Sunday, October 26, 2008

Homer J. Moore, Jr., Korzybskian Scholar and Beloved Friend — Z"L.

My dear friend Homer Jean Moore, Jr. died at his home in Texas on October 22. His family and loved ones were with him. (The Z"L abbreviation in the Title above stands for Zichrono L'vracha, Hebrew for "May his memory be a blessing" or "Of Blessed Memory." This is often placed or said after the name of a deceased Jewish person. Homer Jean wasn't Jewish. Nonetheless, "Zichrono L'vracha" seems appropriate for him. He attended a lot of Passover Seders. He liked Jews and Jewish things. As a Jew and his friend, I do consider his memory a special blessing.)

A long time student-practitioner of general semantics, be attended his first Institute of General Semantics (IGS) seminar-workshop (2 weeks long) in 1979, although he had been a long-time student of Korzybski's work before then. He soon became one of the small number of workers who helped keep the Institute going over the next few decades. He also served for a number of years on the IGS Board of Trustees.

Homer was one of few people who went through the rigorous teacher training course that the Institute had in place through 1980s and 1990s, became certified to teach, and served on the Institute teaching staff at a number of Institute advanced and beginner's training courses with myself and my wife.

In the miniscule non-academic field of general semantics and Korzybskian studies, Homer—originally trained in computer programming and systems analysis—was one the discipline's few genuine scholars. His editorial contributions included some writing, much work on the IGS internet site, and various publications, including the editing and much of the production, of the Third Edition of Korzybski's General Semantics Seminar 1937: The Olivet College Lectures, published in 2002. Homer's new Third Edition became the first one in which this book actually appeared as a book and not a roughly printed booklet with cheap galley covers. It became a genuine advance in promulgating Korzybski's work. Homer's Third Edition may qualify as the single best introduction to Korzybski's work in Korzybski's down-to-earth oral presentation style. In his Foreword, Homer wrote:
In this early presentation, [Korzybski] gives a complete outline of his system with the training methods needed to apply it. This seminar makes an excellent starting point for those wishing to apply general semantics in their daily lives.
Homer exemplified such application (Korzybski's main emphasis).

I plan on writing more about Homer here and elsewhere. He was one of the most exceptional practitioners of GS that I have ever known. He was born in 1951 with serious heart valve problems and was one of the first babies operated on by famed heart surgeons Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey. They saved his life but he also received numerous blood transfusions in his early years, which he discovered much later must have been contaminated with the Hepatitis C virus. He struggled with various vague health problems most of his life before he was diagnosed with the disease and liver failure in the early 1990s. Eventually, with his liver function deteriorating, he managed to obtain a liver transplant about 10 years ago. This year he had been struggling with continuing health problems and his new liver finally failed, although his sister Linda told me that he had a fairly quick exit. (I had just talked with him a month or two ago and he seemed fairly well—given everything he was dealing with.) Living with serious health problems most of his life, he had an ability to adjust and deal with things that few people will ever have to deal with. A roller coaster 'fanatic' and prodigious reader (among other avocations and vocations) he sought to live life to the fullest— a curious and awe-inspired participant-observer in a world that he considered wonder-full, even 'miraculous'. His own consciousness constituted one of the most wondrous and awesome parts of the world for Homer. Korzybski's "coveted consciousness of abstracting" was not just words to him. He worked at it. And he attained a fine character, perhaps the most precious thing that any man or woman can achieve. Homer's exceptional coping skills were reflected in his special dry and seemingly ever-present sense of humor (not in telling jokes but in his attitude toward life) and in his unstinting kindess and generosity to others. Oh yes—he applied GS.

Homer contributed in inumerable ways to the Institute of General Semantics, in work, wealth and wisdom and the furtherance of Korzybski's work for human sanity. My wife and I are among those who will sorely miss him.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Time-Binding - So What? Part V

J. seems to have gotten more interested in time-binding, although he still has some formulational problems with it. (Read the comment on the previous post). So I feel that I've done some good with this "So What?" series of blogposts. For now, I'll let his continuing theoretical concerns 'simmer' and move on to practical applications. If you consider yourself a time-binder, so what? In that last post, I ended with some questions to ponder, to get a living feel for the implications of time-binding to you. I want to add here another question that can make it more 'real' for you.

My wife Susan Presby Kodish came up with a time-binding question that we use in personal coaching work and classes: What do you want your legacy to be?

You won't live forever. Usually we think of a legacy as an amount of money or property left for an inheritance. Here I mean something different, although it could include these kinds of things. Rather by legacy I mean something related to how you would like to be remembered after you're gone. This doesn't have to be by way of some great masterpiece you leave that everyone recognizes or a monument erected in your memory. Rather by legacy, I mean more precisely: what difference you would like your presence to have made on others, on the world (whether or not recognized). Don't think that because your name may be forgotten in a few hundred years—likely sooner—that your existence in the world now doesn't make a difference.

Professor J.T. Shotwell wrote about two kinds of immortality:
...the immortality of monuments,—of things to look at and recall; and the immortality of use,—of things which surrender their identity but continue to live, things forgotten but treasured, and incorporated in the vital forces of society. Thought can achieve both kinds. It embodies itself in forms—like epics, cathedrals and even engines—where endurance depends upon the nature of the stuff used, the perfection of the workmanship and the fortune of time. But it also embodies itself in use; that is, it can continue its work, enter into other thought and continue to emit its energy even when its original mold is broken up. (1)
As a time-binder, you will leave a legacy, willy-nilly, whether you do it purposefully or not. What do you want yours to be?

