Monday, June 1, 2015

Chapter 61 - "I Don't Care A Damn About Those Yahoos...": Part 7 - "Lonesome for him"

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.

Mira’s problems labeled “transient arthritis”—pains in her neck, arms, hands, knees, etc., that made using her hands as well as walking difficult at times—would shift in area or from one limb to another, would wax and wane, come and go. Unfortunately, throughout this year, the pains didn’t stay gone. Evelyn Garlick had written to Alfred and Charlotte that Mira now seemed shaky on her feet. Mira wrote to him not to worry—it wouldn’t help her and would only unnecessarily tax his precious time and energy. But he worried anyhow. 

In the second week of September 1947, at Mira’s behest, her sister Amy, still remarkably mobile, came from Kansas City to check up on her and help out for a while. She got Mira to go to an osteopath whose treatments of manual traction to her neck gave her at least some temporary relief. Alfred wanted Amy to stay, at least until his upcoming trip to Chicago. But Mira seemed better and at the end of the month Amy wrote to Alfred that she was going home.

Meanwhile, Mira’s doctors at Billings Hospital wanted her to come in for more tests and experimental arthritis treatments and they got a bed for her by the second week of October. By whatever combination of rest, medication, etc., the arthritis seemed generally better by the time she came home on October 22. But she felt and looked awful, according to Mrs. Garlick, and was readmitted to Billings a few days later with a diagnosis of pleurisy and lobar pneumonia, most likely picked up during her prior hospital stay. Mrs. Garlick visited her and kept Alfred and Charlotte informed. On October 27, Alfred telegraphed her doctor asking him to telegraph back on her status. And he wrote to Mira in the hospital: he was giving two lectures for Scripta Mathematica in New York on November 3 and 10 and, with Charlotte, would come to visit immediately afterwards.
I am enclosing a newspaper reprint from the Waterbury Republican, with some pictures which may cheer up the ‘Mother of a new civilization’. How I wish I could put my fingers in your beautiful gray hair and shake you up. I am confident it would shake the damn bugs out of you...
                [handwritten]  All my love and Devotion
                                           Your Donk (41)

Alfred’s letter improved her mood, antibiotics her lungs. Her doctor telegrammed back: she was out of danger. Within a week, she had returned home, sending a November 3 telegram to Alfred at the Horace Mann Auditorium of Teachers College, Columbia University, where he was giving the first of his two-lecture series on “Mathematical Method As A Way Of Life” for The Society of Friends of Scripta Mathematica and The Yeshiva Institute of Mathematics: “Alfred Dearest Home Well And Happy Again All Love From Mira.”(42) Given the challenge of conveying his aims and work under what he felt as severe time limitations, receiving her telegram at the lecture hall likely gave him a mood boost for his presentation that evening. This was the third year in a row he had addressed Jekuthiel Ginsburg’s group and for some weeks he had been reading and preparing for this talk, “On the Structure of Mathematics and Human Evaluation”, and the next one scheduled a week later on November 10, “General Semantics as Applied Physico-Mathematical Method”. As before he wanted to convey as best he could his vision of the role of mathematics in human life and its potential, if looked at from his peculiar point of view, to promote human sanity.

In order to show how to ‘mathematize’ human life, he first needed to humanize mathematics. The character of mathematics, its remarkable effectiveness in dealing with the world, and yet its humble human origins, were the focus of his November 3 talk. What he sometimes referred to in seminars as the ‘miracles’ of mathematics were the products of behaving human nervous systems in time-binding association with one another. In notes, probably dictated to Charlotte for what appears to be his November 3 talk, he said, “...The foundation of math. is the psychology [psycho-logics] of mathematizing and number,...Mathematical foundation has nothing to do with the world, but with human beings, the makers of mathematics.”(43) (In recent years, Korzybski had recommended Jacques Hadamard’s book, The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field, as a contribution to the foundation of mathematics in this sense.)*
*[Korzybski considered his own discussion of the psycho-logics of mathematics—as a form of language use uniquely similar in structure to the world and the human nervous system [S&S, Part V]—central to his system and potentially significant to the foundation of mathematics as well. See his definition of mathematics in terms of linguistic-symbolic human behavior [S&S, pp. 253, 277] and of number in terms of relations rather than classes [S&S, pp. 258–259, 438]. See also his discussions of ‘infinity’ and the ‘infinitesmal’ in S&S, Chapters XIV, XV, and passim.]

About 450 people attended his first lecture, as Charlotte wrote to Mira on November 6. (44)  For his second lecture on November 10, Alfred felt “particularly pleased” as he later wrote to Jekuthiel Ginsburg, “that numerically the audience did not dwindle.”Among those in the audience, “...Mrs. Keyser came; she seemed to be heavily hit by her husband’s passing. So was I; when I mentioned his name at the lecture I could hardly speak, and when I saw her we hardly could speak also.”(45) 

This second lecture focused more specifically on his work and was taped and later transcribed and distributed by the Institute of General Semantics. Whatever interest Korzybski stimulated in the audience, ultimately his approach to mathematics and physico-mathematical science as forms of human behavior with methodological implications for non-mathematicians, seemed bound to puzzle many. Whether mathematically inclined or not, they might have had trouble seeing how much of what he talked about—the nervous system process of abstracting, the Aunt Jemima story, the behavior of psychiatric patients in mental hospitals, even the various extensional devices (that Korzybski took bodily from mathematics and mathematical physics)—what all this had to do with what they thought of as ‘mathematics’. ‘Logical fate’ explained a lot. Korzybski had a warning for skeptics inclined to think that his physico-mathematically inspired approach could not deal with the human factor:
...Do not have a criticism, so to say, about my work, that ‘Korzybski fancies that humans are like geometry; there is a difference between geometry and a human being.’ I didn’t find it that way, because I have found that humans, even ‘insane’ are extremely logical provided you trace their premises, except their premises have no realization in actuality. So that’s the main point, not a problem of logic. From some premises, some consequences follow. (46)
These lectures would constitute Korzybski’s last major venture specifically addressing a mainly mathematically-oriented audience.**
** [Given his abiding interest in the foundation of mathematics, mathematical logic, etc., it’s disappointing that he didn’t have anything to say here—or anywhere else apparently—about logician Kurt Godel’s 1931 theorem of mathematical incompleteness. (Korzybski, though not a mathematical logician, got the quarterly journal of the Association for Symbolic Logic and recommended it to his students.) Perhaps he had at least heard of Godel’s work, the importance of which by this time had begun to get recognition in the mathematical logic community and among other mathematicians. The implications of Godelian incompleteness on Korzybski’s formulations about mathematics, etc., and the implications of Korzybski’s work for Godel’s, both remain to be explored.] 

Alfred and Charlotte remained in New York City at the Albert Hotel for another week. They had some meetings with people, including Kendig, who had attended the final lecture; but they mainly stayed because the high demand for places on the train to Chicago prevented them from leaving; they had to wait until some ticket-holders cancelled their reservations. Finally on Tuesday evening, November 18, they were able to leave New York, getting into Chicago around noon the next day and staying for a little over a week. Mira had offered to have them both stay with her. But, as they planned their visit, Alfred didn’t want to burden her and thought a nearby hotel would be better. Charlotte had business to do in Chicago with the Institute’s bookkeeper still there, and with the warehouse where they still had Institute stuff stored. And Alfred had some people to see. But while Charlotte made a side trip to visit her parents in Milwaukee, Alfred would stay with Mira. They had ample time to spend together and Alfred’s visit appeared to serve as a balm to them both.

Alfred and Charlotte returned by train to New York, and from there to Lime Rock. Alfred sent a telegram to Mira on December 1, “Arrived Safely Saturday. Are Submerged. Happy About Visit. All Love. Alfred.”(47) Mira wrote a short note to him the next day: “My dearest one – What comfort and courage your visit [and] your telegram gave your devoted Mira.”(48) Two weeks later in a short note, Evelyn Garlick’s husband Sayres wrote to the Institute: he had dropped in to see Mira who answered the door and, except for some difficulties with her hands, seemed fine. A dietition from Billings was visiting her too. Garlick wrote, “I judge she is in the clear and all is well.”(49) The next day, Mira wrote a one-page letter to Charlotte, including at the bottom, “Alfred’s visit made me lonesome for him.”(50)

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. 
41. AK to MEK, 10/27/1947. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

42. MEK to AK, 11/3/1947. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

43. AK Notes for Scripta, nd. IGS Archives. 

44. Charlotte Schuchardt to MEK, 11/6/1947. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

45. AK to Jekuthiel Ginsburg, 12/15/1947. IGS Archives. 

46. Korzybski, “General Semantics As Applied Physico-Mathematical Method”, Transcription of a tape recording of Scripta Mathematica lecture, 11/10/1947. IGS Archives.

47. AK to MEK telegram, 12/1/1947. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

48. MEK to AK, 12/2/1947. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

49. Postcard from Sayres Garlick to Institute of General Semantics, 12/15/1947. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

50. MEK to Charlotte Schuchardt, 12/16/1947. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

No comments: