Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chapter 34 - "Don't You See The Electron?": Part 4 - 'Ises' and Other 'Notions'

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.

So much for plans. Alfred gave up hope of getting any special help at Caltech. He felt as alone as ever. Still, though it seemed like a never-ending slog, he was getting the book written. He found feeling settled in a place facilitated his work and he had gotten to feel sufficiently at home in his little place in Pasadena “to work like the dickens” (as he liked to say), despite that year’s quite frequent little earthquakes and the Southern California native ants that seemed to impress him more than most of the native humans. As he wrote to Bridgman: “You put anything which is edible, and in a very short while you have [a] regular army invading the place. Nothing can be hidden from them, and they communicate somehow rapidly with each other. They are extraordinary.”(22) 

Being in Southern California, Alfred wanted to meet Will Rogers and sent a note to the “cowboy philosopher” and entertainer (1879–1935), who had a ranch in the Santa Monica hills. Korzybski, who had enjoyed Rogers’ newspaper columns and books and heard him lecture, didn’t consider Rogers so much as a humorist, but rather as an exceptionally down-to-earth and extensional human being who therefore often naturally said things that made people laugh.(23) On June 4, he got a letter from Rogers’ office inviting him to come any afternoon for a visit.(24) Rogers would soon be traveling to cover the U.S. Presidential Nominating Conventions. So it was probably within just a few days that Dr. and Mrs. Wolfenden, friends of Alfred’s who lived in Beverly Hills and had a car, drove him out to Rogers’ ranch. Will Rogers’ response to the visit is not known but, since he once said he never met a man he didn’t like, he nigh surely must have gotten a kick out of spending an afternoon with Alfred Korzybski, another exceptionally down-to-earth and extensional horseman.

Although he did take some time out for this and other visits and visitors (both Luella Twining and Sally Avery were then living in Los Angeles), for the most part, as usual, Alfred was mainly working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. He had hoped he could be done with the first draft by October, but decided if he was not done by then, he would stay in Pasadena until he finished. In June, he was completing an important, difficult, large, and still unwieldy chapter on what he was then calling the psychology of mathematics (this would later be divided into the two chapters of Book I, Part V, “On The Non-Aristotelian Language Called Mathematics”). From there, he decided to go on to the detailed material of Book III, and soon began working on what would become its first three chapters, making up Part VIII, “On The Structure of Mathematics”.

One can get a feel of the general state of his formulating in mid-1928 from an abstract of a proposed paper he sent for inclusion in the Philosophy and History of Mathematics Section of The International Congress of Mathematics scheduled from September 3–10 at the University of Bologna, Italy. Planning to attend, he had registered for the Congress, but by the beginning of July realized he had neither the time nor money to expend for the trip. He still sent the abstract on July 3, his 49th birthday, and it was published in the Congress Proceedings:
A. Korzybski – New York,- Time-binding, the General theory and the generalized theory of Mathematical types. An outline of a non-aristotelian system. 
Methodological considerations. Organism-as-a-whole verso elementalism and its parallel, space-time verso space and time. The metaphysics and method underlying the aristotelian, euclidian and newtonian systems and its too many “infinities”. Mathematical methods as fundamental for a non-aristotelian system. Formulation of a non-aristotelian system. Common metaphysics and method underlying non-aristotelian, non-euclidian and non-newtonian systems and its a few “infinities” less. Structures of languages. The General Theory of Time-binding and differential and four dimensional methods. The Theory of Mathematical Types generalized. The connection of a non-aristotelian system with a positive theory of sanity. Consequences. Applications. (25)

By this time, researching for Part X, “On The Structure Of Matter”—Book III’s finale—he had just begun an intensive ‘assault’ on quantum physics, reading works by among others, Born, Heisenberg, Birtwhistle, and Biggs—the latter two authors having written relatively up-to-date summaries of the latest advances, which he found valuable.(26) Concurrently, as he had already assimilated relativity theory, he had started to write about it in what would become the five chapters of Book III, Part IX, “On The Similarity Of Empirical and Verbal Structures”. As Korzybski saw it, Einstein’s work had paved the way for the new generation of quantum physicists whose latest developments—ironically—Einstein seemed unwilling to fully embrace. Korzybski was trying to absorb a tremendous amount of material, at least enough to write about the interconnected psycho-logical, epistemological, linguistic, and methodological aspects of the new physics. As he often did, he called on his ‘unconscious’ processes to help him. He had been working at this for at least a month when he wrote to Bridgman on August 11:
...I use a habitual device with hard readings. I read rapidly never bothering about what I do not understand, but read repeatedly the whole and so the details begin to [dawn] upon me slowly, besides I read always this stuff in bed and sleep it over, so do not waste the hours of my sleep as my brain is digesting when I sleep. (27)  

