Monday, November 3, 2014

Chapter 27 - Measure of Man: Part 2 - "As A Flash..."

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.

In April, Walter Polakov had addressed a joint conference of university students and union representatives in Philadelphia. A report of the meeting and of Polakov’s talk was given in the May 5 issue of The New Student, a national bi-weekly newspaper published in New York City by the National Student Forum, a liberal student organization. Probably as a result of the interest engendered from this talk, the Students Cooperative Association at the New School for Social Research asked Polakov, Korzybski, and friends to give a series of four talks on “Human Engineering” at the main Auditorium on West 23rd Street on successive Friday evenings in May. On May 4, Polakov had spoken on “Engineering as a Whole”. The May 11 talk featured C. B. Bridges on “Biological Aspects of Human Engineering”. Korzybski was scheduled for May 18 to talk on “Relativist Aspects of Human Engineering”. Finally, Charles Wood’s May 25 talk would wrap things up with his intriguingly titled “Witchcraft and Human Engineering”. (4) 
Poster for 1923 New School Talks on Human Engineering (AKDA 3.184)
John Dewey and some other Columbia University professors founded the New School in 1919 to create a forum for the kind of ‘progressive’ adult education and social science research they felt they couldn’t do at Columbia. Behaviorist psychologist John B. Watson, recently resigned from Johns Hopkins University and now a New York advertising executive, was one of the lecturers there in the spring of 1923 when Alfred was scheduled to speak. As far as Korzybski knew, the New School had become a “hotbed” for the views of both Watson and Dewey. Familiar with the work of both men, he anticipated a hostile reception.

As far as he knew neither man cared much for his views. Frankly, he didn’t care much for theirs either. Alfred considered Dewey’s philosophy okay but of limited value because of what he viewed as Dewey’s relative lack of knowledge in science and mathematics. As for Watson, his behaviorism seemed exceedingly narrow. Psychology in Watson’s view “must discard all reference to consciousness”.(5) Korzybski—who did not reject the fact or the data of introspection—felt any formulation of human behavior that did so, must itself be discarded as extreme. Watson had written, “Thought can be safely left to take care of itself when safe methods of regulating behavior can be obtained. What a man thinks is only a reflection of what he does.”(6) Thinking thusly, how could Watson or his followers have any use for the notion of “logical fate”? Still, Alfred wanted to succeed with what he considered an otherwise fine student and faculty audience. He felt extremely nervous about his talk.

An extra burden resulted from a ‘little’ conflict which had developed between him and Polakov. Since the previous fall, Walter had been very busy writing. First, he had completed a draft of a book, Life and Work (never published) built from some of his previous lectures and articles. Then, in December The Call had published his review of Mathematical Philosophy. In April a new journal, The American Labor Monthly, had been launched and featured the first of a series of four articles by Polakov on “Science and Labor”. All of the articles in the series, completed in the October issue, showed Polakov’s debt to Korzybski, but there was no question they had resulted from Walter’s own ruminations, not only on Alfred’s work but also on the material in mathematics, biology, and psychiatry he had been studying along with Korzybski. Alfred had recommended the April article to others.

That could not be said for an article by Walter in the May 1923 issue of Management Engineering entitled, “The Foundation of Human Engineering: Language and The New Mathematical Logic”.(7) Polakov had been asked by the editor to write it and had agreed on condition that he and Alfred produce it under joint authorship. The editor seemed to have some prejudice against Korzybski and refused. Alfred and Walter agreed that Walter would publish a shortened, somewhat edited and reworded version of “Fate and Freedom” under Walter’s name.(8) Even so, most of the references to Alfred’s name were left out by the editor. Having seen this in print, Alfred seems to have had second thoughts about it. Especially since “Fate and Freedom” had not yet been published in The Mathematics Teacher. (That May edition of the journal would come out late partly due to a hold-up in the copyediting of Alfred’s lecture text.)

Meanwhile, a second article by Walter for 
Management Engineering was in the works. On the Tuesday of the week of Alfred’s Friday lecture, Walter had been on a consulting job in Massachusetts but had written a quick note to Alfred. He told Alfred he planned to attend the talk and also referred to this “carbon of a second paper for Management Engineering”(9) that he had sent and which he wanted Alfred to correct as soon as possible. Walter apologetically noted to Alfred that he had referred to Alfred’s book and article in three places in the article but that the references and quotation marks had again been removed by the editor. Walter had complained.(10) The next day, Alfred wrote to him:
My dear Poly:
Received your letter from Mass. I am very glad that you may be able to attend my lecture. Until now I did not receive the carbon copy of your new article. There is one point I would like that you would insist upon the publisher namely that he should not omit this time your references to my work, I am convinced that if you see him personally or write to him he would abide to your request. It is very disagreeable for both of us if you publish first some of my work and then people will take me for a plagiator of my own work after I publish it next. This label business refer please to “The new introduction to Manhood of Humanity by A.K.” “Dutton and Co.” I write because you may be late and send the MS. [of the article] before we see each other. Love from both. (11) 

Perhaps this letter provided the trigger for an angry outburst by Walter a few days later. When Alfred got to the New School Auditorium for his talk on the evening of May 18, about 150 people were in the audience. Walter was there too—and in a fit of rage. A few minutes before the lecture, he began cursing and yelling at Alfred: He had helped Alfred with publicity and Alfred had treated him badly in return, Alfred had not helped him with reviews of his book, etc., etc.

Alfred tried to appease him (which he later regretted), speaking to him in Russian and hoping to get him to at least stop yelling in English.(12) But Walter wouldn’t stop. Alfred was getting upset himself. If this had been only a few years earlier in Poland, he would have slapped his friend and challenged him to a duel. But as he told Ralph Hamilton years later, “I had to glue my teeth.” He went up to the speaker’s platform, trembling.(13)
…So I was quite unhappy and very tense. It’s one of the few instances of my life when I was genuinely disturbed and very, very tense. I delivered my lecture to make good in a hostile stronghold, important, which I had to, sort of, say conquer, persuade, and what not, and then that personal issue of that exceedingly, sharp, personal maladjustment of [Polakov]…(14)  
…I was very eager to make good to that particular class in spite of Dewey and Watson, and I was eager to convey the difference between the reaction of man and dogs, cats, and so on, what are usually called ‘animals’. I was struggling with myself how to convey that fundamental difference, and somehow under that stress, pressure, of necessity—I would even use the word ‘emotional stress’—of conveying what I wanted to convey, as a flash, a diagram occurred to me,…(15) 
…when I began to explain, that the process [event] level has indefinitely many characteristics that we don’t know, it came in a flash. In a flash—I drew a parabola on the blackboard, and I explained that this parabola represents the process with its characteristics [represented by dots or holes within the parabola], extending without limit. And what we perceive is limited.(16) 

Below the parabola, he drew a circle, which represented any object we perceive (including not just ‘things’ but anything experienced, even a bang on the knees or a toothache). And below that, he drew a figure of a label—like the ones attached to suitcases or trunks—to indicate the label (name) for the object or a description of the object. Another label drawn below this could be used to indicate a statement about the first statement, and the process could go on indefinitely. His drawing was simple with little elaboration. Each level represented an abstraction from the one above it, with some lines drawn from the parabola to the circle to the label to indicate the process of abstracting. To the side, he drew another unattached circle to indicate the “animal object”. Animals also had first-order experiences (objects) but they couldn’t talk about them. As Korzybski later reported on the event:
I made the diagram on the blackboard, offhand,…to show the difference between animal and man. I was driving at time-binding. As a matter of fact, the whole of the future of GS [General Semantics] was already based on that diagram...[T]he lecture was successful. I carried my point, the difference between the reaction of a dog and the reaction of a Humpty Dumpty…When I came home and began to think about the whole problem, I began to realize more and more because my whole outlook which I already had inside of me was summarized in the most exact way in terms of [the diagram]...(17)

The diagram showed the mechanism of time-binding in its starkest, ideal form. Every individual (animal or human) gathers first-order, object level experiences. But unlike a cat or dog, which has a limited ability to convey its experience to another cat or dog, a human’s world is not restricted to the circle in the diagram—the object (or objective) level. A human can communicate his experience verbally or otherwise symbolically to the other fellow. The diagram showed the pitfalls of the communication process. Problems occurred when people failed to recognize, or confused, the levels. It wasn’t enough to just accept the definition of man as a time-binder. To adequately function as a time-binder, one had to stop copying animals by such confused thinking. 
'3-D' Animal Object, Event, Object, and Label

The diagram could be used as a tool to help bring human thinking to the human level. A person could keep it in front of himself as a reference to help distinguish the levels when dealing with any problem (A statement about a descriptive statement—an inference—is not the descriptive statement; a label or description of an object is not the object; the object is not the invisible, inferred process; etc.) In order to time-bind most effectively, a person had to understand and use the mechanism correctly by recognizing and distinguishing the levels or orders in any situation. This was not a statistical approach to a science of man but one based on human potentiality.

Alfred felt overwhelmed. In some of his letters, he described his state for the next month as feeling literally ill, as if he had been knocked over by a formulational ‘tsunami’. The implications of the diagram seemed endless. It brought together Russell’s types with Royce’s self-reflexive mapping with Whitehead’s physico-mathematical theory of events and objects with relativity with organism-as-a-whole biology with logical fate, among other formulations. It seemed to show in an astonishingly simple way “the foundation on which all rational human activities are based.”(18) 

However overwhelmed he may have felt, he remained busy. The following week he attended Wood’s talk on “Witchcraft and Human Engineering”. He wrote to Wood, Bridges, and Polakov (with whom he seems to have patched up relations) about the possibility of getting their New School presentations into written shape for publication in a book on Human Engineering. (Although they probably met to discuss this, it never got beyond the planning stage.) Alfred was also invited back to the New School a couple of weeks later to give another talk. Later in June he gave presentations on “Fate and Freedom” in New York City at the Culture Forum and at the University Forum of America.

He had hoped to be able to have some copies of “Fate and Freedom” available at his lectures. The article had been scheduled for the May edition of The Mathematics Teacher. But he had only gotten the galley proofs on May 28. He corrected them at once and sent them back to the printer that day with a request for 1000 reprints, which he hoped to get quickly since he was running out of his “Brotherhood” reprints. But there was more delay from the printer and he didn’t get them until mid-July.(19)

Besides his lectures, Korzybski also kept busy writing. He was now trying to integrate the new material related to the diagram into the new introduction to Manhood. He felt frustrated. It was not a question of ‘writer’s block’. He was quite capable of ‘spitting things out’ on paper. But coming up with something he found acceptable was another thing entirely. He wrote to Walter about his frustration:
…I wonder if you ever are jealous of anyone. I must admit that I am sometimes a little jealous of the easiness with which you write. That’s something which is apparently beyond me. I takes me years to write something and even then I find it often to be not correct. This is again the case with me now. Probably no one can accuse me of being lazy. I work 18 hours a day, yet I progress very slowly. I am still rewriting what I have already written and rewritten several times. The times are so pressing and we are in such a hurry to finish the work we began that we push, push without respite, it is the same old story with us. (20)

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. AKDA 3.177. 

5. Watson 1914, p. 7. 

6. Watson 1917, p. 54. 

 7. Polakov, “The Foundation of Human Engineering: Language and The New Mathematical Logic”. Management Engineering, May 1923. AKDA 3.181-18. 

8. AK to C. E. Drayer, 8/16/1923. AKDA 13.284. 

9. W. N. Polakov to AK, 5/15/1923. AKDA 13.538. 

10. W. N. Polakov (correspondence with editor of Management Engineering), AKDA 7.86, 7.87, 7.90. 

11. AK to W. N. Polakov, 5/16/1923. AKDA 13.536. 

12. AK to W. N. Polakov, 5/21/23. AKDA 13.512. 

13. Ralph C. Hamilton to Bruce I. Kodish, letter dated “17 Nov. [20]05” (sent March 8, 2006), p. 9. 

14. Korzybski 1947, p. 308. 

15. “Historical Note on the Structural Differential [1947]”, Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 593. 

16. Ralph C. Hamilton to Bruce I. Kodish, letter dated “17 Nov. [20]05”, p. 9. 

17. Korzybski 1947, p. 310-311. 

18. AK to H. L. Haywood, n.d., probably 7/28/1923. AKDA 13.381.

19. AK to Henry Lane, 7/16/1923. AKDA 13.417. 

20. AK to W. N. Polakov, 6/29/1923. AKDA 13.457.

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