Sunday, February 8, 2015

Chapter 46 - "Shoot All The Mothers!": Part 2 - Cambridge

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.

Whatever other interests Alfred had with the Chicago and Boston-area psychiatrists, he was after financial support. It did not appear that book sales and seminar income alone were going to allow him to continue his work in the way he wanted. He had become increasingly convinced he would require extra funding, either private (foundation or otherwise) or government-based. Since the mental hygiene benefits of his work seemed more and more obvious, getting the support of psychiatrists could help him to attract such funding.

Among psychiatrists, he had detected a growing conscious need for what he felt he could provide with his work. He had read with great interest a 1933 booklet published by the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, Psychiatry in Medical Education, which emphasized the need for psychiatric instruction in basic medical education. This confirmed his own view that, as he wrote in the paper he delivered to the AAAS Psychology Section, “...medicine which neglects psychiatry represents nothing more than glorified veterinary science.” He had gone a step further in that paper with a challenge to psychiatrists:
All human psycho-logical reactions ultimately represent problems of evaluation, and all psychopathological mechanisms, problems of misevaluation. How can psychiatry and psychotherapy become scientific and so more efficient if psychiatrists neglect General Semantics which discloses the mechanisms of “normal function” and the general factors of evaluation which made science what it is. (4) 

Some psychiatrists had taken up his challenge—at least to the extent of paying attention. Despite the fact that the American Journal of Psychiatry had not reviewed Science and Sanity, Korzybski’s St. Louis paper grabbed the notice of the journal’s editor, Clarence B. Farrar, M.D. with whom he was corresponding. Farrar would publish the paper in the July 1936 issue. This, the first of a number of appearances by Korzybski in that journal, seems especially remarkable given Alfred’s lack of psychiatric, medical, or higher academic credentials.

Older and esteemed psychiatrists like White, Paton, Meyers, and Jeliffe had already endorsed his work. (Jeliffe’s complimentary review of Science and Sanity was published in the September 1935 issue of the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.) Now at the start of 1936, with Campbell and Congdon in Chicago and Lynn in the Boston area, he had three close and enthusiastic students (other than Graven) among the younger generation of psychiatrists.

Campbell and Congdon, already established in psychiatry as teachers and clinicians, and Lynn, still in his residency, all felt excited about the results they were getting with the ‘semantic method’, as Congdon referred to it. By early 1936, the three psychiatrists were in contact with each other. Korzybski’s work gave them a theoretical framework and set of techniques for a more directive approach to therapy. As psychiatrists they were becoming educators, teaching their patients how to examine, challenge, and change their attitudes, beliefs, language, etc. The three men represented a pioneering korzybskian tributary feeding a larger stream just emerging at that time in psychotherapy—it would not have a name until the final decades of the 20th Century—the cognitive-behavioral approach.

Over the next few years Campbell, who had already published a number of articles in psychiatric journals, would produce additional articles on general semantics. Congdon never wrote anything for publication that I have been able to find, although he remained an accomplished speaker active in the field of general semantics throughout the 1940s. And Lynn—as it turned out—would soon move onto other things.

But at the start of 1936, Lynn was bursting with enthusiasm for Korzybski and his work. He had given a number of presentations on general semantics to the medical staff of McLean Hospital and by late May had also designed a very ambitious and intensive Korzybski-inspired, post-graduate study program for himself. He wanted to study “human symbolic the language of primitives, children, mathematics, dreams, etc.” and “the pathological, neuro-physiological processes mediating these language functions.”(5)

The program, which he planned to start later that year at Harvard, included not only neurology and anthropology coursework, but also logic and scientific method as well as tutorials in mathematics starting with trigonometry and analytical geometry, calculus, and probability. The psychiatric resident certainly seemed to have been bitten hard by a korzybskian bug. He was friendly with both Mira and Alfred and was writing to both. He had helped Mira with her medical issues. Both Korzybskis had visited him and he had visited them in Brooklyn.

Alfred had also gone a number of times to McLean where he lectured and sat in at staff meetings. The distinct differences from psychiatric staff meetings he had attended elsewhere impressed him. For one thing, at his first meeting, a doctor gave a patient’s history, then came a pause, and everyone stood up. Alfred did too. What was up? The patient being discussed was entering the room and this was the normal show of respect MacLean doctors gave to patients. The language used at the hospital impressed him even more:
...The doctors never used ‘feeling’, never used ‘thinking’, ‘emotion’—never; the only word they used at all occasions was the word ‘evaluation’. Evaluation. And this was apparently a tradition at McLean. They didn’t get it from me. But I was learning among others—oh, my work was already done; so I didn’t get the benefit out of it—but I got the benefit by watching the tremendous application of the word ‘evaluation’; how it covers practically every field of human endeavor. And you can speak in terms of evaluation at any level...what entirely new atmosphere a hospital has using the word ‘evaluation’, instead of the old ‘psychological’ lingo. (6) 

Both Lynn and his colleagues in Chicago wanted to find a way to support Korzybski in his work. Lynn wrote to him in March 1936:
It is essential that we organize a group. Call it the Semantic School of Psychiatry if you will—but no advertisement as of yet—not until we have the facts [i.e., more research]. Several individuals working together talking the same [s]emantic language stimulating each other are bound to produce much more than having them scattered about working alone.  
Furthermore, if we could start such a group here or in Chicago we could then be in a position to have you with us as adviser-leader. This would give you much needed security [and] also recognition limited at first but bound to spread as our work progresses and becomes would be a tremendous help to both of us if you could come [and] live in Cambridge. I could help with the transportation expenses. However, I believe it is essential that we get together somewhere here or in Chicago – Campbell feels the same. (7)

On April 1, Alfred informed Dr. Lynn that he and Mira had indeed decided to move to Cambridge. The Korzybskis had already spent a great deal of time in Boston that year and had even rented a place to stay. Alfred had met with Dr. Kenneth Tillotson, the Psychiatrist-In-Chief at McLean Hospital and, through Lynn and Tillotson, had gotten in contact with Dr. Gregg, a psychiatrist associated with the Rockefeller Foundation. So there seemed some promise that Lynn’s boosting and research at McLean might give Alfred a lever for connecting with more psychiatrists and perhaps getting foundation support. Korzybski’s numerous connections at Harvard also had some influence on the decision. He still had hopes of “saving the skin of Bridgman as a personal friend” and of “giving hell to the mathematicians and physicists” there. He also wanted to “try to interest [Rudolph] Carnap” the logician and philosopher of science then at Harvard. Perhaps he could manage to give some seminars there as well. (8) 

Since they were going to be moving, Alfred didn’t have much time for lecturing or giving seminars, although on April 9 he did give a two-hour lecture at Marlboro State Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Marlboro, New Jersey. His audience, a mixed group of about fifty people, included staff doctors, administrative personnel, patients, and some of their friends and relatives. Dr. Graves, the chief psychiatrist at the hospital had started a GS class for patients the previous July. As a result, GS had an enthusiastic following there. The hospital newsletter reported on Korzybski’s lecture:
To many present it was a memorable occasion. The speaker had a dashing and colorful personality. His energy was unbounded. Within the two hour period he gave clearly and forcefully a succinct account of his system...As pointed out by the Count, our difficulties, both personal and public, are caused by false knowledge...Following dinner at the home of Dr. Graves the Count returned in the evening to his residence in New York City. (9)

The Korzybskis had a lot of packing to do. Vagabonds both, Alfred and Mira had spent a good part of their lives in transit. Nonetheless, as a couple, they had lived in their Brooklyn studio apartment longer than anywhere else. The studio had seemed less than ideal—too hot in summer, too cold in winter, and by now not large enough to keep Alfred and Mira from feeling they were encroaching on each others’ space. Still they had become somewhat rooted there. Now they were pulling up their roots once more. Alfred related how he and Mira got all of the trunks they had kept at the Manhattan Storage Company. Many of the trunks and the items inside—books, papers, clothing, etc.—had gotten ruined during the years of storage and had to be thrown out. Alfred was given a release to sign: “I have no claim against Manhattan Storage from the beginning to the end of the world.” He wrote a polite letter to the director of the company objecting to “the beginning to the end of the world” stuff: “I cannot sign that paper...How do I know that my ape ancestors didn’t store some coconuts with your ape ancestors?”(10) In reply, he got a very polite business letter stating that the release simply contained the standard legal language in use throughout the United States. He wasn’t planning to make a claim against the company but, as he reported later, he refused to sign the form.

By June 1, they had finished packing and were in the process of moving themselves and their stuff, along with their remaining pet monkey whom Mira had come to call “Kik”, to their new address.(11) A small item appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript of Friday, June 12, 1936 under the title “Summer Notes”:
Count Alfred Korzybski and Countess Korzybsk[a] have taken a house at 11 Story Street in Cambridge. From the first of July until the middle of August, the Count will conduct seminars on general semantics at Northwestern University. Countess Korzybski will spend part of the summer on the North Shore, fulfilling commissions for portraits. (12) 
As it turned out, Cambridge would not provide the place of opportunity they had hoped. To start with, it didn’t seem that Alfred was going to be able to do much more with P. W. Bridgman. Alfred had written a long letter to him responding to Bridgman’s new book, The Nature of Physical Theory, which seemed in large part a critical response to Korzybski’s work (without mentioning it by name). Bridgman wrote back just before Alfred and Mira’s move, declaring his unwillingness to spend any more time considering Korzybski’s ideas. That was that. Alfred wasn’t going to “save the skin of Bridgman as a friend” because Bridgman had little interest in engaging with him anymore. Still, he knew other people at Harvard who seemed more open to his work. And the interest of John Lynn and the psychiatric community in the Boston area showed tremendous potential. But this didn’t work out either.

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. 
4. Korzybski 1936, “Neuro-Semantic And Neuro-Linguistic Mechanisms Of Extensionalization: General Semantics As A Natural Experimental Science”. American Journal of Psychiatry 93 (1), July 1936: pp. 31–32. Reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, pp. 229–230. 

5. “Note for Dr. Tillotson on Educational and Research Program of Dr. John G. Lynn”, 5/28/1936. IGS Archives. 

6. Korzybski 1949, Intensive Seminar transcript, pp. 54-55. 

7. John G. Lynn, IV to AK, 3/25/1936. IGS Archives. 

8. AK to Oliver Reiser, 5/27/1936. Ralph Hamilton Papers. 

9. Marlborogram Newsletter, April 1936. AKDA 2.826. 

10. Korzybski 1949, Intensive Seminar transcript, p. 155. 

11. AK to Philip Graven, 6/1/1936. AKDA 30.8. 

12. “Summer Notes”. Boston Evening Transcript, 6/12/1936. AKDA 2.833.

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