Korzybski could scarcely contain his tremendous excitement about what he was studying. The implications of quantum theory for his work struck him profoundly. As he had already written to Mira, the convergence of the different approaches of Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and Dirac delighted him. Indeed, he told her, these formulators had expressed something which he had long felt and vaguely visualized but had not had the capacity to adequately express on his own.(28) He seems a bit too modest here. In 1922 in “The Brotherhood of Doctrines” he had already formulated the principle that any observation involved the interaction of an ‘observer’ with the ‘observed’, not to be considered as entirely separate. The new quantum mechanics seemed closely connected to this. In the August 11 letter to Bridgman, he had also said:
...It appeared to me (you will judge it not me) that this new stuff is in perfect accord with the G.T. [General Theory] of mine, which if it is (GT) what it claims to be, namely a theory which gives the structure of ‘human knowledge’ it should embrace all scientific revolutions as well. If I do understand this new stuff, and what I say stands the official professional test, then these new theories are extremely useful to me. If not, well it would mean a quite serious set back to me and my work. (29)  
With quantum mechanics, he realized he was on the trail of something important to his work, even if the details were not exactly clear. (As he edited and revised the book over the next few years, he would more fully formulate—in a way surprising even to him—the relationship of the new physics to his theory of knowledge.)

Other aspects of his work had already emerged in more definite form as he worked on the draft. For example, he had begun to use single quotes to flag questionable, elementalistic terms. And recently he had explicitly formulated the problems with the ‘is’ of identity. He was applying these linguistic revisions to his own writing in the book. He told Bridgman about these “peculiarities of language”:
…a mathematician may die of heart failure in hearing that I call a statement twice two is four a mathematical ‘notion’. The reason is that I cannot use the terms ‘idea’ or ‘concept’ etc without quotation marks and I can use the term notion. I have to avoid all old elementalistic terms, which makes the language very peculiar.  
I have also to avoid the term ‘is’. This something new. When we have the emotional disturbance of ‘objectification’ we fancy that we make statements on objective level, which we never do, as all statements are verbal issues and not the thing we are talking about. If we say ‘a rose is red’ this is a statement where ‘is’ is used in the predicate sense, the other statement ‘a rose is a flower’ this is a ‘is’ of identity. Now on the objective level (where we have to be silent anyway) nothing IS nothing else except itself so all statements involving IS are unconditionally false on the objective level and remain only valid on the verbal or mathematical, in the generalized sense, level. A statement ‘is not’ has an entirely different character and on a ‘objective level’ it is unconditionally true. The rest is a valid ‘is’ by definition, it means in the construction of language but this has nothing to do with the world around us. So two and two is 4 is correct use of is. When I use the term is I try to do so only on the definition level.  
This is why all physical theories which tell us what IS what are fundamentally wrong, because it isn’t so, and why the only way is to use the operational, functional, behaviouristic way of speaking not what is with objectification, but what happens or what something does (order fundamental), this seems to be the reason why the new methods mean such a tremendous departure from the old and what justifies yours and mine point of view. (30) 

It seems best to read this not-meant-for-publication letter to a friend with some sympathy, i. e., not to count Korzybski’s ‘ises’ here against him. He never advocated entirely eliminating ‘ises’ even in his later published work. Besides the ‘is not’ and the ‘is’ of definition, he would extend the legitimate use of ‘is’ to ‘necessary’ colloquialisms, the auxiliary ‘is’ (e.g., “I am going to the store.”), and the ‘is’ of existence (e.g., “I am here.”). Still, the quote shows some of the linguistic difficulties Alfred struggled with in writing his book.

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. 
22. AK to P. W. Bridgman, 7/7/1928. AKDA 20.67. 

23. Korzybski 1947, p. 31, p. 410. 

24. Zula [Shand?] (Will Roger’s secretary?) to AK, 6/4/1928. AKDA 21.188. 

25. Korzybski Abstract, Congresso Internazionale Dei Matematici, Sept. 3-10 1928. AKDA 3.319.

26. Probably a bit later, Korzybski read the clarifying works of German theoretical physicist Arnold Sommerfeld, whom he considered “a very great man”. While in Pasadena, he noted that the Caltech physics students were recommending Sommerfeld to each other to help make sense of quantum theory. When he finally read Sommerfeld he understood the appeal, since he found a man after his own heart: “[Sommerfeld had] a lot of footnotes, and he explained in one of them that the best way to understand something is to be told why something is said, so that the fellow will know why such and such a statement is made. Then the statement becomes more understandable. I follow this example so I have always a lot of footnotes, even in my talking. In writing I try to avoid them, which I cannot do casually.” [Korzybski 1949 (“1948-49 Holiday Intensive Seminar Transcript”), p. 7.] 

27. AK to P. W. Bridgman, 8/11/1928. AKDA 20.93. 

28. AK to MEK, 7/18/1928. AKDA 20.71. 

29. AK to P. W. Bridgman, 8/11/1928. AKDA 20.93. 

30. AK to P.W. Bridgman, 8/11/1928. AKDA 20.93.

Part 3      Part 5 >

No comments: