Friday, June 27, 2008

Forerunners to the Time-Binding Notion (Part V)

In his manuscript and book, Korzybski had observed that
…in animal life time does not play the role it plays in human life. Animals are limited by death permanently. If animals make any progress from generation to generation, it is so small as to be negligible. A beaver, for example, is a remarkable builder of dams, but he does not progress in the way of inventions or further development. A beaver dam is always a beaver dam. (1)
There is no indication that he was aware at the time he wrote this of Abraham Lincoln’s “Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions” first delivered in 1858. In this lecture, Lincoln clearly pointed out the difference between humans and animals (also using the example of beavers) that Korzybski had observed.:
All creation is a mine, and every man, a miner…In the beginning, the mine was unopened, and the miner stood naked, and knowledgeless, upon it. Fishes, birds, beasts, and creeping things, are not miners, but feeders and lodgers, merely. Beavers build houses; but they build them in nowise differently, or better now, than they did, five thousand years ago. Ants, and honey-bees, provide food for winter; but just in the same way they did, when Solomon referred the sluggard to them as patterns of prudence. Man is not the only animal who labors; but he is the only one who improves his workmanship. This improvement, he effects by Discoveries, and Inventions.(2)
In the rest of his speech Lincoln provided a brief history and discussion of the conditions of human progress as he saw it. Lincoln noted the importance that cooperation, the use of speech, and the inventions of writing and the printing press, had in the sharing and transmission of knowledge. He pointed out a given generation’s dependence on the discoveries and inventions of the past, including the discovery and invention of methods of discovery and invention. He also mentioned the accelerating aspect of the growth of human knowledge especially notable after the invention of the printing press: “…discoveries, inventions, and improvements followed rapidly and have been increasing their rapidity since.”(3)

(1). Manhood of Humanity (1921), p.111.
(2). "Discoveries and inventions: A lecture delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 1860." (1915), San Francisco: John Howell. Also available at << >> (accessed 5/31/2006). Lincoln gave another version of this speech in February 1859 (see The Library of America’s Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1859-1865, pp. 3-11.) Lincoln appeared devoted to the subject but the lecture was generally not considered a success (See Harold Holzer’s Lincoln At Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President, pp 19-20, 210.)
(3). Ibid.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Forerunners to the Time-Binding Notion (Part IV)

By the mid-1800s, some notion of the process of transmission basic to time-binding had become widely accepted. George Boole, creator of the first system of mathematical logic, was able to clearly describe it in this passage from his address on “The Social Aspects of Intellectual Culture” to the Cuvierian Society, a science club in Cork, Ireland:

Each generation as it passes away bequeathes to its successor not only its material works in stone and marble, in brass and iron, but also the truths which it has won, and the ideas which it has learned to conceive; its art, literature, science, and, to some extent, its spirit and morality. This perpetual transmission of the light of knowledge and civilization has been compared to those torch races of antiquity in which a lighted brand was transmitted from one runner to another until it reached the final goal. Thus it has been said do generations succeed each other, borrowing and conveying light, receiving the principles of knowledge, testing their truth, enlarging their application, adding to their number, and then transmitting them forward to coming generations—Et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt [And like runners they pass on the torch of life]. (1) [Boole was quoting a line from De Rerum Natura by the poet-philosopher Lucretius who lived from 99 B.C.E.–55 B.C.E.. Greeks like Lucretius, not surprisingly, had also recognized aspects of the process of time-binding, almost 2 millennia before.]

(1) George Boole, qtd.George Boole: His life and work. By Desmond MacHale. Dublin: Boole Press (1985), p. 123.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Forerunners to the Time-Binding Notion (Part III)

Korzybski’s study of the humanist tradition of Europe, strongly represented in Poland, probably exerted a direct effect on Alfred’s formulation of the time-binding notion. Renaissance thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1518) showed how one could acknowledge and learn from the past to develop one’s excellence in the present and in this way contribute to future generations. In his 1902 biographical novel, The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci (English translation 1928), Russian writer Dmitri Merejkowski described a passage from da Vinci’s notebooks:
Once, desiring to present the development of human spirit, he drew a row of cubes: the first, falling, knocks down the second; the second, a third, the third, a fourth, and so on, ad infinitum. Underneath he wrote: “One jolts the other.” And he also added: “The cubes designate the generations of mankind and the stages of its knowledge.” On another drawing he represented a plough, turning up the earth, with the inscription: “Persistent Rigour.” He believed that his turn, too, would come in the row of falling cubes, — that at some time or other men would respond to his summons also. (p. 345)
Korzybski had long had the habit of reading a book by studying its author. His formulation of time-binding generalized this and thereby continued the humanist theme of the human origins of human culture. It implied that any aspect of culture had an author—in fact multiple authors. In his later writing and teaching, Alfred would often emphasize art, mathematics, religion, science, etc., as “manmade and nothing but.” This didn’t necessarily make them dependant on entirely arbitrary foundations but, on the contrary, seemed to provide a necessary approach for understanding, appropriating, and using them more effectively. And revising them when needed.