Saturday, January 3, 2015

Chapter 38 - "General Semantics": Part 4 - "Won't you have a seat?'

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 AAAS meeting would run from December 28, 1931 until January 2, 1932. Alfred had hoped to give two, or even three, presentations of his work if he could: one to the AAAS Psychology Section, under the title “A Non-Aristotelian System. A General Introduction to a Theory of Sanity”; one to the Medical Section, on “A Psycho-Physiological Theory of Sanity and its Dependence on Physico-mathematical Sciences”; and one at the joint meeting of the AAAS Mathematics Section and the American Mathematical Society. Basically he planned to write one paper, which he could then modify according to the audience. But he was too late submitting his titles and abstracts to the Psychology and Medical sections. So he ended up with just one paper to give on the subject of “A Non-Aristotelian System and its Necessity for Rigour in Mathematics and Physics”. Although he had anticipated it would take only a few days to write, it actually took him three weeks. He sent advance copies of the manuscript to a number of mathematicians, some of whom would be attending the conference. The paper, a sharp summary of his work, would later appear as Supplement III of Korzybski’s book. His abstract, published the following year in the Bulletin of The American Mathematical Society, read as follows: 
This paper gives an anthropological approach to the subject. Identity, a fundamental, false to fact, postulate of the aristotelian trilogy (the aristotelian, euclidean, newtonian systems), establishes elementalism; an non-aristotelian system rejects “identity,” becomes non-elementalistic. The inter-relation between the non-aristotelian, non-euclidean, non-newtonian systems (called non-systems) is given, also the essential differentiation between the un-speakable objective levels (ordinary objects, processes, action, functionings, immediate feelings, etc.) and verbal levels, establishing structure, defined in terms of relations or multi-dimensional order, as the only link between the two worlds. Structure becomes the only content of “knowledge.” Semantic definition of number and mathematics in terms of relations explains why mathematics gives structure-knowledge. There is one name for happenings on the un-speakable levels and “mental pictures,” a partial mechanism of identification. The two-valued aristotelian logic is a limiting case of a general many-valued logic of probability. Two-valued logic does not apply to processes, the objective world, the foundation of mathematics, the theory of infinity, etc. The many-valued logic covers all 1931 human needs, mathematics and mathematical physics included. (Received November 27, 1931) (17) 
The last time he had traveled to New Orleans (on the way to Pasadena in 1928), Korzybski had taken a boat. He had found the trip inexpensive and relaxing and he decided to travel that way again to the conference at the end of December 1931. On board he had an experience, which he related in the book (p. 423–424) and later recounted in seminars and in 1947 when he was recording his memoirs:
I deliberately wanted to be alone and have peace for three, four days, so I went by ship from New York. Deliberately. Left alone and rest. And on the ship I had the differential in my cabin. And I happened to have a card table, a ship card table, perfectly lousy, ricky, ricky [rickety], and I had a ship chair, complete wreck. Merely stuck together somehow. I had to be very careful with the table and with the chair. But we went along somehow.

Once a fellow sufferer of the ship visited my room. Oh he was sitting on my berth, and I was sitting on the chair, and he asked “What is the differential?” I tried to explain to him. This actually happened. And I was performing by extension. I show, never mind talking, I show. The fellow is sitting on my bed. I went to the door and I pretended, I come in and the visitor tells me—this is all pretending, playing a game—“Won’t you have a seat?” Now I am explaining to him in the meantime. I say, ‘If I take your word as an actuality the seat, the chair, then…if I take your word as granted, I will sit on the chair, the word chair, with great security no matter what the damn thing is. Chair is a perfectly good solid word, so I sit on the word with great security.
Intensional Smith1
Watercolor and Ink drawing for Korzybski by A.B. Stewart, 1940 
In the meantime, I was standing, speaking that way, shaking, literally shaking the chair. The chair was falling apart. One of those ship chairs. Few wooden pieces somehow connected and some canvases. You know that kind of stuff. Very flimsy. The chair was falling apart and the chair was already a derelict without my knowledge. And then big, loud, with energy, I said, “And then if I sit with great security on the word…,” and I actually with great elegance sat on the derelict which collapsed underneath. Completely collapsed. The table, you see, was so lousy that I couldn’t even get out of the chair.

What happened? Did I fall down? Unconsciously I didn’t trust the chair. I didn’t sit down on the term there. I was sitting on an actual silent level business. Instinctively I didn’t trust and I didn’t fall down. In the meantime, say if I had fallen down, even if I would have been hurt, I would not be frightened. 
The frightened business is worse than the hurt. Experiences of the war, for instance, show that. If a soldier gets a big fright unexpectedly, he may break down. If he expects horror and gets that, he does not break down, and there’s another thing. You know from the first war and has probably been verified in this war [World War II]—psychiatry reports on that. If the fellow is wounded, he does not break down mentally because he is too busy suffering physically. He hasn’t time for elaboration. These are extremely important things and with me, I am cautious without being conscious of it. The best example I can give is that chair on the ship. I had thousands of cases like that of my own during a lifetime. [He went on to recall some of his ‘Oh, how extraordinary!’ moments as a young man.] Yes, how extraordinary. It’s a delayed reaction all right. …if you get the feel no matter what happens [that] you are observing, ‘oh, that’s what happens,’ ‘oh, quite interesting.’ (18) 
In New Orleans he saw Bridgman, who had been invited to give that year’s keynote Willard Gibbs Lecture, at some joint sessions the Mathematical Society had with the American Physical Society. Alfred also saw Birkhoff, Bell, and Carmichael (who had all read his paper ahead of time), and a number of other mathematicians he knew. They attended his 15 minute talk. Alfred considered his “not too rotten presentation” well received. However, after his talk a Jesuit professor of mathematics came up to him and told him that,
…I destroy the very foundation of ‘religion’ and I should abandon it or I will get in trouble with the church and get on the index. Among others he said “You certainly will not deny that everything is identical with itself.” I asked him if he ever heard of modern physics, and as he admitted that he teaches it, I said “I certainly will deny that a submicroscopic process is ever ‘identical’ with itself.” He said nothing to that, but on his face he exhibited the most bewildered and horrified attitude. (19) 
Korzybski may have actually agreed with the Jesuit mathematician that the foundation of ‘religion’, or at least Catholicism 1931, was incompatable with his non-aristotelian views. He would have had to modify this opinion at least a bit if he had been able to see the work of Bernard Lonergan, a Jesuit whose major work Insight, was published in 1957. Lonergan brought an appreciation of modern scientific method into Catholic philosophy. Korzybski would surely not have disagreed entirely with Lonergan’s statement from that book: “Thoroughly understand what it is to understand, and not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood but also you will possess a fixed base, an invariant pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding.” (20)  The anti-clerical Korzybski was not going to abandon his work for fear of getting into trouble with the Catholic church. He had anticipated major opposition from there, but—as it turned out—his main opposition came from another quarter—some quite ‘irreligious’ intellectuals, philosophers, and scientific spokesmen whose ‘idols’ his work would threaten.

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. 
17. Abstract of “A non-aristotelian system and its necessity for rigor in mathematics and physics”. Bulletin of The American Mathematical Society, Vol. 38 (1932), p. 36. Reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 182. 

18. Korzybski 1947, pp. 405-408. 

19. AK to W.M. Wheeler, 7/16/1933. AKDA 24.78. 

20. Lonergan, p. xxviii.

1 comment:

Bruce Kodish said...