Friday, November 28, 2014

Chapter 30 - Saint Elizabeths: Part 8 - A Non-Aristotelian System

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 the 1926 paper, Korzybski announced what he was formulating with his general theory of time-binding—a new “non-aristotelian system” (By this time, Korzybski had ceased the common practice of always capitalizing “aristotelian”—and some other adjectives created from proper names, e.g., “euclidean”, “newtonian”, etc.—probably because he was referring not primarily to Aristotle, nor even to his school of thought, but rather to a general orientation that went well beyond them. I have continued Korzybski’s usage in this book.) 

Aristotle and his followers had formed the aristotelian system of postulates and methods (‘metaphysics’ and ‘logic’) that could be shown to underlie euclidean geometry and newtonian physics, among other things. It included: 
[Aristotle’s] postulate that…man is an animal, the postulate of the uniqueness of subject-predicate representation, the postulate of cause in the form [Aristotle] had it, the elementalism of “percept” and “concept,” [Aristotle’s] theory of definitions, his postulate of cosmical validity of grammar [the aristotelian ‘laws’ of ‘logic’], his prediliction for intensional [definitional and verbally oriented] methods, etc., etc. (45)  
This aristotelian system was also at the base of what Korzybski called the “scientific, or public unconscious,”(46) the “doctrinal surrounding”(47) into which children were still getting born. It pervaded everyday language and psychology.

Although Korzybski acknowledged previous non-aristotelian formulators, no one had created an overarching non-aristotelian system for science and life. That was what Korzybski, nothing if not bold, proposed to do now—create a system as broad in scope as what Aristotle had attempted much earlier. He claimed that the system of related postulates and methods he was unveiling could be shown to underlie the non-euclidean revolution in mathematics and the non-newtonian physics of Einstein (and the newer quantum mechanics as well). His postulates, paralleling the aristotelian ones listed above, included the following:
I accept man as a man, use functional [relational] representation whenever needed, expand the two-term relation cause-effect into a series, introduce organism as-a-whole form of representation in the language of time-binding, orders of abstractions, accept postulational methods as the foundation for a theory of definitions and therefore of meaning, which bridges the conscious with the unconscious, introduce modern “logical existence,” relations, differential and four dimensional methods, use the extensional [non-verbal ‘fact’ oriented] methods, etc., etc., and so build up my system. (48) 
Embodied in the Anthropometer, the methods (emanating from his postulates) provided a basis, he claimed, for a new applied science of humanity, or “Humanology”. His forthcoming book would treat in greater detail what he could only present in outline here. (Themes noted in the above list, or covered in a paragraph or two in the paper, would require separate chapters in the book to expound in detail.) He knew he would have a ‘tough sell’. Drawing from and seeking to replenish the roots of numerous scientific fields, his general theory of time-binding—a non-aristotelian system—had no academic home. This hybrid creature, interdisciplinary in scope, resisted pinning down as either ‘philosophy’ or ‘science’ because it had elements of both.

Without question, his examination of the underlying assumptions in various fields could be considered from one point of view as ‘philosophical’. Korzybski even acknowledged this in an offhanded way when he declared in the paper, “I...accept modern science (1926) as my metaphysics.”(49) (This seems disingenuous about his own contribution. After all, he had needed to abstract from the sciences he had studied to a higher or a deeper level in order to develop his theory.) Nonetheless, he was also emphasizing here the scientific orientation of his work. 20th century ‘philosophy’ was becoming ever more entrenched in verbalistic speculation and ‘metaphysics’ detached from scientific/mathematical knowledge and practical application. True, Korzybski’s questions about “the structure of human knowledge” traditionally came from the philosophical discipline of epistemology. (Of course, any view of human knowledge also implied some notion of what the world was like, a question of ‘metaphysics’.) Yet as far as Alfred was concerned, these questions could no longer be fruitfully dealt with speculatively. Instead one must bring to bear on them the most up-to-date knowledge of mathematics, physics, biology, neuroscience, psychiatry, etc. If this put him outside the fold of academic philosophy, so be it. Alfred forthrightly considered his work “a branch of natural science”.

