Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chapter 5 - Sick of Everything: 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.

Alfred had arrived home by sometime in early 1904. Russian Poland, with the rest of the Tsarist Empire, was entering a turbulent period and Alfred, a Polish patriot, got pulled into the maelstrom along with everyone else.

The Russo-Japanese War had just begun in February 1904 with a Japanese attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, Manchuria, which the Russian government had leased from China. The Japanese army and navy overwhelmed the smaller Russian forces there and the war, which continued until Russian defeat in the autumn of 1905, strained the Russian economy and showed up the weaknesses of the Tsarist military administration, top-heavy with incompetent careerists and crippled by outdated, 19th-Century notions of warfare.

Meanwhile in Russian Poland, various political factions including but not limited to all sorts of Polish nationalists (reactionary, classical liberal, and socialist); non-Polish, minority nationalist groups; and internationalist socialists and communists, found in the war a demonstration of government frailty and an opportunity to become more organized. These groups sought in various ways (some violently) to push the Tsarist government to make concessions towards their various goals. The government with its secret police department, the Ochrana, either banned or had many of these organizations (violent or not) under investigation. As a result, a significant 'underground' network, developed in Russian Poland (mirrored by similar groups in other parts of Russia).

Alfred never involved himself in political violence. But he did participate in the amorphous underground. Not long after his return, he very nearly got sent to prison. Alfred’s 'crime' seemed to flow naturally out of the self-education movement, which he had taken part in for so long. As Norman Davies pointed out, “If terrorism and political activism were for a few, cultural activism was for the many...[T]he typical patriot at the turn of the century was a young lady of good family with a textbook under her shawl. This generation of the niepokorni, ‘the unsubdued’, went forth as missionaries into their own land.”(1) As a cultural ‘missionary’, Alfred need go no further than the estate at Rudnik:

When he returned from Rome he was shocked with the realization that his former playmate, the gardener’s son, as well as all the other peasants, could neither read nor write, yet their labor had for generations earned the money for landowners. He found release for his reactions against this injustice by building a small schoolhouse for the peasants on the country estate. It was against the [Tsarist] law, however, to educate the peasants, who were deliberately kept illiterate. He was sentenced to Siberia, but his father had the sentence suspended.(2)

This turned out to be one of the last things Wladyslaw Korzybski did for his son before dying in October 1904. His father’s death left Alfred not only with the management of his family’s properties but with the management of his mother as well. Alfred had already experienced Helena’s style of playing at helplessness while trying to control results. He had expressed views about how to modernize methods at Rudnik which she ‘shot down’. Alfred feared he would become tied to her and become subject to her “backseat driving” in a way he could barely tolerate even imagining. He was only too happy to foist off this role on a cousin who—under Helena’s thumb—administered their properties. When this cousin died a few years later, Alfred again relinquished his expected role as main estate administrator to an unrelated man hired for the job.(3) Nonetheless, he still had an economic interest in family business and could not entirely break free from his mother or her influence. As a compromise, he restricted himself to those areas of management that didn’t take much time,"administrative drudgery, fixing things here and there...nothing fundamental... ."(4)

One of these tasks involved managing a large apartment house his mother had bought in Warsaw several years before—probably the 66 Wilcza address that served for many years as his and his mother’s residence in Warsaw. With some 25 to 30 apartments, the building had both civilian and Russian military renters. Managing the building required only about two to three hours of his attention per day but at times provided challenges. While still at the Polytechnic, he had dealt with problems resulting from some of the building’s military tenants—educated peasants working as secretaries for the Russian Army in Warsaw. These men drank and partied loudly and violently during their time off. Civilian tenants, disturbed by this ruckus, threatened to leave. Alfred had to assuage the civilians, quiet the unruly soldiers, and prevent anyone from moving out in disgust—a daunting task in which he apparently succeeded.(5) After his return to Poland and with his father’s death, Alfred continued with this property management and other administrative tasks for the family business.

66 Wilcza

Notes 
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. Davies 2001, pp. 234–235. 

