Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chapter 37 - Knowledge, Uncertainty, And Courage: Part 4 - Courage

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 and Mira had indeed reached the ‘zero hour’ and were ‘going over the top’. The Great Depression had settled in. They had seriously started to look for a publisher and publishers seemed leery. They had to face up to selling a big and demanding book at a time when many people were going to think twice about buying any book at all. And the book was going to ask a lot more from its readers than just an investment of money. Alfred wasn’t just espousing another ‘philosophy’. He had ‘taken the aristotelian bull by the horns’. To show how the non-aristotelian orientation worked in practice, he had changed the structure of the language in his book in all the ways noted above. He and Mira had to gather up the courage to proceed and persist in their project despite these difficulties.

Mira and Alfred, circa 1930

Readers would have to have courage too. The hefty book, both in size and content, would look daunting to many. Regarding intimidating content, despite its appearance otherwise, it was not about the technical details of science and mathematics but rather about the psycho-logical, evaluational aspect of science and mathematics as human behavior, among other forms of human behavior. Alfred made this point explicitly and did his best to encourage readers who were not professional scientists or mathematicians. He had written the book in such a way that reading it would teach the reader how to read it. A reader was going to be required to learn a new way of talking. One who approached the work with sympathy and effort (reading it at least twice) would more likely begin to look at things differently, talk differently, and begin to deal with problems differently. He or she would have to work at it. An unsympathetic reader who refused to go along, even tentatively, with what Korzybski suggested would likely find the book—as a number of people did—repetitious and trivial, when not puzzling. But Korzybski had seen enough evidence, from working on himself and other people and from hearing Graven’s reports on patients, to indicate that his system provided a valuable self-help approach to ‘mental’ hygiene and better problem-solving, a method for dealing with fears in what were becoming increasingly fearful times.

Embracing uncertainty with knowledge—and knowledge with uncertainty—made it possible to develop courage and find stability in one’s personal life despite difficult and changing circumstances. Ignorance and, even more, ignorance of ignorance and false knowledge encouraged by various kinds of identification, could breed serious maladjustments. “When we live in a delusional world, we multiply our worries, fears, and discouragements, and our higher nerve centres, instead of protecting us from over-stimulation, actually multiply the semantic [evaluational] harmful stimuli indefinitely. Under such circumstances ‘sanity’ is impossible.”(34)

For sure, Korzybski expected to ‘catch some hell’. He was not aware of anyone else in his time, who had done quite what he had. Some critics later seemed to behave as if he didn’t even have the right to attempt something Aristotle had done over 2000 years before, i.e., to formulate “a general method for ‘all’ scientific work.”(35) But Korzybski felt that whatever his own inadequacies—which he was ready to attest to—he had as much right as anyone else to aim for a 20th century version of this: an applied update of how we know what we think we know. He wanted his work to be judged on its merits. He thought he had developed something important and he had to carry it through. In keeping with the thrust of his work (consciousness of abstracting, etc.) he made a point not to claim perfection or finality. Indeed, in the book he was modestly stressing the limitations of his work (despite its generality of application), recommending research, and inviting corrections and suggestions. Nonetheless, the notion that he had come up with “a general method not only for scientific work, but also life,…”(36) was going to be too much for some skeptics to ever swallow. Korzybski’s reach would exceed their grasp. There was nothing to be done at this stage except to get the book into print and then deal with whatever ‘hits’ would come his way.

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. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 481. 

35. Ibid., p. li. 

36. Ibid., p. lii.

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