Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chapter 47 - One Weary Man: Part 2 - Man The Unknown

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.

By mid-February, Mira had reached Argentina. Although she and Alfred had just experienced the biggest blowup they had ever had in their relationship, they kept in frequent contact throughout her time away. Mira wrote more often than Alfred, who at times didn’t feel he had much new to tell her other than the fact that he was working very hard and worried about her health. He needn’t have worried. Even in this early part of her time away, she had begun to feel better. She was gaining weight as well as perspective, was beginning to meet people, and working out plans for getting painting commissions among the social elite of Mar del Plata and Buenos Aires. 

Mira felt just as concerned about Alfred’s health, given his tendency to push himself. His report that he was drinking very little, repeated often in his correspondence throughout the year, must have reassured her. He also wrote to her in February that he was trying a pill Lynn had suggested to him—benzedrine sulfate, a form of amphetamine just starting to get widely prescribed as an ‘energy booster’. Rather promiscuous prescription of the drug continued through the 1960s, when its addictiveness and damaging side effects became more widely understood. Korzybski confirmed the energizing effect of the drug on himself in his letter to Mira. It’s intriguing to wonder how long he continued to take it and what effect it might have had on his behavior. I’ve found no direct evidence of long-term amphetamine use by him. His astounding capacity for work in later years could have been explained by amphetamine use. On the other hand, his exceptional endurance had been noted by others, long before he had the opportunity to take the drug.

On March 7, as his Harvard seminar was going on, Alfred’s friend and mentor William Alanson White died. White had been Alfred’s first and main teacher in psychiatry through his writings, the hours of personal discussion, and through the opportunity he had given Alfred to study at St. Elizabeths. White had grasped the importance of bridging psychiatry with the physico-mathematical sciences. Despite the press of his own affairs he had consistently attended to Alfred’s peculiar efforts along that line. Alfred would always remain grateful to White for his encouragement. And White had also learned from Alfred. Traces of Korzybski’s influence appeared in the last book White had published, his 1936 Twentieth Century Psychiatry.

In 1937, the wave of psychiatric interest in Korzybski’s work that White had helped start was continuing to gather momentum. The January 1937 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry had carried Douglas Campbell’s article “General Semantics: Implications of Linguistic Revision for Theoretical and Clinical Neuro-Psychiatry”. The May issue of that journal included Alfred’s review of Man, The Unknown, the 1935 best-seller by Nobel Prize-winning medical researcher Alexis Carrel.

TIME Magazine Cover: Dr. Alexis Carrel -- Sep. 16, 1935
Alfred and Mira had read Carrel’s book soon after it came out and Alfred had begun recommending it to his seminar students. In his two St. Louis papers he had referred to Carrel’s discussion of the role of language in science and medicine. Carrel had criticized the regrettable tendency of scientific/medical “schemata” to emphasize ‘abstract’ “universals” over the ‘concrete’ individual and thus to objectify verbal fictions.

Korzybski’s laudatory 1937 review, written a year previously, emphasized Carrel’s mid-decade survey of the various specialties providing knowledge about humans. Carrel saw a pressing need for a future synthesizing effort to develop “the science of man” which would—according to Carrel—reduce the dangers of over-specialization by emphasizing “the human being in his entirety.”(3)  
...[m]odern civilization absolutely needs specialists. Without them, science could not progress. But, before the results of their researches are applied to man, the scattered data of their analyses must be integrated in an intelligible synthesis. 
Such a synthesis cannot be obtained by a simple round-table conference of the specialists. It requires the efforts of one man, not merely those of a group. A work of art has never been produced by a committee of artists, nor a great discovery made by a committee of scholars. The syntheses needed for the progress of our knowledge of man should be elaborated in a single brain. (4)    

Such a synthesis would constitute the basis of an over-arching “superscience”:
This superscience will be utilizable only if, instead of being buried in libraries, it animates our intelligence. But is it possible for a single brain to assimilate such a gigantic amount of knowledge?...It seems that such an accomplishment is not impossible. In about twenty-five years of uninterrupted study one could learn these sciences. At the age of fifty, those who have submitted themselves to this discipline could effectively direct the construction of the human being and of a civilization based on his true nature. (5)  

Korzybski pointed out that the world didn’t have to wait for another 25 years. He had already produced at least the foundation of the kind of synthesis Carrel had envisioned. Carrel’s dream of a science of man—expressed in the old language—seemed unworkable if Carrel and others continued to neglect the foundational issues that Korzybski had already brought to the fore (evaluation, extensionalization, neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic environments, etc.). Despite this criticism, Korzybski appreciated Carrel’s 1935 diagnosis of the degenerating condition of modern civilization. But in subsequent years, Korzybski would have to qualify his enthusiasm.

After retiring from Rockefeller University in 1938, Carrel would return to France. In 1941 he became an official in the Nazi collaborationist Vichy government. His French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems would oversee demographic and eugenics research in Vichy France. Although Carrel himself was never directly implicated in any crimes against humanity, his Vichy association and his espousal in Man The Unknown of eugenics and the use of “poison gas” in dealing with criminals and the criminally insane, would taint him as a proto-Nazi.(6) By 1941 his reputation had already begun to slip. Korzybski, in a footnote in that year’s “Introduction to the Second Edition” of Science and Sanity, made a brief, apparently critical reference to Carrel and his book while discussing “führers” in different fields “fancying that they represent ‘all’ of the human world!”(7)

Carrel would remain a ‘mixed bag’ for Korzybski. In subsequent seminars until the end of his life, while openly stating his qualms about Carrel’s political sympathies and mystical Catholicism, Alfred acknowledged the man’s contributions as a great physician-scientist. He would still refer to some of Carrel’s findings and would use a statement from Man The Unknown—not included in his review—as one of the quotes on self-reflexiveness with which he typically ended his lectures: “To progress again, man must remake himself. And he cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor.”(8)

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. 
3. Carrel 1935, p. 47. 

4. Carrel 1935, p. 47. qtd. by Korzybski 1937, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 250. 

5. Carrel 1935, p. 285. Qtd. by Korzybski 1937, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 251. Carrel had received a copy of Korzybski’s first Time-Binding paper in 1925, and wrote to Korzybski: “I shall take your reprint on “Time-Binding” with me to France, so that I may have an opportunity of reading it with the care it deserves.” [A. Carrel to AK, 5/25/1925. AKDA 17.135.] Given his discussion in Man The Unknown of the “science of man”, etc., it appears likely that he did just that. 

6. Carrel 1935, pp. 318–319. 7. Korzybski 1994 (1933), “Introduction to the Second Edition” of Science and Sanity, p. xliii–xliv. 8. Carrel 1935, p. 274.

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