Friday, January 23, 2015

Chapter 43 - 'Scientists Don't Read': Part 4 - My Work is Preventive and Educational

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 multi-faceted nature of Korzybski’s work opened up multiple possibilities for misinterpretation. Each reader could approach his system like a blind man standing before an elephant, groping around, and prematurely identifying the beast in terms of whatever part he didn’t find useful. To some ‘educated’ laymen, intimidated by equations and other scientific trappings, it might seem like he was teaching mathematics and science, although he was not so much interested in the technical details as in the method and mode of human behavior they demonstrated. To some mathematicians and physico-mathematical scientists, his background review and examples from math and physical science might seem obvious, even trite. And why was he dragging in the other stuff from psychiatry, biology, etc. Some psychiatrists, on the other hand, might puzzle about the physico-mathematical stuff.
The blind men and the elephant (wall relief in Northeast Thailand)
He wanted to help people solve problems in living. But his ultimately simple methods could get lost in what might seem like a forest of technicalities which provided their rationale. On the other hand, his methods could be dismissed as trivial. Or, as he would encounter more and more frequently as his work became more widely known, they could get neglected by enthusiasts more interested in talking and theorizing than in doing. In his “Outline”, he was emphasizing this last point especially: general semantics involved physiological, “neuro-semantic”, “neuro-linguistic” mechanisms that had to be worked to be useful.

As he wrote and re-wrote his outline, sending out drafts to friends like Tyler and Keyser for editing suggestions, his eagerness to find people applying and researching his work—or interested in doing so—bubbled to the surface. In August, Mira had gone to Newport to paint. Alfred, as usual, chained to his desk in Brooklyn, sent out a form letter to several dozen psychiatrists, psychologists, and educators around the country who had ordered his book:
August 16, 1934 
Dear __ , 
I am preparing a paper on General Semantics giving some data on experiments in psychotherapy and education. I wonder whether you have had an opportunity to experiment yourself, and if so, with what results? I would be very grateful if you could give me some data.  
     With Appreciation,
     Yours Very Sincerely, (23)

F
or some time he had been getting interesting and positive reports from Joseph C. Trainor, a psychology instructor at Washington State Normal School in Ellensburg, Washington. Trainor clearly appeared smitten with general semantics. The school’s library had ordered a copy of Science and Sanity, which Trainor had already read once by the time he wrote what looks like his first letter to Korzybski at the beginning of November 1933. By the start of 1934, Trainor had ordered his own copy of the book and started on his third reading (he was reading it aloud to his wife this time). Like Tyler, Trainor had some physico-mathematical background and seemed to take naturally to Korzybski’s work. It provided him with a conscious framework and language for an orientation that before then he’d been struggling towards unconsciously on his own.

He already had begun restructuring his beginning psychology and social psychology courses according to non-aristotelian principles. He made a copy of a structural differential out of wall-board to use in his classrooms. Even though Trainor had unintentionally violated his copyright, Korzybski didn’t get upset when he found out. He told Trainor—a young man he seemed eager to encourage—to destroy his copy once he received the hand-made mahogany differential Korzybski sent to him. Trainor also experimented with teaching non-aristotelian principles to his young son. In addition, he started a non-aristotelian study group in Ellensburg with Seldon Smyser, another teacher at the Normal School, who had been corresponding with Korzybski since mid-1933. Over the next year, Trainor gathered data from his psychology classes, where he was bringing general semantics into the lectures and drilling his students in Korzybski’s methods, including the use of the structural differential. Student writings and interview comments, as well as pre- and post-course intelligence and personality testing (using paper and pencil tests) indicated remarkable improvements in I.Q., mental health, and problem-solving measures.

In a study he presented the following year (1935), Trainor measured a mean increase in I.Q. test scores from 137 to 173 in an experimental group of sophomores in his Beginning Psychology class. They received extensional training according to the guidelines given in Chapter XXIX of Science and Sanity. With 30 students in his reported test group, Trainor was the first to admit, “It is impossible in an experiment as limited in scope as this, or with so many factors unmeasured, to give a highly detailed explanation of the results obtained in the usual cause-and-effect formula.” However, given the dramatic changes he observed and measured in his students, he concluded, “[f]urther and extensive research is imperative and its advisability would seem to be indicated by the results given.”(24) 

Korzybski was also hearing about the research of Harold M. Potts, a principal in the Olympia, Washington public school system, who had also gotten interested in general semantics after contact with Trainor, probably from participation in the Ellensburg non-aristotelian study group. Potts found a teacher in his school, whom he called a “natural non-aristotelian” to work with. The two studied Science and Sanity together and then designed a classroom plan to train a group of mentally retarded children ranging in age between 12 and 17 years old with I.Q.s ranging from 56 to 80 on the Binet-Simon Individual test. The children received lessons in general semantics from one half to one hour per day for four months and then a lesson every two weeks for a total of seven months. In his report “Some Results of Extensional Training of “Mentally Retarded” Pupils”, also presented in 1935, Potts detailed a “typical example of classroom procedure in abstracting” which began as follows: “The teacher writes upon the blackboard the word rain, as a symbol of an event taking place outside at the time and under observation of the children in the class. They are then asked to tell all that they know about the rain.” Remarkably. by the end of the lesson “[t]he class [of retarded children] began to see the infinite nature of an object [rain].” Among the results of training noted by Potts:
...5. The method seems to impress them almost immediately, tending to enhance interest and sound curiosity, eliminating feelings of inferiority, hopelessness, inertia, etc., and this is reflected in the general orientations of the pupils. 
6. Restlessness, etc., due probably to some extent to their incapability of solving their own problems by intensional methods and language, disappear and marked calmness, hopefulness, careful self-reliance, etc., make their appearance. 
7. The value of knowing that an event has extensionally an infinite number of characteristics, from which our nervous system abstracts only the object, has an unconscious effect upon the pupils over a period of time. It has been eight-months since this method was first applied and at the present time when a new center of interest is started they consciously try to discover or explore the many-sided (infinite-valued) aspects of any event without overt urging. 
8. They do not feel inferior to others, because they know that, although some know more about an object or a situation than they do, nevertheless no one knows ‘all’ about the simplest things, and they enjoy field trips and experiments to discover new data...(25) 

Extensional training appeared to benefit both college students and retarded children. This was just the kind of research Korzybski wanted to see. He would mention the work of both men in his “Outline”. But obviously much more needed to be done.

It seemed less and less likely that Philip Graven would come through with publishing any of his case studies, although Alfred continued to correspond with him and encourage him. He referred to Graven’s unpublished case studies in the “Outline”. Clearly Alfred was going to have to begin cultivating other psychiatrists—a number of whom he had already met—who might be more likely to write and publish about his methods.

Among this group, John G. Lynn—a young psychiatrist who had recently begun his psychiatric residency at McLean Hospital, a prestigious private mental hospital in Waverly, Massachusetts near Boston—had gotten terribly excited by Korzybski’s work. Lynn, who didn’t seem to have a problem with writing, began a program of treatment for two of his patients with alcohol-abuse problems and in the following year presented a case report on the men, “Preliminary Report of Two Cases of Chronic Alcoholism Treated By the Korzybski Method”. Korzybski and Lynn would have a great deal of contact over the next few years and Korzybski would visit McLean, among other psychiatric hospitals, to observe and give presentations on his work.

Korzybski didn’t object to ‘psychologists’ (he would usually place the term in quotes) doing research related to his work. For a number of years he had remained friendly with psychologist Abraham Roback, who later wrote about Korzybski in his 1952 History of American Psychology. After the publication of Science and Sanity, psychologists like Gardner Murphy and Henry Murray had also begun to express interest in Korzybski’s theories. Nonetheless, he seemed to esteem psychiatry much more than ‘psychology’. In the coming years, he would focus more of his attention on psychiatrists. Why?

For Korzybski in 1934, psychology—having only recently emerged as a scientific discipline separate from philosophy—still generally seemed not quite scientific enough. Elementalism seemed rampant in the profession, with behaviorism ascendant (a dead end as far as Korzybski was concerned), while psychologists mainly ignored the vast area of human activity, science and mathematics, that he had come to consider as basic for understanding human behavior. On the other hand, although psychiatrists also seemed to have ignored science and mathematics as behavior, they somewhat made up for this lack by their study of insanity. And as physicians, psychiatrists necessarily had training in medicine. So however poorly they did so, psychiatrists tended to connect their work to other sciences, such as biology, chemistry, etc. As a branch of medicine, psychiatry was also inherently oriented towards application. And their casework with individual patients gave psychiatrists an extensional push to gather data and notice the differences between generalizations about behavior and what they might see in an individual. Despite Korzybski’s attitude toward ‘psychology’, many more psychologists would become interested in his work. (Although, as far as I know, no psychologist would seriously take up his suggestion to replace the term “psychology” with “psycho-logics”.)

Korzybski’s personal aim was not to reform psychology or psychiatry (he hoped he might inspire others in those fields to do so). He didn’t aim to do psychotherapy either. The region overlapping mental hygiene and education, which he considered inseparable, would constitute his main teaching arena. As he often emphasized throughout his career, he saw general semantics as primarily ‘preventive and educational’. But demonstrating prevention could be difficult. Getting psychiatrists to use his methods could test the power of his educational approach for ameliorating even so-called ‘psychiatric’ problems, many of which he felt convinced had their origins in semantic (evaluational) factors—not traditionally considered medical. Any resulting ‘cures’ could thus help substantiate the case for prevention. Conversely, educators like Trainor and Potts could also help to show the link between education and adjustment. In the late summer of 1934, Korzybski was to meet one of the most important people among those who would help him in his quest to demonstrate this link and develop his work in education for sanity.


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. 
23. AK to Professor H. M. Johnson, 8/16/1934. AKDA 25.128. 

24. See Trainor’s report “Experimental Results of Training in General Semantics Upon Intelligence-Test Scores” in Baugh 1938, p. 60. I understand that 140 and above is now considered at the “genius” level. Perhaps the high before-and-after scores of Trainor’s students has something to do with the particular kind of test scale he was using in 1934/1935 (the Detroit Intelligence Test, Advanced Form); in 1939, Wechsler introduced a new scale which then became the standard. 

25. Potts, pp. 63–64.



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