Sunday, August 31, 2014

Chapter 16 - "Binding Time": Part 2 - Epiphany

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

“What makes humans human?” and “Why do our social institutions collapse while bridges mostly don’t?” In his quest for answers to his questions Korzybski clearly seemed in part to have been inspired by Charles Ferguson. In The Revolution Absolute Ferguson had announced that,
The day has come to apply the Baconian principle [of inductive science] to politics. Inductive science has ruled for three hundred years in the realm of physics, and the whole body of modern technology is an achievement of the Baconian method. But in politics we are still sitting in the grove of Socrates discussing high abstractions...[p. 205]

[Bacon had avoided discussing] the inevitable antagonism between inductive science and the Aristotelian abstractions enthralling the politics of his day...[p. 8]

[Pursuing a Baconian sociology means dealing with] the all-inclusive social question…: How can the social constitution achieve the highest possible power over the forces and materials of nature? [p. 13] (4)
The desire to extend the reach of science into human life—even the criticism of “Aristotelian abstractions”—was already there in Ferguson’s work. Yet Alfred’s emphasis on the importance of mathematics was leading him further. If he could come up with a clear, definite, and scientifically sound definition of Man, he thought he would have something more exact and solid than a Baconian inductive science. He would have the basis for a deductive—a mathematics-like—science of humanity.

For their room, Amy had given Alfred and Mira the large, glass-enclosed porch of the farmhouse. They had a double bed and a table with a typewriter where Alfred began to peck in his two-fingered style. As he described it, “I spit out everything I could in big generalities about god and the devil, the world, and what not, science and mathematics.” He didn’t feel he was getting very far. “What makes man think? What is the special characteristic of humanity? This bothered me and bothered me and the sight from the Woolworth building…”(5) 
…I was brooding about the role of plants in this world. What did they do? They synthesized the chemistry of the soil and air and sun (I didn’t have the term chemistry-binding then). ‘What is the role of a dog or a horse or a monkey? ‘Well, they eat.’ ‘What do they eat?’ Animals depend on eating [plants or other animals], drinking, and then trotting around. They begin where they began, they end where they end.’ I was sitting on Amy’s farm on the porch. At night one night I sat up in bed. I knew about plants, then animals. Animals – you can not deny them communication – ‘talking’. They can transmit nothing. I sat up in bed – ‘We can transmit from generation to generation’ [Italics mine – BIK]. I solved this in sleep. I cried. I didn’t have the term ‘time-binding’ then. It took me a day, [maybe] about 2 or 3 -– I had to have a label. Then I built up the terminology. We can transmit —whether we do or not — theories, religion, tabus — they cut their heads off in some tribes, [a] method [of] stopping time-binding [that] is simple and effective. (6)
You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
4. I originally obtained the Ferguson quotes from The Revolution Absolute in Michael Lane’s short book, Charles Ferguson: Herald of Social Credit [p. 35]. Lane provides a nice introduction to this neglected social theorist. Curious readers can now download Charles Ferguson’s otherwise hard to obtain book The Revolution Absolute from . You can find more information on Ferguson and Social Credit on Lane’s webpage at  

5. Korzybski 1947, p. 215. 

6. “Manhood & Credo Notes by CS [Charlotte Schuchardt]”,  (1948/1949). IGS Archives. Mira recalled Alfred’s nighttime insight as coming after a two-day long, tea-drinking discussion in Washington, D.C. soon after their marriage. See Charlotte Schuchardt Read 1955, pp. 54-55. While the insight may well have come after a marathon discussion/tussle with Mira (with lots of tea), evidence from Korzybski’s prior writings and letters, makes Alfred’s account here—that it happened in Missouri—more likely. 

< Part 1      Part 3 >

No comments: