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, na├»ve 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)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bartender, I'll have a "Korzybski" please.

Alfred Korzybski became friends with R.B. Haseldon, curator of manuscripts at the Huntington Library in Southern California. The two men had met in person and had a lively correspondence for a number of years before and after the publication of Science and Sanity in 1933. Haseldon, who had developed a considerable interest in Korzybski’s work, seemed full of fun, inventing a cocktail which he called “The Korzybski” with the following formula, as reported third-hand later on in a newspaper snippet: 
“...You take a large cocktail shaker and place therein: 3 parts gin, 2 parts applejack, 3 parts dry vermouth, 1 part sweet vermouth. Stand this in the refrigerator for one hour, then drink and note results. Better still, have someone note the results for you. You soon reach the nonverbal level, where one can point, but cannot utter.” *

* “Punk and Incense,” Trenton N.J. Advertiser, March 27, 1938. Alfred Korzybski Digital Archives 2.833.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011