Friday, October 31, 2014

Chapter 26 - "Fate And Freedom": Part 4 - Wittgenstein

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 continuing positive responses to his work (Leeds’ interest, requests for talks, positive letters and reviews, etc.) indicated to Alfred that, whatever the problems so far with his formulating, he was working in the right direction. One big confirmation of this for him came at the end of February when he happened upon Ludwig Wittgenstein’s book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Wittgenstein, a Viennese native from one of the wealthiest families in Austria, had trained in mechanical engineering and then come to England before World War I to study aeronautics at the University of Manchester. While there, Wittgenstein became interested in the foundations of mathematics and logic. He went to Cambridge to study with Bertrand Russell. He was soon teaching his teacher. Before the war, Wittgenstein returned to the continent, writing and pondering about some of the deepest issues of human life, language, and logic. With the start of the war, he joined the Austrian army, seeing action as an artillery man on the Russian front (perhaps he even fired on Korzybski), and as an artillery officer in Italy. Captured by the Italians, he finished the Tractatus (which he had been working on for some time) and sent the manuscript to Russell for review while still an Italian prisoner-of-war. The German version was published in 1921. An English translation by C. K. (Charles Kay) Ogden with the assistance of Frank Ramsey and an “Introduction” by Russell appeared in 1922. 

Almost as soon as he discovered it, Alfred began to recommend it to friends and correspondents.(34) What did Korzybski find of value in the book? First, he delighted in its aphoristic verve, e.g., “A point in space is a place for an argument.” Alfred enjoyed quoting some of his favorite passages to others. Indeed, he and Mira read from it to each other in bed. On a more substantive level, the Tractatus related, in part, to questions Korzybski had been struggling with: How do humans—as opposed to animals—represent the world? How do the humans called mathematicians, scientists, and engineers represent the world as effectively as they do—as opposed to when they, and the rest of us, don’t? In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein had elaborated on the notion of representation as a picture of the world.(35) This concern for representation obviously related to language. In his later work Wittgenstein downplayed the importance of representation and became more interested in the varieties of language use or what he called “language games”. He thus turned away from his early work in the Tractatus. On the other hand, upon encountering Wittgenstein’s work, Korzybski was increasingly putting emphasis on the process and the quality of human forms of representation both in and outside of language (without denying other functions for language). This continued as a major focus for Korzybski for the rest of his life. Although he came to know of Wittgenstein’s later work, it had no influence on Korzybski’s subsequent formulating. However, he would recognize Wittgenstein’s work in the Tractatus as an important inspiration.

Soon after his introduction to Wittgenstein, Alfred was describing his own work with words Russell had used in his “Introduction” to describe the 
Tractatus, “I am working myself on the line of establishing an abstract science of man, which again necessitates the compliance with the principles of Symbolism and avoidance of the misuse of language.” [Russell’s words in italics.](36) Korzybski would pursue this in a different way from either Wittgenstein or the group of thinkers (to become known as “logical positivists” or “logical empiricists”) beginning to find major inspiration in the Tractatus.

For one thing, the Wittgenstein of the 
Tractatus seemed unwilling to accept what Korzybski took as a matter of course even in 1923, that the hypotheses of natural science, including biology, psychiatry, etc., might inform and set limits to philosophy as much as the other way around. Wittgenstein had written, “Philosophy is not one of the natural sciences. (The word “philosophy” must mean something which stands above or below, but not beside the natural sciences.)” [Tractatus, Proposition 4.111] To the extent Wittgenstein accepted this, he would probably have some reluctance to find out how the latest scientific investigations in physiology, neurology, biology, etc., might inform his philosophical concerns (and vice versa). Wittgenstein appeared to want to avoid getting “entangled in unessential psychological investigations”.[Tractatus, Proposition 4.1121] Perhaps this was part of the appeal of Wittgenstein to logical positivists, who in general seemed inclined to want to keep their work in a ‘formalistic’ vein, separate from considerations of biology, physiology, psychiatry, psychology, etc.

In contrast, Korzybski didn’t recognize any strict boundary separating so-called philosophy from so-called science, which separation he considered an arbitrary limitation on inquiry. Korzybski—looking at science, mathematics, and logic as forms of human behavior and thus products of human nervous systems—was becoming more and more convinced that he needed to delve even more deeply into other forms of human behavior as well. After finding Dr. Williams’ Mental Hygiene review of Manhood, he had started to read in the psychiatric literature and was continuing to study the biological, physiological background of behavior. He felt that if he wanted to better understand the mechanism of time-binding, he had to do so.

Another difference emerged between Korzybski and Wittgenstein (as well as various logical positivists). According to Wittgenstein, ethical and aesthetic values were “transcendental”, existing “outside the world.” “…[T]here can be no ethical propositions.” “Ethics [and aesthetics] cannot be expressed.” [
Tractatus, Propositons 6.41, 6.42, 6.421] Wittgenstein was not trying to denigrate values here. Rather he appeared to be emphasizing the great importance of what he judged could not be put into words. Nonetheless his position seemed to give support to a fundamental position of logical positivists: the meaninglessness and completely arbitrary nature of value judgments. This went along with their view of science and mathematics as value-free activities. The human subject (observer) could be considered as an ‘intellect’ apart from ‘emotion’.

Korzybski rejected these assumptions. Indeed, they would become for him prime examples of the elementalism he was beginning to fight against. Values were not outside the world but an inevitable result of worldly organisms (scientific observers or otherwise) purposefully interacting in some worldly environments. Science, mathematics and any other human activity were not ‘value-free’, since‘intellect’ did not exist separately from ‘emotion’. Indeed there were no meaningful propositions that did not involve some considerations of human values, ethical considerations, etc. Time-binding, the relation of the observer to the observed, and the process of logical fate were entirely shot through with human values.

In the 
Tractatus, Wittgenstein seemed insufficiently aware of the logical fate of his own elementalistic language. Korzybski sensed this and Wittgenstein eventually may have sensed it too. As for the logical positivists/empiricists, many would continue in varying degrees to elementalistically isolate science from philosophy, intellect from emotion, knowledge from value, theory from practice, etc. But clearly such elementalism was not restricted to them.

Aside from that, Korzybski shared a number of attitudes with the logical positivists/empiricists, i.e., his ‘anti-metaphysical’ bias, a certain ‘phenomenalistic’ and ‘nominalistic’ flavor to his thinking, and his interest in the unity of the sciences and the scientific method.(37) But Korzybski was creating his own path.

Wittgenstein had stated, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” Keyser, in a review of the 
Tractatus published later in 1923 called this “the nerve of Wittgenstein’s mysticism—a proposition cannot express its own structure or form, but can only exhibit it: the structure cannot be said, it can only be shown and seen. The inexpressible is the mystical.”(38) While Korzybski appreciated the importance of accepting that ultimately some things cannot be said but only shown, he was not satisfied with accepting someone else’s view of the limits of knowability or expressibility. He believed he could produce another language in which these issues could be analyzed further and more clearly. In March, in a draft of a biographical statement written in the third person for Haywood’s publication, Alfred stated, “Logical destiny which always makes logical boundaries to a language, in this case the language and its limitations of Wittgenstein, have been surpassed by Korzybski’s analysis and language.”(39) 

A bold claim—could he back it up? He knew that with the formulation of logical fate he had already in a way gotten to the other side of the limits Wittgenstein tended to treat as fixed. But it still wasn’t clear enough. A clearer analysis and language would connect to time-binding and the difference between animals and humans. He would have loved to discuss these matters with Wittgenstein and made a concerted effort to obtain his address, even writing to Wittgenstein’s British publisher. But to no avail. Still he had other incentives to stretch further. In April, he was starting a new round of lectures. For his next major piece of writing, as a preliminary to his coming book, he had decided he would write a new preface/introduction for a Second Edition of Manhood of Humanity, incorporating the material from “The Brotherhood of Doctrines”, “Fate and Freedom”, and this new material stimulated by Wittgenstein. He was stretching, pushing through the limits. Years later, after his death, Mira recalled observing his visible struggle in their apartment at the Grenoble:
We sublet a furnished apartment on the street opposite the rear entrance of [Carnegie] Orchestra Hall in New York City. It was a small one with a sitting room, with a double brass bed in an alcove. I was sitting by the window thinking and Alfred was as usual pacing back and forth between me and the bed. He was looking at me to see if I was listening when he accidentally banged into the foot of the bed, painfully hurting his left knee. While rubbing his knee he said, “That is an object, and if a dog had a similar experience, he would be similarly pained by it, but [I need to] make clear the difference between an animal object and a human object to clear up the confusion of that…" (40) 
He soon would do just that.

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. 
34. On February 24, Korzybski wrote the following to Jesse S. Reeves, a political scientist he had met during his talk at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: 
...It [Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus] is of enormous importance as a trial of the establishing [of] a LOGICAL language, in which arguments would be impossible, and only errors could be corrected. He claims in many instances finality, I do not think so, but he said there more than any other writer I know of. I have already in two readings found some mistakes, but in general I am amazed on the bigness of this work. It seems to me that you may enjoy studying an example of this new stuff. There is no doubt that he is on the right track. I feel very enthusiastic about it because my own thoughts were developing in the same channels, and he has saved me considerable amount of time through his work, my lecture [“Fate and Freedom] deals with the same subject but yet in [a] more general and further going way. The book as the beginning is a marvel, but I don’t believe that finality can be attained even theoretically, IT seems to me that I am able to prove that finality is NOT in the nature of things and therefore theoretically impossible. [AK to Jesse S. Reeves, 2/24/1923. AKDA 9.511]
35.The following passages (among others) were underlined in green for special emphasis in Korzybski’s well-marked copy of Wittgenstein’s book: 
2.1 We make to ourselves pictures of facts.…
2.12 The picture is a model of reality.…
2.15 That the elements of the picture are combined with one another in a definite way, represents that the things are so combined with one another. This connexion of the elements of the picture is called its structure, and the possibility of this structure is called the form of representation of the picture.…
2.16 In order to be a picture a fact must have something in common with what it pictures.
2.161 In the picture and the pictured there must be a something identical in order that the one can be a picture of the other at all.
2.17 What the picture must have in common with reality in order to be able to represent it after its manner—rightly or falsely—is its form of representation.
36. AK to Joseph Roe (NYU dept of Industrial Engineering), 3/9/1923. AKDA 9.530. 

 37. See Leszek Kolakowski, The Alienation of Reason: A History of Positivist Thought, Chapter One, for more on ‘the rules’ of phenomenalism, nominalism, etc. in ‘positivistic thought’. 

38. C.J. Keyser, “Fundamental Thinking”. Literary Review, August 18, 1923. IGS Archives. 

39. AKDA 13.591-3. 

40. MEK, Autobiographical Memoir (Unpublished), p. 43, IGS Archives.  

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