Friday, February 13, 2015

Chapter 47 - One Weary Man: 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.

The troubles with Mira and with Lynn had not only disturbed Alfred’s personal life. They also seemed to him to have reduced his prospects for establishing his work around Boston—and perhaps elsewhere too. He wondered whether the whole unfortunate business had harmed Campbell’s and Congdon’s opinions of him. Campbell visited him in Boston and reassured him otherwise. In a March 3, 1937 letter to Kendig, Campbell wrote,
I saw Alfred in Boston and was delighted to find him very much better in every way—healthy, hard at work and self-controlled. Lynn [at this time apparently still working at McLean], Congdon and myself are continuing to have unexpectedly good results with G.S., and while we cannot share some of Alfred’s propagandizing and proselytizing tendencies there is no doubt we are more and more enthusiastic. I believe that I shall soon be able to announce some form of permanent subsidy for him, perhaps making it possible for him to locate in Chicago. (1)
Until whatever Campbell was planning came through, Alfred would indeed be hard at work. (Then again, when was he not hard at work?) From February 17 until March 20, he gave a seminar for a group largely composed of Boston-area academics at the Baker Library of Harvard Business School which had become a center of human relations studies under the direction of Professors Elton Mayo and F. J. Roethlisberger. The two men had pioneered the study of motivating factors in workers’ behavior in their famous “Hawthorne Experiments”, at the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Illinois. 
Elton Mayo (left) and Fritz. J. Roethlisberger,
Harvard Business School, ca. 1940
Roethlisberger, who attended the seminar along with Mayo, had previously read Science and Sanity:
[Korzybski’s book] although difficult to read, seemed to me to be saying something important. What I think attracted my interest was the way he put epistemology to work, so to speak. Boiled down, his approach seemed to me to be applied epistemology.  
At this time there was considerable interest in comparing the way a child thinks (Piaget) with the way a primitive thinks (Levy-Bruhl) and with the way a neurotic thinks (Freud). Only a genius or a nut would have tried to compare the way a mathematician thinks (Russell and Whitehead) and the way a neurotic thinks (psychiatry). Korzybski was such a man.  
Because he took such an extreme position, which at that time did not fit well into any discipline, Korzybski never gained any academic post or much recognition. His field was neither strictly philosophy, mathematics, linguistics, semantics, psychiatry, nor mental health. It was a brilliant one-man synthesis of all these things which he called general semantics to differentiate it from ordinary semantics (e.g., Ogden and Richards, The Meaning of Meaning). (2)

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. D. G. Campbell to M. Kendig, 3/3/1937. IGS Archives. 

2. Roethlisberger 1977, pp. 71–72.

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