Sunday, January 25, 2015

Chapter 43 - 'Scientists Don't Read': Part 6 - Things Look Up

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.

Mira came home from Newport in September. With whatever portrait work she had found, she and Alfred were financially surviving, but not thriving, in the closing months of 1934. As for the family property in Poland, Alfred now had only dim hopes of recovering anything from it. And a year after publication of Science and Sanity, he and Mira still had only minimum income from the book. By the end of the year, sales had reached about 500 copies—not exactly a best seller. Alfred had also given some lectures with minimal remuneration. And neither the Roosevelt government nor any grant-giving foundations had so far shown interest in supporting his work.

Still, by the end of the year, the overall response to the book showed promise. Given the book’s rather limited distribution and Alfred and Mira’s inability to pay for advertising or other marketing, the large number of reviews and other newspaper and magazine articles about his work seemed remarkable. They were filling up the pages of their scrapbook. And reviews and articles continued to come in—as they would for a number of years to come.

So far he had heard and seen only a few truly bad reviews. But other than Keyser’s Scripta Mathematica review (which he cherished) and perhaps Tyler’s early newspaper review, most of the positive reviews seemed tepid and had left him feeling rather tepid himself. He couldn’t complain about the recognition. But, as he wrote to Trainor, the responses of ‘grand, grand’ from people who had not seemed to study it in any depth were not what he wanted.(31)

Reading what he called the “splendid” new review of Science and Sanity by Markus Reiner in the October 1934 edition of The Psychoanalytical Quarterly surely must have buoyed up Alfred’s mood. Reiner, a Palestinian Jew living in Jerusalem, only had psychoanalysis as a side interest. As an engineer and applied mathematician, he had helped found and name a new branch of mechanics—rheology, the study of flow and deformation of complex materials under stress. After the founding of the state of Israel, he became a professor at the Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology, in Haifa, where he taught for many years. Regarding his 1934 review of Science and Sanity, Kendig later wrote in the General Semantics Bulletin, “No reviewer-critic who tackled the book cold (i.e., without training) has surpassed Reiner’s grasp of the basic formulations and clarity in expounding them.”(32) With responses like Reiner’s, Korzybski felt encouraged. He’d had good responses to his lectures too. And he felt heartened that Lynn, Trainor, Potts, and Kendig (among others) had begun to use and research his work.

It also did him good to know that his old friend Walter Polakov supported his work. Walter had finished his first reading of the book earlier that year and was doing his best to push it. Walter had written a review for The New Republic, which had instead published Ernest Nagel’s short but dismissive book note. The magazine later published Walter’s reply to Nagel, more than twice as long as Nagel’s notice, for which Alfred felt grateful.(33) At a regional conference of the Progressive Education Association held in New York City in late November, Walter also gave a presentation on “Science’s Contribution To The Social Sciences” which featured Alfred’s work and later got published in the monthly journal of the association.

And earlier in the year while still working for the Tennessee Valley Authority, Walter—on the lookout for non-aristotelian trends for his friend—had informed Alfred about the theoretical research of Vytautus A. Graicunas and Lyndall F. Urwick on a manager’s span of attention or control. Graicunas had published a short paper, “Relationship in Organization”, in 1933, now considered a classic of management. According to him and his colleague Urwick—who wrote another 1933 paper on the subject, “Organization As A Technical Problem”—the number of relationships an executive would have to deal with, increased dramatically as he or she added assistants or major functions under his or her control. According to an equation involving exponential growth that Graicunas formulated, each addition of an assistant or function beyond about four would result in a sharp rise in complications. This could increase the likelihood for confusion and failure. Granted, other factors might increase or mitigate the complications. Nonetheless, in 1934 Polakov had begun to apply this in his consulting work. Korzybski considered it extremely significant and later made it the subject of a 1943 paper, “Some Non-Aristotelian Data On Efficiency For Human Adjustment” which included Polakov’s summary of Graicunas’ and Urwick’s original articles. Korzybski also came to impart the span of control as an important formulation in his seminars since it highlighted for him the havoc that could result in human affairs if people ignored non-additive factors. (33a)

Korzybski demonstrating the Graicunas diagram,
August 1947 IGS Seminar-Workshop
A year after the publication of the book, thanks to Walter and other readers, reviewers, and supporters with varying levels of enthusiasm, a great deal of interest had been stirred up. The potential for his work seemed promising. But there was no getting around it, Korzybski was going to have to meet more people, give more lectures, and publish more articles, if he wanted to sell more books, to get general semantics into the scientific and general culture—and to make a living.

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. 
31. AK to Joseph C. Trainor, 7/25/1934. AKDA 33.598. 

32. Kendig, “Introduction” to Markus Reiner “Science and Sanity, A 1934 Review”, reprinted in General Semantics Bulletin 28 & 29 (1961/1962), p. 119. 

33. Walter Polakov, “Was Korzybski Irrelevant?” in “Correspondence”, The New Republic, Oct. 24, 1934. AKDA 2.719.

33a. At, you can find both the Graicunas and Urwick articles in Gulick and Urwicks 1937 book, Papers On The Science of Administration, which Korzybski owned and carefully studied. 

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