Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chapter 31 - "The Tragedy Of My Work": Part 2 - On the Borderland

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.

There were other parts of ‘the tragedy of his work’. A significant part of the ‘tragedy’ lay in the very nature of the work itself. Starting from the notion of time-binding, he had staked out a limited, if broad, territory to study—the structure of human knowledge in relation to behavior. Moving epistemology from speculative philosophy into the realm of science, he had forthrightly outlined what the sciences and mathematics of the 1920s could contribute to the inquiry—knowledge about knowledge—and had sought to make it practical as well. His interdisciplinary discipline (the word “interdisciplinary” hadn’t been invented yet) (5), on the borderland between philosophy and many specific sciences, had no established name. He had given up “human engineering” and didn’t really like the term “humanology”. There were certainly no academic departments in it. And he hadn’t found any other “humanologists”. The people he considered scientific peers were not peers in his specific work. Who else in the mid-1920s was trying to make a methodological synthesis of the sciences of the time in order to establish an empirically up-to-date and applied epistemology as a foundation for a science of man? 

Psychiatry, the medical study of abnormal psychology, was important for this program. That’s why he had gone to St. Elizabeths. While there, he had solidified the link he had seen between the behavior of mathematicians and scientists when working at their best, and the so-called ‘insane’—extremes of behavior that many found odd to consider together.

Analysis of the methods and language used by each group had further exposed a partially hidden system of orientation that with few exceptions seemed to dominate the ‘thinking’ of mankind. Korzybski called it “aristotelianism”. This orientation of ‘aristotelian’ assumptions actually preceded Aristotle and involved various forms of confusion of orders of abstraction. The logic of Aristotle and his followers, when taken as expressing self-evident laws of thought and existence, simply formalized these assumptions. The assumptions had thereby become even more bound up as a system into the unconscious everyday speech/behavior patterns of most people, including scientists and mathematicians. Alfred was attempting to replace the aristotelian system (not the logic) with a more general alternative orientation—a new structure, a non-aristotelian system—that kept what remained useful of the old. Good luck!

Admittedly, every significant advance in the special sciences seemed to be moving in a non-aristotelian direction. But efforts in the various sciences remained mostly scattered. So although much of what Alfred had to say could be viewed as “old stuff”, what he considered original about his work was his effort to coordinate the scattered pieces of knowledge into an applied system. He had presented a program for a radically new vision for the sciences and life. He hoped it could help remove aristotelian blockages and accelerate advances in human knowledge and well-being. But if he was going to get other people to sign onto his program—other scientists in particular—he was going to have to flesh out his system in much more detail. Another part of the ‘tragedy’.

He already had too much material, and more was rolling in every day: for example, the newest work in quantum mechanics. He was going to have to make sure he grasped it all well enough to show how it touched his concerns. Until the book was published, he would often lament to his closest friends that he had tackled a job that seemed beyond the strength, brain, and knowledge of a single man.

He did feel most grateful to the mathematicians and scientists who had so far been willing to comment upon and criticize the parts of his writing that touched on their areas of expertise. As he continued to work on the book, he would depend even more on such expert peer review to make sure the material he used for his synthesis was up-to-date and accurate. What would continue to disappointed him was how few of these scientists and mathematicians seemed willing to commit themselves to express much of an overall opinion about his synthesis, let alone embrace his program. Nonetheless, he could understand. How could he blame anyone for not wanting to explore this scientific-philosophical borderland with him, along unfamiliar paths that had lots of ‘thorns’ and ‘prickles’? In the meantime, as a pioneer borderland explorer, he risked the possibility that both philosophers and scientists might just consider him an illegitimate interloper into their well-fenced, established domains.

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.
5. Websters, p. 630. 

< Part 1      Part 3 >

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Chapter 31 - "The Tragedy Of My Work": 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.

With Anthropometers ready and copies of the second Time-Binding paper in print, those willing to experiment had what they needed to give Alfred’s work a trial run. At the end of October 1926, he sent out some Anthropometers, with the paper, to a few friends. Other people just got copies of the second paper. Over the next few months he began to get initial responses. Some people didn’t seem to understand what he was attempting to do. Others felt they did and said, in effect—“So what?” There was much polite interest. He felt relief that at least close friends like E. T. Bell, Carmichael, Keyser, and White, considered him on the right track. Bell, for example, who had just moved from the University of Washington to the Mathematics Department of the California Institute of Technology, wrote on November 21, 1926:
Dear Korzybski:

Till now I have not had time to thank you for the generous and interesting gifts of the A [Anthropometer] and the G.T [General Theory]. I have been trying to teach the kid [Bell’s young son] to use the A, and he has succeeded quite well…As he is of an essentially blasphemous and irreverent nature he has tried to teach his cat — without success.

Would it not be well to include with the A a full printed set of directions, with examples? Otherwise it is a matter of individual instruction in each case.

I am looking forward to the book on the G.T. Make it as clear as the M. of H [Manhood of Humanity]…(1) 
Bell’s friendly letter provided just one example of the respectful attention Korzybski was getting from portions of the scientific and the broader intellectual communities, mainly in America. That kind of response must have given him some sense of satisfaction and a reason for continuing the task of writing the book.

He needed encouragement because he knew the path toward favorable reception of his work had many obstacles. In his letter, Bell had inadvertently pointed to one of them: “I see that G. N. Lewis [a world-renowned professor of chemistry at the University of California—Berkeley] has used some of your ideas in his new ‘Anatomy of Science’—Yale U. Press [1926]—particularly levels of abstraction.”(2) Reading Lewis’s repeated references to the process of abstraction in the first chapter of The Anatomy of Science makes Bell’s conclusion seem likely. However, Lewis’s book makes no mention of Korzybski or his work. (Lewis, whom Alfred didn’t appear to know, could well have read and unconsciously assimilated one or more of Alfred’s post-Manhood, pre-1926 papers since Korzybski knew people at Berkeley who would have had the papers.)

Alfred had certainly wondered about the unconscious, and therefore unacknowledged, influence he may have had on others. It seemed easy for some people to unconsciously absorb ideas from his work; perhaps because it clarified what they already knew. This seemed to have happened with H. S. Jennings and others. There is no evidence Alfred felt any animus toward these individuals or considered them plagiarists. Still, the failure to mention him as a source didn’t help the spreading of his ideas. As he wrote to Jesse Bennett the following summer, he considered it one of his obstacles—“part of the tragedy of my work”.(3)   

Whatever intrinsic value he gave to his own work and to whatever extent he wanted to benefit science and humanity by means of it, his work was also a means for him—a matter of “the bottom line”. To be forgotten would not do if he was going to have at least a fighting chance to eventually earn a decent income for himself and Mira from his writing, speaking, and teaching. Alas, in order to get adequate recognition, he was going to have to overcome the ‘unacknowleged influence’ factor by working extra hard to promote his efforts. As he wrote to Carmichael, “The developments seem to be far beyond my original expectations, yet the lack of understanding I meet everywhere and lack of appreciation is so appalling that I am sorry some times that I started the whole d....d business. But, it is too late now to go back.”(4)

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. E.T. Bell to AK, 11/21/1926. AKDA 18.110. 