2. Schuchardt 1950a, p. 34. 

3. Korzybski 1947, p. 476. 

4. Ibid., pp. 54–55.

5. Ibid., pp. 71–72. 



Part 2 >

Friday, June 27, 2014

Chapter 4 - To Rome: Part 5 - "A Roma"

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.

After perhaps a year in Rome, Alfred left to see some of the rest of Italy including Florence, Pisa, and Milan, in the north. South of Rome, he visited Naples but on his way further south towards Sicily, an earthquake occurred, his train was stopped, and he was forced to make his way back to Rome. While he’d been gone, Pope Leo had died (in July 1903) and Pius X, the new Pope had come into office (August 1903). Alfred was not impressed with Pius, whom he considered an ignorant peasant compared to Leo. But by this time, issues of the church or the romantic intrigues of the Italian court may have ceased to have much interest. Alfred was preparing to return home. It would have made sense for him to spend the winter of 1903 in the milder climate of Rome. But whether he waited until sometime in the spring of 1904 to return to Poland or left Rome somewhat earlier, he tried to enjoy the remainder of his time in the “Eternal City”.

Probably in this last period in Italy, Korzybski met a Polish journalist through a friend, a cousin of the famous Polish author Henryk Sinkiewicz. The journalist took Alfred to see an Italian theatre production of Sinkiewicz’s novel, Quo Vadis, which had been published to international acclaim in 1895. The play, about the early days of Christianity  in Nero’s Italy, ended with one of the characters having a vision of Christ, who though unseen could be heard to speak. The character asks, “Quo Vadis, Domine?” (Where are you going, Lord?). In the final line of the play, the voice of Christ answers, "A Roma." (“To Rome.”) (10) The beautiful, deep, rich baritone voice of the actor portraying Christ particularly impressed Alfred. For him, this final scene and that memorable last line ‘made’ the play. The journalist took Alfred backstage afterwards, introducing him to the actors as Sinkiewicz's cousin. Alfred found it difficult to correct this misconception and, besides, the actors seemed impressed—the man playing Nero removed the golden crown from his head when introduced to ‘the cousin of the famous author’. Alfred made use of his 'in' with the actors later when he came back for another performance of the play.

Despite the pinching and kicking battle during Alfred’s speech to the Cardinals, Prince Radizwill, along with his wife, had shown considerable hospitality to Alfred during his time in Rome. He decided to show his gratitude to them by treating them to a performance of Quo Vadis and he purchased a box in the theatre for the three of them. In the previous performance, the actors playing “St. Peter” and a female character named “Eunice”, stood so close to each other during their onstage dialogue that they rubbed bellies. Alfred thought the prim Radizwills might get offended seeing this, so before the performance he talked to ‘St. Peter’ and ‘Eunice’ asking them if they could back away from each other during the show. Happily for Alfred, “St. Peter and Eunice behaved.” He anticipated with relish the final scene and the last line of the play. He hoped this would impress his guests as much as it had impressed him.

Little did he know that the actor doing the voice of Christ had gotten too drunk to say even his small part. In the final scene, the question camer: "Quo Vadis, Domine?" Instead of the beautiful, deep, rich voice Alfred expected, the vocal stand-in for Christ screeched “A Roma.” in a grating falsetto. One can imagine the collective wincing in the audience. As Korzybski said later, “…it’s a bad thing for a Christ to get drunk.”(11)


Notes 
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. 
10. Korzybski 1947, p. 469.

11. Korzybski 1947, p. 471.




Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chapter 4 - To Rome: Part 4 - "The Relationship of the Polish Youth Toward the Clergy..."

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.