But while these traditional questions from philosophy could no longer depend on the traditional speculative methods of philosophers, the work of scientists could no longer depend on a naive ‘philosophy’ about not having postulates, i.e., assumptions or premises. Korzybski preferred to view this as bringing not a philosophical but rather a more forthright mathematical view into all of the sciences. Indeed, in this paper he reiterated a point he had made in the 1924 one: “…owing to the fact that we must start with undefined terms…all human knowledge is postulational in structure and therefore mathematical,…”(50) The “empire of sound logic” he had announced before in “The Brotherhood of Doctrines” had too narrow a base. ‘Logic’ was not, after all, exactly equivalent to mathematics, nor could it provide an adequate grounding for mathematics or for the non-aristotelian revision he wanted to foment. On the contrary, mathematics (in the broadened sense Korzybski was giving it) provided the basis for any possible ‘logic’. The two Time-Binding papers formed a clear public declaration of his liberation from Russell and Whitehead. In addition, Alfred was declaring his rejection of any form of “just the facts ma’am” positivism. No ‘fact’ was simple. (In a letter written in 1927 to C.K. Ogden, Korzybski suggested that his viewpoint deserved the label “postulationalism” rather than “positivism”.) (51)  

In the 1926 paper, he again emphasized mathematics as a language (a form of representation) and a form of human behavior continuous with daily language/behavior. The psychological processes that made mathematics so successful should be studied. Indeed, the Anthropometer and other methods he was developing had come from such a study. In the abundance of notions treated in the paper, it might be difficult to see, but Alfred’s emphasis here on mathematics as language and behavior put him squarely in a minority camp of formulators about mathematics. (Gaston Bachelard would later elaborate similar views.) Not many mathematicians saw their work in this way or considered its possible therapeutic value, much less made use of it. And how many psychiatrists and others interested in ‘mental’ hygiene, saw mathematics as a field with significance for their field. Yet who could deny the fact of mathematics as a human activity elaborated in symbolism, an activity exquisitely suited for making postulates and their implications clear? It provided a kind of “higher psychiatry” as Korzybski put it, for “making the unconscious conscious”—what psychotherapists needed to do, if they wanted to do any good.

Korzybski’s prose in the 1926 paper had vigor, as when he wrote,
…all human life is a permanent dance between different orders of abstractions. …But as yet mankind as a whole (not a few academicians perhaps) is totally unaware of the extreme benefit as well as dangers of this “dance.” (52)
The paper’s guidelines on application, included a suggestive analysis (with diagram and examples) on using the Anthropometer in any kind of human decision-making. It juxtaposed two basic modes of dealing with higher order abstractions. One mode, dynamic conscious abstracting by a hypothetical “Ideal Observer” as free as possible from preconceived notions and thus creatively perceiving the world anew, starkly contrasted with its opposite, the static unconscious mode of abstracting done by a typically un-sane (perhaps even ‘insane’) “Smith....who habitually jumps his levels (mixes his orders of abstractions) and rather makes a business out of it.”(53)
The 1926 paper, dense with interconnected formulations (some sketched in only a few words or paragraphs, some still so newly emergent that he didn’t yet have distinguishing terms for them), undoubtedly put a challenge to the reader. It would require numerous readings to bear fruit in application. But Korzybski was writing as much for himself as for any presumed dedicated reader. With this 1926 supplement to his 1924 paper, he had the outline and program for his future work. (Notably, neither the noun “semantics” nor the adjective “semantic” appear anywhere in either paper.) In the last paragraph of the text he wrote, “The material presented here so roughly is being worked out in book form under the title Time-Binding: The General Theory, An Introduction to Humanology, to be published shortly.” ‘Shortly’—a variable term.

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. 
45. “Time-Binding: The General Theory (Second Paper)”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 98. 

46. Ibid., p. 108. 

47. Ibid., p. 127. 

48. Ibid., p. 98.

49. Ibid., p. 98. 

50. Ibid., p. 116. 

51. AK to C. K. Ogden, 7/26/1927. AKDA 20.513-512. 

52. “Time-Binding: The General Theory (Second Paper)”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 113. 53. Ibid., p. 137–139.

No comments: