Thursday, April 3, 2008

More on Time-Binding

The main formulation of what would become Korzybski’s first published book, Manhood of Humanity (1921), had sprung to him in his sleep one night after years of struggle and study. ‘Man’—a term which Korzybski used in the accepted 1920s sense as equivalent to all humankind, i.e., men, women and children—constitutes the “binding time” class of life. (In the final published version, no doubt under the influence of native English-speaking editors, he changed the term to “time-binding”).

Our symbolic/linguistic capacities allow us humans to ‘bind’ or organize our experiences and/or the products of their experiences so as to transmit and receive from one person and one time to another. Because we have the potential to begin where the prior individual or generation left off, we can benefit from and build upon the experiences of others at an accelerating rate. Even though animals might communicate and transmit their experiences to some extent, the facility that humans have to do this puts us in a qualitatively different dimension from other creatures.

Korzybski finished the first draft of the book rather quickly, possibly within a week or two. He had little in the way of reference books. The most ‘scientific’ book on his sister-in-law’s shelves seems to have been an old copy of Herbert Spencer’s The Principles of Biology. Korzybski’s completed manuscript entitled The Manhood of Humanity and its Universal Language —the language being mathematics—made no direct reference to his friend Charles Ferguson’s program of social reforms, although it seemed in keeping with Ferguson’s goal for a scientific sociology. More specifically, the manuscript explored what Korzybski considered necessary for building an applied science of humanity, a human engineering as he termed it. Human engineering would make conscious use of the human capacity to “bind time” and thus apply it more usefully to all human activities. This would allow humanity as a whole to close the period of its childhood.

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