2. Ibid. 

3. AK to J.L. Bennett, 8/7/1927. AKDA 20.582–580.

4. AK to R.D. Carmichael, AKDA 18.466. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Chapter 30 - Saint Elizabeths: Part 8 - A Non-Aristotelian System

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.

In the 1926 paper, Korzybski announced what he was formulating with his general theory of time-binding—a new “non-aristotelian system” (By this time, Korzybski had ceased the common practice of always capitalizing “aristotelian”—and some other adjectives created from proper names, e.g., “euclidean”, “newtonian”, etc.—probably because he was referring not primarily to Aristotle, nor even to his school of thought, but rather to a general orientation that went well beyond them. I have continued Korzybski’s usage in this book.) 

Aristotle and his followers had formed the aristotelian system of postulates and methods (‘metaphysics’ and ‘logic’) that could be shown to underlie euclidean geometry and newtonian physics, among other things. It included: 
[Aristotle’s] postulate that…man is an animal, the postulate of the uniqueness of subject-predicate representation, the postulate of cause in the form [Aristotle] had it, the elementalism of “percept” and “concept,” [Aristotle’s] theory of definitions, his postulate of cosmical validity of grammar [the aristotelian ‘laws’ of ‘logic’], his prediliction for intensional [definitional and verbally oriented] methods, etc., etc. (45)  
This aristotelian system was also at the base of what Korzybski called the “scientific, or public unconscious,”(46) the “doctrinal surrounding”(47) into which children were still getting born. It pervaded everyday language and psychology.

Although Korzybski acknowledged previous non-aristotelian formulators, no one had created an overarching non-aristotelian system for science and life. That was what Korzybski, nothing if not bold, proposed to do now—create a system as broad in scope as what Aristotle had attempted much earlier. He claimed that the system of related postulates and methods he was unveiling could be shown to underlie the non-euclidean revolution in mathematics and the non-newtonian physics of Einstein (and the newer quantum mechanics as well). His postulates, paralleling the aristotelian ones listed above, included the following:
I accept man as a man, use functional [relational] representation whenever needed, expand the two-term relation cause-effect into a series, introduce organism as-a-whole form of representation in the language of time-binding, orders of abstractions, accept postulational methods as the foundation for a theory of definitions and therefore of meaning, which bridges the conscious with the unconscious, introduce modern “logical existence,” relations, differential and four dimensional methods, use the extensional [non-verbal ‘fact’ oriented] methods, etc., etc., and so build up my system. (48) 
Embodied in the Anthropometer, the methods (emanating from his postulates) provided a basis, he claimed, for a new applied science of humanity, or “Humanology”. His forthcoming book would treat in greater detail what he could only present in outline here. (Themes noted in the above list, or covered in a paragraph or two in the paper, would require separate chapters in the book to expound in detail.) He knew he would have a ‘tough sell’. Drawing from and seeking to replenish the roots of numerous scientific fields, his general theory of time-binding—a non-aristotelian system—had no academic home. This hybrid creature, interdisciplinary in scope, resisted pinning down as either ‘philosophy’ or ‘science’ because it had elements of both.

Without question, his examination of the underlying assumptions in various fields could be considered from one point of view as ‘philosophical’. Korzybski even acknowledged this in an offhanded way when he declared in the paper, “I...accept modern science (1926) as my metaphysics.”(49) (This seems disingenuous about his own contribution. After all, he had needed to abstract from the sciences he had studied to a higher or a deeper level in order to develop his theory.) Nonetheless, he was also emphasizing here the scientific orientation of his work. 20th century ‘philosophy’ was becoming ever more entrenched in verbalistic speculation and ‘metaphysics’ detached from scientific/mathematical knowledge and practical application. True, Korzybski’s questions about “the structure of human knowledge” traditionally came from the philosophical discipline of epistemology. (Of course, any view of human knowledge also implied some notion of what the world was like, a question of ‘metaphysics’.) Yet as far as Alfred was concerned, these questions could no longer be fruitfully dealt with speculatively. Instead one must bring to bear on them the most up-to-date knowledge of mathematics, physics, biology, neuroscience, psychiatry, etc. If this put him outside the fold of academic philosophy, so be it. Alfred forthrightly considered his work “a branch of natural science”.

But while these traditional questions from philosophy could no longer depend on the traditional speculative methods of philosophers, the work of scientists could no longer depend on a naive ‘philosophy’ about not having postulates, i.e., assumptions or premises. Korzybski preferred to view this as bringing not a philosophical but rather a more forthright mathematical view into all of the sciences. Indeed, in this paper he reiterated a point he had made in the 1924 one: “…owing to the fact that we must start with undefined terms…all human knowledge is postulational in structure and therefore mathematical,…”(50) The “empire of sound logic” he had announced before in “The Brotherhood of Doctrines” had too narrow a base. ‘Logic’ was not, after all, exactly equivalent to mathematics, nor could it provide an adequate grounding for mathematics or for the non-aristotelian revision he wanted to foment. On the contrary, mathematics (in the broadened sense Korzybski was giving it) provided the basis for any possible ‘logic’. The two Time-Binding papers formed a clear public declaration of his liberation from Russell and Whitehead. In addition, Alfred was declaring his rejection of any form of “just the facts ma’am” positivism. No ‘fact’ was simple. (In a letter written in 1927 to C.K. Ogden, Korzybski suggested that his viewpoint deserved the label “postulationalism” rather than “positivism”.) (51)  

In the 1926 paper, he again emphasized mathematics as a language (a form of representation) and a form of human behavior continuous with daily language/behavior. The psychological processes that made mathematics so successful should be studied. Indeed, the Anthropometer and other methods he was developing had come from such a study. In the abundance of notions treated in the paper, it might be difficult to see, but Alfred’s emphasis here on mathematics as language and behavior put him squarely in a minority camp of formulators about mathematics. (Gaston Bachelard would later elaborate similar views.) Not many mathematicians saw their work in this way or considered its possible therapeutic value, much less made use of it. And how many psychiatrists and others interested in ‘mental’ hygiene, saw mathematics as a field with significance for their field. Yet who could deny the fact of mathematics as a human activity elaborated in symbolism, an activity exquisitely suited for making postulates and their implications clear? It provided a kind of “higher psychiatry” as Korzybski put it, for “making the unconscious conscious”—what psychotherapists needed to do, if they wanted to do any good.

