Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chapter 22 - "Just Work, Work, Work": Part 1 - Introduction

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.

The “Great War” had scarred Korzybski both physically and psychologically. Great troubles loomed, perhaps even another more disastrous war. But despite his memories and forebodings, he seemed incapable of cynicism. He had retained his enthusiasm, warmth, earthiness—and bluntness. He had married a large-hearted woman who carried an actual golden rule with her wherever she went. Together, they deeply felt people could do better, the world could do better. After all, Alfred had clearly demonstrated (so they thought): humans, as the time-binding class of life, have at least the potential to progress.

However, Alfred also knew a good-hearted intention to help could be worse than useless if unconstrained by an accurate view of actualities. His own earlier attraction to the sort of view expressed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion had come out of his deeply held concern for people’s well-being (particularly in Poland) combined with an uninformed, simplistic understanding of Jewish life. His deep investment in the principle of rooting out false knowledge had required him to challenge himself once his antisemitic beliefs had come to the surface so starkly. This provided another lesson about the necessity of not taking anything for granted (least of all his own opinions), of being open to facts, and of being willing to modify his opinions in accordance with them. Doing good required a clear head.

Korzybski’s commitment to clarity, which he had cultivated over the years, provided the ‘secret’ behind his knack for solving problems of all kinds. He wanted to extract its essence and convey it to others. Now (1921) he was putting it in terms of mathematical logic. But it seemed based on an even more general orientation—a system of principles (however unclear at present) behind the physico-mathematical revolution going on around him.

These principles connected with what his father had first taught him as a child, i.e., the feel of the calculus—looking at the world, even daily life, in terms of dynamic functions, differential equations. Leibniz again—the first to use the term “function” as the name for mathematically expressed relationships between variables. Things, people, ideas were not fixed and final however they might appear. Rather, everything in the world took part in a process of growth and change. Concurrently, if things seemed confusing, an order still existed behind the confusion, an underlying network of invariant relationships that might reveal itself for someone daring enough to inquire. Function. Differentiation. Integration. This way of looking at things, part of his engineer’s mentality and worldview—how could he convey it? 

He felt and knew more than he could clearly say about it. He remembered the teacher who had scolded him—“If you think you know it but you can’t say it, you probably don’t.” He now saw his first book as only an introduction to something much larger and more significant. What he was now studying, the new work in the foundations of mathematics and the recent revolution in physics, seemed to him to have come from this source of clear-headedness and rigorous thinking, the physico-mathematical and engineering ‘spirit’ that had fed him from childhood onwards. He was struggling now to remove the dross and confusion (his own primarily) and to more lucidly express his vision of this source—the source of the time-binding power. Somehow, he thought, there was a way of making the highly abstract and esoteric work he was now studying meaningful and applicable to everyday life.

Alfred had been corresponding with his friend Gilchrest, the Canadian who had tutored him in English at Petawawa. He wanted to know Gilchrest’s opinion of Manhood. Later in 1921, Gilchrest wrote that he considered the book “most excellently written”, but added:
…I do not think you have yet made the practical value of your discovery apparent to ordinary people. That may come later, in your next book. For example, I have no idea what would be your first step towards solving the problems of life or making things better. And that is the sort of advice that is most needed in the opinion of such prosaic and such dull individuals as I. (1)
Alfred could certainly agree. If he could clarify the broad system of principles behind the physico-mathematical revolution, he could provide such advice. In the meantime, he had been trying to sell some books.

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. 
1. Gilchrest to AK, 10/24/1921. AKDA 11.727. 

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