called its velocity. The velocities of so-called instincts, intuitions, emotions, etc., are swift, like a flash, while the analysis of the raw material thus presented and the building out of it of concepts and speech is slow. In this difference of velocity lies, I suspect, the secret of “emotions,” etc. Unexpressed, amorphous thought is somehow very closely connected with, if not identical with, emotions. We all know, if we will but stop to reflect upon it, how very slow is the crystalization and development of ideas. 
It is useless to argue which comes “first,” “human nature” or “logic.” Such argument has no meaning. “Human nature” and “logic” have their common starting point in the physicochemical changes occurring in man, and as such, start simultaneously. We are thus enabled to see the supreme importance of concepts, which, as before suggested, are crystals of thought. Such crystals, once produced, are permanent and they serve to precipitate their kind from out of the supersaturated solutions of the emotions. (20)
Korzybski felt some excitement. He might have too many ideas. The interconnection of concepts might indeed seem dizzying. Despite these drawbacks, the implications seemed far-reaching. But though it seemed to him his ideas had great promise, they needed to mature more. He needed to demonstrate them more conclusively. And he needed to provide better answers to sympathetic people like Lionel Robertson who wanted “some link or application to our life of the moment.” It still wasn’t practical enough. His approach to understanding human knowledge seemed to have wings. But he needed to show it could fly.

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. 
8. Henry Lane to AK, 11/22/1922. AKDA 7.279. 

9. Otto Sprengler to AK, 11/26/1922. AKDA 7.255. 

10. AK to Otto Sprengler, 11/9/1922. AKDA 9.223. 

 11. C. J. Keyser to AK, 7/21/1923. AKDA 7.37. 

12. “Fate and Freedom”, Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 15. 

13. Keyser 1922, p. 152. 

14. “The few first words with which mankind started its vocabulary were labels for pre-scientific ideas, naïve generalizations full of silent assumptions, objectifications, of non-existents,…Our daily speech and in very large measure our scientific language is one enormous system of such assumptions.” [“Fate and Freedom”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 18.] 

15. Logical Destiny diagram from “Fate and Freedom”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 29. 

16. Lionel Robertson to AK, 11/19/1922. AKDA 7.277. 

17. AK to Lionel Robertson, 11/25/1922. AKDA 9.269. 

18. “Fate and Freedom”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 17. 19. Ibid., p.20. 

20. Ibid, pp. 19-20. 21. AK to R.D. Carmichael, 12/7/1922. AKDA 9.301. 

< Part 1      Part 3

No comments: