Friday, April 11, 2008

Time-Binding and the Language and Logic of Nature

The definitions of the different classes of life remained somewhat submerged in Korzybski's first draft of Manhood of Humanity. Korzybski chose to spend considerable time discussing mathematics—“the universal language” mentioned in the original title, The Manhood of Humanity and its Universal Language. Much of the detail of this discussion of mathematical thinking in the first draft was subsequently deleted. However, some of it seems worth noting because it highlights, perhaps even more clearly than what eventually got published in the book, some long-standing motivational factors which persisted in influencing Korzybski’s subsequent work.

For Korzybski, the science of human engineering required embracing mathematics as its main helpmate. The processes and products of mathematical reasoning provided a level of security unattainable anywhere else. He indicated this with the introductory quote from Louis Brandeis that he retained in the published book:
“For a while he trampled with impunity on laws human and divine but, as he was obsessed with the delusion that two and two makes five, he fell, at last a victim to the relentless rules of humble Arithmetic.
“Remember, o stranger, Arithmetic is the first of the sciences and the mother of safety.”

Alfred wrote about what continued to be one of the main articles of his scientific credo: that mathematics provides the language and logic of nature, including human nature. As he wrote, this ‘logic’ seems especially tied up with the study of mathematical functions (relations between variables)—the basis of the infinitesmal calculus that his father had introduced to him as a young child. The feel of the calculus had long since permeated Alfred’s view of the world. He tended to look at the world in terms of infinitely-varying functional relationships.

If human life was to be rightly understood and changed for the better, this kind of mathematical thinking had to be applied to human problems. As Alfred saw it, this didn’t necessarily require great complexity or elaborate calculations. Although it became a secondary part of the published version of his first book, the notion of mathematics—or more precisely physical-mathematical method—as a guide to life began to emerge as a major theme in Alfred’s subsequent writings.

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