Thursday, November 6, 2014

Chapter 27 - Measure Of Man: Part 5 - Cosmic Pipe Dreamer

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.

Sometime in August, Mira had changed venues from the summer retreat of the New York rich on Long Island to Manchester, Massachusetts—a seaside resort town for Boston socialites—on Cape Ann, north of Boston. Exhibiting her work and painting portraits, she got a write-up in the August 24 edition of the town’s North Shore Breeze and Reminder: “Countess Korzybska, Portrait Painter on Ivory, Impresses as of Boundless Enthusiasm”.(38)  Almost half of the two-column article, which took up most of the page, was about Alfred. “Speak of Count Alfred...and the fires of unified enthusiasm and belief come into the Countess’ eyes.” It seemed evident she was missing him. And Alfred no doubt felt likewise. In September, Mira followed her clientele to Boston. Alfred decided to join her for a prolonged visit starting the first week of October when Mira had been asked to exhibit her paintings and present a luncheon talk on “Art in relation to manhood and humanity” at the Women’s City Club of Boston. Alfred came as a luncheon guest.(39) 

Together in Boston for most of October, they mainly stayed at the Copley Plaza Hotel. When not together, Mira worked while Alfred met some of the people from the area with whom he had corresponded, and made arrangements to give some talks. Some of the people he spent time with included psychologist and Yiddishist Abraham Aaron Roback (then at Harvard), Harvard mathematician Edward V. Huntington, a friend of Keyser, and Harvard zoologist William Morton Wheeler, an expert on the social life of ants, who had written positively about Manhood of Humanity. Alfred wanted to present his views to the brightest ‘minds’ he could find at Boston institutions like Harvard and M.I.T. On the other hand, before his trip he had felt some hesitancy about giving a formal, scientifically-oriented lecture featuring the Anthropometer. He’d presumed that prior to speaking about it, he “… would have BEFORE to write a rather large book on many scientific [epistemological] problems which underlie the theory of the Anthropometer,...”.(40) Which, of course, he had hardly begun to do.

However a few days after he got to Boston, he received a package from Catherine E. Cook, the manager at Open Court Publishers in Chicago, whom he and Mira had befriended. Miss Cook (or “Cookie” as they sometimes called her) occasionally sent complimentary books to Alfred, which she thought were ‘up his alley’.This package contained the new English translation of Ernst Cassirer’s two books Substance and Function and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which Open Court had just published in one volume. Korzybski did his first reading of it at once and found “….to my astonishment and delight that Cassirer did the job for me, and of course in a much better way that would ever have been done by me.”(41) Cassirer’s book became one of his favorites. Reading it helped him to overcome his perfectionism about presenting the Anthropometer.

Huntington arranged a lecture for him on October 21 at a meeting of the Royce Club (a discussion group named in honor of Josiah Royce), which met at the Harvard Club of Boston. Alfred got a room there and prepared for the talk by giving a more informal presentation at Huntington’s home “before [Huntington], [mathematician George] Birkoff and a few other friends.”(42) Then, before the Royce Club meeting, William Morton Wheeler had a dinner in his home for Korzybski where Alfred met Dr. David G. Fairchild, a close friend of Wheeler and head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Introduction Service. Both Wheeler and Fairchild went with Alfred to his formal lecture; so in effect, with Alfred’s dinner table warm-up, they heard his presentation twice. They both seemed impressed. Alfred noticed that “Wheeler was already explaining the Anthropometer to others VERY WELL” at dinner.(43) At Korzybski’s lecture, as he wrote to R. D. Carmichael,
…I went to the end of my rope, summing up “everything under the sun” merging physics and metaphysics (to the detriment of the last), and ending the whole logical SYSTEM with the law of conservation of energy! The reception was generally favorable. When I was driving home some of the very difficult (because unusual) points, a young man in my audience shouted, “that’s true.” I was astonished, because I was prepared that many would say just the opposite. Of course, I kept my eye on the fellow. Lately we came together quite a bit, this fellow was [Dr. Tenney L.] Davis [an organic chemist and historian of science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology].(44)  

Davis had wide-ranging interests. He later wrote a classic textbook on pyrotechnics and explosives and became well known as a historian of chemistry and translator of the letters of Roger Bacon. He may have been responsible for getting Alfred his second academic speaking engagement in the area, a talk at the MIT Math Club on Saturday, October 26. An advertising poster for his talk on “The Anthropometer or The Time-Binding Differential” was prepared for display around campus. A small article in the October 26 daily student newspaper, The Tech, announced the event with this depiction of Alfred: “Count Korzybski is a mathematician although he does not deal in x’s and y’s but uses words and thoughts.”(45) 

Poster for Korzybski's 1923 talk at MIT Math Club,
from AKDA 3.207

Alfred left for New York by himself the following day (Mira was finishing up some business in Boston and would return in mid-November). Back at work at his desk in the studio on Grove Street, he could contemplate good news about his work. For one thing, he was continuing to get newspaper and magazine publicity. Among other periodicals, Know Thyself, a new ‘free-thinkers’ magazine, edited by Alfred’s friend William J. Fielding, had an interview with him in its October issue and was planning to reprint “Fate and Freedom”. The Professional Engineer was publishing an excerpt from “Fate and Freedom” in its November issue. In Boston, after he left, the MIT Tech had published a second article on Alfred’s talk there, while both the Boston Evening Transcript and the Boston Sunday Globe printed interviews with him. But for Alfred, even more important than newspaper and magazine articles was the recognition of his work by mathematicians and scientists like Huntington, Wheeler, Fairchild, and Davis.

Alfred knew he had ‘snared’ David Fairchild when he got a letter from him early in November with an invitation to come down to Washington, D.C. to speak: “…I am very interested in your revolutionary theories and want my friends to hear them.”(46)  Alfred agreed to come and Fairchild arranged a lecture for him at the Cosmo Club on December 10. (Fairchild’s enthusiasm may be indicated by the fact that he not only arranged for Alfred and Mira’s expenses to be paid, but that he also covered the cost of producing and distributing 2000 copies of a circular advertising the event.)

When Mira returned from Boston (around November 18), she and Alfred had much to do before their trip to Washington. The Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had each acquired a painting of hers for their collections. She was getting more publicity about her work and would do what she could to capitalize on it. She had a talk and painting exhibition scheduled on December 4 at the Art Center in New York City.

On December 5, Alfred spoke at the monthly meeting of the New York Psychiatric Society. He had become friendly with one of the group’s members, Dr. Stewart Paton, and was eager to establish contacts with other people in the group, like Smith Ely Jeliffe, the editor of the The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Since he had read the Mental Hygiene review of Manhood over a year before, Alfred had been reading widely in the neurology and psychiatry literature. Although he had so far focused most of his attention on the ‘thinking’ processes occurring in the exact sciences, he had come to realize that he now had to understand the ‘thinking’ processes involved in psychiatric disorders. He knew he could learn from psychiatrists and thought that, with the Anthropometer and his formulation of logical fate, he had some things which might have practical use for psychiatrists as well.

His book now had a sharper focus under the title The Anthropometer, World Peace, and Modern Science. He no long felt he had to produce a lengthy work on epistemology (since Cassirer had done that). Perhaps he could keep it relatively short. He would soon change his view about both of these things and abandon the title. But for now, the theme of the title and what he had written about it so far, would serve as the nucleus of his talks at both the psychiatric society and the Cosmo Club.

As was usual before they traveled, the day before going to Washington was a mad rush. When Mira had returned to New York in mid-November they had gotten rooms at the Grenoble again but Alfred had kept the Grove Street studio. Now, besides packing for their trip, they moved all their stuff back to the Grenoble. They took the 1:00 a.m. train from New York, arriving in Washington about six hours later on Monday morning, December 10. Alfred gave his presentation that afternoon to about 200 people at the Cosmo Club, where they stayed that night. The next day, Alfred and Mira went to stay for a couple of days with Fairchild and his wife Marian at their home, “In The Woods” in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a Washington suburb. Marian Fairchild’s father, Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone), had died the previous year at his home at 1331 Connecticut Avenue in Washington. Now, the Fairchilds were closing down the mansion, where Marian’s father had held weekly salons for years. They thought it would be appropriate to have one last gathering there with Alfred giving a talk as a tribute to the memory of her father. That evening Alfred spoke to about 70 friends of the Bells and Fairchilds.

He had not been happy with his New York Psychiatric Society lecture. He had tried to compress too much material into too little time. For his Cosmo Club talk, he purposely decided to limit himself and did not bring out the Anthropometer. But for his lecture at the Bell mansion, he ‘pulled out all the stops’. As he described it later to W.E. Ritter:
…The event was a large beautiful and extremely solemn affair... I lectured in the little private theatre. All the memories, glorious memories were hovering around this evening. I am told that my lecture was the best I ever had. I think that this was true. I spoke for one hour and half, and after I was asked to speak for two half hours more. After, there was a reception. I looked over private papers of old Bell. It seems that he in his prophetic genius foresaw 30 years ago the latest developments. His daughter and Fairchild knowing this decided to make out of it the swan song. It was beautiful and unforgettable. After the lecture Mrs. Fairchild presented me the beloved old ashtray of G. Bell with an inscription: “In this receiver Alexander Graham Bell used to knock the ashes out of his pipe. Presented by his daughter Marion Fairchild to Alfred Korzybski, it passes in time from one cosmic pipe dreamer to another. In memory of the Swan song of 1331 Connecticut Ave. on December 11 — 1923.”(47)

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. 
38. “Countess Korzybska, Portrait Painter...”. North Shore Breeze and Reminder, August 24 edition. AKDA 3.195. 

39. “Personals - Countess Korzybska Speaks”. Boston Evening Transcript, 10/4/1923. AKDA 3.198. 

40. AK to W. E. Ritter, 11/10/1923. AKDA 13.170. 

41. Ibid. 

42. AK to R.D. Carmichael, 1/23/1924. AKDA 14.450. 

43. AK to W. E. Ritter, 12/29/1923. AKDA 13.43. 

44. AK to R.D. Carmichael, 1/23/1924. AKDA 14.450. 

45. “Count Korzybski Speaks Tonight”. The Tech (MIT Student Newspaper), 10/26/1923. AKDA 3.206. 

46. David Fairchild to AK, 11/8/1923. AKDA 10.175. 

47. AK to W.E. Ritter, 12/29/1923. AKDA 13.43-44.

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