During his time in Rome, Alfred also developed acquaintances among clerics and officials at the Vatican. This came about through a chance meeting while walking down the street one day. Alfred came face to face with one Prince Radizwill, a friend of his father, whom he had also known in Poland. This particular Prince Radizwill, from a famous Polish-Lithuanian Magnate family of enormous wealth, espoused a staunch Catholicism (Korzybski considered him a “fanatic”), along with Polish patriotism. Several years before, Radizwill had approached Alfred’s father requesting that he allow Alfred to join an organization of aristocratic Polish Catholic youth. As a friendly gesture, Alfred joined for the price of the nominal membership fee (equivalent perhaps to a dollar) and with no further involvement. When Radizwill saw Alfred on the Roman street he immediately invited him, as a ‘dedicated Polish Catholic youth’, to speak the next day at a meeting Radizwill had arranged before a group of Cardinals and the Governor of the Jesuits. Alfred demurred but Prince Radizwill insisted.

The next day Alfred found himself in a meeting room of an old convent sitting at the end of a long table next to Radizwilll with a roomful of Catholic clergy and Vatican dignitaries. Radizwill introduced him as “a representative of Polish youth” speaking on “The Relationship of the Polish Youth Toward the Clergy, and the Clergy Toward Polish Youth”. Some of the priests in attendance may have felt a shock when they recognized the young man they had seen before at Pincio Garden concerts—the “Maladetto Pollaco”. Alfred, who had never spoken in public before, didn't seem to have any difficulty getting up before this distinguished audience and taking the next hour or so to “give hell” to the Catholic Church since, in his opinion, the Church as a whole had betrayed the Polish national cause.(8)

The speech didn’t please Radizwill who began to pinch Alfred’s leg under the table, presumably to get him to shut up. Alfred, who had been “boiling against the clergy” for years, continued his speech. Under the table, in turn, he kicked Radizwill in the shins. Despite these distractions and the nature of the speech, his audience seemed to find his presentation impressive. Every Cardinal there invited Alfred for lunch or dinner. Alfred also got an audience with Pope Leo XIII, who despite his views against Polish nationalism, impressed Alfred as a “high grade” individual.(9) For the rest of his life, Alfred disdained the Catholic Church as an institution, considering it totalitarian in outlook. However, he continued to like and make friends with individual Catholics, including clerics.

In Rome, Alfred became friendly with one cleric in particular—an educated and intelligent monk named Bernardine. Korzybski would visit Bernardine, born a wealthy French marquis, in his simple monastic cell which had only a couple of hard wooden benches to sit and sleep on. They would talk for hours about philosophy, science, etc. One thing Bernardine told him made a great impression on Alfred—the monk’s admission of the agnosticism or at least the non-literal, “philosophically minded” ‘religion’ of the “upper crust” of the Catholic hierarchy of those days. This revelation surprised him. It is not clear whether this mollified or increased Alfred's cynicism towards the Church. 


Notes 
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. 
8. Korzybski 1947, pp. 460-462. 

9. Korzybski 1947, pp. 460–463.


< Part 3      Part 5 >


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chapter 4 - To Rome: Part 3 - "Maladetto Pollaco"

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.

Alfred got to Rome, probably sometime in early 1902, having reached that goal via the way-stations of Budapest, Vienna, Paris, etc. In Rome, Alfred settled down to drink from what many Poles had long considered the wellspring of Western European culture. He studied Italian, learning it quickly and thoroughly, and attended law, philosophy, and other classes at the University of Rome. He also became known at the Vatican and among members of the Roman nobility in the court of Italian king Victor Emanuel III, whose  reign had begun in 1900. Alfred’s fencing skills and horsemanship, in particular, led to his associating with members of the king’s bodyguard and members of the Cavalry School. Especially with the king’s bodyguards, these associations led to his reputation among the gossiping Roman nobility as “Maladetto Pollaco” (“Accursed Pole”).(5) 

Alfred had studied fencing in Warsaw and began taking lessons again in Rome. His Italian fencing teacher had the improbable-sounding name of Greko, “the Greek”.(6) Supplementing his lessons, he practiced fencing for hours each day with acquaintances among the officers of Victor Emanuel's bodyguard. Even with dueling on the decline in Italy and the rest of Europe, Alfred soon found himself dueling for his ‘honor’ with a sharp, naked saber and real danger of bloodshed.

