Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chapter 33 - First Draft: Part 2 - The Logic of Modern Physics

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.

Among his new correspondents was Percy Williams Bridgman (1882–1961), a specialist in high-pressure physics who would eventually receive the 1946 Nobel Physics Prize for his work. Bridgman, who spent his entire professional career at Harvard, was also struggling to make sense of both relativity theory and “the new quantum messes”. Very much a practical experimentalist, he described himself to Korzybski as “one of those dirty physicists, all of whose time is occupied with the highly unabstract work of discovering whiskers on the suspensions of galvanometers or rubbing dirt from electrical contacts.”(9) However, what immediately attracted Korzybski’s interest in Bridgman was the physicist’s theoretical foray into scientific methodology with his book, published earlier in 1927, The Logic of Modern Physics. In it, Bridgman introduced the notion of “the operational point of view” to understand scientific formulating (this was called “operationism” or “operationalism” by others). Bridgman wrote: “In general we mean by any concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synonymous with the corresponding set of operations.”(10) 


Percy William Bridgman (1882-1961)

Echoing Mach’s positivism and Peirce’s pragmatism, Bridgman was attempting to ‘clean house’ in physics, to sweep away the cobwebs of “meaningless questions” which threatened to stall further progress in the science. While focusing on physics, Bridgman acknowledged the possibility of applying this approach to moral, philosophical, and social questions as well. The book would go on to have a major influence on psychology and the social sciences by means of the notion of the “operational definition”.

In early July 1927 after reading 
The Logic of Modern Physics, Alfred wrote to Keyser and noted some of his problems with it. Nonetheless, Alfred was not inclined to focus on the flaws of Bridgman’s work. As he told Keyser, “The book is an important event in my private life.”(11) He was soon enthusiastically recommending it to others. More than anything else, The Logic of Modern Physics appealed to Korzybski because Bridgman’s operational approach—in however limited a way—partook in the kind of “behaviouristic” attitude Alfred had found so fruitful in his own work. This was not to be confused with the narrow psychological ‘behaviorism’ of people like John Watson, but rather resulted from looking at all fields of knowledge—mathematics and physics included—as forms of human behavior and language.

Korzybski saw 
The Logic of Modern Physics as one of the first attempts by a working scientist to focus specifically on scientific method, especially in terms of this behaviouristic attitude. Alfred felt this attitude lay behind Einstein’s achievements. Reading Bridgman helped Alfred to clarify the methodological nature of his own work. As he later put it:
...What Bridgman calls operational method, is exactly the method that was introduced by Einstein, but not formulated by Einstein as a method...[and] is an independent discovery. It is a further abstraction methodologically which Einstein [was] unaware of. (12) 

Alfred saw his own independently developed work as more comprehensive—in terms of method—than that of either man. Einstein, not totally unaware of his own methods, wrote in a later ‘philosophical’ moment: “The whole of science is nothing more than the refinement of every day thinking.”(13) As Korzybski saw it in 1927, Bridgman had pulled out a significant aspect of Einstein’s particular “refinements” and their implications for physics. Korzybski, abstracting further, was coming around full circle by seeking to bring back this and other methodological refinements into everyday ‘thinking’ and living.

As background to his ‘childishly simple’ applications of physico-mathematical methods for daily life, Korzybski wanted his book to include, among other things, an accurate account of the worldview and epistemology of the latest physics. Perhaps Bridgman, given his methodological interests, would be willing to serve as one of Alfred’s expert scientific manuscript readers. Even more, perhaps Bridgman might be open to allying himself with Alfred.

Throughout the years, Alfred had seen his scientific program—developing a science of man and a non-aristotelian revision of human knowledge—as a group enterprise. (For example, he had shelved, but not abandoned, the notion of having something like the Library of Human Engineering.) He really did not want to be working alone. Indeed, he didn’t feel one man could adequately perform the necessary and ongoing tasks of scientific synthesis and non-aristotelian research and development. At this stage of the enterprise, the enormous individual effort he was making to write the book seemed necessary—like the task of lifting the artillery piece by himself on the road from Lodz—if only because he saw the ‘path’ of inquiry ‘blocked’ and in need of clearing, and he couldn’t see anyone else who was doing it. (Perhaps with helpers like Bridgman, he might at least not get a formulational hernia from the strain.) Once the path had been cleared, others could travel alongside and perhaps even move ahead of him.

Over the years he had tried to get the interest of various people like C.K. Ogden, whom he had thought might closely sympathize with his goals, to work cooperatively with him. But, although he had gotten help from some, he found that most either had different goals and/or different views of cooperation—or were just too busy with their own work. He was prepared for a similar response from Bridgman. But it surely seemed worthwhile to contact him and feel him out for the possibility of getting help (he was certainly willing to help Bridgman as well, if he could). Carmichael and Keyser had both read Bridgman’s book and generally agreed with Alfred’s assessment of it. Keyser wrote to Alfred, “I’m giving myself the pleasure of sending your monographs [the Time-Binding papers] to Bridgman with a note suggesting that he may find them worthy of attentive reading. God only knows what the effect will be but it may be that God will never tell.”(14) 

A few days later, Bridgman wrote back to Keyser:
...I fussed over the manuscript of the thing [The Logic of Modern Physics] so long that I ended by wondering whether I was really saying anything of note; it is a great relief to know that you have found it suggestive. 
The monographs of Korzybski have not yet come. I shall be interested to see them and am grateful to you for sending them. (15) 

Keyser shared the letter with Alfred, who wrote back to him on July 22:
I think I understand his troubles, lack of language, lack of scientific psychology, scientific logic, and scientific philosophy, that’s what bothers him. Can I understand him? By Jove I can. I hope he will understand me…(16) 

Korzybski wrote his first letter to Bridgman on July 18 with much appreciation and some mild criticism. Bridgman, then at his summer home in Randolph, New Hampshire, replied on July 24:
I am very much obliged indeed for your note of appreciation about my book. I shall be much interested to receive your reprints when they are available. Although I realized that our present habits of thought left much room for improvement, it had never occurred to me that psychopathic cases might be improved merely by improving habits of thought.  
With regard to the defects in the book,...I would be most grateful to you, if some time you could spare some of your leisure to let me know in some detail what have struck you as the most serious defects. 
Most sincerely,
P. W. Bridgman (17)   

Notes 
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. 
9. P. W. Bridgman to AK, 11/13/1927. AKDA 21.13. 

10. Bridgman 1927, p. 5. 

11. AK to C. J. Keyser, 7/9/1927. AKDA 20.541.

12. Korzybski 1947, p. 48. 

13. “Physics and Reality” in Einstein 2000, p. 247. 

14. C. J. Keyser to AK, 7/13/1927. AKDA 19.16. 

15. P. W. Bridgman to C. J. Keyser, 7/18/1927. AKDA 19.2. 

16. AK to C. J. Keyser, 7/22/1927. AKDA 20.557. 

17. P. W. Bridgman to AK, 7/24/1927. AKDA 19.28.


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