Monday, December 19, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

From the Stray Thought Bin - 'The Heroic Task of Every Generation'

The heroic task of every generation of time-binders (that's us humans): appropriating our inheritance from those who came before us. Every generation does the task to some degree poorly or well. What makes the task heroic?: The stakes are always high and for every new generation, including our own, its particular inheritance is never the same as—indeed is necessarily different than—any that came before. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011


Nice blogpost with lots of links from a student(s) of Robert Anton Wilson on RAW, Korzybski, GS, and my biography of Korzybski. Thanks, guy(s).


Graham Rae on Korzybski and William Burroughs

William Burroughs, a rapt student with perfect attendance at Korzybski's 1939 August seminar, later said that he "...was very impressed by what Korzybski had to say. I still am. I think that everyone, particularly all students should read Korzybski. [It would] save them an awful lot of time." (Korzybski: A Biography, p. 457)

Scroll down on the linked page to read Graham Rae's piece on Korzybski and Burroughs.

Korzybski on Wealth - Something for Tea Party Patriots and Occupy Wall Street Enthusiasts

"...[W]ealth consists of those things—whether they be material commodities or forms of knowledge and understanding—that have been produced by the time-binding energies of humanity, and according to which nearly all the wealth of the world at any given time is the accumulated fruit of the toil of past generations—the living work of the dead. It seems unnecessary to warn the reader against confusing the "making" of money by hook or crook, by trick or trade, with the creating of wealth, by the product of labor." 
—Alfred Korzybski, Manhood of Humanity, p. 115

Thursday, December 8, 2011

From the Stray Thought Bin - 'The Speed of Thought'

If relativity theory has abolished infinite speeds in physics, then the speed of 'thought' is not infinite either.

Quote of the Day: Lies & Truth

"Things are generally other than they seem, and ignorance that never looks beneath the rind becomes disabused when you show the kernel. Lies always come first, dragging fools along by their irreparable vulgarity. Truth always lags last, limping along on the arm of Time. The wise therefore reserve for it the other half of that power which the common mother has wisely given in duplicate. Deceit is very superficial, and the superficial therefore easily fall into it. Prudence lives retired within its recesses, visited only by sages and wise men."
——Bathasar Gracian, Aphorism #146  from The Art of Wordly Wisdom

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

From the Stray Thought Bin - 'Confined by a System'

The fact that you reject all systems of thought as confining, doesn't mean that you are not confined by one.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Steven Lewis Review of Korzybski: A Biography

I've known Biology professor Steven Lewis for a number of years and he definitely qualifies as one of only a handful of people worldwide whom I consider genuine Korzybski scholars (it's a small small 'pond', folks). So his opinion about my biography of Korzybski definitely counts for me. I'm happy to say he liked it. He wouldn't B.S. me and I wouldn't want him to. Here's what he says about it: "At last, a book-length biography of Korzybski.".

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Last Science and Sanity Podcast

The Science and Sanity Podcast group, hosted by Heron Stone, has finished its reading of Korzybski's book. I'm not a fan of the computerized-voice chapter readings, but the discussions, available on iTunes and Talkshoe, have kept me very interested indeed. Since I discovered the group only a few months ago, I feel happy to have had the opportunity to contribute to its final few sessions. 

After the group finished Book II with a discussion of Chapter XXXI - "Concluding Remarks", I contributed to the last three sessions that followed :

For the first on Nov. 20, Heron played an audio recording (38a)  of the speech (and subsequent Q&A period) I gave on "Korzybski's Legacy: What Is It? How Do We Carry It On?" in New York City in October at the 2011 Institute of General Semantics (IGS) Conference. The presentation gives an overview of Korzybski's life and work and the subsequent development of it at the IGS and elsewhere. You can read about it and download a pdf of the presentation herelively Science and Sanity podcast group discussion followed afterwards (38b).  

Then, on Nov. 27 I did a presentation on "The Genesis of Science and Sanity" (39) based on the research I did in writing Korzybski: A Biography. Listen to this for an 'executive summary' of what Korzybski was aiming at and the process he went through in producing his great work. 

Yesterday, December 4, I talked about the 'problematic'—for many—final Book III of Science and Sanity (40). Because of its heavy-looking mathematical and scientific content, even many people who have read the rest of the book, decide to skip it. I discussed what Korzybski was trying to accomplish by writing it and gave an approach to reading it that I think can help reduce the intimidation factor of that part of the book or even the intimidation factor of the rest of the book. 

I've been told that 'no one likes to hear a recording of their own voice'. That certainly fits me. But I'm still learning. And even given the ums, ahs and some digressions that I didn't care for, I feel pleased that I did manage to pack a lot of  content into the presentations. Download the four audio segments 38a, 38b, 39 and 40 for your iPod/mp3-player from iTunes or Talkshoe Together these four provide a solid introduction to Korzybski's work for any curious person who wants to learn more and a good introduction to Heron Stone's entire S&S podcast series. I hope you enjoy the discussions as much as I did.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

The General Evaluational Value of Mathematics and the Exact Sciences

"Now those who are professionally engaged in human affairs, economists, sociologists, politicians, bankers, priests of every kind, teachers . , [etc.,] 'mental' hygiene workers, and psychiatrists included, do not even suspect that material and methods of great general semantic [evaluational] value can be found in mathematics and the exact sciences. The drawing of their attention to this fact, no matter how clumsily done at first, will stimulate further researches, produce better formulations and understanding, and ultimately create conditions where sanity will be possible." —Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity, p. 538

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"The Canvas Is Not The Territory" - Dom Heffer on 'General-Semantics' and a Painter's Process

Painter Dom Heffer from England attended the end-of-October GS conference in New York City, where he spoke on the subject of his work featured on the cover of the latest ETC.: A Review of General Semantics. I hung out a bit with Dom and found him a very well-read and serious student-practitioner of 'general-semantics', err...I mean korzybski's non-aristotelian applied epistemology.

Dom's conference talk "The Canvas Is Not The Territory" went over the ground covered in his accompanying ETC. article, “The Spectacled Society: General Semantics and a Painter's Process.” If you don't want to pay $15 to download the issue containing the article (hey, Institute of General Semantics people, isn't that a bit steep for something you're trying to promote?), you can go to this interesting blogpost by, which gives a quick rundown on Dom's recursive (self-reflexive) painting process, which he documents through his art (it's recursive or self-reflexive, don't you see). Dom's website, also has a lot of interesting things about Dom's creations. Here's a link to what he showed at the conference which came with his accompanying commentary: "The Canvas Is Not The Territory." Korzybski's student Charles Biederman wrote a book published in the late 1940s called Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge. Check out Dom's self-reflexive take on visual knowledge.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Quote of the Day: 'Language and Evolution'

"The formation of different languages and of distinct species, and the proofs that both have been developed through a gradual process, are curiously parallel...."
—Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man 1871

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Korzybski's Legacy: What Is It? How Do We Carry It On?" - presented by Bruce I. Kodish, Author of Korzybski: A Biography, at the 2011 Institute of General Semantics (IGS) Weekend Symposium, "Communicating in the 21st Century", on 10/29/11 at the Princeton Club, New York City

Here are links to the text and audio of the presentation I gave at the Institute of General Semantics (IGS) Symposium - "Communicating in the 21st Century" on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011 at the Princeton Club in New York City. 

Marty Levinson, President of the IGS Board of Trustees introduced me to the group. Marty organized a great conference and I want to thank him and the IGS Board for inviting me and being willing to listen even though I had some difficult things to say about the present state of GS and the IGS. I felt nervous delivering this talk and you'll probably tell when you hear it.  But I consider it one of the most important presentations I've ever made, and a valuable one for someone who wants to get a running start as to what Korzybski and his work are about. 

Here's the opening paragraph:
Korzybski’s legacy: what ‘is’ it? How do we carry it on? In the way that I’m using the term legacy here, as “a thing handed down by a predecessor,” Korzybski’s legacy has a number of related aspects. Partly, it consists of tangible objects: artifacts and archives left behind. Partly it consists of the Institute of General Semantics itself. However, mainly today I want to focus on what Korzybski taught, the legacy of the wide-ranging system of formulations, known as GS (‘general semantics’). Korzybski advised that when you study someone’s work “…read not only what you read, but study the author.”[1] In other words, do your best to get inside his or her head, find out what problems they tackled, what questions they asked, what they wanted to say. I’ve studied the author and I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned about Korzybski’s work. What constitutes the core of what he taught, his legacy? How has it come down to the present? What opportunities exist for us now to carry it on?

