Friday, November 14, 2014

Chapter 28 - Advancing Human Engineering: Part 4 - The International Mathematical Congress, Toronto (1924)

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.

By August 3, Alfred felt relieved to get the manuscript of the Toronto address to the printer. Keyser had not been able to edit it and Alfred had struggled, rewriting it again and again. Taken as a whole, he considered it at best “not very rotten”. As he was preparing “A Short Bibliography” in “Science, Method”; “Mathematics, Mathematical Philosophy, Logic”; “The Theories of Relativity”; “The Newer Physics”; “Psychiatry”; “Miscellaneous”; and “Human Engineering”; he seemed to be wondering at his own ‘folly’. What did he think he was doing? The bibliography seemed so heavy and ponderous. Could he really expect others to take seriously the program he had embarked on and had outlined in the paper? It seemed hopeless. He did not travel to Toronto with very great expectations.(30)

Perhaps as a result, he found The International Mathematical Congress, held from August 11-–16, a great success as far as his work was concerned. He and Mira stayed at Toronto’s King Edward Hotel. Mira attended at least some of the sessions at the University of Toronto with him. There was a large gathering due to the concurrent annual meeting (August 6–13) of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. American scientists—including some psychologists, biologists, and others whom Alfred knew—also attended. Alfred socialized with E.T. Bell, saw his friends George McEwen and Abe Roback, met psychologist William McDougall, chatted with Arthur Eddington, and had a friendly meeting with D’arcy Thompson.

Alfred also met Giuseppe Peano, one of the founders of mathematical logic and set theory and a respected elder statesman in the international mathematics community. The two men became fast friends when Peano, who knew little or no English, discovered that Alfred spoke fluent conversational Italian. They spent a lot of time together, including a half day trip to Niagara Falls during which Peano sat with Alfred and Mira on the special train provided by the Canadian government for Congress attendees. Peano had invented Interlingua, also called “Latino sine flexione” (basically a simplified form of Latin), intended as an international auxiliary language. Alfred, who respected this effort, joined Peano’s international organization to promote it—not a major commitment on Korzybski’s part since it amounted to paying a few dollars for membership and receiving an occasional bulletin. Peano, in turn, became interested in Korzybski’s plans and agreed to serve as one of the editors of the Library of Human Engineering. The two men continued a friendly correspondence until Peano’s death in 1932.

The people in Alfred’s group of presenters, Section IV– History, Philosophy, and Didactics, included two men he knew, Florian Cajori and Louis C. Karpinski. Korzybski, who had been given twenty minutes for his presentation, spent hours in his hotel room cutting things out of his printed essay and timing his talk. But when he got in front of the group, he dropped what he had prepared and spoke ad lib. The section leader gave him ten extra minutes and although he was not sure about the initial response of the audience, he later could see he had had some effect on them. Although the Section IV talks usually had 10 to 12 people in the audience, Mira counted 54 people for Alfred’s talk. Twenty people immediately asked for his booklets and soon other people at the Congress were approaching him for copies.(31) This response certainly exceeded Alfred’s expectations.

In general, he felt quite warmly received. Many of the mathematicians at the Congress found Alfred’s work— “dealing with human life from a mathematical point of view”—an appealing novelty. But as he later discovered, the initial romance of many mathematicians —and scientists—with his work would often turn out to be platonic, i.e., they weren’t willing to help him in his work in the whole-hearted way he wished.

Nonetheless Korzybski—who saw what he was doing as applied mathematical (physico-mathematical) method—appreciated whatever recognition he got from mathematicians. He felt honored by the amount of interest he got at the Congress and with the number of “friendly relationships” he made there.(32) The favorable impressions Alfred made may have led to the invitation to join the American Mathematical Society that he received the following January (1925) from R.G.D. Richardson, Chairman of the Brown University Mathematics Department and Secretary of the Society:
Dear Count Korzybski,  
You have been suggested to me by a mutual friend as one who is interested in the progress of mathematics and who might well join the American Mathematical Society. I noted your presence at the International Congress in Toronto last August and this makes me venture to expect a favorable reply to the invitation which our council has authorized me to extend to you. Our new president, Professor G. D. Birkhoff of Harvard University, is joining me in recommending your name on a form which I am enclosing for your use...(33) 
Alfred accepted immediately. Earlier in 1924, he had been invited to become a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He remained a member of both organizations for the rest of his life. 

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. 
30. AK to R.D.Carmichael, 8/3/1924. AKDA 15.287. 

31. AK to R.D.Carmichael, 8/17/1924. AKDA 15.347, 348 

32. Korzybski 1947, p. 230. 

33. R.G.D. Richardson to AK, 1/27/1925. AKDA 3.263.

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