(1). Qtd. in Ashley Montagu 1955, Immortality. New York: Grove Press, p. 66. From James T. Shotwell 1942, "Mechanism and Culture." In Science and Man, Ed. By R. N. Anshen. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Time-Binding - So What? Part IV

J., a reader of this blog, indicated that he wasn't very interested in the notion of "time-binding." I've used the previous posts with the above title to address his implied question "So what?" Why should time-binding concern him?

I hope I've given him (and others) some things to chew on. Time-binding, for one thing, got Korzybski started. Trying to figure it out led him to develop his subsequent work.

Aside from its relevance to understand what Korzybski was doing, what (as J. asked) "authorizes this particular description over all the other potential descriptions of 'what dominantly characterizes humans'?"

Korzybski felt (and I agree) that this capacity to build upon what others have done—based upon our uniquely symbolic brains—does most characterize humans. If that at least seems plausible then we can proceed to see what develops from it. Fruitfulness 'is all'. What develops from starting to think of yourself as a time-binder? Let's extensionalize this, bring it down to earth.

As an exercise, I suggest contemplating one or more of these time-binding questions:
* Can you find anything that you have made, arranged, organized, composed, written, etc., that didn't in some way depend upon the contributions of others?
* Take an object from your pocket, desktop, or around your house or office. How did it get here? How was it manufactured? Trace things back a bit. How many people were involved in making it and getting it to the store or place where you bought it or got it from? Who invented it? What other inventions were required to produce it? Et cetera.
* How did you come to be reading this weblog?
These questions can help you get a feel for yourself as a time-binder. What kind of difference could becoming more consciously aware of yourself as a time-binder make in your life?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Some Strate Talk About Time-Binding

My friend Lance Strate, Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics has begun to blog about time-binding.
I consider his meditations definitely worth reading and especially like what he wrote at the end of his second piece "Thoughts About Time-Binding 2"
So, even if you don't care for Korzybski and general semantics, or don't agree with the conclusions arrived at, there is much to be gained from going back to the original questions that Korzybski posed, seeing how he answered them, and answering them again for ourselves, in the context of our own time. This is a worthwhile exercise as well for those who are completely in agreement with Korzybski. To make an analogy with mathematics, it is not enough to get the right answers, you have to go through the process by which they were attained, understand that process, and make it your own.
Lance practices what he preaches. If you do what he beautifully demonstrates, i.e., go back to the original material—Korzybski's own writing—(not what Bruce or Lance says about it ) and contend with the questions he raises, you will reap rewards that you wouldn't otherwise get.

Check out "Thoughts About Time-Binding 2" and also Lance's first post"Thoughts About Time-Binding 1"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Time-Binding - So What? Part III

The very astute J. has pointed to something notable about Korzybski's formulation of time-binding. Time-binding, as Korzybski formulated it, is not simply descriptive or ethically neutral. As J. wrote:
Time binding seems like a description transformed into prescription (?); e.g. "Dog's often bark, therefore, dogs should bark 'better'. Where's the logic in this?
Korzybski's formulation definitely was not simply limited to a description of the unique human ability to communicate via symbolism. He very clearly defined time-binding in terms of a capacity, a potential that the human ability to communicate makes possible: the capacity to begin where another individual or generation left off and thus be able to build on previous efforts in order to make ‘progress’. Stated in terms of human potential, his formulation of time-binding implies an 'ought', a value-laden criterion, as well as an 'is', a description of what people do. Korzybski wanted people to become better time-binders.

Of course, this value-laden aspect of time-binding seems to open up a formulational 'can of worms'. Judging the relative time-binding merits of different human acts and products doesn't seem necessarily clearcut. How do we operationalize time-binding and 'progress' so we can observe and measure them? I've dealt with this question at more length in my book Dare to Inquire Despite whatever problems the formulation may pose, all (legitimately all) of Korzybski’s subsequent work, which came to be called “general semantics,” involved his efforts to investigate and explain the mechanisms of time-binding. If you are interested in understanding Korzybski's work and how it developed, that alone justifies giving attention to time-binding.

As for J's subsidiary question
Why is this transformation relevant, and what authorizes this particular description over all the other potential descriptions of 'what dominantly characterizes humans'?
I'll leave that for another post.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Time-Binding - So What? Part II

My reader J has said "I'm not very interested in time-binding..." He must have a lot of patience since I have given over a great deal of this blog space so far to discussing time-binding. I'm asking J and others who may feel similarly to have even a bit more patience with me.

Having now spent more than four years working on a biography of Korzybski (getting near completion now), I have felt obligated to deal with time-binding in some depth and detail, since (in his own eyes) it played such an important role in the development of his work. He devoted his first book, Manhood of Humanity, to the notion. And, as he said on numerous occasions, all of his subsequent work—which he subsequently called "general semantics" developed out of his efforts to clarify and elaborate the mechanism of time-binding, i.e., how time-binding worked.

He didn't talk or write much explicitly about time-binding after the 1933 publication of Science and Sanity, until the last few years of his life when he returned to the subject with renewed vigor. He had been working for some time on a new introduction to the Second Edition of Manhood but was unable to complete it before his death in March 1950.

Korzybski was very interested in time-binding. I have come to agree with Korzybski as to its importance. Because of this, I have felt compelled to spend a fair amount of time dealing with time-binding in my book and, as a result, in this blog.

But this only begins to touch on the question "So what?"