Monday, December 15, 2014

Chapter 34 - "Don't You See The Electron?": Part 2 - Pasadena

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.

He found a small “maid’s cottage” to rent at 62 Mar Vista Street just north of Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard, within walking distance of Caltech. (On the site now sits a large condominium apartment building.) It wasn’t bad at all for a “maid’s cottage”. It had a front parlor, a dining room with a large window toward the front that he used as his office with a large table he had for a typewriter desk, a small bedroom that he slept in, a larger guest bedroom, a kitchen, and bathroom. The owner, who lived behind the cottage in a larger house, had left some ramshackle furniture that sufficed for Alfred. He found the place easy to keep clean, sweeping and mopping it himself once a week. With electricity, hot water, a gas stove, and portable heaters, it had everything he needed. 

Korzybski soon settled into a routine. Though he kept long, irregular hours, he tended to get up early. After making himself a large cup of coffee (he usually didn’t eat breakfast) he would start his two-fingered pecking on the typewriter keyboard until he felt hungry, sometime around noon. Then he would often walk half a block south to Colorado Boulevard where he had found a mom and pop restaurant owned by a Swiss couple with whom he made friends. They had excellent food and took good care of him. After lunch, he often stopped at a nearby fruit and vegetable market to get grapes, oranges, pears, etc., and vegetables that didn’t need cooking. There was also a nearby butcher shop where he would often stop to get either a veal kidney (which he liked to have occasionally) or his favorite—filet mignon—which he could get for 90 cents a pound. He cooked filet mignon quite often for his supper. He would fry it in a pan with lots of butter and eat it on top of a nice big piece of toasted bread.

A little more than a month after he arrived, Alfred gave a presentation at a conference held at the Los Angeles Public Library for the California Association for Adult Education. He called his talk “A New Approach in Education of Adults”.(6) Although he had learned he could orient a talk on his work toward a wide range of subject matters, he had a longstanding interest in Adult Education. For a number of years, he had paid membership dues to a British group, The World Association for Adult Education. Their motto seemed right in line with his efforts: “The multitude of the wise is the welfare of the world.” Clearly, if children were to be educated in his non-aristotelian approach, then their parents (though with much more difficulty) would need such education too. Although he had hoped to be able to get some paid lectures—and had written to a number of friends and contacts regarding speaking opportunities—this turned out to be one of the few presentations he gave (most of them, like this one, unpaid) during what would turn out to be a year in California. That was probably a good thing. Giving a lot of talks might have diverted him from his main job. He didn’t live like a hermit (he visited people and had visitors), but, as he said, “as a rule, my life [in Pasadena] was extremely isolated.”(7) He was there to write.

The new environment seemed to have somehow freed him to do it. How did he begin? Before presenting his own work “On The Mechanism Of Time-Binding” that would eventually appear as Book II, “A General Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems…[etc.]”, he felt that, as he said, “I had to give the background, logical, physico-mathematical, all of that before I could approach my own part to have people understanding the importance of that non-aristotelian orientation. I had to give all of the background.”(8) So he started writing Book I, which he would call “A General Survey of Non-Aristotelian Factors”. When he had completed it a few months later, he started to write Book II, but stopped. He felt he still needed to provide more mathematical and scientific background to fill out what he had already written. This became Book III, “Additional Structural Data About Languages And The Empirical World”.

Much of the material in Book III would appear intimidating to many laymen (and perhaps even to some mathematicians and scientists). Nonetheless, he felt it would be useful for all readers—and it seemed necessary to substantiate his system—to provide this more in-depth treatment. Although he needed to accurately present whatever technicalities he wrote about (thank goodness for Bridgman and others who helped him with that), his main point here was to show mathematics and science as the behavior and language of humans. He found Book III “a most technically difficult book to write” for this very reason.(9) Despite appearances, it did not deal mainly with any particular physico-mathematical problems. Rather it involved Korzybski’s “…second order observations of the first order observations, of the first order observer, and of the relations between them, . [, etc.]”(10)  

He advised his readers not to worry about grasping all of the technicalities, but to read in order to get the feel of mathematics and science as products of human behavior. As he wrote in the Introductory section of his chapter “On The Semantics Of The Differential Calculus”:
Any reader who has a distaste for mathematics will benefit most if he overcomes his semantic [evaluational] phobia and struggles through these pages, even several times. As a result of so doing he will find it simple although not always easy. It is always semantically [evaluationally] useful to overcome one’s phobias; it liberates one from unjustified fears, feelings of inferiority, . [, etc.] The main point of this whole discussion is to evoke the semantic [evaluational] components of a living Smith, when he habitually uses the method which will be explained herewith. (11) 

He was writing here about the feel of the calculus his father had given to him so many years before, and which, in a way, had started him on his quest. Book III also included chapters on non-linearity, geometry, various aspects of relativity theory, and quantum mechanics—all from Alfred’s point of view of the behavior of “a living Smith”.

Book II (the core of his non-aristotelian system and training procedures) remained the last major segment he wrote in Pasadena, completing it in early 1929. When in later years he thought back about his writing of the first draft there, he could say, “What made me and what makes me happy that I could write such a heavy book like Science and Sanity practically offhand.”(12) Ultimately, whatever changes, additions, and other editing it got subsequently, the book published four years later substantially retained the text that—as he blithely described it— he ‘offhandedly’ “spit out” that year in Pasadena.

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. 
6. “A New Approach in Education of Adults”. Los Angeles CA Herald, 4/20-21/1928. AKDA 3.316. 

7. Korzybski 1947, p. 492. 

8. Ibid. 

9. Ibid. About Book III, one of my editorial readers, Jim French [korzybskian-scholar and Editor Emeritus of the General Semantics Bulletin], wrote: “I doubt that anyone would agree with this, but I actually think that Korzybski would have done better to make Book III, Book II, as he originally planned. I can’t justify that opinion too rationally, but I think it would have been better for his work to do that, though he would have lost a lot of the “popularizers” and other readers right there, presumably.” 

10. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 569. 

11. Ibid., p. 574. 

12. Korzybski 1947, p. 492.

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