Korzybski’s prose in the 1926 paper had vigor, as when he wrote,
…all human life is a permanent dance between different orders of abstractions. …But as yet mankind as a whole (not a few academicians perhaps) is totally unaware of the extreme benefit as well as dangers of this “dance.” (52)
The paper’s guidelines on application, included a suggestive analysis (with diagram and examples) on using the Anthropometer in any kind of human decision-making. It juxtaposed two basic modes of dealing with higher order abstractions. One mode, dynamic conscious abstracting by a hypothetical “Ideal Observer” as free as possible from preconceived notions and thus creatively perceiving the world anew, starkly contrasted with its opposite, the static unconscious mode of abstracting done by a typically un-sane (perhaps even ‘insane’) “Smith....who habitually jumps his levels (mixes his orders of abstractions) and rather makes a business out of it.”(53)
The 1926 paper, dense with interconnected formulations (some sketched in only a few words or paragraphs, some still so newly emergent that he didn’t yet have distinguishing terms for them), undoubtedly put a challenge to the reader. It would require numerous readings to bear fruit in application. But Korzybski was writing as much for himself as for any presumed dedicated reader. With this 1926 supplement to his 1924 paper, he had the outline and program for his future work. (Notably, neither the noun “semantics” nor the adjective “semantic” appear anywhere in either paper.) In the last paragraph of the text he wrote, “The material presented here so roughly is being worked out in book form under the title Time-Binding: The General Theory, An Introduction to Humanology, to be published shortly.” ‘Shortly’—a variable term.

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. 
45. “Time-Binding: The General Theory (Second Paper)”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 98. 

46. Ibid., p. 108. 

47. Ibid., p. 127. 

48. Ibid., p. 98.

49. Ibid., p. 98. 

50. Ibid., p. 116. 

51. AK to C. K. Ogden, 7/26/1927. AKDA 20.513-512. 

52. “Time-Binding: The General Theory (Second Paper)”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 113. 53. Ibid., p. 137–139.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chapter 30 - Saint Elizabeths: Part 7 - Time-Binding: The General Theory (Second Paper)

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 had another reason for writing a second paper and distributing it with the Anthropometer, even to the small select audience he intended. Since the ‘cat was already out of the bag’ about the Anthropometer and his General Theory, he hoped to reduce the possibility of a cheap popularizer stealing his thunder before his book was out. It was bad enough that some people already dismissed his work as platitudes and trivia. He didn’t want people to actually trivialize it according to a superficial presentation. To embrace it as a fad, give it lip service, and make only limited applications might be as damaging as outright dismissal. 

Writing and editing the second paper and getting it into print took up a large part of his time in 1926. On March 13, he had given a presentation at St. Elizabeths for the monthly meeting of The Washington Psychopathology Society on “The Scientific Method and Psychopathology”. The material from that presentation and from his previous talk in June 1925 served as his raw material for the paper. He continued to rework it when he went to New York City in April to speak at a forum organized by Jesse Lee Bennett at the Labor Temple School. While there he attended a dinner party at Jeliffe’s house in the city where he finally met C.K. Ogden in person. Then he went up to Rye, N.Y., a suburb north of the city where he stayed with Roy Haywood for a week. Haywood had by this time left The Builder and had moved to New York to edit The New York Masonic Outlook. He had been working intensively with the Anthropometer and inspired Alfred with his progress report on his self-improvements.

Probably during this trip or just after he returned to Washington, Korzybski met fellow Pole, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski from the London School of Economics, then in the U.S. on a trip sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. Korzybski attended a lecture given by him where the two men were introduced.(43) They began corresponding and subsequently developed warm personal relations. Impressed with Alfred and his work, Malinowski later became an honorary trustee of the Institute of General Semantics, a position he kept until his death in 1942.

In May, June, and July, Alfred was back in Washington writing and editing. Mira had gone to Massachusetts to paint portraits, but had stopped in New York to work with Haywood on Alfred’s manuscript. Both she and Roy had concerns about the simplicity of the writing for a popular audience. They both suggested the advantage of turning the Anthropometer upside down, since they thought some people might be confused by the fact that the ‘higher’ levels of abstraction were below the ‘lower’ levels on the model. Alfred had previously considered this but decided against it. He wrote to Roy:
...Granting the arguments of you both, the disadvantages ... we will use [terms] “lower and lower levels of investigation or deeper and deeper levels[”], so it goes down, if it does not show higher and higher order of a[b]stractions it shows the deeper levels. If we upturn th[e]n it would show the higher orders of abstractions but would not show the deeper levels. The event with its infinity of characteristics should not be turned earth way but sky way. The present structure corresponds to human structure, the event representing knowledge (brain) object eyes (senses) label (mouth)[.] The label MUST hang on to the object which is only possible in the present structure. The manipulation of the labels which is important [to] the training would be made very clumsy, as clumsy as it is handy now, all of which hang together (impossible when up) etc etc besides a very serious item that the darned thing would be ugly and hard to play with it would lose all of its attractiveness and simplicity. (44) 
Relief Anthropometer (Structural Differential) suitable for hanging
A number of years later the issue of upturning Korzybski’s model of the abstracting process became a major bone of contention between Alfred and his student S. I. Hayakawa, who made the reversal a major part of his popular version of Korzybski’s work in the early 1940s and thereafter.

In the meantime, Alfred had also gotten copies of his manuscript to Keyser, Bell, Carmichael, White, Sullivan, and Graven and made use of a number of their suggestions to revise it. He worked on through August, including the first two weeks of the month that he spent back at Haywood’s place in Rye, supposedly vacationing. On the way back to Washington, Korzybski stopped in New York City for a brief visit with Keyser. Mrs. Keyser, who had been suffering with severe arthritis for a number of years, was recovering from a serious bout of pneumonia. Alfred worried about both her and Keyser. Nonetheless, Keyser was able to peruse and edit the final version of Alfred’s paper. By September 1, Alfred had sent the completed manuscript to a local printer in Washington.

Alfred and Mira had planned to attend the Sixth International Congress of Philosophy from September 13 to 17 at Harvard. Alfred had even made a room reservation. He had planned to go to New York, hitch a ride with Walter, pick up Mira in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts where she had been working, and from there go to the Congress in Cambridge. Originally A.N. Vasiliev—the esteemed Russian mathematician with whom Alfred had corresponded since 1924—planned to attend too, having had a paper accepted there. Alfred had looked forward to meeting him in person. However, either because of ill health or financial difficulties, Vasiliev had decided not to go. (Earlier in the year Alfred had tried to get some paid speaking engagements lined up for him at various U.S. universities and other mathematics forums—with no luck.) Alfred might have made more of an effort to go if Vasiliev had indeed attended, but with the printer’s proofs to deal with Alfred and Mira decided the trip to the Congress would be a waste of time and money. About a week before the Congress began, they decided not to go.

Correcting the proofs proved a major ‘pain in the neck’. The original type size was too small and hard to read so the type was made larger. Subsequently 32 pages blossomed into a 54 page booklet plus cover. The final page proofs were back at the printer on October 11. Even then, the printer’s ‘gremlins’ seemed to be working overtime. The page numbers had gotten mixed up and Alfred had to correct them by hand. But on October 21, Alfred finally had the new pamphlet. He wrote to Keyser, “I feel relieved that the thing is in print already, it has cost me so much pains, that I hardly expect that I would be able to go through it again.” He would send it out with each of the limited number of Anthropometers he was making available. Until his book was published in 1933, Time-Binding: The General Theory (the First and Second papers)—would provide the major statement in print of Korzybski’s developing work.

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. 
43. AK to Malinowski 5/31/26. AKDA 18.417. 

 44. AK to H. L. Haywood, nd. AKDA 18.467. 

< Part 6      Part 8 >

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chapter 30 - Saint Elizabeths: Part 6 - Anthropometers for Sale

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 change in himself he noticed toward the end of 1925 related in particular to the Anthropometer. He had finally gotten the patent for it in May and was in the process of manufacturing models for distribution and sale. Although he had found a company in Washington, D.C. to machine-make the parts, he was working on his prototypes and putting together the final products at home. He probably had one or another Anthropometer in front of his eyes for a good part of each day. At home, he would take his own model and play with the hanging strings and labels.

One of the few remaining Anthropometers (Structural Differentials),
Constructed by Korzybski, circa 1925-1926

On his own personal set he had “many and different labels made out of ebony, box wood (white), rosewood, redwood, mahogany and walnut.”(39)  He would move his finger vertically to the different shapes and hues of wood representing different levels of abstraction, saying to himself, “This is not that.” On the Anthropometer with three Human Objects (with labels) hanging from the Parabola, he would move his finger horizontally from the Animal Object to each of the different Human Objects, saying “This is not that”, etc. This pointing reinforced the notion that humans abstract differently from animals and that every individual abstracts from any event differently than any other individual. 

Anthropometer/Structural Differential, 
Vertical and Horizontal Stratifications, Science and Sanity, p. 396

If verbal understanding had been enough then working with the Anthropometer would have left him, the formulator of the General Theory of Time-Binding and the Anthropometer, unaffected. Yet he strongly believed his continuous contemplation of the Anthropometer, by keeping it in view, handling it, etc., had freed his thinking-feeling (he had ceased to see these as separate) and was helping him in his continuing efforts at self-correction—he was catching himself in at least one good “Fidoism” (confusion of orders of abstraction) per week.

No, it was not just a matter of verbal, ‘intellectual’ understanding. He had met any number of eminent scientists who would acknowledge some aspect of his theory as something “every schoolboy knows”, and then at the next moment open their mouths and violate it in practice. Rather than just being able to give verbal assent and talk nicely about it, one had to internalize the theory (get it into the nervous system deeply) to give it any usefulness. He had learned for himself that working with the Anthropometer helped to do that—indeed he didn’t see how anyone could adequately apply his General Theory without using it.(40)  

In the first part of 1926, he was completing the manufacture of 100 Anthropometers. As he was finishing up in May he wrote to Haywood that the apartment looked like a “regular factory”.(41) He was under no illusion that he and Mira were going to make a profit on sales. On the contrary, he was prepared to sell some at cost or give some away. Until his book came out he wanted to do what he could to sustain and—even better—increase the momentum of interest in his work.

Some interest did still exist. Sales of Manhood though slow had not stopped altogether. There were still some articles and reviews getting published around the country that at least mentioned him and his “inspirational” viewpoint (Alfred might consider that a damning term). He had continued to do some speaking. Even his old article “The Brotherhood of Doctrines” had been ‘revived from the dead’ and finally gotten into print—twice. (In 1924 Haywood had finally managed to publish it in The Builder and it had then been republished in the July-August-September 1925 issue of The New Orient, Syud Hossain’s New York City-based, Journal of International Fellowship.) In 1925, Alfred had been taken by surprise when he saw a notice announcing a “Summer School in Creative and Humanistic Education” at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan. The theme of the 12-day conference, sponsored by (of all groups) the Fellowship for a Christian Social Order, was based on his work: “...It will be an introductory course in the Science and Art of Human Engineering…[with] Readings from Korzybski and Keyser’s “Mathematical Philosophy.”(42) And since he had become better known at St. Elizabeths and in the Baltimore-Washington psychiatric community, some psychiatrists had gotten interested in the possible applications of his work to their patients.

Whatever limited impact his work had made until then, he felt he had to get more people interested for the impact he wanted to make with his book. As a trial measure to accelerate interest, making a limited distribution of a preliminary batch of Anthropometers to a mainly scientific and/or already interested audience seemed reasonable. Maybe it would even help him get a publisher. With each model, he would provide a copy of his 1924 Time-Binding paper (to anyone who didn’t already have it, since he was running short of reprints) which first described the Anthropometer. However, the 1924 paper wouldn’t do by itself. He was writing a supplemental article, based on his latest discoveries, to include with it. Since 1924, new implications of the General Theory had emerged. And he had also become much more aware of the issues involved in training in the new orientation with the Anthropometer. He was not offering a panacea. He was learning for himself and from the experience of a few people like Haywood, how much exposure and repetition such training entailed. In this new second paper on Time-Binding: The General Theory, he would elaborate on the depth and width of the General Theory and provide some needed guidelines for using the Anthropometer. The two papers together would serve as his preliminary sketch for the coming book.

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. 
39. AK to H. L. Haywood, 5/31/1926, AKDA 18.401. 

40. AK to H. L. Haywood, 10/17/1925, AKDA 15.9; AK to T. H. Stevens, 1/[?]/1926, AKDA 18.200. 

41. AK to H. L. Haywood, 5/3/1926. AKDA 18.334. 

42. “Summer School in Creative and Humanistic Education” at Olivet College. AKDA 3.265.

< Part 5      Part 7 >

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chapter 30 - Saint Elizabeths: Part 5 - The Pathology Lab

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.

With White’s guidance, St. Elizabeths indeed seemed like the perfect place for Korzybski to learn more about some of the unfortunate extremes of human ‘mental’ life. White’s broad knowledge of biological mechanisms, his background in medicine and neurology, and his wide experience with psychotherapy and with psychiatric patients, would not allow White to overemphasize any single cause or treatment for ‘mental’ disorders or to leave his compassion behind. Even as the editor of The Psychoanalytical Review, White was not bound to Freudian psychoanalysis but was quite open to other schools of psychotherapy, which were then developing. Furthermore, knowing intimately the infectious, toxic, traumatic, and other medical causes for some ‘mental’ disorders, he was not one to think of psychotherapy as the treatment of choice for every psychiatric illness. Indeed, psychotherapy often didn’t seem much of a treatment even for those patients for whom it was deemed appropriate. Of all people White, the superintendent of perhaps the largest and best-run asylum in the world, knew the limitations of psychiatry in the mid-1920s. A lot was known but there was still a lot more to be known (still the case in 2011 [2014]). 

