Saturday, April 4, 2015

Chapter 54 - War Work: Part 5 - "Something drastic must be done about 'that cat' "

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.

On January 7, Korzybski’s old friend and Institute Honorary Trustee, psychiatrist Stewart Paton died at the age of 76. Paton, also a trustee of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C, had taught at Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia Medical Schools, had written books, and had been on the forefront of the mental hygiene and social psychiatry movements. He had known Korzybski since the early 1920s and had remained a strong advocate of his work, starting with Manhood of Humanity. It seemed inevitable—the ‘old guard’, a generation of prominent scientists, medical men, intellectuals, etc., who had backed Korzybski were leaving the scene. 

On May 16, soon after Korzybski’s return to Chicago, he had to cross off another Honorary Trustee from the list of the living. His friend and intellectual ally, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski—then teaching at Yale—dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of 58 in his home in New Haven, Connecticut. Alfred put the obituary and death notices in a special folder. The two men had corresponded and had occasionally visited with each other since 1926 when they first met. Malinowski had remained one of Alfred’s most stalwart supporters. In writing Science and Sanity, Korzybski had made use of his friend’s work, seeing it as an important non-aristotelian effort. And in 1933 Malinowski included this in his comments about Science and Sanity,
The functional or relational conception of matter, mind and, finally, of human culture, seems to be gradually crystallising from all attempts at scientific synthesis. Count Korzybski’s work contributes to these efforts in no mean measure. I am perhaps biassed [sic] as a countryman, but to me this Polish attempt at synthesis seems to rank as one of the most important. (18) 
One of Malinowski’s last shows of support was his signing onto the Advisory Committee for the 1941 American Congress on General Semantics. Now in May 1942, Kendig and others, including Alfred, were up to their necks in work trying to bring out the volume of Congress Papers. Having in hand a written record of the wide range of application and research being done in GS would aid the Institute in seeking foundation and other funding.

Preparing the Papers had begun soon after the Congress when the Institute began taking pre-publication orders. As the General Editor, Kendig had originally hoped to get out a volume in January 1942. However, the realities of getting manuscripts in shape and of editing them and other materials going into the volume, along with the uncertainties related to printers and paper, moved the publication date further and further ahead. By January 1942, not one but two volumes were being planned in hope that at least the first one would get into people’s hands that summer. These volumes were envisioned as the first two issues of a new Institute journal, The General Semantics Review: The Yearbook of the Institute of General Semantics. But the Society’s plans for a quarterly soon made such an Institute journal seem redundant. It didn’t look as if they were going to get anything out before sometime in 1943. They would do better to just get the whole thing done as soon as possible within a one-volume book. As Consulting Editor, Wendell Johnson had begun to do major work helping Kendig edit all of the papers. Hayakawa helped edit the language and literature-related papers, while Congdon, McNealy, and Hervey Cleckley read and advised on the papers in medicine and psychiatry. Of the three Institute Fellows, only Irving Lee—who had two papers in the volume—didn’t get involved. Drafted in July, he couldn’t do much on behalf of the Institute until his release from the military in 1946. Korzybski read and discussed most of the papers with Kendig and did serious editing of some of them—besides his other work which included teaching, personal interviews and other writing.

Despite the delay in publication of the Congress Papers to 1943, the IGS did publish three of the papers in 1942 as General Semantics Monograph III, A Theory of Meaning Analyzed with a “Foreword” by Korzybski and Kendig. In recent years, students of speech and language had come to take center stage among the advocates of Korzybski’s work. However important, this emphasis on language was tending to obscure the broader aspects of the discipline, which the completed Congress Papers volume would cover. (For example, one of Alfred’s students, May Watrous Niles had made a Congress presentation on the use of GS techniques—primarily the non-verbal ‘semantic relaxation’ method—in physical therapy.) Even though the articles in the monograph had language as their focus, this “Foreword” provided an opportunity for Korzybski—with Kendig—to disassociate his work from theories of linguistic ‘meaning’, with which it had gotten confused.

The first paper, by Thomas Clark Pollock, at that time a professor and department chairman of English education at New York University, presented “A Theory of Meaning Analyzed: A Critique of I. A. Richards’ Theory of Language”. John Gordon Spaulding, an English professor at Stockton Junior College who had attended two seminars with Korzybski, provided a more detailed analysis of the problem with Richards’ approach in “Elementalism: The Effect of an Implicit Postulate of Identity on I. A. Richards’ Theory of Poetic Value”. Finally, Allen Walker Read wrote about his alternative non-aristotelian approach in “The Lexicograper and General Semantics”.

To Korzybski and Kendig these papers demonstrated the necessity to get beyond non-neurological, disembodied, and de-contexualized ‘Cheshire Cat Theories of Meaning’ (alluding to the disappearing character from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’ s Adventures in Wonderland): “...the authors of the papers in this monograph have made a fine start towards building up a body for the grinning Cheshire Cat – not verbally twisting the tail of a non-existent cat.” Korzybski himself seemed almost at the point of altogether abandoning the ‘cat’— the notion of ‘meaning’—as a useful category for discussing what he was concerned with:
...Under scrutiny a theory of ‘meaning of meaning’* would have to be a biological theory of evaluation based on the empirical data of modern science, which can not be handled within the limitations of aristotelian methods. An organismal, relational approach to evaluation is needed. Various Cheshire Cat theories of ‘meaning’ have bewildered us long enough. They can not be revised from within the aristotelian system, although their inadequacies can be profitably analyzed.
*Unfortunately the authors of a volume with that title did not produce anything of the sort - just a promising title. (19)

The Foreword proceeded to deal with the issues of unconscious assumptions in science and life and the mechanism of logical fate (with a revised version of the old diagram from Korzybski’s early-1920s papers, “The Brotherhood of Doctrines” and “Fate and Freedom”, that Korzybski would use in his subsequent teaching). “It is useless to try to build new adequate ‘cortical blueprints’, theories, etc., (T2), while we are still at the mercy of our unconscious assumptions (P1), and expect such ‘blueprints’ to work.”(20) From there, Korzybski and Kendig elaborated on some of the main faulty assumptions underlying the aristotelian orientation (‘errors of commission’) and some of the non-aristotelian factors which the aristotelian orientation left out (‘errors of omission’).

In a little over six pages, Korzybski and Kendig provided one of the sharpest, most succinct presentations ever made on the non-aristotelian foundations of his work. They forthrightly reiterated what he had often said: Korzybski’s non-aristotelian system was not entirely new. They did claim as new, the resulting “revised methodological synthesis which could be imparted even in elementary education.”(21) The conclusion stated what Korzybski was finding more and more important to emphasize: “The reader is advised not to confuse the traditional ‘Semantics’ (aristotelian theories of ‘meaning’, etc.) with General Semantics (the modus operandi of a non-aristotelian system)...[which] has very little, if anything, to do with ‘meaning’ in the academic sense.”(22)

Korzybski and Kendig didn’t complete the writing until June 1942. As far as I know, Korzybski only published one other piece of writing with another person as co-author. However, he always depended on editing from others. In this case, Hayakawa served as a special editor for this joint effort with Kendig. The monograph came out in mid-to-late August.

1942 seemed like the time for Korzybski to make brief but fundamental explications of his work. While teaching two seminars that summer and fall, he had another piece of writing to complete, his own review of Science and Sanity for The Humanist, the journal of The American Humanist Association. Several years before in Chicago, Korzybski had met the editor of The Humanist, Edwin Wilson. Wilson had a friendly but flippant attitude towards Korzybski (reflected in a later memoir he wrote about him). It seems that Wilson felt put off by Korzybski’s quite openly-expressed view that Wilson suffered from an occupational disease of those in the humanist camp: sentimentality. Wilson described how,
When [Korzybski’s] new edition of Science and Sanity was published in the early forties he sent an autographed copy to me with the admonition to “read the book”, a tome of close to a thousand pages [Wilson exaggerated a bit here], “rapidly the first three times through; it will mean more each time.” There was also a copy to review in The Humanist. “Who actually,” I thought, “will read this all the way through even once, let alone three times?”

Of one person I could be sure, Korzybski himself. So I asked him to give me an article review of his own book giving in 3,000 words the basic concepts of General Semantics for novices. He did it in a very useful article, later reprinted in some quantities, which we were glad to do. (23) 
Korzybski’s article “Science, Sanity, and Humanism”, published in the Winter 1942 volume of The Humanist, nicely complemented Korzybski and Kendig’s “Foreword”.While the “Foreword” had focused on the non-aristotelian foundations, this new article concentrated on giving a very condensed explication of the aims, methods, and techniques of the non-aristotelian modus operandi, general semantics.

To his humanist audience, Korzybski wanted to rub in that,
...The aims of “Science and Sanity” were humanistic, but the author, being an engineer and a mathematician by training, was interested in producing something not sentimental, but workable...The present author, knowing the results of his predecessors [like Michel Breal and, in particular, Lady Welby], took an engineering point of view in the sense that theories should be workable and teachable, with practical results, even on the level of elementary education. This led to the next step; namely, his formulation of a general theory of evaluation, which has very little to do with “meaning” as such, but deals with the organismal neuro-semantic reactions of an organism-as-a-whole-in-an-environment, involving psycho-somatic issues. (24) 
Korzybski described the origins of his inquiry in the following questions:
Why is it that bridges built by engineers as a rule do not collapse, and even if they do collapse, errors of calculations can be found immediately?” “Why is it that human structures such as social, political, and economic structures collapse sporadically, and all we have to show historically for our pains are wars, revolutions, slaughter, ruin, etc?”... “What do the engineers do when they build a bridge?”...The same question was asked in connection with ...[p]oliticians, priests, philosophers, educators, etc., the specialists in collapsible structures,... (25) 
He then roughly outlined what resulted from his attempt to answer these questions: his serious investigations which led to an explicit formulation of a non-aristotelian revision of human knowledge: “The main aim of a non-aristotelian system is exactly to systematize and formulate modern scientific methods in a form which would be applicable to daily life.”(26) 

The editor had made one change, which may have irritated Korzybski—substituting double quotes throughout the review for Korzybski’s usual use of single quotes as “safety devices” around elementalistic and other terms he wished to flag. Otherwise, given the necessary sketchiness of Korzybski’s account of his own work, his review—as he might put it—didn’t seem too bad. With little room for necessary details, he at least included enough to stimulate some readers to inquire further. He certainly emphasized the need to refer to his book and other sources. There was no way to get around the difficulties involved in learning to orient oneself extensionally. For those wise enough to notice, he neatly summarized the hard-won knowledge he had gained from his years of working to help individual students extensionalize themselves. (27)

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. 
18. Bronislaw Malinowski, “Scientific Opinions About The First Edition, 1933”, in Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 784. 

19. Korzybski and Kendig, “Forword to a Theory of Meaning Analyzed”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 371, 373. 

20. Ibid., p. 375. 

21. Ibid, p. 373. 

22. Ibid, p. 379. 

23. Edwin Wilson, “I Knew Korzybski When...” in Semantika, Vol. 2, No. 2 (February 1956), pp. 26–27. 

24. Korzybski, “Science, Sanity, and Humanism”, in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, pp. 383. 

25. Ibid., pp. 383-384. 

26. Ibid, p. 386. 

27. Ibid, p. 385.

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