Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chapter 19 - The Time-Binding Club: Part 6 - Steinmetz

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.

Club members were also helping Alfred to make important outside connections. Alfred never hesitated in approaching the ‘biggest’ people in whatever field he was writing about. Probably at the suggestion of Polakov, Alfred had read the 1916 book, America and the New Epoch, by Charles Steinmetz, a mathematician, engineer, and socialist born in Prussian Poland in 1865. Steinmetz—a wizened hunchback and, in Polakov’s words, a “big-hearted” genius—had come to the U.S. in 1889. Since then Steinmetz had established the mathematical theory of alternating currents, made possible the expanding national power grid, and become the head of the research laboratory at General Electric Corporation. Steinmetz’s book had analyzed what he saw as a necessary historical shift from an era emphasizing individualism and competition to one emphasizing cooperation.To Korzybski writing his engineering appendix, Steinmetz’s book gave “a most correct engineering picture of the political situation in the world…”which fit in with the message of human engineering that Alfred wanted to convey in his own book.(23) He hoped he might be able to get Steinmetz interested in his work and perhaps get his critique and endorsement. 

Polakov, who knew Steinmetz, wrote a letter of introduction for Korzybski. At the beginning of September, Alfred sent it, along with his own letter and a manuscript of his book, to Steinmetz’s home and office in Schenectady, north of New York City.(24) About a week later two mysterious men—special government agents?—visited Polakov asking questions about “the Korzybski theory”. Walter and Alfred wondered: Did some of Palmer’s ‘red hunters’ intercept the manuscript sent to Steinmetz? After he had heard no word from Steinmetz for a month, Alfred sent another letter to him and also one to General Electric.(25) The letter addressed to G.E. finally got through. Within a few weeks, Steinmetz wrote back to him indicating he had not received the manuscript or the two previous letters addressed to him.(26) Alfred sent him another manuscript in mid-November via private messenger but didn’t hear back from him for another month. It was certainly not lack of interest on Steinmetz’s part. He had a busy laboratory at his home at “Liberty Hall” and was now in the midst of an exhaustive research project on lightning which would lead two years later to the first effective lightning arrester for the power industry. It turns out that both of Korzybski’s manuscripts had gotten misplaced in Steinmetz’s lab. Steinmetz finally wrote back to Korzybski on December 21; the manuscript had finally reached him: “...I started reading it [and] am getting interested; will write you soon.”(27)

In early 1921, with Korzybski madly revising his manuscript, Steinmetz wrote expressing further interest in the new material on human engineering but provided no other comments.(28) He was just too busy to do much more than express his sympathy for Alfred’s work. Korzybski wrote back expressing some frustration he wasn’t able to personally meet and get more input from Steinmetz as the book neared publication—although he had decided to add Steinmetz to his list of people acknowledged in the “Preface”.(29) Steinmetz didn’t object.

Steinmetz spent his last few years extremely fruitfully. He built an artificial lightning machine, formulated a method of suppressing lightning damage to power lines, and wrote one of the earliest books explaining the theory of relativity. Korzybski apparently never met him in person. Steinmetz died unexpectedly in October 1923 of heart failure—probably related to the strain of his severe kypho-scoliosis, i.e., “hunchback”, combined with his relentless activity. Polakov wrote the following in an obituary of him published in that year’s November 7 issue of The Nation:
…[Steinmetz] often stated that the aim of engineering is to control the forces of nature for the well-being of mankind. What are these “forces of nature”? Are they limited to “non-human nature,” or do they embrace as well the forces of “human nature”? On this point Steinmetz never wavered.  
In interviews that were broadcasted across two continents he sharply defined the goal of success for the engineer—“to find out how human forces work.” For only then,” according to Steinmetz, “can we expect any great human progress.” That is why he became such a warm supporter of Korzybski’s theory of man…(30)

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. 
23. Korzybski 1921, p. 259. 

24. AK to Charles Steinmetz, 9/12/1920. AKDA 4.808.

25. AK to Charles Steinmetz, 10/9/1920. AKDA 4.357. 

26. Charles Steinmetz to AK, 10/26/1920. AKDA 4.319. 

27. Charles Steinmetz to AK, 12/21/1920. AKDA 6.607. 

28. Charles Steinmetz to AK, Feb. 1, 1921. AKDA 6.598 

29. Korzybski to Charles Steinmetz, Ap. 7, 1921. AKDA 5.418 

30. Steinmetz Obituary by Walter N. Polakov in The Nation, 11/7/1923. AKDA 3.202.

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