Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chapter 33 - First Draft: Part 3 - Quantum Differences

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.

Thus began the at-times difficult friendship of Korzybski and Bridgman. As they came to know each other better, both men communicated with unfailing directness and honesty. In addition to their correspondence, they met face-to-face a number of times. While maintaining the utmost civility, by 1934 (a year after Korzybski’s book was finally published) their differences had become acute. But in the early phase of their relationship, Bridgman found Korzybski’s work intriguing and quickly offered to read Alfred’s developing manuscript and to help him in any other way he could. Over the next few years, he generously did so. Alfred felt much in debt to Bridgman for suggesting things to read, editing the book (particularly the mathematics and physics sections), and providing general criticism. 

Although Bridgman had some minor suggestions, he never had any significant objections to Alfred’s writing about physics. Indeed, one year later as he worked on editing the manuscript, Bridgman seemed astounded by Korzybski’s grasp of the major new developments in the science: “I was much impressed by your chapter on the new wave mechanics; how do you manage to read so widely and digest so much? Many of your points of view I found interesting for their physical suggestiveness, apart from the special use that you make of them.”(18)

Bridgman was also responsible for one of the new terms Alfred later introduced in Science and Sanity. Alfred was looking for a better term than “operational”, “behaviouristic”, or even “functional” (in the sense of “what something is doing”) for the broad attitudinal perspective that he saw both he and Bridgman trying to formulate, each in his own way. Sometime over the next few years, Bridgman suggested the term “actional”, which Alfred used in the book along with the other three terms. After 
Science and Sanity was published, Alfred realized he already had a better term but had not recognized it at the time—“extensional”.

Bridgman’s main objections to Korzybski’s work related not to the physics background but to some of Alfred’s non-aristotelian formulations. Although, for the most part, Alfred considered these objections wrong-headed, he still appreciated the scientist’s fierce New England independence and unrestrained honesty—up to a point.

Although Bridgman had indicated his general agreement with the content of the two Time-Binding papers, he had wanted to learn more about the Anthropometer. About a month later Korzybski sent him one. Bridgman felt “grateful to accept it”, writing to Alfred, “I shall keep it where I can often see it, and perhaps my thinking also will be wonderfully improved.”
Your letter contains many interesting and suggestive points which would require long personal discussion to treat at all adequately. There are still many difficulties for me in applying the A. to all my mental processes…The event…is the starting point for us, and it is of necessity something that we think about. But we must not think about it in words, for the moment anything verbal gets into our thinking we descend from the level of the event. (19) 
Bridgman seemed to imply here that he could experience his non-verbal ‘thinking’,‘perceiving’, etc., directly on the level of ‘the event’ itself. But according to the distinctions represented by Korzybski on the Anthropometer, whatever Bridgman or anyone else ‘thought’ non-verbally still had to be allocated—not to the event level—but rather to the ‘object’ level as a first-order, neurological abstraction from the event. And ‘the event’, for Korzybski, could only be inferred and definitely required symbolism and words (the accumulated science-at-a-given-date) to know anything about it. We were always ‘in’ the event, but any level of experience/knowledge of it always consisted of some abstraction from it.

Alfred’s reply to Bridgman’s concerns, written a few days later, seemed rather mild. Bridgman seemed assuaged by his reply. At least he made no further mention of the issue in his next letter to Alfred. But his perplexities about the Anthropometer and Korzybski’s formulations continued to brew. Probably during one of their face-to-face conferences (either in 1930, when Alfred visited Bridgman and others at Harvard, or in 1931, when the two men both attended a AAAS meeting in New Orleans) “a dramatic moment” occurred which Alfred wrote about in Science and Sanity:
...I had a very helpful and friendly contact prolonged over a number of years with a very eminent scientist. After many discussions, I asked if some of the special points of my work were clear to him. His answer was, ‘Yes, it is all right, and so on, but, how can you expect me to follow your work all through, if I still do not know what an object is?’ It was a genuine shock to me… The definite answer may be expressed as follows: ‘Say whatever you choose about the object, and whatever you might say is not it.’ Or, in other words : ‘Whatever you might say the object “is”, well it is not .’ This negative statement is final, because it is negative. (20)
Examination of his extensive correspondence with Bridgman on this very topic, leaves little doubt as to which “eminent scientist” Korzybski was referring to here.

By 1934, Alfred had begun to lose patience with Bridgman in regard to a number of issues. Despite their commonalities (which Alfred had seen and had sought to bridge), what put the two men at odds could be seen in their different attitudes towards the new developments in quantum physics in 1927 and afterwards. As Korzybski related early on to Bridgman, he was ready for the new. In particular, he welcomed the developments in quantum physics, which he had started to study and which seemed to fully jibe with his understanding of the non-aristotelian viewpoint. Indeed, it seemed to him that his educational methods to promote consciousness of abstracting could help people to understand and explore the quantum realm more easily:
...As yet we do not approach the Q. [quantum realm] with enough psychological freedom from macroscopic old prejudices expressed in the machinery of our forms of representations...I see no reason why we could ourselves psychologically from the bondage of the old form of representations, and see the old facts of the Q.t. which we know already and make a happier form of representation. (21) 

In contrast, in 1927 (and for a long time afterwards), Bridgman seemed to look at these developments with a tinge of regret for an earlier time when ‘reality’ had seemed as solid as a brick. His “blockage about the ‘object’ ” seemed rather stubborn, despite his intellectual understanding that the underlying ‘reality’ postulated by quantum theory was not anything like a brick but rather more like a ‘mad dance’ (to use one of Alfred’s favorite metaphors), where even the classical notion of causality had come into question. 
Tracks of Neutrinos (Based on Fermilab Bubble Chamber Image

Bridgman wrote to Korzybski early in 1928: “Your remarks about the pathological aspects of not knowing were very interesting. I suppose perhaps that when one knows that he doesn’t know the state is the most pathological; this would seem to be suggested by the constant headache, which I have when trying to get the new quantum mechanics.”(22) Bridgman seemed to fear that Heisenberg’s “principle of indetermination”, as he called it, threatened meaninglessness in the realm of the very small.(23) Korzybski did sympathize with Bridgman’s sentiment that “part of the causality concept is conditioned by our own thinking mechanism so that we can never entirely get away from it.”(24) Still, the new view didn’t give Alfred a headache; he relished it and the possibility of an altered notion of causality.(25) For Korzybski, the most pathological aspect of not knowing resulted from not knowing that one doesn’t know (and from the “false knowledge” tending to fill the ‘vacuum’).

Alas for Alfred, by 1934 cooperation with Bridgman no longer seemed possible. Bridgman felt at odds with Korzybski, had significant disagreements with some of the basic formulations (as he understood them) in Alfred’s book, and felt little to no interest in any more joining of hands. Although the men had some further correspondence, it seems to have petered out after 1936 when Bridgman sent a copy of his just-published book, The Nature of Physical Theory, to Korzybski.
Bridgman mistakenly understood Korzybski as wanting to make the structure of language ‘identical’ with experience. In the 1936 book, (without mentioning Korzybski by name), Bridgman condemned this [pp. 21-26]. Rightly so, but it had nothing to do with Korzybski’s actual views. Alfred wrote back to Bridgman in a 5-page letter with lengthy commentary—not entirely critical. Alfred had read the book with great interest and could see in it a profound ambivalence about his work. Alfred still cherished Bridgman’s friendship and seems to have hoped he could thrash things out with him.(26) Bridgman wasn’t willing and replied dismissively:
Now I have spent a great deal of time first and last on going over your ideas, as much as I am willing to afford in view of all my other interests, and the plain fact of the matter is that you haven’t ‘put it across’ as far as I am concerned. (27) 

Bridgman’s “struggles” and “ambivalence toward changing scientific standards”(28)—perhaps accelerated by his contact with Korzybski—continued until the end of his life. Ironically, The Way Things Are (1959), one of Bridgman’s last books, shows a startlingly significant, though apparently unconscious, korzybskian influence. Although Bridgman seemed unaware of it, Alfred had managed to ‘put across’quite a bit.(29)

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. 
18. P. W. Bridgman to AK, 11/18/1928. AKDA 21.281. 

19. P. W. Bridgman to AK 9/24/1927. AKDA 19.62. 

20. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 35.

21. AK to P. W. Bridgman, 9/26/1927. AKDA 20.665. 

22. P. W. Bridgman to AK, 1/29/1928. AKDA 21.29. 

23. P. W. Bridgman to AK, 3/18/1928. AKDA 21.113. 

24. P. W. Bridgman to AK, 1/29/1928. AKDA 21.29.

25. AK to P. W. Bridgman, 3/28/1928. AKDA 21.795. 

26. AK to P. W. Bridgman, 5/15/1936. IGS Archives.

27. P. W. Bridgman to Korzybski, May 31, 1936, qtd. in Walter, p. 155. 

28. Walter, p. 197. 

29. The Way Things Are clearly demonstrates Bridgman’s assimilation of much of what Korzybski conveyed to him during the period of their active association and correspondence. Nonetheless, Bridgman’s single, brief ‘put-down’ comment about Korzybski’s work in that book [Bridgman 1959, p. 33] shows his continued conscious misapprehension of it. Bridgman’s failure to appreciate what he got from his friend Alfred provides a prototypical example of what Korzybski called “the tragedy of his work”. [See Lucier.]

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