Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Chapter 41 - What Had Alfred Wrought?: Part 4 - A Theory of Sanity

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’s focus on behavior and everyday life had turned his work into a theory of sanity, an inevitable consequence for him of his non-elementalistic, non-aristotelian system. The importance he gave to this theory of sanity was indicated by the numerous times he referred to it and discussed it throughout the book. A thoroughly sane individual, according to Korzybski, followed an extensional orientation, adjusted him/herself to life-‘facts’, showed consciousness of abstracting, avoided identification, had fully conditional reactions, etc. On the continuum from sanity to insanity, most of us could be considered somewhere in the middle, i.e., un-sane. The standards of ‘rationality’ he had developed thus merged with those of psychological health.

Thus, in addition to educators and those wishing to become more ‘scientific’ problem solvers, Korzybski’s work had implications for psychiatrists and psychotherapists. As he later noted, “...all existing psychotherapy, no matter of what school, is based on the partial and particular extensionalization of a given patient, depending on the good luck and personal skill of the psychiatrist.”(10) Korzybski asserted that a psychotherapist no longer had to depend upon good luck alone, that his methods provided a standard by which to develop therapy/counseling skills. He had no interest in supplanting psychiatrists or in doing psychotherapy himself. He referred to his work as preventive and educational with his main thrust that of helping the legion of the un-sane, the bulk of humanity not under psychiatric care. But at this stage, he certainly wanted to see what results psychiatrists would get with their patients by using it, or by using him to educate their patients. As Graven’s work indicated, some people diagnosed as ‘medical’ cases seemed able to positively respond to such education alone. More psychiatric corroboration would perhaps make it easier for so-called normal people to see that Alfred had something of value for them.

With the vast scope and potentially momentous consequences of his work—which he spelled out in some detail in the book—some people failed to notice Korzybski’s humility. Nonetheless, writing and speaking with consciousness of abstracting as a standard required a basic epistemological modesty—what Robert P. Pula would call “epistemodesty”—that Korzybski sought in his habitual means of expression. 
word coined by Robert P. Pula
Throughout the book readers could find statements like this:
In the present work, each statement is merely the best the author can make in 1933. Each statement is given definitely, but with the semantic [evaluational] limitation that it is based on the information available to the author in 1933. The author has spared no labour in endeavoring to ascertain the state of knowledge as it exists in the fields from which his material is drawn. Some of this information may be incorrect, or wrongly interpreted. Such error will come to light and be corrected as the years proceed. (11)
In his published writings, Korzybski continued to practice the epistemodesty he ‘preached’—with his use of “etc.” and related extensional punctuation, as well as modifiers, qualifiers, dates, indexes, etc. As part of this modesty, he had to directly acknowledge his work as limited—despite its great generality. Because general-semantics could be applied wherever humans evaluate (everywhere), did not mean he had a theory of everything.(12) As a consequence, he could not and never did claim his work as a panacea. (13)

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. 
10. “Introduction to the Second Edition 1941” in Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. lx. 

11. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 142. 

12. Korzybski 1994 (1933), pp. 143-144. 

13. Korzybski 1994 (1933), pp. xxxi,10, 561. See also Mayper 1979 (1977), pp. 26, 38 and Allen Walker Read 1984, pp. 16–17 for further discussions of what some people saw as Korzybski’s lack of modesty. 

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