Friday, December 26, 2014

Chapter 37 - Knowledge, Uncertainty, And Courage: Part 1 - Introduction

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.

Korzybski had been working on his second book since 1921. From 1930 until the book was finally published in October 1933, he was consumed by the effort to bring it out. Though he traveled a bit (mainly on book-related business), most of the time he could be found in the penthouse studio in Brooklyn. He spent hours upon hours there, reading and writing at his desk. (The writing would include at least a thousand letters—a conservative estimate—mostly related to the book.) Every so often he would get more dismal news from Poland, which reminded him of the need to return as soon as possible in order to sort out his mother’s downward-spiraling business affairs. But what he had hoped would be a relatively short period of time (a number of months) to edit the first draft and get the book out, stretched into four more years. 

Completing the book came in two broad, overlapping phases. First, he had to revise and fill in the content. He didn’t consider that truly done until the fall of 1931. By then, with the substance of the book fairly well in shape, the next phase—further editing, finding someone to publish it, and seeing it into print—had become the major focus.

Mira’s and Maddren’s criticisms notwithstanding, Korzybski didn’t consider what he had written as too bad. Granted the English needed polishing, some of the lengthy chapters needed splitting up, and some of the material could be rearranged. Nonetheless, the first draft had the basic ‘skeleton’ and most of the ‘flesh’ he thought the book required.

But he had to agree it lacked something. A few additional chapters, on colloids and on conditional reflexes, filled in some gaps. But more fundamentally, the integrating sense of the non-aristotelian system that he had in his head hadn’t come through in the manuscript as he had wished. In February, he was struggling with this issue when he had a breakthrough. He wrote at once to Mira, in Florida with her sister:
My dearest one,
At least I have something really important to tell you and for a year or so [for] the first time they are rather cheerful. 
I HAVE SOLVED AT LEAST the problem of the difficulties I had with myself and readers of my MS. You and other had often a feeling of lack of continuity in the book, I COULD NOT RECONCILE myself to this discontinuity, to me it had continuity, yet somehow it must not have been apparent to the reader.  
The solution is structure. The whole book is written from the point of view of structure and I did not make it quite clear. In reading the MS. at present at each page I eliminate here and there some silly word like ‘natural’…etc. and add structural instead. The whole book is getting NEW VIGOR AND NEW GENUINE CONTINUITY, and it looks really cheerful.  
But by Jove it takes some pains to make such one step and see finally the ‘flood of light’…(1)

Korzybski defined structure as a complex of relations consisting of multi-dimensional order. Each term—“structure”, “relation”, “order”—could be circularly defined in terms of the other two (perhaps along with “difference”, “dimension”, etc.). Eventually one reached the un-speakable, non-verbal level, which meant that these terms represented the basic assumptions, the bare-bones metaphysics, of the worldview Korzybski was trying to elucidate: accepting the world and everything in it—ourselves included—as a world of structure, relation, order. Structure (relation, order) had no opposite; although it could be obscured by ignorance.

Although he continued to add to the conditional reflex material for the rest of 1930, “structure” became that year’s main formulational theme in “replenishing” the book. (He used this term because he wasn’t doing much rewriting, but rather adding a word here and there to the text or appending additional remarks to what he had already written.) As an experiment he took his Time-Binding essays and inserted “structure”, “structural”, “structurally” throughout these texts where they seemed suitable. The result impressed him favorably. He wrote about 12 pages on structure for the first chapter of the book. This eventually became a separate chapter “On Structure” and would lead off “Part II, General On Structure”. (He also wrote new material on the related notion of “relation”.) Although he had referred to the notion of structure in the first draft, he now proceeded to go through the manuscript adding “structure”, and the rest wherever they fit. Doing this made it seem to him as if a new book had emerged. By emphasizing structure, the formulational unity of the work had became much more apparent.

In March, Mira (with her sister) returned from Florida. She had had a dearth of portrait business down there (her wealthy patrons were getting tighter with their money). She hoped to do better at Newport, where she planned to go with Amy in a few months. When Alfred showed his new material to her, Mira was pleased. She agreed that it provided some of the continuity that had been lacking in the book. Alfred was pleased too, but he was beginning to feel spent from his labors in the higher realms of abstraction. His ‘head’ had gotten restructured too with the rewriting and he needed a break.