[1] Korzybski: A Biography, p. 8

I want to thank my friend Heron Stone of Gendo for his help in editing the audio recording and getting it up on the Gendo podcast, which I heartily suggest that you subscribe to. He's the closest thing to an internet Socrates I've met. 

Here's the audio link of Gendo Podcast 689

Here's a link to the pdf of the edited and augmented text  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Acceptance Speech" by Bruce Kodish on receiving the 2011 S. I. Hayakawa Book Prize from the Institute of General Semantics for Korzybski: A Biography

It seemed like just a few days after Steve Jobs died that his biography came out. It took 61 year for Alfred Korzybski's. Why did it take so long? Interesting question, I'm not going to answer now. But if you wonder why I wrote Korzybski: A Biography, I thought it had been long enough.

My friend Robert P. Pula, extraordinary scholar and teacher of korzybskian general-semantics and a former Executive Director of the Institute of General Semantics, had been working on a biography of Korzybski for many years. After he died unexpectedly in early 2004, I felt impelled 'to pick up the torch'. What Korzybski and his co-workers developed and taught was not entirely written down but had an oral and tacit dimension received through personal contact and handed down in often unspoken and even un-speakable, i.e., silent and non-verbal, ways. As a long-time close friend and co-worker of Charlotte Schuchardt Read—Korzybski's confidential secretary and literary assistant—I wanted to convey the feel of Korzybski and his work that I had gotten from her (and others) which I feared might otherwise get lost. 

I first encountered Korzybski's work in the early 1960s around the age of 13. I've studied it most of my life and worked at the Institute of General Semantics on its education and publication staffs for several decades in its post-Korzybski but still quite korzybskian heyday in the latter half of the 20th Century. I pursued and obtained a doctoral degree in Applied Epistemology/'General Semantics'. I spent seven years researching and writing Korzybski: A Biography. In all that time, I've managed to learn something. So don't be intimidated by the size of my book (694 pages including endnotes, bibliography and index): If you want to get to the core of what Korzybski taught, then I think that all of my time will save you a great deal of your own time. Besides, I did my best to make it a good read.

To conclude: I want to thank Marty Levinson [President of the IGS Board of Trustees], Jackie Rudig [IGS Vice-President] and the entire Institute Board of Trustees for giving me this award and for the opportunity to be here with all of you. Let's celebrate Korzybski here, his work, all of those who've carried it on and built upon it up to the present. And let's celebrate the Institute of General Semantics, which had its 73rd anniversary this year. Let's do it!

—Bruce I. Kodish, 
October 28, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Institute of General Semantics 2011 Conference (Initial Post-Conference Debriefing)

I'm reserving today and perhaps the rest of the week for DDD. I don't mean that I'll be spending my time watching episodes of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" (although I'll probably do that too); I mean I'll be Downloading (my rather chock-full cranium), Debriefing myself after a mega-busy, mega-stressful weekend in NYC at the IGS conference (lot's of input, lots of challenges, but not a lot of sleep), and Decompressing (just chilling, relaxing and 'vegging out') which often doesn't come easily to me. 

First of all, kudos to IGS President Martin Levinson and his program committee for putting together a great conference at the Princeton Club. I counted about 40 people on Saturday and somewhat fewer on Sunday (there seemed like somewhat more people at the Friday night banquet which featured awards and Sherry Turkle's Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture). The high quality of audience and presenters made up for the smallish crowd. I'll be blogging on about stuff related to the conference and my award, including providing a copy of my presentation on "Korzybski's Legacy...", as well as discussing Sherry Turkle's talk and some of the main themes that seemed to emerge from the different presentations, as well as links and discussions about some of the interesting people I met at the conference. 

I probably know more about the history of the Institute of General Semantics (IGS) and its varying historical and ongoing challenges/problems than anyone else alive—having had a continuous working association with the organization since 1979 up to the present, and having studied its history in depth (Korzybski: A Biography qualifies, among other things, as a comprehensive history of the first, pivotal 12 years of the IGS during Korzybski's lifetime). Although it's been quite a while since my wife Susan and I have had any significant involvement with the operation or policies of the IGS, the leadership of the Institute-2011  seemed willing at this juncture to hear some constructive suggestions and criticisms which I provided both privately and publicly to them. The Institute has had major organizational challenges over the last few years and I commend the leadership and those interested members of its governing board of trustees who demonstrated their openness to begin to deal with difficulties in a constructive way. 

I deeply appreciate the great honor they have bestowed upon me: their major book prize  for Korzybski: A Biography. I experienced their appreciation of the book as deeply genuine. It also honors them because it demonstrates their desire to reconnect to the korzybskian tradition which for various reasons has gotten lost at the Institute (once the major bearer of that tradition) over the last 10 or so very difficult years. That provided a major theme of my public presentation to the group, Korzybski's Legacy: What Is It? How Do We Carry It On, which happily seemed very well received by the audience—including the Institute leadership, who appear to want to go forward in a productive and positive way. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Meet Bruce Kodish in New York City, Oct. 28-30 at this Extra Special IGS Annual Event

The Institute of General Semantics (IGS) will continue a long tradition by hosting the 59th annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture (AKML) and Symposium in New York City at the Princeton Club in Manhattan from October 28 to 30. (That's just a little more than a week from now—oh my.) It starts off Friday Evening, Oct. 28 with a cocktail hour followed by a banquet dinner and then what looks like a very interesting talk by famed anthropologist of digital electronic life and the Internet, Sherry Turkle, author of the new book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Besides the speaker and the other interesting people attending, I will be there getting the 2011 IGS Book Prize for Korzybski: A Biography.
Mr. B. K. Parekh will receive the prestigious J. Talbot Winchell Award for his exceptional service in furthering the field of GS. 

Then on Saturday, Oct. 29 and Sunday, Oct. 30, the Institute and its co-sponsors will host the symposium at the Princeton Club, "Communicating in the 21st Century." Have a good look at the tentative program and you'll see a variety of fascinating titles and presenters.  Kudos to IGS President Martin H. Levinson and the other program planners for putting together such an impressive lineup of speakers. 

In my presentation on Saturday afternoon: "Korzybski's Legacy: What Is It? How Do We Carry It On", I intend to  entertain and enlighten as I present what I consider the core of what Korzybski developed and taught. My presentation will end with a Q&A session. I think this could serve as a good lead-up to the final session on Sunday—scheduled from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm—An Audience Round-Table Discussion on the Direction and Future of GS moderated by Marty Levinson. You'll have a chance 'to put your two-cents in' (or more) on the future of GS. I feel excited—to say the least. I'd love to meet any of my Korzybski Files readers, FaceBook friends, and Twitter followers and anyone else reading this who lives in the New York City Area.

Here's a link to register for all or some of the the AKML weekend events. You'll get a big bang for your buck with the $15 dollar fee for the combined AKML and Symposium (minus the dinner). Come on out if you can, for all or some of the proceedings.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Korzybski Files Meets Gendo

Korzybski Files Meets Gendo? 

No, unlike Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman or King Kong Meets Godzillait's not a bad horror movie.

Rather, gendo is the name that its originator, Heron Stone, came up with for the approach he put together for "language rehab" for "brain-damaged language monkeys," i.e., you and me. Now, you see a connection, don't you? 

Heron, who considers himself a "brain-damaged language monkey" too, encourages people to recognize what he calls the "five stupidities of the English language." You can hear his podcasts of internet conversations with fellow earthlings from around the planet at gendo - a way of language

He considers Alfred Korzybski, a great influence and also runs a once a week Science and Sanity discussion group, which he  records and also podcasts. I had never heard of him or gendo before, so felt pleasantly surprised when he recently contacted me (he had just bought Korzybski: A Biography). We have had a few discussions on Skype, including the following—which became gendo podcast 662—in preparation for me participating in his Science and Sanity group, later that week. 

In this conversation we talk about gendo, Korzybski: A Biography, and various and sundry GS and non-aristotelian related topics. You can listen to or download the file of our discussion here: #662 - 1-on-1 with Bruce Kodish. #665 features the Science and Sanity group discussion that I participated in that next Sunday.  Enjoy!

Also check out Heron's website  and search iTunes for the Science and Sanity podcast

Friday, September 23, 2011

2011 Hayakawa Book Prize To Be Awarded For Korzybski: A Biography

The Institute of General Semantics (IGS) will present me with its 2011 S. I. Hayakawa Book Prize for Korzybski: A Biography at the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture (AKML) Banquet on Friday, October 28 at the Princeton Club in New York City.  

My getting this award may seem ironic, given some of the criticisms I've detailed about Hayakawa in the biography and in past articles (especially "Getting Off of Hayakawa's Ladder," but also "In the Name of Skepticism: Martin Gardner's Misrepresentations of General Semantics," and "Contra Max Black: An Examination of Critiques of General-Semantics," ) published in the General Semantics Bulletin

Nonetheless, I've never denied Hayakawa's talents as a writer, editor and teacher. His elaboration of Korzybski's work, however attenuated much of it has seemed to me, has no doubt had some good effects. Here's an account of Hayakawa's influence on one person.

The Institute began giving the Hayakawa Prize in 2009 and I feel honored to have my name added to those of the two previous winners and their truly excellent books: 

Laura Bertone


Hidden Side of Babel: Unveiling Cognition, Intelligence and Sense. (Buenos Aries: Evolución, 2006.)

Bob Eddy


Graymanship: The Management of Organizational Imperfection. (Lake Mary, FL: GIST Publishing Co., 2010.)

I'll attend the AKML Banquet to receive the prize and look forward to hearing Sherry Turkle, who as the 59th Annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecturer will be presenting material from her latest book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Turkle has done important research which actually provides corroborating data for one of Korzybski's earliest predictions: that the rapid growth of technology and associated socio-cultural changes would increasingly challenge human abilities to cope and to relate to one another (elaborated in his 1921 Manhood of Humanity).

A two-day symposium entitled "Communicating in the 21st Century" will follow. I'll speak on Saturday, October 29 on "Korzybski's Legacy: What Is It? How Do We Carry It On?"

I make an effort to keep minimum expectations about everything that I can and definitely do expect to have an interesting time

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Becoming More Fully Human"

Recently a number of people have become interested in previous works by me and my wife Susan, including the book Dare to Inquire: Sanity and Survival for the 21st Century and Beyond.

Here's a nice fat slice of that book, Chapter 4 - "Becoming More Fully Human," where I elaborated on Susan's formulating about some korzybskian notions, humanist 'philosophy', and the work of Abraham Maslow, among other things.  

Some of you may find it controversial.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Quote of the Day- 'The Sneer of the Future'

"The present is no more exempt from the sneer of the future than the past has been."
——Cassius J. Keyser (Mole Philosophy and Other Essays, p. 152)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Quote of the Day- 'Creating Worlds'

"Languages create worlds to live in, not just in the minds of their speakers, but in their lives, and their descendents lives."
—Nicholas Ostler, 
 Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin, p. 20

Friday, August 12, 2011

From the Stray Thought Bin – 'The Pressing Question'

Whatever and whenever you know and do, you abstract and all you can know are your abstractions. What's ultimately important is not so much a high-level intellectual understanding of this, but rather its low-level, moment-to-moment living recognition and use. How do I practice consciousness of abstractions and conscious abstracting in my daily life? That seems to me the pressing question. And not just personally for me 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ralph C. Hamilton — His Memory is a Blessing

Ralph C. Hamilton, a personal assistant of Alfred Korzybski's in the late 1940s, died yesterday, in his 90s after a brief period of failing health. You'll read about Ralph and some of what he had to say about his friend Alfred in Korzybski: A Biography. Ralph gave me a tremendous amount of time and help; we became friends and I'll miss him. I had just sent Ralph a bound galley proof of the book and his son, Bruce, told me that he was able to tell his father that it was out, and the he (Ralph) had a prominent place in it. Ralph smilingly replied, 'That will ensure my notoriety.' 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

From the Stray Thought Bin – 'Experts'

Some experts end up making problems overly complicated, as opposed to experts who end up making solutions as simple as possible. 

Quote of the Day- Words and Deeds

"Easier said than done."
—American Folk Saying (some variant in many different cultures).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Korzybski Biography Update-6/20/2011

Terribly remiss I have been, dear readers. 

I apologize for the sparsity of my blog posts here as of late. But I have a great excuse.

We (Susan, my wife and editor, and I) just finished an almost all-consuming, two-week period of final proofreading and have now submitted the book files to the printer for publication. We expect to release the book to the public very soon. It will take a short time to get it available on and other places. But for those of you who have been eager to see the book, it's not long in coming now. I think you'll like it and I'm nigh sure you'll learn some surprising things about Korzybski and 'general semantics' that you didn't know before.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Korzybski Biography Update- June 1, 2011

Awaiting printer proofs for final editing of the long-awaited Korzybski: A Biography. Anxious readers will have the book very soon. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How Language Shapes Thought

In the third paragraph of this important article How Language Shapes Thought cognitive psychologist/anthropologist Lera Boroditsky explains one of the reasons why so many cognitive scientists, linguistic scholars and others have ignored or dismissed Korzybski's work for so long (See for example his discussion of 'language' and 'thought' in last 1950 paper, The Role of Language in the Perceptual Processes*). Noam Chomsky's hegemonic reign over the field of linguistics and what became cognitive science, was just beginning and Korzybski's non-essentialist, non-elementalistic vision of language and human behavior which paralleled that of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf was not going to find congenial audiences in those swayed by Chomsky's work. In 2011, that is clearly changing. 

* I would have linked to the article on the Institute of General Semantics website, but it appears no longer available there. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

From The Stray Thought Bin – 'Mere Appearance'

There is not necessarily anything mere about appearance, even if it doesn't accurately reflect what is going on. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

From The Stray Thought Bin – 'Sloganeering and Superficial Thought'

There is no substitute for thinking carefully and deeply about those things that matter most; unfortunately, this takes more time than what many people wish to give it and as a result they succumb to sloganeering and superficial thought. 

Quote of the Day- 'Semantics'

“For the immediate future, probably the loose-thinking ‘semanticists’ a’ la Stuart Chase, will introduce many popular cliches and make [the] term ‘semantics’ a hissing and byword, so that it will cease to be used by serious scientists.”
——Benjamin Lee Whorf * 

* From a 1941 letter, qtd. by Penny Lee in The Whorf theory complex: A critical reconstruction., 1996. John Benjamins Publishing Co., Amsterdam/Philidelphia.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review - Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Approaches to a Science of Life

Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) is at the forefront of a major and needed paradigm shift in the human sciences, part of the non-aristotelian socio-cultural-scientific revision that Alfred Korzybski long hoped to foment. 

Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Approaches to a Science of Life, a book of correspondence between William T. Powers (the chief formulator of PCT) and his close colleague, the late Philip J. Runkel (social psychologist and research methodologist), will give the interested reader an irreplaceable inside view (and a very human one) of the developing work-in-progress in PCT over the last several decades and into the new millennium. 

It seems well nigh certain that Korzybski would have felt delighted to see the substantial  standing and growing structure that Powers and Runkel, two early and serious students of his work (see the Name Index), have produced on such korzybskian foundations. Let me explain. 

In his 1933 magnum opus, Science and Sanity, Korzybski presented his system of applied epistemology (labeled "general semantics") as his contribution to the foundations of a "science of man." As early as his first 1921 book Manhood of Humanity, he had expressed the importance of non-linear, circular ("spiral") causation for understanding human behavior. But his rough working intuition of circular mechanisms didn't line up with the psychology of his day, which mainly operated within the stimulus-response paradigm. So although he regretted the lack of what he considered a "scientific psychology" (an exact theory of the circular mechanisms of behavior didn't exist) he was forced when formulating his own work to make use of the best, though inadequate, studies of his day. 

Almost as soon as he became aware of the notion of feedback, which began to rise into public awareness after World War II under Norbert Wiener's rubric "cybernetics", Korzybski leaped on it as "a turning point in the history of human evolution and socio-cultural adjustment." But it took a long time after Korzybski's death in 1950 before William T. Powers' 1973 book, Behavior: The Control of Perception actually showed how negative feedback control, long touted by cyberneticists, might function as the core for an exact and overarching scientific theory for psychology. 

Powers is not just a psychological theorist—as an engineer he had intimate contact with the 'guts' of actual mechanical servomechanisms. He's had lots of experience with human servomechanisms too. The detailed research program for psychology entailed by Powers and colleagues, emphasizes human autonomy, a phenomenological perspective, and the rigorous modeling of behavior. Their program has already begun to get carried out, although acceptance has been slow by the larger social/behavioral  'science' which still operates under the burden of the outmoded but still pervasive stimulus-response, linear cause and effect, paradigm.

The editor of Dialogue... Dag Forssell had done a tremendous service by getting it into print, along with his excellent introductory discussion and supplementary material. Go to his  Living Control Systems  website , and if you don't get Dialogue... right away, get one of his other books on PCT to start with. (Dag also has a generous amount of free material to peruse.) For the serious student of Korzybski's work, interested in developing it further in 2011, mastering the basics of  PCT seems essential. When you are hooked, you will have to have Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Approaches to a Science of Life.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Korzybski and Trigant Burrow – 'We are all insane and headed for worse'

In 1927, when psychiatrist Trigant Burrow (1875–1950) came out with his first book, The Social Basis of Consciousness, Korzybski had already begun corresponding with him. Alfred also corresponded with Burrow’s colleague, psychiatrist Hans Syz. Although Burrow had had an early interest in Freud’s work and psychoanalysis, he had been forming his own views outside of the main psychoanalytical circles. Beside his M.D., he had gotten a PhD in experimental psychology focused on the physiology of attention. His approach to therapy—he pioneered in group therapy and social psychiatry—developed out of his interest in the interactions among the physiological, phenomenological, interpersonal, and socio-cultural aspects of maladjustment. Burrow may have coined the word “neurodynamic” (he was one of the first to use the term) and went on to explore the role of attention and symbolism in neuroses. 

Burrow had independently gotten very close to a great deal of what Korzybski had formulated in his general theory. Korzybski sought to emphasize the commonality of their work. But Burrow’s understanding seemed intuitive, his language cloudy. Alfred had hopes that his own work could suggest ways to bring greater formulational clarity to Burrow’s efforts. Burrow didn’t see it that way. In his book, Science and Man’s Behavior, published posthumously Burrow wrote:
I would not make all this ado about the wide disparity between…[us], were not Korzybski so determined to proselytize me on the ground that “we are saying the same thing.” Perhaps we are. But do our organisms feel the same way?" (1)
Regarding Burrow, Korzybski in later years didn’t waver from the opinion that he expressed, with only slight exaggeration, to his friend Roy Haywood in early 1928, 
His [Burrow’s] main thesis is that we are all insane (neurotics), do not know it and are headed for worse. I quite agree with him. (2)

1. Burrow 1953, p. 295.

2. AK to H. L. Haywood, 1/2/1928. Alfred Korzybski Digital Archives 21.571.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quote of the Day- 'First Words'

“The few first words with which mankind started its vocabulary were labels for pre-scientific ideas, naïve generalizations full of silent assumptions, objectifications, of non-existents,…Our daily speech and in very large measure our scientific language is one enormous system of such assumptions.” 
—Alfred Korzybski 

“Fate and Freedom” (1923/4), Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 18.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quote of the Day- 'Doctrinal Creatures'

 “Because of logical fate, the analysis of doctrine, which underlies all human activities, becomes the most important—nay, the all-important—fact for all the future of man.” 
—Alfred Korzybski, "The Brotherhood of Doctrines" (written, 1922) in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings

Korzybski's 'Odd' Work

Korzybski’s work would appear not only at odds with but also odd to people whose view of objectivity and rationality required sharp boundaries between philosophy and science, mathematics and science, disparate fields of science, and between these various theoretical areas and practical life. Where many saw sharp boundaries, Korzybski explored murky borderlines and found unceasing connections. In his own time, only a few philosophical ‘renegades’ like Gaston Bachelard, Oliver Reiser, F. S. C. Northrop and L. L. Whyte would pay serious attention to his work.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Quote of the Day- "Our Speech"

"All life therefore comes back to the question of our speech, the medium through which we communicate with each other. . . . The more it suggests and expresses the more we live by itthe more it promotes and enhances life. Its quality, its authenticity, its security, are hence supremely important for the general multifold opportunity, for the dignity and integrity, of our existence."*
Henry James.

*Qtd. in SIGNIFICS AND LANGUAGE (1911) by Viola Welby (Title-page epigraph)