Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chapter 33 - First Draft: Part 4 - Badly Overdue

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 the end of 1927, Korzybski was approaching a deep sense of hopelessness. His work had become both a blessing and a curse. Many areas of science and life seemed to be moving in a non-aristotelian direction. An explicit non-aristotelian system seemed to him necessary for someone to formulate. The existence of such a system might help quicken the otherwise more-or-less unconscious non-aristotelian tendencies in the culture. Alfred had started to produce such a system. If he was going to continue, he wanted to do as good a job as possible. But he truly didn’t know whether he was up to it. 

The book was already badly overdue. Yet his notes and writing were still in a jumble, cut into pieces that he was sorting into boxes, trying to put into a better order.(30) His project seemed like madness! Who but a madman would try to study and integrate such an abundance of diverse material? One man could not reasonably hope to master even a small portion of it. Seeking to show the connections amongst a multitude of different fields, he needed help not only in checking the separate specialty areas he referred to, but also in assessing his general system. Knowing how easy it could be to make things fit an unsound theory, he still did not entirely trust his own judgment. He was consulting with Graven, who was in the process of gathering clinical data to write up along with a psychiatry appendix. Alfred was also accumulating a number of other expert specialists willing to look at various parts of the book that touched upon their fields. Still he had no one who seemed both willing and able to competently evaluate the whole. Keyser might be one of the few who could do so, but Alfred did not want to burden his friend with too much at this point. Keyser seemed to have bounced back from Ella Keyser’s death, but his health seemed delicate and he had to garner his limited energies for his own writing and teaching. Meanwhile, every blessedly cursed day brought forth more material (not just from physics) that Alfred felt compelled to deal with. Bridgman was by no means the only one who could smell something in the air.

Some of what Korzybski was reading, circa 1927, all grist for the mill for Science and Sanity

For example, over the last year in conjunction with his work with Graven, Alfred had been digging more deeply into the psychiatric literature, especially Sigmund Freud’s work in English translation. In his most recent books, Beyond the Pleasure Principle and The Ego and the Id, Freud seemed to Korzybski to be getting close to the formulation of the “scientific unconscious” as elaborated in the second Time-Binding paper. Alfred considered Freud’s work valuable in many ways. Indeed, he would put Freud on the list of those to whom he would dedicate his book. But even in 1927, he found Freud’s language “very cloudy”. As Alfred wrote to Roy Haywood in early 1928, “his [Freud’s] formulations are not workable.”(31)

Alfred had also already begun corresponding with Trigant Burrow (1875–1950), a psychiatrist who, in 1927, had just come out with his first book, The Social Basis of Consciousness. Alfred also corresponded with Burrow’s colleague, psychiatrist Hans Syz. Although Burrow had had an early interest in Freud’s work and psychoanalysis, he had been forming his own views outside of the main psychoanalytical circles. Beside his M.D., he had gotten a doctorate in experimental psychology focused on the physiology of attention. His approach to therapy—he pioneered in group therapy and social psychiatry—developed out of his interest in the interactions among the physiological, phenomenological, interpersonal, and socio-cultural aspects of maladjustment. Burrow may have coined the word “neurodynamic” (he was one of the first to use the term) and went on to explore the role of attention and symbolism in neuroses.

Burrow had independently gotten very close to a great deal of what Korzybski had formulated in his general theory. Korzybski sought to emphasize the commonality of their work. But Burrow’s understanding seemed intuitive, his language cloudy. Alfred had hopes his own work could suggest ways to bring greater formulational clarity to Burrow’s efforts. Burrow didn’t see it that way. In his book, Science and Man’s Behavior, published posthumously, Burrow wrote:
I would not make all this ado about the wide disparity between…[us], were not Korzybski so determined to proselytize me on the ground that “we are saying the same thing.” Perhaps we are. But do our organisms feel the same way? (32) 

Regarding Burrow, Korzybski in later years didn’t waver from the opinion he expressed to Roy Haywood in early 1928, “His [Burrow’s] main thesis is that we are all insane (neurotics), do not know it and are headed for worse. I quite agree with him.”(33)  

The kinds of works that appealed to Korzybski, as grist for his mill, tended to share some common characteristics, no matter what their subject area. First, they were apt to have what he called a behaviouristic outlook (not the same as ‘behaviorism’). Even in a ‘seemingly’ esoteric work in mathematics or physics, he looked for some acknowledgment on the author’s part that knowledge, expressed through some form of language and symbolism, never ‘dropped down from the heavens’—some humans produced it. And the process involved in developing-expressing knowledge made a difference to the knowledge produced. Acknowledgement of that, a nascent consciousness of abstracting, made a difference too.

Second, the works that especially called to Korzybski were likely to have a comprehensive viewpoint. To show important relationships often required bursting through the limiting box of any particular discipline or school of thought. Such working non-elementalism also tended to involve cautiousness about additive, linear approaches involving relationships among elements. ‘Adding’ a new element or elements could often lead to complex, non-additive results, e.g., one more guest at a party could create multiple complications. The problems of aristotelian “plus” approaches to non-linear, ‘non-plus’ situations had been bugging Korzybski since the early twenties when he had started his explorations in mathematical logic. The non-elementalistic issue of non-additivity/non-linearity had many theoretical and practical ramifications. Rainich had been helping him to tackle the issue on the math and physics side and he was looking for literature that would provide more examples of non-additivity in different disciplines and in daily life.

Third, the works Korzybski found most compelling were likely to show a dynamic attitude, dealing with their subjects in historical, process terms. The significance of space-time factors in understanding any matter of consideration could not be underestimated, as far as Korzybski was concerned. Any of the three above-mentioned characteristics would, at the very least, give someone’s work a non-aristotelian direction.

Korzybski had been reading one just-published book, which had all three characteristics—Thought and the Brain, by French experimental psychologist Henri Piéron (1881–1964). Especially after he started reading neurologist C. Judson Herrick’s writings about a year before, Alfred had more than ever been emphasizing abstracting as a psycho-physiological, neurological process (which did not eliminate the data of introspection). The lower order(s) of abstracting (non-verbal) related closely to activity in the sub-cortical areas (the thalamus, etc.) that Herrick had written about. They heavily involved the ‘affective’, ‘feeling’ aspect of people’s reactions.

Both Pieron’s work and that of Dr. Lewis R. Yealland as represented in his book Hysterical Disorders of Warfare, seemed especially relevant to understanding this ‘feeling’ aspect. Using a combination of electrical stimulation and verbal suggestion, Yealland had treated Great War soldiers suffering from various psycho-physiological consequences of “shell shock”. Yealland’s reputation would later suffer (he was depicted as a villain in novelist Pat Barker’s late 20th century fictional account of British World War I soldiers, Regeneration). However, the apparent effectiveness of Yealland’s methods impressed Korzybski. Korzybski had also become interested in the psycho-galvanic skin response (the basis of the psycho-galvanometer or “lie detector” machine) that both Hans Syz and physiologist H. B. Williams at Columbia were studying. (Alfred later recounted to his students his experiences as a test subject in Dr. William’s laboratory).

From these studies, it had become clear to Korzybski that despite the great importance of language, the linguistic levels of abstracting were, in some sense, only accessory to the more dynamic, non-verbal, affective, lower-order level(s). As he wrote to Graven in October, 1927, he saw that these lower levels could and needed to be used in psychotherapy (34): “If we stimulate by ANY MEANS whatsoever the “attention”, we mobilize or even produce an energetic tention and so later we can direct the discharge of this energy in desired channels, beneficial results follow.”(35) Although he was giving advice to Graven about working with patients, the recommendation ‘to interest attention by any means’ also reflected Korzybski’s developing views on how to communicate and teach: for greatest effectiveness, the non-verbal level of abstraction needed to be used to the maximum—together with the verbal.(36) 

Beside the physics, psychiatry and neurology books, Alfred was also reading the first volume of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, which had come out in English translation in 1926. (He would read the second volume after its publication in 1928.) As Alfred later wrote, he found The Decline of the West, “unique and astonishing.”(37) Indeed, his dark mood lightened a bit as a result of reading it in the fall of 1927. As he wrote to Florian Cajori in September:
….I was very lonesome in my work. I treat mathematics from a neglected point of view namely as a form of human behavior, an attitude which seems legitimate at least. I was so glad to find lately that I am not alone and that Spengler in his Decline of the West is also doing it. I just began to read this book a second time and find that he traces in the development of mathematics the expression of the spirit of [its] time. (38)

Given Spengler’s main thesis—a variation on the theme of “logical destiny”—and the erudition with which he elaborated upon it, Korzybski’s high estimation of The Decline of the West doesn’t seem surprising. Richard J. Robertson later noted that for Spengler,
…The “mechanism”, of history…is not physical law but destiny; that is, the playing out of consequences drawn from initial premises, as in systems of mathematics. [Spengler] made it his task, then, to outline the principles underlying the “spirit” of different cultures and detail what he saw as the evidence for them. (39)

For Spengler, this playing out of cultural premises/assumptions meant the inevitable decline of a civilization. To him, Western Civilization was already unraveling with no way out except for Mankind to continue going around in ultimately fruitless circles. Korzybski felt this profound pessimism about the future seemed justified—but only if humans could not transcend their old ways of unconscious development. As he would soon write, The Decline of the West provided “a great description of the childhood of humanity”.(40) What appeared like a circle might then form a spiral path forward and upward toward genuine human progress. He believed his own work could help this movement. But he had to get the first draft done.

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 Sally Avery, 10/31/1927. AKDA 20.738.

31. AK to H. L. Haywood, 1/2/1928. AKDA 21.571. 

32. Burrow 1953, p. 295. 

33. AK to H. L. Haywood, 1/2/1928. AKDA 21.571. 

34. AK to Philip S. Graven, 10/20/1927. AKDA 20.720. “I wrote to you some time ago asking about the psychogalvanic experiments. Did you put your hands on it? I have a very definite feeling that there is a great deal which could be done by improving the psychoanalytical technique. See Pieron (Thought and the Brain) particularly part IV the affective regulation of mental life, its role and mechanism. There you will find a definite energetic treatment (he does not connect it with psychoanalysis, this connection is mine). He ascribes to attention definite energetic characteristics, quite justly I think. This of course is strictly connected with transfer [transference ?].” 

35. Ibid. 

36. “The main point is to interest “attention” by any means and this is why we should resort to every possible instrument, which is always a lower order abstraction, and therefore affecting lower centers, and acting by lower centers and so having maximum effect on the thalamus etc and the affective. This is why I suggested Blackboards, toys etc. Now I go further and suggest galvanometers, MIRRORS and even electrical treatment.” [Ibid.] 

37. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 47. 

38. AK to Florian Cajori, 9/25/27. AKDA 20.661. 

39. Robertson, p. 101. 

40. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 49.

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