He spent most of April arranging his tools into a nice little machine shop with lathes, motors, etc., in his corner of the apartment. For several weeks he kept happily busy supplementing, fixing, and redesigning equipment so he could more easily do minor wood and metal work, e.g., make anthropometer parts, fix Mira’s jewelry, or make small metal pieces like a multi-shelved equipment caddy he made out of sheet metal added to a small child’s wagon. (The caddy was eventually retrieved from a junk shed in Connecticut by GS writer Robert R. Potter, who gave it to me [BIK]. With a new paint job, it sits by my bedside and works quite well as a nightstand, holding books, tissues, and other such paraphernalia—probably what Korzybski used it for—and still rolling easily from place to place, although it could well be at least 80 years old now.)
Korzybski's Wagon
Alfred had unsettling news near the end of April when he learned of the sudden death of his good friend Jesse Lee Bennett, who had had a heart attack while fighting a fire that broke out on his Arnold, Maryland farm. Despite this blow, overall Alfred felt restored by the time away from his desk. He had hoped to present a complete paper on his work as a “theory of sanity” at the First International Congress on Mental Hygiene in Washington, D.C., being held in May. But even with William Alanson White as the conference organizer, he couldn’t get onto the program. Alfred attended anyway and managed to participate as one of the discussants of a paper given by Dr. Franz Alexander on “Mental Hygiene and Criminology”. Korzybski’s brief remarks were enough to get a number of psychiatrists interested in what he was doing, including Swiss psychiatrist M. Tramer, who began to correspond with him and helped edit the book, and American psychoanalyst Abraham A. Brill, translator of Freud’s and Jung’s work, who later became an honorary trustee of the Institute of General Semantics. Korzybski’s edited remarks were published along with Alexander’s paper in the Proceedings of the Congress, published in 1932.(2) 

Back at his desk, Korzybski continued replenishing the book through the summer. Mira had gone to Newport and he had no distractions. He took another break in September, when he went to Detroit to give a lecture and to Ann Arbor to see Rainich. Then he drove back with Sally Avery through Canada (including Toronto and Montreal) to Newport where he visited Mira, who was planning to come home shortly. After a few days with her, he went on to Cambridge, Massachusetts for several days, where he met with Bridgman, Huntington, Wheeler, Birkhoff, and other Harvard academics interested in his work. Perhaps his most noteworthy meeting was with Alfred North Whitehead, whose writings he so greatly admired, despite their—to him—lingering aristotelianism. Alfred returned to Brooklyn in mid-October and wrote to Keyser :
The main shock, and a joyful one was my meeting with Whitehead. Huntington to whom you introduced me some years ago is always much a helpful and charming man. Knowing that I will visit him he tried to get Whitehead but he was out of town. Then he telephoned in my presence trying to arrange a meeting between us. Well Whitehead knew about me and my work, and was seemingly eager to meet me and invited me for an hour chat to his home. Knowing about my work he asked a lot of very pertinent questions which apparently I answered to his satisfaction. I had the temerity to explain to him the generalized theory of types.  
Of course all my impressions may be mistaken, the more that some results are so unexpectedly simple and solve completely some of the most difficult problems we had in the past, that in short conversations there is always the danger that I may make a fool of myself, although given time I can always make good. (3) 

Whatever trepidations Alfred may have had in the fall of 1930, he felt far enough along with his new, structurally-informed work to present it in three papers which were accepted for presentation at the October 25 meeting of the American Mathematical Society in New York City. He thought he would have 10 minutes for each paper (he had hoped to have 30 minutes altogether to give an overview of his entire system) but the time was shortened to 15 minutes total—hardly enough time to even skim the surface. The abstracts of “On structure”, “A generalized theory of mathematical types”, and “A non-aristotelian system” were published in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society.(4)  They contained the basic framework of his work—a system linking knowledge, uncertainty, and courage.
Abstracts of three presentations by Korzybski at 283rd meeting of
the American Mathematical Society, New York City, Oct. 25, 1930.
From Alfred Korzybski Scrapbook, AKDA 2.676

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. 
1. AK to MEK, 2/11/1930. AKDA 28.112 

2. Discussion of “Mental Hygiene and Criminology” by Dr. Franz Alexander at First Interrnational Congress on Mental Hygiene, Washington, D.C., May 1930. Published in Proceedings of the Congress, Vol. 1, pp. 784-786. (New York, 1932). Reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, pp. 159–163. 

3. AK to C. J. Keyser, 10/19/1930. AKDA 22.648–9. 

4. “On structure”, “A generalized theory of mathematical types”, “A non-aristotelian system”. Reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 182. 

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