Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chapter 28 - Advancing Human Engineering: Part 1 - Introduction

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.

Back at his desk at the Grenoble in January 1924, Alfred could review with some sense of triumph the events of the previous year—his discovery/invention of the Anthropometer, his successful presentations, and the growing interest in his work among scientists and other members of the ‘thinking class’.

After his talk at the Bell Mansion, he and Mira had stayed a few more days in Washington, where he met with Doctor William Alanson White and some of White’s psychiatric staff at St. Elizabeths Hospital, the Federal psychiatric asylum White headed. White had attended all of Korzybski’s talks in Washington and seemed intrigued with his views. Alfred had already begun studying White’s psychiatric writings and within the next few years, White would have a major influence on the development of Alfred’s work.

On their return to New York City, Mira and Alfred had stopped for several days in Baltimore. While at La Jolla, Alfred had started corresponding with H. S. Jennings, Professor of Zoology and Director of the Zoological Laboratory at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University. Jennings wanted to learn more about the Anthropometer and organized a Korzybski lecture for interested Hopkins faculty and students on December 16. That night, Jennings held a faculty dinner for Korzybski while Mrs. Jennings feted Mira at the Jennings’ home. While Alfred did not consider his presentation especially good, he did feel pleased to meet a number of people with whom he would continue to keep in touch.

This was his first face-to-face meeting with the wide-ranging Jennings, born in 1868, who had written a classic text on the behavior of lower organisms (protozoa), had contended with Loeb about “tropisms”, and had begun to study the comparative roles of heredity and environment in behavior. Jennings, an original observer and thinker with deep interests in the theoretical basis of biology, had developed a great respect for the autonomy and individuality of organisms. Although clearly dedicated to the study of animal behavior, even before he met Korzybski he had commented on the excesses of Watsonian behaviorism: “If my actions are not determined by my Thought, why take Thought?....To take thought is justified because thought determines actions.”(1)  With their congenial viewpoints, Korzybski and Jennings kept up a mutually stimulating correspondence after their meeting.

Alfred recommended an article by Jennings to C. K. Ogden later in 1924. Subsequently, Kegan and Paul, the English publisher Ogden worked for, decided to publish an extension of Jennings’ article as a book, Prometheus or Biology and the Advancement of Man, in 1925. To Korzybski, Jennings’ research and writings embodied the scientific attitude that he wanted to treat more explicitly and with greater generality. Jennings, in turn, appreciated Korzybski’s formulating as the herald, as he later wrote, of “a much needed intellectual revolution.”(2)

Korzybski had also begun corresponding with Raymond Pearl, Jennings’ colleague in the Hopkins Biology department, who had been away and unable to meet Korzybski in December. Pearl, a prolific researcher and author, pioneered in the use of statistical methods in biology, studied longevity and population dynamics, and severely criticized the scientific foundations of the eugenics movement of the early 20th century which he considered racist. Pearl became well known in the popular press of the 1920s and 1930s for his outspoken opinions. Prohibition-era newspapers were happy to run stories quoting him on the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. The friendship of the two men (both born in 1879) continued until Pearl’s unexpected death in 1940. After Korzybski’s second book was published, Pearl considered Korzybski’s “contribution to human thought and understanding of the very first rank of importance.”(3) One of Pearl’s daughters, psychologist Penelope Russianoff, became a serious student of Alfred’s work in the 1940s.

Among the people in Alfred’s lecture audience in Baltimore was the Russian-born mathematician and mathematical physicist, G. Y. Rainich. Rainich, a man in his thirties, had only recently come to the United States where he had gotten a position as a research scholar at Hopkins. (In 1926, he became a professor in the math department at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, with which he remained associated until his death in 1968.) The two men didn’t begin writing to each other until later in 1924 when Korzybski sent one of his papers to Rainich. Thus began a correspondence that would continue until at least the mid-1930s. Although Rainich had had earlier interests in Leibniz’s notion of a universal language and in the unification of the sciences, he appeared to have difficulties seeing the relevance of many of the far-flung fields of study Korzybski delved into. Nonetheless, he read sections of Korzybski’s developing manuscript and offered incisive criticism in his area of specialty, the mathematics of relativity. Rainich was one of the people Alfred consulted to make sure that whatever he said within a particular area of technical expertise was not fundamentally mistaken. Alfred also found Rainich’s general comments helpful (including his difficulties seeing what Alfred was driving at). As Alfred wrote to him, “...Some of your disagreements, very radical at that, have had the most CREATIVE influence on me. If a man like you disagrees, and yet I can stand my ground this means a genuine contribution to knowledge. In fact in several cases the more you disagreed the more I tried to cover the ground and your objections.”(4) Rainich thus entered the list of those to whom Alfred dedicated Science and Sanity.

Although unable to attend Korzybski’s lecture at Hopkins, Doctor Adolf Meyer came to the dinner given for Alfred that night. Meyer, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Johns Hopkins Medical School’s Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, was born and educated in Switzerland and Europe. He came to the U.S. in the 1890s, and began his career in medicine as a neurologist and neuropathologist. Much now considered common sense in psychiatry (but not necessarily practiced) was due to Meyer’s influence. Meyer formulated the “psychobiology” school of psychiatry, which established the importance of detailed case history reports integrating biological, psychological, and social factors in order to understand an individual’s behavior. Meyer coined the term “mental hygiene” and helped found the National Committee for Mental Hygiene with Clifford Beers—a layman whose best-selling memoir of confinement in an “insane asylum”, A Mind That Found Itself, started a movement to reform state-run psychiatric institutions and provide psychiatric outpatient care in the first decades of the 20th Century. Korzybski and Meyer, who had read and responded favorably to Manhood of Humanity, soon began corresponding. Alfred—now friendly and corresponding with Jelliffe, White, and Meyer, among the most influential psychiatrists in America—felt inclined to think that, as he wrote to White, “Human Engineering cannot exist without modern psychiatry…”.(5) He was beginning to think his own efforts might make a real contribution to ‘mental’ hygiene and prevention.

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. 
1. H. S. Jennings, qtd. in Polakov 1925, p. 178. 

2. “Scientific Opinions about the First Edition”, in Korzybski 1994 (1933), Fifth Ed., p. 784. 

3. Ibid. 

4. AK to G.Y. Rainich, 7/23/1932. AKDA 29.54. 

5. AK to W.A. White, 1/5/1924. AKDA 13.17. 

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