Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Chapter 59 - A Matter Of Character: Part 2 - A 'New Type of Thinking'

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.

At the start of 1946, people still struggled to make sense of a world made topsy-turvy by the atomic bomb (that term first mentioned in a 1914 H.G. Wells story). Some parents had initially turned to their children—at least those who read science fiction—to learn about the effects of radiation, etc.(1) Korzybski felt that his work provided definite means to help people deal constructively with this new world situation; he was not going to shy away from offering it. 
Atomic Bomb Mushroom Cloud Over Hiroshima, 1945
In early December 1945, he wrote to Jekuthiel Ginsburg, who had invited him to lecture again for Scripta Mathematica in New York City:
When we were discussing the last time the titles for the two lectures somehow you were not too enthusiastic about the word ‘non-aristotelian’. I did not object, but this was before the release of atomic energy. Today we do not need to be shy about this term, as it is crucial for the future of all of us, science, mathematics, education and even sanity. It is simple to speak about the application of physico-mathematicial method, but one has to extract out of it the essential non-aristotelian epistemology which so far no one has done except in General Semantics. All success we have with the non-aristotelian re-orientation is due to this extremely simplified and natural physico-mathematical method and epistemology. I enclose a report of a disturbed veteran and how in ten hours of class training he was helped. And so it goes. (2)
A number of prominent public figures had also expressed their post-war urgencies about the role of education in human life in ‘the atomic age’. Brock Chisholm, a Canadian veteran of World War I and a psychiatrist who had served as the Director General of the Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War II, had given the William Alanson White Memorial Lecture in Washington, D.C. in the latter part of 1945. The lecture, “The Psychiatry of Enduring Peace and Social Progress” presented a case for psychiatry to take up a broader social and preventive role in “overhauling the educational system.” Chisholm, who would go on to head the newly-born World Health Organization, had already become a controversial figure in his battle against “poisonous certainties” by scolding Canadian parents for telling their children that ‘there is a Santa Claus.’ His White lecture was published in the February issue of the journal Psychiatry, then edited by Harry Stack Sullivan. Sullivan wrote a heartfelt editorial pointing out the need for psychiatry as a profession to “proceed responsibly with a cultural revolution” as Chisholm had envisioned. Although Korzybski felt concerned about Chisholm’s brashness, he welcomed both men’s pieces. In May he wrote a congratulatory letter to Sullivan, later mimeographed and distributed by the Institute of General Semantics, making clear that his own work provided specifics lacking in Chisholm’s and Sullivan’s more general statements.(3) 

Einstein was also speaking out. At the end of May, Elwood Murray received a telegram from the physicist that he passed on to Korzybski. Reading it must have both buoyed and annoyed Alfred:
Our world faces crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe...We need two hundred thousand dollars at once for nationwide campaign to let the people know that new type of thinking essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels. This appeal sent you only after long consideration of immense crisis we face...(4) 
On June 23, the Sunday New York Times Magazine published an article by Einstein about the unprecedented dangers of the atomic bomb. “Science has brought forth this danger,” he wrote, “but the real problem is in the minds and hearts of men. We will not change the hearts of other men by mechanisms, but by changing our hearts and speaking bravely.”(5) 

Einstein certainly seemed on the right track in proposing the necessity for a new way of ‘thinking’, a change in people’s ‘hearts’ and ‘minds’. But without exploring and making use of the mechanisms by which it operated, Korzybski didn’t know how that change could happen. Korzybski must have appreciated the tweaking that Elwood Murray gave the physicist in a reply to his telegram:
Here is a slight token of support for your telegraphed appeal...I am especially interested in the methods of this new type of thinking you would teach. I would be glad to have any materials you might refer me to on this. In these respects, have you ever investigated the work of Alfred Korzybski, and the general scientific methods he has formulated which are applicable to the immense problems of inter-personal relations.(6) 
Einstein had no methodology or materials for teaching the ‘new type of thinking’ he called for. Korzybski, and colleagues like Murray, did. Korzybski didn’t think socially responsible scientists should ignore that. He would take whatever opportunity he could find to apprise people of his work. Some people would find that bothersome. But Korzybski’s sense of urgency matched Chisholm’s and Einstein’s.

In his article, Chisholm had written: “We must at whatever cost prevent our children and their children from being as we have been, but freedom from the tyranny of these faiths and fears is not to be gained in one generation. ...” On the contrary, as Korzybski wrote in a commentary on Chisholm’s article,
This freedom might be achieved provided psychiatrists and mathematicians, and the respectively inter-connected scientists, could and would snap out from their professional ‘shell of isolationism’, improve their methods, and clarify their nomenclature and formulations as suggested by General [William] Menninger to psychiatrists. This would be an epoch-making step. ....Co-operation of different specialists in various fields is indispensable if anything is to be accomplished. The solution of the problem is to unify methodology. If there is a ‘mortal sin’ in this world, destructive to us all, it is the mutual ignorance of learned specialists of the work of other specialists, and their mutual apathy and self-centered indifference to the unification of methodology.

...Einstein, speaking as a layman, says: ‘The real problem is in the hearts of men’. In general semantics we formulate it workably and so differently: ‘The real problem depends on human evaluations, and any evaluation depends on different conscious or unconscious assumptions, premises, postulates, creeds, dogmas, prejudices, guesses, and what not, which, when acted upon, by necessity result in some methodology.’ (7)

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. See Martha A. Bartter’s The way to ground zero: The atomic bomb in American science fiction and Alexei and Cory Panshin’s The world beyond the hill: Science fiction and the quest for transcendence

2. AK to Jekuthiel Ginsburg, Dec. 1, 1945. IGS Archives. 

3. “Copy of a letter to Harry Stack Sullivan, M.D., May 1946”, Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, pp. 899-903. 

4. Einstein Telegram as Chairman, Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. AKDA, Scrapbook 41.449. 

5. Albert Einstein, in an interview with Michael Amrine. “The Real Problem Is In The Hearts of Men”. New York Times, 6/23/1946. 

6. Elwood Murray to Albert Einstein, 6/12/1946. AKDA, Scrapbook 5.241. 

7. Comments by Alfred Korzybski to “Excerpts From the William Alanson White Memorial Lectures, Second Series by Harry Stack Sullivan and Major-General G. B Chisholm”. AKDA, Scrapbook 5.8-14.

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