Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Chapter 41 - What Had Alfred Wrought?: Part 5 - Eager For Research

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 considered his work scientific. The last thing he wanted anyone to do was to view what he had produced as a ‘philosophy’, which by 1933 he saw had become predominantly a field of detached verbalism and intensional speculation. (He preferred to call ‘philosophers’ who did what he considered valuable work, “epistemologists”.) What he had developed, in his view, constituted a new and applied empirical science of evaluation.(14) He felt eager for research of all kinds since his claims for his system and methodology would stand or fall on reports of experiments.(15)

What kinds of experiments? Korzybski gave a number of suggestions in the book.(16) Statistical studies, e.g., comparing a control group with a group receiving general-semantics training, could supply some useful data. But this kind of statistical research (“the method of relative frequencies”) could yield only limited understanding about human potentialities, which his work had focused upon. To investigate how species-wide mechanisms of abstracting (from identification to consciousness of abstracting) worked in individuals, required research methods that studied individuals. (Such methods are discussed in Philip J. Runkel’s book Casting Nets and Testing Specimens: Two Grand Methods of Psychology.)

Sophisticated studies could wait. To research the mechanisms of time-binding (abstracting, etc.) directly, any individual could begin to observe them operating in him/herself. Alfred needed people to study the book, put their arguments aside, and experimentally do what he advised (using the various neuro-linguistic and neuro-evaluational techniques, i.e., working with the Structural Differential, etc.). As he would say, a knee jerk reflex wouldn’t operate if you didn’t tap the tendon but argued about it instead. You had to do it. Part VII, “On The Mechanism Of Time-Binding”—which made up all of Book II—was full of suggestions for how to train yourself in Korzybski’s extensional methods (in particular Chapter XXIX, “On Non-Aristotelian Training”). The extensional practices seemed so simple, even baby-like. But doing them, he already knew, was not necessarily so easy.

Someone with a nervous system deeply “canalized” (entrenched in habit) in the old elementalistic, aristotelian orientation would have to “sweat blood” for a good while to get anywhere with them. How much sweating and how much time would depend on the depth of their old habits, among other things. Then they could see what extensional practices made possible.

So before anything else he needed to get people (including pivotal scientists, educators, and psychiatrists, among others) interested and willing to train themselves in his work, apply it, and begin to see what they could do with themselves, their students, and patients using his methods. Years later, behavioral researcher Runkel* would come up with a name for this type of exploratory research, “the method of possibilities”, an important—although often too easily dismissed—form of experimentation. A personal trial could indicate the possibility of bringing something about. Alfred had already seen a number of ‘unlikely’ results in Graven’s patients and in some of the people he had worked with, such as individuals stopping ‘panic attacks’ through the persistent practice of dating and indexing. Such results didn’t seem so unlikely to him anymore. He hoped psychiatrists and psychotherapists would publish case studies and educators would file reports of their research. Then, once enough people experienced the possibilities of extensional training, other types of more elaborate research could follow.
*See Casting Nets and Testing Specimens: Two Grand Methods of Psychology. Runkel, a close co-worker of William T. Powers in Perceptual Control Theory, studied Korzybski’s work early in his career and felt influenced by it, as did Powers. [P. J. Runkel, Personal communication to BIK. See also Powers and Runkel.]

Korzybski did not see himself as an especially gifted writer. But he felt he had produced a book, which—however imperfect—he and Mira didn’t need to feel ashamed of. Nonetheless, having written the book was not enough. At best, it provided—yes—only a map, a blueprint for a vast, multi-faceted program of personal-socio-cultural restructuring. The program had promise and needed publicity, support, and research. Having ‘ridden the tiger’ this far, they were not going to dismount now.

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. 
14. “Introduction to the Second Edition”, Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. xli. 

15. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 532. 

16. See Kenneth G. Johnson’s “Korzybski on Research: Suggestions from Science And Sanity” in General Semantics Bulletin 51 (1984): 43–53.

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