Friday, October 17, 2014

Chapter 24 - A Visitor From Mars: Part 4 - A Visitor From Mars

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 start of the new year also brought some excellent news from Keyser. He had delivered the manuscript of Mathematical Philosophy to Macrae who was readying it for publication. Alfred wrote back with his congratulations and his own big news:
...Mira came to stay here with me for several weeks. Now there is a big news which you and Mrs. Keyser are the only [ones] to know (except Ritter of course). We both want very badly to have a child, when we married we think there was something but Mira fell down from an automobile and probably harmed herself in the first month, she was ill for several months and since nothing has happen. Mrs. Ritter was a practicing physician in Berkeley and litteraly “made” a baby with incubator etc etc to Prof. Lange wife, who happens to be a life long friend of Mira. Well we thought that it would be very wise to start something of this kind here. Mrs. Ritter was very enthusiastic about it, she has a friend very successful surgeon in S.D [San Diego] and few days ago they “stretched” Mira, which apparently having a splendid body and splendid health had a too little opening in her uterus. The doctors decided that the opening is small, but they only got the idea how small it was after the operation. No ordinary instrument would enter the opening was so small, finally they had to use some little thing of the thickness of a hat pin, and then they gave poor Mira a thorough stretching, and inserted a special metal mushroom which she will wear for two months. Of course all this was made under gas. Mira was two days in the hospital in La Jolla, and she came “home” today. She feels fine absolutely like if nothing would have happen. Our hopes run high, very high indeed, the metal little thing does not prevent conception. We have decided that if we have a boy his name will be Alfred Cassius K. in memory of my beloved friend whom you probably know. (14)
Mira and Alfred kept up their hopes for the next few years, even corresponding with a fertility clinic to find out if there was any other thing they could do. The clinic was run by Doctor J. R. Brinkley, who specialized in goat testicle transplants (not mentioned in his correspondence with Alfred) and was eventually revealed as a quack. He preyed on desperate people and did his best to solicit the Korzybskis’ business, to no avail. Mira and Alfred were not quite that desperate.(15) Their chances of having a child had already been reduced due to their ages when they married. Eventually they resigned themselves to the realization that a child was not in their future.

In the meantime, they were together now in La Jolla. William A. Cyr, a reporter for The San Diego Union newspaper dropped in to interview them for a lengthy feature article on time-binding which appeared in the Tuesday morning, January 17, 1922 edition of that paper:
I found them Sunday at the Biological Institute, in Cottage 3, their little California cottage, in a room blue with smoke, sitting comfortably about a large table littered with interesting looking papers and letters. Both the count and madame are informal and friendly at all things, with a real charm and poise.  
Count Korzybski I found to be a man small in stature, a bit lame, with a head clean shaven and giving the appearance altogether of a strong, frank thinker, not devoid of sentiment or in the least cold by any means. Sharp, piercing eyes, keen and expressive, a mouth twisted almost constantly with humor, compelled by instant and uninterrupted attention. And when he discussed his book, “...Manhood of Humanity, the Science and Art of Human Engineering,” he became the incarnation of his exalted conception of man, possessed of the dignity and the dynamic which he believes man to have... 
Count Korzybski intends to remain in San Diego for several weeks yet. He is at present working on a new book which will deal with world problems in the light of man as a time-bound agent. He is to give an informal talk on his work to a group of intellectuals to be gathered by Frederick Gronberg, on Jan. 29. He spoke to a La Jolla audience on Dec. 10. 
Madame Korzybski is preparing to give an exhibition of her paintings at Coronado next month and probably will make portraits of prominent men and women there. (16) 
Although generally pleased with the article, Korzybski could not let pass the subheading labeling him a “Russian Nobleman”. He wrote a friendly but stern letter to Cyr and the error was corrected in a second article with the headline “Polish Scientist To Lecture On Nature Of Man”.(17) 

About 25 people from around San Diego who had read or were reading Manhood attended the January 29 lecture at Gronberg’s Artemesia Bookstore.(18) Cyr’s newspaper report of the talk summarizes well Korzybski’s work to date:
…Count Alfred Korzybski, noted Polish scientist and soldier, held a selected audience spellbound during a two-hour discourse of his new theories at A. Frederic Gronberg’s shop on Sixth street Sunday evening. 
Korzybski, whose book, “...Manhood of Humanity, The Science and Art of Human Engineering,” has aroused the scientific world to a new concept of Mankind, proved to be in his lecture as dynamic a speaker as he is a writer and thinker. Under the fire of his enthusiasm and by the expressions of his dramatically mobile features the audience experienced no handicap from his diction or his continentalized expressions, nor were they conscious of the injuries he had received as a soldier for the armies of Russia...
Alfred started the lecture with the conclusions he had been forming about the importance of language and symbolism in relation to time-binding. By this time, he had definitely rejected positivistic ‘empiricism’ as a valid philosophy for understanding how we gain knowledge. No ‘naked’ facts exist. Any understanding we can have of so-called facts is filtered through the ‘mind’ of one or more human observers. These observers will perceive ‘facts’ in terms of some theoretical framework with accompanying language/symbolism:
“It is obvious,” he said, “that we are a speaking and thinking class of life. No human problem can be solved without some speaking and some thinking. It is therefore, of primary importance if we are speaking or thinking correctly.”  
One needn’t conclude that reliable knowledge was impossible, however. The latest findings of mathematics and mathematical physics demonstrated methods/language by means of which reliable knowledge could be achieved/expressed:
Only a mathematical philosophy, a mathematical logic, he declared, were valid since whatever else was proved relative by Einstein, numbers in their relations to each other always remained the same, absolute and fixed. And his theory, worked out before he had heard of Einstein and therefore entirely independent of him, he said, was the complement of it, and completely in accord with that theory.
Such methods, he argued, already applied by engineers in the limited realms of technology and construction, could be extended to human affairs:
If a visitor from Mars should come, Korzybski showed, and on a tour of inspection should see our bridges, our skyscrapers, our subways, and other engineering feats, and were to ask, “How often does one of these collapse?” man here would say that if the engineering of these projects were correct in all respects, the material used in their construction carefully inspected, and the work well done, they would never collapse. 
Taken to our libraries the visitor from Mars, he declared, shown the histories of the world, would be appalled that the same men who could engineer non-collapsible bridges and skyscrapers could build a civilization which was collapsing at some point every year. And the reason, he pointed out, for the difference, lay in the fundamental beginnings of the logic that had built each.
The ‘logic’ at the basis of the non-collapsible structures was based on the power of ‘simple’ numbers which more exactly fit the changing relations and differentiating character of the world:
… Man, even the first savage, with an inherent ability to create things, that were “brand new,” fixes symbols for differentiation of the things found in nature, of distinguishing one object from another of the same kind, and thus gave birth, on natural and logical basis, to mathematics. From this basis of tangible fact he had evolved the logic which enabled him to build non-collapsible bridges.
Somehow this ‘logic’—he didn’t (and couldn’t yet) spell out how—could and should be applied to the collapsing structures of the rest of human life. (For the rest of his life, Korzybski would continue to refine this discussion on the origin and significance of numbers in the realm of human evaluation.) The remainder of the lecture returned to Korzybski’s definition of Man:
… “The materialist has built the universe and left man out of it. The spiritualist has built a soul and left out the whole universe.” Man must be treated as a whole, he emphasized, not as a bifurcated animal. A soul cannot be put in him as a flower is put in a flower pot; the soul, or reasoning faculty, or intellect, or whatever it is, cannot be detached from man and treated separately. Korzybski said he did not quarrel with either faction, those who spoke of man in terms of matter, space and time, the materialists, or those who spoke of him as energy, so long as each was consistent.
Alfred had clearly captured the interest of a wide array of San Diego residents:
Following Korzybski’s masterful talk, the privilege of questioning him was granted and a number of interesting sidelights of the theory were brought out, the crowd seeming reluctant to leave the intellectual feast he provided. Informally he and Countess Korzybski met each of the audience and exchanged brief greetings and bits of comment before the gathering broke up at a late hour. He is to hold a public lecture at the Wednesday club Thursday evening, February 16. (19)
Newspaper Notice for Korzybski Lecture,
 Wednesday Club, San Diego, California - Feb. 16, 1922

Manhood was also still capturing the interest of people throughout the United States and elsewhere. It had just gone into its third printing. Reviews and notices continued coming in. What the clipping service didn’t clip, his friends usually managed to find for him. Besides the San Diego newspaper articles, January had seen a complimentary review of Manhood in Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering. The January 1922 Yale Review had a friendly review from Alfred’s friend Alexander Petrunkavich, a Yale University biologist who a year earlier had read proofs of the book. There was a book notice and comment in the January 1922 issue of The Social Service Bulletin of The Methodist Federation for Social Service. Then in February, System:The Magazine of Business featured complimentary comments on Manhood within a feature entitled “What Business Men Read Last Month”. (This interest in time-binding by ‘capitalist’ businessmen amused the socialist Polakov.)

Despite an occasional negative review like the one in the February 8 issue of The New Republic, responses to the book so far generally seemed positive. Although Alfred considered The New Republic review malicious, he did accept negative criticism when he found something useful in it. And he found something very useful in the criticisms of psychiatrist Frankwood E. Williams, M.D. in the January issue of Mental Hygiene published by The National Committee for Mental Hygiene. In his review Williams wondered if Korzybski might be belaboring the obvious in his efforts at definition. He also criticized Korzybski for ignoring the contributions of psychiatry to the study of humans, although he did acknowledge,
…The expression “time-binder” is the best contribution the author makes. While there would seem to be nothing new in the conception of “time-binding”, the expression itself is a happy one, so rich in imagination that one is surprised to find it in a book on “engineering”...In addition to the contribution of the term “time-binder,” Count Korzybski’s book will probably be useful in another way. If the book arouses interest in the science and art of human engineering..., it will be the most useful book on the subject yet printed. And if, their interest stimulated,…business men, engineers, and mathematicians wish to continue their studies, they might begin with—a number of books come to mind, but, for example, White’s Foundations of Psychiatry. (20)
Korzybski became aware of the review later that summer and wrote to the journal for a copy. He later met Williams and considered him “a very fine man”. He found the review, despite its ‘scolding’, “quite friendly and nice.”(21) He took Williams’ recommendation of White’s book as a personal suggestion, obtaining and reading it as soon as he could. This was the beginning of Korzybski’s serious and extensive study of psychiatry. It would lead to a unique alchemy of notions as Korzybski, ‘the visitor from Mars’, began to juxtapose his physiological view of mathematics with psychiatry as he delved into how time-binding works.

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. 
14. AK to C. J. Keyser, 1/14/1922. AKDA 8.647-8. 

15. AK to Dr. J. R. Brinkley, 8/12/1923. AKDA 13.302; AK to Ray P. Martin (Brinkley Jones Hospital), 8/21/1923. AKDA 13.275; Dr. J. R. Brinkley to AK, 10/29/1923. AKDA 13.182. See Brock for more on the career of J. R. Brinkley. 

16. “Count Korzybski, Native of Warsaw, Now San Diego Visitor...”. The San Diego Union, 1/17/1922. AKDA 3.71. 

17. “Polish Scientist To Lecture On Nature Of Man”. The San Diego Union, 1/25/1922. AKDA 3.71. 

18. Fred Gronberg to AK, 1/10/1922. AKDA 8.640. 

19. “Holds His Audience Spellbound For Two Hours”. The Sun Dial, 2/11/1922. AKDA 3.87. 

20. Manhood of Humanity review by Frankwood Williams, M.D. in Mental Hygiene, Vol. VI, No. 1, Jan. 1922. AKDA 3.122-123. 

21. Korzybski 1947, p. 233.

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