As a result of all this, White had adopted the organism-as-a-whole-in-an-environment viewpoint long before he met Korzybski and undoubtedly reinforced Alfred’s caution about his own work. Even though confusion of orders of abstractions seemed to be a general feature observable in the broad range of psychiatric disorders (as well as in everyday misevaluations), both White and Korzybski realized that training to become conscious of abstracting was not necessarily going to reverse the confusion in everyone. Nonetheless, the preventive and therapeutic possibilities of Alfred’s work for ‘mental’ health were still unknown.

White and Korzybski clearly shared a matter of principle (a basic postulate): any manifestation of ‘mind’—sanity, insanity, or unsanity—must correlate with some neurological event(s). This meant that psychotherapy, or any form of education for that matter, must also as a matter of principle involve some kind of nervous system-brain event(s)—whether or not they could be detected or understood with 1920s-era methods and theories.

Korzybski’s curiosity about the neurology of insanity and sanity had definitely been stimulated at the hospital. For example, he wondered about the people whom he had encountered with the diagnosis of dementia praecox (a term still being used, and which Korzybski favored, for what Bleuler had relabeled “schizophrenia” almost 20 years before). Alfred realized that any diagnostic label used could misleadingly objectify what might constitute nothing more than a “bundle of very loose[ly] connected symptoms.”(29) Still, the symptoms in a patient with a typical form of dementia praecox seemed connected enough, however hard to explain them. What was going on in their brains? (Of course, not much was known about what happened in ‘normal’ people’s brains either.) The illness often suddenly manifested itself in young people in their late teens or early twenties who, in the worst cases, could show a seemingly unstoppable course of deterioration. Alfred had seen one such young man in the receiving ward after the medical exam was done. The man had been a soldier. One day he simply walked out of parade formation, returned to the barracks, and went to sleep. He was court-martialed, then sent to jail, then to a military hospital, and then to St. Elizabeths. Alfred talked with him for about two hours. Their conversation seemed normal on one level, but in another way there seemed something odd about the man. As Alfred recalled, the man was “polite with a sort of grin, couldn’t be any better. In the meantime he was completely dead. It is beyond description…You feel it.”
And it is a very curious thing, that deadness, what they call it, lack of affective tone, complete deadness. No feeling at all. Polite, responsive, yes, no, this way, everything coherent, no feeling. And [on] this ground alone he was confined. No doctor will miss this kind of thing. I couldn’t miss it, a layman, so he was confined. I believe I saw him later, three, four months later, and he was completely gone. No more even coherent. (30) 

If Alfred wanted to learn as much as he could about the brains of schizophrenics and other people with ‘mental’ disorders, St. Elizabeths seemed like the perfect place to do that too. Since the hospital had a large patient population, when one died—not an infrequent occurrence—an autopsy was done whenever possible at the hospital’s state-of-the-art Blackburn Pathology Laboratory. Alfred attended every autopsy he could. He estimated that he observed about 300 during his two years at the hospital. The autopsy would be done in the lab’s operating theatre, which had a balcony where medical students from George Washington and Georgetown Universities could sit and watch the presiding pathologist, either Nolan D.C. Lewis or Walter J. Freeman II, do his work while lecturing about his findings. Alfred liked to watch up close, standing near the doctor on the ground floor.
Blackburn Pathology Laboratory Operating Theatre,
St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, D.C.
Nolan D.C. Lewis, also the director of clinical psychiatry at the hospital, had begun his medical career as a neurologist and neuropathologist but had developed his early interests in human behavior by taking additional training in psychology and psychiatry. While becoming quite involved with psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, he maintained his interests in neurology and neuropathology, and did a large number of the autopsies Korzybski observed at the laboratory. Lewis later directed the lab from 1933 until leaving St. Elizabeths in 1936, when he took a teaching post at Columbia University Medical School. He later became the Director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Hospital.(31) He and Korzybski maintained contact over the years, with Lewis becoming an Honorary Trustee of the Institute of General Semantics. Following his friend’s final wishes, Lewis took care of the autopsy on Alfred’s remains in 1950.

Walter Freeman II—trained as a neurologist specializing in neuropathology—had been recently hired by White as the lab’s senior medical officer. Young Freeman was known among the medical students as a dynamic teacher. He also expanded and developed the lab facilities, including the hospital’s ‘brain library’ where Alfred spent time studying. As Alfred recalled: “…we conserved the brains—we cut the brain apart microscopically and I don’t know what not. We had a beautiful library, so to say, of brains, in jars, with histories and what not—and slices—oh, I don’t know—thousands, thousands.”(32) Unlike Lewis, Freeman had minimal training in psychiatry or psychotherapy, and apparently little enthusiasm for those disciplines, despite working for William Alanson White. Psychotherapy played no part in the part-time private practice in neurology Freeman established several years later, although he saw a large number of people with psychiatric complaints (at the time not out of the ordinary for neurologists). In his early practice he prescribed drugs (at that time not effective therapeutically for much more than sedation) “or suggested an exercise regime or a change in life style.”(33) In 1933, he left St. Elizabeths, having already become one of the earliest advocates of various shock therapies (electrically and drug induced) for mental disorders. Sometime afterwards, he would become the chief American exponent of psychosurgery, specifically frontal lobotomy (destroying nerve tracts by swishing around an ice-pick-like instrument driven into the skull through a tear duct), which he recommended for a wide variety of psychiatric diagnoses.

To White’s great credit, when Freeman and his partner were just getting started with the procedure in the late 1930s and wanted White to let them do it at St. Elizabeths, White told Freeman, “It will be a hell of a long while before I’ll let you operate on any of my patients.”(34) By 1949, although the procedure had become widely accepted and practiced, Lewis—who believed it was being done indiscriminately—had become one of its most vocal critics, as well.(35)  

At the pathology lab, Korzybski learned from and had friendly relations with both Lewis and Freeman, who appeared to have something of an unfriendly rivalry. Ultimately, Korzybski’s interests and viewpoint were at odds with those of Freeman. Even for his time and despite his apparent brilliance, Freeman demonstrated a simplistic understanding of the complexities of the brain and human behavior. Although I haven’t found any documentation of Korzybski’s view on lobotomy, it seems unlikely it would have differed much from that of White and Lewis. Though accepting the principle that brain and consciousness/behavior must correlate, Alfred’s brain studies had already led him to conclude: “[T]here is very little correspondence in the behavior and the [macroscopic] structure of the brain [on autopsy].” (Freeman’s later forays into people’s brains focused on this macroscopic level although no one had demonstrated visible defects in the brains of the people, such as schizophrenics, upon whom he was doing the surgery.) For Korzybski, extending a physico-mathematical, process orientation into neurology and psychiatry meant that the main ‘action’ in the nervous system did not exist at the level of fiber tracts or other gross (visible) brain anatomy. More subtle, invisible, submicroscopic, organism-as-a-whole-in-environment processes had to be involved to explain mentality and behavior. How else to explain the following observation which he recounted years later?
I remember that fellow who was quite normal in grand parole, means the garden, quite normal but low grade. And when he died and we made an autopsy, he had no brain at all. The cavity was full. It was a bag of pus. No conformation of a brain at all. And yet on the surface he somehow behaved. This was the most interesting brain I saw. (36) 

Of course, something appeared visibly wrong with that man’s brain, such as it was. But the coherency of his behavior while alive (walking around, smiling, saying “hello”, etc.) didn’t seem to match the incoherency of the ‘mush’ they later saw inside his skull. Something coherent must have been happening inside his skull while he was alive, in spite of the presumed loss of distinctiveness in his brain matter.

Before the explosion of molecular biology in the 1950s, colloidal science was an active area of research for trying to understand this submicroscopic realm in the life sciences. Over the next few years Alfred began to look to electro-colloidal processes in order to explain what he had seen. For it had become clear to him that neurological events—related to ‘thinking’,‘feeling’, and other aspects of human activity—could not be understood very well just by looking at macroscopically (or even microscopically) visible brain structures. He knew that more subtle brain mechanisms had to exist, awaiting exploration. Alfred had begun to understand disturbed ‘thinking’ as significantly related to such subtle neural events (whatever they consisted of and whether or not they could be detected by the science of the day). Whatever methods could be devised to make ‘thinking’ less disturbed, necessarily had to change neural processes for the better as well. Indeed, he considered ‘thinking’ and related neural events as different dimensions of a single, ongoing process.

He had spiraled back to the spiral theory presented in Manhood of Humanity. Viewing ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’, ‘consciousness’—in other words, abstracting—in neurological terms would become more and more important to the viewpoint Alfred was developing for his book. At the end of 1926, his second year at St. Elizabeths, Alfred—who had begun reading a lot of neurology—read C. Judson Herrick’s The Brains of Rats and Men and noted the following statement, which he later quoted in his book:
To some extent, the practice of thinking, deciding, feeling, appreciating, and sympathizing molds the personality of the thinker. Presumably, the stable patterns of cortical association are changed by the performance of these acts just as on a lower plane muscles are changed by systematic exercise. (37) 

Alfred’s physico-mathematical analysis of human behavior in terms of ‘logic’, premises, space-time orientation, neurological mechanisms, etc., may have seemed cold and overly intellectual to some. For Alfred, it was not. Indeed, at St. Elizabeths he began to undergo some deep ‘emotional’ changes of his own. The changes had resulted from observing and talking with patients and using the imaginative skills he had developed from his physico-mathematical training. Eventually he realized: his imaginative reconstruction of people’s life situations (in terms of—and visualizing, etc.—the underlying assumptions they lived by, what and how they abstracted, etc.) helped him to reduce his own psychological ‘sore spots’and thus deal with all sorts of humans and human reactions, with a minimum of upset. He described the process in detail to a seminar group at the end of 1948:
...I had enough imagination—mathematical training—imagination, to fancy myself in such and such a situation or with such and such impulses. My work has been done only because I was able to be my own guinea pig and my own laboratory. This is a very important thing. Now for instance with students—the number goes by the thousands, you know—in the past I knew intimately the life of every student. I imagined myself, I imagined how—imagination, engineering, mathematics, physics—how would I react under such and such conditions, how would I react under such and such impulses. I deliberately lived through all of that and it left me personally immune.* (38) 
*Korzybski insisted on the necessity of ‘introspection’ for a scientific psychiatry and “psycho-logics” (see Science and Sanity, 5th Edition, pp. xlii-xliii and 359-360).]

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. 
29. Korzybski 1947, p. 237-238. 

30. Ibid., pp. 247-248. 

31. “Dr. Nolan D.C. Lewis dies at 90; Psychiatrist was leader in field” by Walter H. Waggoner. New York Times, 12/19/1979 

32. Korzybski 1949, Lecture II (4A), p. 41. 

33. Valenstein, p. 134. 

34. Ibid., p. 145. 

35. Ibid., p. 254-255. 

36. Korzybski 1947, p. 248-249. 

37. Herrick, p. 18. Qtd. in Science and Sanity, p. 386. 

38. Korzybski 1948-1949 Intensive Seminar Transcription, p.122. 

< Part 4      Part 6 >

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chapter 30 - Saint Elizabeths: Part 4 - "What Is Reality?"

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.

His association with White at St. Elizabeths became probably the most important professional relationship Korzybski had—other than the one he had with Cassius Keyser. As with Keyser, Alfred held White in the highest esteem, considering him “extremely brilliant, very [well] read, very creative, very human, very warm, and very much interested in the future of psychiatry altogether.”(23) A busy man, he spent a great deal of his time in his office. Although he saw patients, he had delegated most of their care to his trusted assistant, Nolan D.C. Lewis. Not only was he administering St. Elizabeths, he was editing a journal and a monograph series, and researching and writing articles and books. During this period he also served as President of the American Psychiatric Association (1924-25) and acted as a professional consultant in criminal trials.
William Alanson White

Despite his busyness, White found time to spend with Korzybski. White guided Alfred in his first-hand study of psychiatry and in his theoretical studies of psycho-biological mechanisms. In turn, White—who had had earlier difficulties with physics and mathematics in school—recognized a need to learn from Korzybski the methodological underpinnings of the latest scientific advances. Korzybski recalled:
…we spent endless hours and he was actually tutoring me in psychiatry…I was reading endlessly psychiatric books. They had a large library in the hospital. It was at my disposal. So I was reading, reading. Once I was there I made good. And I was teaching --him [White] physico-mathematical stuff. I was teaching him what I knew and he was teaching me what he knew. So we were a beautiful team in this sense. (24) 

In White, Korzybski recognized a ‘natural’—an individual who, in many ways, professionally and personally, already exemplified the orientation he was trying to make more explicit in his writing. Korzybski could not have had a better teacher or student. Later on, he acknowledged his debt to White in Science and Sanity. In some of his later writings, White acknowledged Korzybski’s influence upon him (see the paper “The Language of Schizophrenia”, extensively quoted in Science and Sanity, pp. 185-187). Although it does not reference Korzybski, White’s 1936 book Twentieth Century Psychiatry, published one year before his death, applied a physico-mathematical perspective to psychiatry and seems permeated by Korzybski’s intellectual influence.

An excellent judge of men, White knew that Korzybski had many talents. As an effective administrator who knew how to delegate, White soon found a way to make official use of some of them—despite Korzybski’s indeterminate status at the hospital. Korzybski reported:
…[Dr. and Mrs. White] had all the time little receptions, guests from all over the world, important psychiatrists, neurologists, etc., visiting the hospital and of course, White was making little luncheons and what not. White didn’t speak any languages [except English] so usually when there was any party Mira [who had become friendly with Mrs. White] and I were not only invited but we had to take care of the guests. Mira took care of helping Mrs. White when we had plenty of people at a party in the evening, sandwiches, etc., someone has to supervise and the same with those foreign doctors, I had to just make the honors of the house. Of course, it was very pleasant, very flattering, etc., so our relationship was very, very warm and we spent endless hours in their home or they came to our home, or in his office we were talking shop,…(25) 

White allowed Korzybski to sit in at staff meetings when patient’s cases were discussed. Alfred recalled:
I attended practically every day what they call the staff conference. …They brought a patient and a given doctor who was in care of this case, reported on the case, said this case should have grand parole [permission to move around the hospital freely], should or should not be released, in front of the patient, or without the patient. Then the patient was shown, the presiding doctor asking questions, and then the conference decided what to do with the patient. This was standard routine and was very, very instructive for me. (26) 

At St. Elizabeths, Alfred also attended regular Washington Psychopathological Society meetings, over which Dr. White presided. (As a joke, they called themselves “the psychopaths”.) Psychiatrists came from all over the Washington-Baltimore area. Someone would present a paper and a discussion would follow. Chairman White would often ask Harry Stack Sullivan to criticize the paper—something Sullivan was perhaps too good at doing. According to one biographer, Sullivan’s “…angry comments, sarcasm, and scorching criticism of colleagues and students became legendary.”(27) Alfred observed such behavior at the meetings. Once a paper had been ‘torn apart’ by Sullivan, White would often ask Alfred ‘to put it together again’.

At one meeting, the psychiatrist who ran the women’s department at St. Elizabeths presented a paper dealing with one of the main problems of psychiatry—also at the heart of Korzybski’s work—the issue of adjustment to ‘fact’ and ‘reality’. After her presentation, Sullivan picked and tore away at it much too harshly from Korzybski’s point of view. The doctor, who by this time had burst into tears, exclaimed, “My god, if somebody could tell me what a fact or reality is!”At that point, Korzybski’s turn came ‘to put things together again’. He emphasized that whatever else the terms ‘reality’ and ‘fact’ represented, they existed first as words. Neither term could be given a specific meaning outside of a particular context, which had to include the level of abstraction of a particular statement containing the term. Thus, it was fruitless to get into a general theoretical, even metaphysical, argument of the type Sullivan seemed to be driving the group towards. At least some of people at the meeting probably had some familiarity with the Anthropometer. I can imagine Alfred using it there to help illustrate his point. At any rate, the woman was mollified although Sullivan appeared none too pleased.(28)

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. 
23. Korzybski 1947, p. 255. 

24. Korzybski 1947, pp. 255-256. 

25. Korzybski 1947, p. 255. 

26. Korzybski 1947, p. 244. 

27. Chapman, p. 55. 

28. Korzybski 1949, p. 382-383; Korzybski 1947, pp. 257-258.

< Part 3      Part 5 >

Friday, November 21, 2014

Chapter 30 - Saint Elizabeths: Part 3 - The 'Logic' of 'Insanity'

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.

Soon after Alfred arrived at Government Hospital for the Insane, he met the doctor who ran the women’s department—a friend of Dr. White. She was interested in having Alfred study the women confined in the hospital. He wanted to study them too since he felt curious about differences between disturbances in men and women. Each unit of the hospital typically had a room where he could read patients’ charts and then have conversations with them. Any female patient he intended to interview was accompanied by a female nurse acting as a chaperone, as much for his sake as the patient’s. He soon confirmed the wisdom of this precaution:
It was impossible. Perfectly impossible. What can you do with a patient, for instance, the first thing they do…they hold up their skirt. Immediately. What to do. You can do nothing about that. Of course, I was always with a nurse, and the nurse pulled the skirt down. That’s not a solution. How can I talk with a patient who behaves that way? (14)
As a result, Alfred decided he was not going to have private interviews with female patients at St. Elizabeths.

Of course, he knew he also had to be careful with the male patients for reasons of his physical safety. When he went into a room to have a conversation with a psychotic man, he would have a guard nearby. In addition, as an experienced ex-fencer, he remained acutely aware of body language and the distance between himself and whomever he was talking with. He knew there could be a great element of unpredictability in a patient’s reactions, even to the most innocent-seeming remarks or gestures. Surprises could happen that he might have to respond to quickly. He would later tell students of his, working with severely disturbed people, to remember to keep their distance.

Alfred had one of his most interesting patient interviews in the St. Elizabeths receiving ward. Alfred got permission to speak with a just-admitted mathematics teacher. The two men talked for a couple of hours; that is, the patient mostly talked and Alfred listened. What fascinated Alfred more than anything else was the sense he’d found his own ‘insane’ double, in whom the mechanism of logical fate seemed clearly evident:
He was so clear-cut about everything he had to say except that he was ‘insane’ and except that everything he said had nothing to do with so-called ‘reality’. But his manner, being a mathematician, his exposition to me of his ‘insane’ ideas were a shock to me. I could recognize myself, in my method of representation, in that insane person. (15) 
Alfred was not the first person to see a kind of ‘logic’ in insanity. Clifford Beers, founder of the Mental Hygiene movement in America, had written earlier about a period of his own mental illness:
Most sane people think that no insane person can reason logically. But this is not so. Upon unreasonable premises I made most reasonable deductions, and that at the time when my mind was in its most disturbed condition...During the seven hundred and ninety-eight days of depression I drew countless incorrect deductions. But, such as they were, they were deductions, and essentially the mental process was not other than that which takes place in a well-ordered mind. (16) 
Alfred encountered other patients who confirmed Beers’ point for him. One fellow he met had “grand parole”, permission to freely move around the hospital. As Korzybski later recalled,
[The man appeared]…quite harmless. One year he was Julius Caesar. Another year he was Napoleon, and it was a habit to address him, “Your majesty”…Whenever doctors came to America, they had to visit St. Elizabeths Hospital. It was really, and justly so, a showplace. So a visitor came, and the doctor and I were showing him the place…that fellow [the visitor] came the year before. I did not know that. And he remembered that patient as Napoleon…and he met the same fellow who he remembered, but by this time [the patient] was Julius Caesar. And he said to the patient, “I believe I met you before, your majesty. But you were then Napoleon, now you are Julius Caesar. How come?” You know what the patient said? “Oh yes, this was by my other mother.” 
To Korzybski, this answer seemed “perfectly logical” however out of touch with life facts.(17) Indeed, a detachment from facts and a preference for verbalism seemed starkly evident in just about every hospital resident he saw. There was the patient born in Washington D.C., who had never left the city and who had elaborated a fictional family history based on the word “Washington”. His father ‘became’ governor of Washington state, his brother the mayor of Seattle, and his own place of birth the state of Washington. The word had become the thing for him.

After a short time at the hospital, Alfred refined his notion of the continuum of time-binding, in terms of sanity and logical fate. A mathematician, insofar as he functioned adequately as a mathematician, didn’t accept his premises as true. At best, he only considered them correct. Following up on correct premises, he abided by them—one of the main reasons why mathematics had turned out so useful for science. It allowed theories about the world to be worked out with exactness so testable predictions could be made. The theories could then be revised if necessary. If a person could function that way in the rest of his life—Korzybski didn’t think that most mathematicians or scientists necessarily did—he could be considered well-adjusted or sane. An ‘insane’ person believed in foolish premises and abided by them with absolute conviction resulting in little or no revision and poor adaptation to life. (Alfred thought this might explain why some extremely fine mathematicians could go insane—they could carry out the implications of foolish premises better than just about anyone else.) A so-called ‘normal’ person might accept foolish premises as true but often didn’t abide by them. This led to better, though in the long run inadequate, adaptation to life.(18)

After more psychiatrists knew about Alfred’s analysis of behavior in terms of logical fate, confusion of levels of abstraction, etc., he got used to hearing the criticism that “Korzybski fancies that a human being is a piece of euclidean geometry.” Alfred sometimes replied, with tongue only partly in cheek, that “It is even worse than euclidean geometry.” At St. Elizabeths he saw patients acting “like automatons, following their delusions…their premises… and they walk[ed] and react[ed] like automatons. We do the same thing except that we [so-called ‘normals’] are slightly more flexible. The mechanism is the same.”(19)  

On one hand it seemed hopeful to see sanity as a continuum varying as a matter of degrees among individuals. Perhaps it was possible—even with some institutionalized patients—to use the methods Alfred was developing to help people become aware of and revise their faulty premises. In this way, they could move, if only a little further, along the road to greater sanity. On the other hand, it could seem disquieting to consider sanity as a relative quality. Who then could be considered completely sane? Many so-called ‘normal’ people certainly didn’t seem to be moving along the road to greater sanity. Indeed, Alfred had seen many ‘automatons’ not confined to mental hospitals. Out on the streets and in their homes; working in offices, universities, government departments; leading governments; etc., they followed their delusional premises and conveyed them—sometimes with verve and great skill—to others.

Sometime in the next few years, Philip Graven would supply Alfred with a word for the vast middle group of so-called ‘normal’ people—the “un-sane”. Alfred eventually concluded that most of us could be considered un-sane to some degree. Sanity, adequate adjustment to life facts (which included one’s own potential), seemed like an art that required taking unceasing aim at a perpetually moving target. But it was important to aim. If science and mathematics, as forms of human behavior and language, provided superior means for adjustment to facts, then why couldn’t they be generalized to help aim oneself towards greater sanity? Korzybski didn’t expect that his connecting of “physico-mathematical methods” to psychiatry would make his next book popular. Either subject area could put off a huge portion of potential readers. Linked together, the two subjects seemed likely to drive off even more. So be it. The more patients he saw, the clearer the connection became for him.

For example, by 1925 a mental status examination had become a standard part of the hospital admitting procedure. Not uncommonly, some severely disturbed people had trouble answering questions like, “What is your name?”, “Who are you?”, “Where are you?”, or “What day is today?” A patient might not be able to recall his name, or not know the exact city, place, day or even year. Instead he might provide vague generalities as answers. The doctor might write in the chart, “Disoriented in space and time” (Alfred would say “space-time”). Korzybski saw that, in a less obvious way, an un-sanely behaving ‘normal’ might also have some form of space-time disorientation which led him or her to confuse orders of abstraction: one individual/situation at one time and place incompletely specified would get mixed-up with another individual/situation or with itself at another time and place. How many kinds of ‘normal’ disturbances and misevaluations involved some such form of space-time disorientation?

In relativity physics, an event was not adequately specified until its space-time coordinates were given and the observational frame of reference noted. This physico-mathematical technique based on space-time ordering could be applied to life. Alfred might have remembered his own jumpiness after he first arrived in New York at the end of 1915. He had felt tension as if he was expecting artillery shells to burst near his hotel room. He had ‘cured’ himself by reminding himself that his hotel room in New York City in December 1915 was not an Eastern Front battlefield in 1914.

Korzybski’s advocacy of physico-mathematical methods may have seemed novel to psychiatrists, but his view on sanity as a continuum was not at odds with psychiatric thinking—at least the thinking of some of the psychiatrists he met while at St. Elizabeths. One of them was Harry Stack Sullivan, a brilliant but temperamental doctor, who had worked at St. Elizabeths several years before and had then moved to the Shepherd and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Baltimore. Sullivan had written a recent paper on the “Peculiarity of Thought in Schizophrenia” and had attended Korzybski’s June lecture with interest. The two men exchanged papers and began to correspond. Sullivan, relatively untrammeled by the growing orthodoxy of Freudian psychoanalysis, went on in the 1930s and 1940s to develop “interpersonal psychotherapy”, one of the first of the non-psychoanalytic forms of psychotherapy in America.

Sullivan became known for his “one genus postulate”, first stated in print in 1938: “We are all much more simply human than otherwise.” Sullivan’s postulate emphasized that, ...all the things observed in the persons whom we call psychiatrically ill are present to lesser extents in the persons whom we call emotionally healthy.”(20) As far back as 1917, Dr. White had likewise noted that, “Because of the preponderance of similarities between ourselves and others we must be prepared to see ourselves in those others, to look in the phenomena we are studying for reflections of ourselves.”(21) In 1933, he stated his own “one-genus postulate” in the clearest of terms: “The difference between the so-called insane person or the criminal on the one hand and the so-called sane or normal person on the other is only a difference in quantity, a difference in the strength or weakness and the balanced relations of the various tendencies and stimuli with which he has to deal.”(22) Korzybski would probably have added, ‘and what a difference even a little difference can sometimes make’.

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. 
14. Korzybski 1947, p. 237. 

15. Korzybski 1949 (“1948-1949 Holiday Seminar”), p. 111. 

16. Beers, p. 54. 

17. Korzybski 1947, p. 240-–241.

18. AK to C. J. Keyser, 7/11/1925. AKDA 16.638. 

19. Korzybski 1949 (“1948-1949 Holiday Seminar”), p. 2.

20. Chapman, pp. 140-141. 

21. W. A. White 1917, p. 30. 

22. Qtd. in Perry, p. 184, from W. A. White, Crimes and Criminals (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1933), p. 31. 

< Part 2      Part 4 >