Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chapter 27 - Measure of Man: Part 3 - An Educational Appliance

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.

Alfred had also been working on a new patent application. Soon after the May 18 talk he had decided it would be worthwhile to make a standing model of the diagram. He gathered together fiber discs, aluminum discs, gold nibs, brass castings, and violin pegs—among other materials—and by the end of June had constructed his first model. Having had some experience with patents, he got an attorney and prepared papers for the patent office with mechanical drawings of front and side elevation views. Patent application number 649,344 was filed on July 6, 1923. The beginning of an early draft of Korzybski’s application reads as follows:
To all whom it may concern: 
Be it known that I, Alfred Korzybski, a citizen of Poland, residing in New York City, State of New York with postal address Fifth Avenue Bank New York City, have invented a new useful educational implement (instrument) called the Anthropometer or Time-binding Differential for the demonstration of: 
1) the working of the human mind and differentiating it from the parallel but inherently different working of the animal nervous and brain systems;  
2) the mechanism of building up of abstractions of higher and higher orders, the numbers of possible selections of which grow according to the laws of mathematical combinations of higher order, and therefore grow extremely rapidly; 
3) the mechanism and structure of human language;  
4) the fundamentals of the theory of relativity of universal human interest and of extreme practical importance, showing clearly that “reality” which is made up of “events” is in fact made up of “matter,” “space,” and “time” indivisibly connected and can not be divided except by a mental process of abstraction, which mean[s], the emphasis of some aspects and the disregard of the others, although they are, all three, ever indivisibly present;  
5) that “absolutism” which means the absence of the consciousness of abstracting is a necessary and sufficient condition for non-critical imitating of the animals and the result of the same animalistic false beliefs; 
6) that [the] human mind, if it works true to its natural laws must have the “relativity point of view” which is attained only and exclusively by the consciousness of abstracting, which becomes self evident when demonstrated by this Anthropometer;  
(7) that if we are not conscious continuously of abstracting (as a matter of fact we actually do abstract all the time and cannot do anything else) we unconsciously falsely believe that our words, names or labels cover all the characteristics of the object (which they do not) and that the characteristics of the object are the same in number and quality as the characteristics of the event (which they are not) and then of course we are and must be absolutists and identify our labels or words with objects, and objects with events, otherwise [in other words] do not differentiate between them, exactly as the animals do;  
8) that with the consciousness of abstracting the human mind works as human (not animal) and that it must take the relativist’s point of view, by dealing with abstractions as abstractions, and not as with physical, independent, existing entities, which they never are, and never “objectify” labels and symbols, which is a vicious creed, false to facts; 
9) that with this consciousness of abstracting all fundamental reasons for disagreement among men vanish, and universal agreement in all problems becomes possible, just as universal agreement has been reached in this way in mathematics, or in the theory of relativity, the formulation of the laws of the universe in an invariant form, for all observers the same. (21)
Mechanical Drawing of Anthropometer
submitted with Korzybski's patent application
Korzybski had called his device the “Anthropometer” (measure of man) or “Time-Binding Differential” because it showed what he considered the defining difference between animals and humans. Although it didn’t numerically measure anything it did provide a qualitative standard for a person to evaluate his own ‘thinking’ and that of others. The model had an advantage over a simple diagram because it was not only visible but could be touched and handled repeatedly. Korzybski affirmed that people needed to do this to—quite literally— ‘get a feel’ for his ‘ideas’. On the advice of his patent lawyers, he later somewhat revised his opening description. The patent declaration issued two years later, didn’t even mention the names he had chosen for the device. There, Korzybski’s invention was simply referred to as an “Educational Appliance”.(22)  

With the Anthropometer, Alfred now had a more intense and specific focus for human engineering. Along with the accompanying book he planned to write, he could see that the Anthropometer might eventually serve as his and Mira’s entryway to a decent income from the theoretical work he had been doing. Teaching the basics of correct human symbolism with the appliance (and the logical fate diagram) would be useful anywhere humans make symbols and “talky-talk”. The practical side of his work was now emerging more clearly. It involved in part, extending ordinary language use and ways of ‘thought’; deriving methods and insights from various aspects of mathematics and science to help people become aware of their own roles as observers, symbolizers, ‘thinkers’. Common people needed it. He knew that scientists surely did.(23)

But Alfred felt practical applications would depend on his further exploration of the “relativist” orientation to human knowledge that the Anthropometer symbolized. It had emerged not only as a flash but as a whole, a visual icon for the system he had been preparing and incubating unconsciously for some time out of “scattered bits of knowledge” from various fields. With his last two papers he had been trying to put the system, a deductive framework for a science of man, into conscious, verbal form. He was already starting to see new relationships as a result of exploring the non-verbal diagram. (He knew how much it had helped him and later promoted visualization to his students as a beneficial, non-linguistic form of representation.) But he could see there were serious scientific theoretical issues he would have to address before he could feel comfortable presenting the Anthropometer to the scientific world.(24) 

The subsequent career of the Anthropometer (by the time he published Science and Sanity, he was calling it the “Structural Differential”) in a sense covers the rest of Korzybski’s work. The Anthropometer would continue to serve as one of Korzybski’s major ‘weapons’ in his subsequent career as an epistemological knight-errant. He now had, as never before, a significant clarity about his quest. He would search the worlds of knowledge (relativity and quantum theory, colloidal chemistry, neurology, mathematics and mathematical logic, psychiatry, etc.) for whatever he could glean about how humans know what they think they know. The Anthropometer (Structural Differential) would supply his main framework for organizing this knowledge about knowledge. And its practical purpose in getting people to apply this knowledge fueled his urgency to develop other devices, methods, examples, etc., for encouraging what he had started to call “consciousness of abstracting”.

Over the next ten to fifteen years, Alfred put a fair amount of effort into building Anthropometers/Structural Differentials, even obtaining a small lathe to build parts. He had experimented with making round models—with a parabola-shaped bowl on top and a spherical object level—but those he produced commercially he made flat. Beautifully crafted from mahogany, they came in different sizes and designs—a desk version, a slightly larger office model, and a school set.(25)  He sold some and gave away a number to friends and associates.
In manufacturing them, of course,…I spent endless time and money on producing them. Stupidly. I have to grant that. The price of the differential, I put up about $20, but the actual cost of the differential to me was about $75 apiece. Stupidity, granted, but I cannot help it, and then decided, I spent some months brooding over them trying to find out improvements and further elaborations and this kind of stuff. (26) 
In the final patent application he had written that,
… “reality” is made up in the rough of conglomerations of electricity in a permanent extremely complicated motion…an ever changing dance of electrons, which, as such, cannot be visually recognized. This something which we cannot recognize is called the “event”…[represented by the parabola with its broken-off top to represent its endless, indefinite extent with an infinity of characteristics.] (27)

It seemed to Alfred that the speeding blades of a rotary fan provided a good visual analogy of how we abstract/create our object-level perceptions from out of this “mad-dance”. Imagine that the non-rotating blades of the fan represent the actual process world. With the motor turning, we no longer see the blades but see a disk. In our general experience, we never see the ‘blades’, i.e., the electrons, etc., posited in physics explanations of the underlying ‘reality’ of objects. Everything we experience, we experience as a “a disk where there is no disk”—a phrase Alfred often later used with his students.

Alfred soon began using this example to explain our object-level experience as “a “joint phenomenon” of the rotating blades and our abstracting organism.”(28) Within the next few years, he built for himself a ‘deluxe’ three-dimensional differential on a standing base, which was housed in a specially-made suitcase. Just below the differential, he placed a motorized fan which made it convenient to illustrate the ‘disk where there is no disk’. (A friend of his at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C. even gilded the blades.) When he went for a visit to Poland in 1929, he took this deluxe differential with him and left it in his mother’s apartment where it was eventually lost during World War II.
Korzybski with 'deluxe, '3-D' model of Anthropometer
with the rotary fan, the 'disk' where there is no disk, around 1927
After the Institute of General Semantics was founded, Alfred had little time to manufacture additional differentials. Soon afterwards they were no longer available for sale. Eventually, in October 1949, the Institute made available sturdy scrolling wall-charts of the diagram lithographed by the Rand McNally Company on heavy linen map stock. By this time, Korzybski had begun to teach about the process of abstracting in another form, a diagram which made the process—not the product—of abstracting more explicit (to be discussed in more detail later.) Nonetheless, for Korzybski, the Anthropometer/Structural Differential remained an indispensable teaching tool.

For Korzybski ‘intellectual’ understanding of abstracting was not sufficient. Over the years, those who found the educational appliance most useful were those who actually used it—keeping it in front of them—to take any problem and ‘put it up on the differential’. Those inclined to accept ‘intellectual’ (mostly verbal) understanding as sufficient were likely to consider such ‘pains’ unnecessary. For them the parts of Korzybski’s work which they considered sound consisted of well-known ‘platitudes’ which—as Korzybski often observed—they didn’t practice. For him, humankind’s problems derived not so much from lack of knowledge, but rather from failure to make use of what was already known.

Korzybski got his patent for the Anthropometer on May 26, 1925. But it didn’t come easily. After initial perusal, the patent office refused to consider the application further. Someone there had decided that since the Anthropometer used perforated discs and pegs, it had already been invented. It seems that some milkmen (drivers who brought milk and dairy products door-to-door to people’s homes) used a system of pegs set in perforated discs to record where they had made their deliveries. The stupidity of identifying the Anthropometer with this milk-delivery record-keeping system flummoxed Korzybski. But it provided a good example of the kind of rotten thinking his device was supposed to remedy. His lawyers didn’t respond to this news to Alfred’s satisfaction. As a result he took it upon himself to write a blunt letter of protest to the patent office, which seemed to get the application back on track.(29)  

By mid-July 1923, Mira had gone out to stay on Long Island where she had gotten some work. Alfred didn’t need the entire two-room suite at the Grenoble so he moved to a smaller apartment on Grove Street in Greenwich Village.(30) Around this time, he finally got the “Fate and Freedom” reprints. He put together a mailing list and began sending copies of the lecture to friends and correspondents and at least alluding to his invention/discovery in his letters. In spite of the delays in writing, in getting to Poland, etc., his recent insight and achievement filled him with enthusiasm. With those people to whom he could do so, he looked for opportunities to explain the Anthropometer in more detail face-to-face. This was not just a function of some difficulty he might have had in containing his enthusiasm for his just-completed model. Alfred knew he had reached a new level in the development of his work. He genuinely wanted to know how people reacted to his presentation of it. How much use did the Anthropometer actually have as an educational appliance?

He described the general results of his teaching experiments to a number of people on his list. For example, in a letter to Edward McKernan, a superintendent at the Associated Press in New York, he wrote:
Lately I have discovered a most shocking fact, that until this day even in our thinking processes we try to copy the dogs, pigs or monkeys, of course man not knowing HOW to think hates thinking, if shown in what HUMAN thought consists thinking becomes a pleasure. I tried it out on children and negroes, the change is complete in a very few hours. (31) 

However patronizing this may seem to some present-day readers, did Korzybski’s comment indicate racism? Probably not. Korzybski wouldn’t have bothered trying out the Anthropometer on “negroes” if he didn’t consider them fully human. However, in 1923 he apparently associated “negroes” with a lack of education. Korzybski probably had no exposure to black people in pre-World War I Poland, and had for the most part, up until 1923, met only ‘uneducated’ ones in the United States.(32) Of course, ‘uneducated’ black folks had come up with the story of the “tar baby” which beautifully illustrated the traps in store for those who confuse levels of abstraction (see Julius Lester’s Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales). And Korzybski had already encountered highly educated scientists and others who, outside of their fields (or even within their fields), could demonstrate a great deal of such confusion. He would continue to meet plenty of such ‘educated’ people.

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. 
21. Korzybski Patent Application. AKDA 35.602. 

22. See “Patent Application”, Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, pp. 31-38. 

23. AK to C. J. Keyser, 7/14/1923. AKDA 13.422. 

24. AK to Adolf Meyer, 12/29/1923. AKDA 13.35; AK to Stewart Paton, 1/7/1924. AKDA 13.31. 

25. Anthropometer Accounts, AK Notebook. AKDA 37.837-838. 

26. Korzybski 1947, pp. 309-310. 

27. AKDA 35.591. 

28. “Time-Binding: The General Theory (First Paper)” in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 68. 

29. Korzybski 1947, p. 2. 

30. AKDA 13.380. 

31. AK to Edward McKernan, 8/4/1923. AKDA 13.342. 

32. Korzybski later wrote about the “white race” as what he mainly knew; what he said about it seems mainly uncomplimentary. See Science and Sanity, pp. 302, 304. 

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