Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chapter 31 - "The Tragedy Of My Work": Part 4 - Building a Boat in the Middle of a Churning Sea

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 addition, his theoretical difficulties seemed profound. It had become clear that if he was going to “bring ordinary language closer to mathematics”(9), he was going to have to retool ordinary language. Indeed the language would embody his system. As he had roughly expressed it in a letter to Rainich earlier in the year, most people had not gone beyond vague agreement with his “recipe for making geniuses”: 
"Weaken phobias, knock out dogmatism, make the mental processes as free [as possible] from preconceived doctrines which are unconscious and which we cannot abandon” that’s the general rule, a rule vaguely known but which stopped short before language. Language was not supposed to be a doctrine. My general theory goes one step deeper (lower) and recognizes that as all human knowledge has mathematical structure…And when we open our mouth a doctrine flies already. Let’s silence ourselves by ruthless questioning, as we must come finally to some undefined terms, and to “matter” “space” “time” “continuity” “infinity” etc which as [a] starting point are a creed. Of course with [a] new conception of these entities (?) we have to reconstruct the whole d…d show. (10)

“To reconstruct the whole d…d [damned] show.” This was like trying to rebuild a falling-apart, leaky, old boat while you were in it and floating in the middle of a churning sea. You could expect some discomfort. Part of the old aristotelian ‘boat’ involved objectifying higher order terms such as absolute “space” and absolute “time” or “thinking” and “feeling” and considering them as separate ‘things’ while forgetting necessary relationships. Rebuilding ‘the boat’ meant going all the way with the “organism as a whole” approach and abandoning such language or else using it only with awareness. At this point, Alfred had started to put quotation marks around such terms as “space”, “time”, “senses”,“mind”, “perception”, “conception”, “thinking”, and “feeling”, etc., in order to flag them. To eschew these terms when formulating seriously required replacing them with “organism as a whole” forms of representation, terms such as “time-binding”, “abstractions on different orders”, many of the mathematical terms such as “relation”, “order”, “function”, etc. In this case, using the new labels would help one to orient oneself to new non-verbal actualities, instead of obscuring them.

An adult had to make a concerted effort to do this. One had to consciously work to develop a habit of talking differently, not just talking about talking differently. That required a different view of language as well, since many people found it easy to objectify the term “language” and treat it as if it was entirely discrete and set off from other aspects of the process of abstracting. If no one could step outside of the process of abstracting, then the only choice a person had about it was whether to keep more or less conscious of it. In the old lingo, one’s ‘mind’ mediated one’s knowledge of anything. And it seemed all too easy for people to treat their ‘minds’ like ‘windows’ which they looked through but didn’t see. Alfred was trying to get people to see the ‘window’ and to see, among other things, the obscuring, distorting ‘dirt’—some of it linguistic—that they had gotten used to ignoring. First, he had had to look at his own ‘dirty window’ and he knew it could be hard work even for some of his intelligent friends like Haywood and Glover, who took him seriously.

Both men had regaled him with objections, wondering whether working with the Anthropometer was too ‘cerebral’ since it only dealt with “thinking” and not with “feelings”. But as Alfred pointed out to each of them, one could allocate a so-called “feeling” to the “object” level of the Anthropometer just as well as a pencil or a plate. “Feelings” existed as non-verbal, lower-order abstractions. And once one opened one’s mouth to talk about those “feelings”, the doctrines would inevitably fly. This “thinking” associated with “feelings” could then have an effect on ongoing “feelings”, etc. So, of course, you could work on your “feelings” (which had to involve some “thinking”) with the Anthropometer. You had better do so if you wanted to develop your consciousness of abstracting. Alfred was not only doing this personal work on himself, he was developing a system, including the language, for doing so.

And the language of the system was still not clear and accurate enough for him because he didn’t yet have enough clarity about the system. Major portions of it were only now coming into his awareness. (Was he discovering or inventing them or both?) For example, elaborating on Ritter’s original usage, he had previously formulated the term “elementalism” to refer to objectifying the verbal separation of what does not exist entirely separate in the organism-as-a-whole.

Korzybski had also long seen the parallel of such organism-as-a-whole usage with Einstein’s and Minkowski’s abandonment of absolute “space” and “time” in favor of the more structurally correct term “space-time”. He had written about it in the second Time-Binding paper. He was just getting to the next step—to move to a higher order of abstraction and to deliberately extend the notion of elementalism to include usages outside of biological science such as absolute “space” and “time”. (He had already been doing this informally.) This then required finding a more general term than “organism-as-a-whole” to cover terms such as “space-time”. (Part of what he was doing, after all, was creating a language about language.) He had to invent the term—“non-elementalism”. It would take about another year before he started using it and talking about “non-elementalistic language”.(11)  The principle of non-elementalism consisted of remembering to distrust the verbal splitting (“elementalism”) of what does not exist as split in the non-verbal world since “...there is no such thing as an object in absolute isolation.”(12) Non-elementalism would emerge as a major premise of the non-aristotelian system.

Other formulations had begun to surface in his working vocabulary. For example, in the second Time-Binding paper he had referred for the first time in print to his preference for “extensional methods” and “the extensional attitude”. The term “extensional” had originated in formal logic and referred to definitions given by enumerating examples or pointing to non-verbal experiences. An “intensional” definition, on the other hand, involved defining a word with other words. By the end of 1926, Korzybski had begun to extend the use of these terms to refer to a person’s general orientation. An extensional attitude or orientation involved primarily orienting oneself to non-verbal ‘facts’—consciousness of abstracting, sanity. An intensional attitude involved orienting oneself primarily in terms of verbal definitions—confusing orders of abstracting, unsanity, insanity. (Of course, one could use intensional definitions without necessarily behaving intensionally.)

In his paper, Alfred had related the extensional attitude to the “the principle of individualization,” or the “the atomistic principle,” the notion that, as he would later put it, “...the world is made up of absolute individuals, each different and unique, although interconnected [remembering non-elementalism].”(13) This principle, elaborated over the next few years, would eventually become his premise of non-identity, what Robert P. Pula called “...his [Korzybski’s] forthright challenge to the heart of aristotelianism—and its non-Western, equally essentialistic counterparts.”(14) But at the end of 1926, he hadn’t quite gotten there explicitly. In the meantime, it seemed clear that mathematics provided a unique language for extensionalizing, dealing with individuals as well as relationships. In the paper, he noted how simple mathematical means could be brought into ordinary language, i.e., using numerical “indexes” to provide unique names for individuals in a category. He had already started to use them in his own speech and writing, as well as using dates (temporal indexes) with terms such as “science”, e.g., “science (1926)” in the second Time-Binding paper. Some people considered such language an affectation, but what better way to remind oneself to see the ‘window’ of ones own abstracting process and not just naively ‘look through’ it?

Over the next year, he would also come up with a better label for the characteristic of some terms he had already formulated as “multi-dimensional”—terms like “yes”, “no”, and many others, whose unique context of ‘meaning’ included the orders of abstractions they were used on. He would now call them “multiordinal terms” which reflected the multiordinal, many-leveled abstracting process and the multiordinal nature of the world. The multiordinality of terms explained how “Yes, We Have No Bananas” could seem like fun but wasn’t necessarily nonsense.

His system was growing as he worked out its implications, connected it to various scientific advances, showed relationships between formulations, and sought new structurally appropriate terms. His efforts to achieve greater generality involved dredging into his own unconscious to pass from one order of abstraction to a higher (‘deeper’) one, and then spiraling back with what he had found. This meant getting the living ‘feel’ of every generalization he came up with, i.e., translating each higher-order abstraction into a first-order, non-verbal one, i.e., a picture, an object, an action, an imagined experience, etc. Working to get the ‘feel’ of ‘ideas’ in this way—exciting and grueling work—was a procedure he later recommended to his readers and students.

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. 
9. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 69. 

10. AK to G. Y. Rainich, 1/8/1926. AKDA 18.187–191. 

11. AK to Trigant Burrow, 12/17/1927. AKDA 21.534. 

12. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 50. 

13. Ibid., p. 254. 

14. Pula 1994, p. xvii.

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