Fortunately for him, the dueling tradition in Rome dictated sword rather than pistol. Otherwise he might have killed someone, since he was a good shot and his ingrained sense of noble honor and innate boldness at times still tended to merge with a stupid impulsiveness. Once at a drinking party at Rudnik, the estate manager had taken up Alfred’s wine glass. Alfred pulled out his pistol and shot the glass out of the man’s hand. Alfred had also imitated William Tell several times by shooting drinking glasses off of the heads of friends. In later years Korzybski considered it only luck he didn’t wound or kill someone this way; it made him shudder to recall these youthful follies.

He also had luck in his sword fights in Rome. His skill with the saber, together with the conventions of Italian dueling—a fight would come to an end when someone drew "first blood"—prevented him from killing anyone or himself getting killed. The 'insults' to Alfred that led to his saber duels resulted, perhaps not surprisingly, from affairs of the heart.

Alfred had become close friends with one of Victor Emanuel’s bodyguards. The young man had started an affair with a married noblewoman from the Bourbon family (the former French rulers of Italy). One of the most beautiful women in Rome, she had a reputation for carrying on extra-marital affairs. Meanwhile, Alfred had taken up with another young woman, a cousin of the king, and had already had some unpleasantness with the king in regard to her. (While the king’s nickname among Roman nobles was “Il regazzo” or “The boy” because of his relative youth and unregal, diminutive appearance, Alfred referred to him as “Il stronzetto” or “The little shit”.) 
(7) In an effort to confuse gossip-mongers at the royal court, Alfred and his friend came up with a plan to use when they went out with their ladies. They decided that in public, Alfred would escort his friend’s girlfriend and his friend would escort Alfred’s. Korzybski recalled attending evening concerts thusly with his friend and their ladies at the Pincio Garden, near the Villa Borghesa. The Garden with its terraced, statue-lined walkways and its beautiful views of the city had become one of the favorite meeting places of Roman noble society, members of the court, groups of clerics, students, etc. Alfred would stroll, sit, and chat in French with his friend’s beautiful lover (whom he actually considered one of the nastiest women he’d ever met) while his friend would do likewise with Alfred’s girlfriend. Their ruse worked. Soon Romans were gossiping about Alfred’s supposed scandalous carrying on with a married woman. Insults from several Italian officers, regarding him and the lady he detested, fell within Alfred's earshot. This resulted in a number of saber duels. He always won these fights, which he actually seemed to enjoy. He liked to play with his opponent and would slap him numerous times with the flat part of the saber blade while easily blocking ineffective blows. When he decided the time had come to take first blood he would cut "a bit of ear, a bit of nose" and the contest would end. Alfred’s reputation as the “Maladetto Pollaco” was ensured. 

Alfred’s association with a Roman cavalry school, where he met officers who admired his riding ability, added to the rough-and-tumble renown he was developing. 
However, an incident during a riding contest there deflated at least some of the bravado of the Maladetto Polacco. A friend at the school had a horse named Caesar whom Alfred considered a potentially excellent but mistrained jumper. Caesar invariably would stop at an obstacle and send his rider flying. Alfred agreed to train him and worked with him for months until he felt confident about the horse's jumping ability. Alfred and Caesar practiced their jumps over fences, steep ditches, etc., where success or failure greatly depended on the timing of the rider who would pace the horse through its moves. For Caesar’s ‘graduation’ Alfred rode him in a steeplechase competition, where many spectators expected to see the ‘old’ Caesar throwing his cocky rider. On the day of the contest, they began their run through the course with Alfred dressed up in full regalia including red coat and fancy high hat. After a first-place run, they came up to their last obstacle—a high fence followed by a ditch. Alfred thought he had the jump timed perfectly when suddenly his hat started to fall off and he grabbed for it before he realized what he was doing. Caeser made the jump but, because of Alfred’s loss of rhythm during their approach, landed with its rear legs in the ditch. That lost the race for them. Later Alfred watched as a gray-haired cavalry officer riding his equally elderly horse, flew across every obstacle with seeming effortlessness and won the competition. Alfred felt suitably impressed by their performance and by his own comeuppance. 

Notes 
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. 
5. Korzybski 1947, p. 458.

6. Korzybski 1947, p. 424.

7. Korzybski 1947, p. 455.



< Part 2      Part 4 >


Chapter 4 - To Rome: Part 2 - Vagabond

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.

Between the years 1902 and 1904, Alfred traveled throughout Europe. Among other places, he visited Danzig (now Gdansk), Dresden, Berlin, Paris, Budapest, Vienna, and Rome. He may have returned to Warsaw for a brief period after one or more of these visits. But he probably spent most of his time outside of Poland, in Rome.(1)
While traveling [by train] he rode third class, eating his dark bread and garlic together with the laborers and others by whom he was surrounded. When he came to a strange city he found an inexpensive room, secured a map and studied it. Then he took long rides through the town, roamed through the slums, ate his sandwich at the aristocratic cafes (for he had little money to spend), and studied how the different people lived.(2)

Alfred would often visit the local university, where he would sit in on lectures and read in the library. Looking up to see this stranger perusing books, a library habituĂ© would have seen a young man “…rather thin, broad-shouldered and muscular, of medium height, [about 5'8"] with blue, alert, contemplative eyes, his hair very blond,…[with] a mustache which he habitually twirled up at its ends.”(3)

Given his appearance and manner, Alfred did not lack female company when he wanted it. In a tete-a-tete with one young lady in Schoenbrunn Park in Vienna, Alfred had his second encounter with Austrian Emperor Franz Josef. The park, located next to the Imperial Palace, opened to the public during the day but closed in the evening for Franz Josef’s private use, at which time the Emperor would take a solitary stroll. Alfred, sitting in the park with his lady friend, got distracted in conversation with her and didn’t heed the closing-time warning bell or whistle. Soon afterwards, the Emperor surprised them on their bench. Alfred and the young lady jumped up and Alfred took off his hat. Franz Josef said, “Oh, never mind, never mind. Be comfortable, never mind.” As Korzybski recalled, “we clear[ed] out like hell.”(4)



Notes 
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. With no surviving personal records from the time, and only Korzybski’s uncertain memories from years later and a few historical facts to go by, here’s how I established the time-range of 1902–1904 for Alfred’s sojourns through Europe and his time in Rome. Korzybski recalled graduating in 1902. In 1947 he indicated that while in Rome he had an audience with Pope Leo, one or two years before Leo’s death. Leo died in July 1903. If two years before, in 1901, Alfred was still attending the Polytechnic, he would have had to have gotten to Rome and met Leo there sometime in 1902, after his graduation—one year before Leo’s death. Alfred would have had to reside in Rome for sufficient time to do everything that he did there. Sometime later, he left Rome to travel to other parts of Italy (probably during the first half of 1903). He reported returning to Rome soon after the start of the new Pope’s reign. Pope Pius’s coronation took place in August 1903. After he finally returned home to Poland, he got into trouble with the Tsarist authorities. Wladyslaw Korzybski, still alive, intervened on his behalf. From Alfred’s return until his father’s death in October 1904, enough time would have had to elapse for those events to take place. Therefore Alfred would have had to return home to Poland in late 1903 or early 1904. [Korzybski 1947, pp. 453, 466. See also Pula 2003c (1996), pp. 57-58] 

2. Schuchardt 1950a, p. 34. 

3. Ibid. 

4. Korzybski 1947, p. 474.


< Part 1      Part 3 >


Chapter 4 - To Rome: 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.

In 1902, Alfred finished school. He had had his encounter with chemistry. His family had sufficient money; he didn't need a regular job in engineering or otherwise. Now he had more time to study on his own. Besides physics and mathematics, his interests in law, philosophy, and history had gotten somewhat submerged during his time at the Polytechnic. He could also keep himself busy helping his parents manage their properties, including the farm. Still, Alfred felt somewhat at loose ends. What to do? Poles had traditionally looked West and South, especially towards Italy, to draw from the sources of Western European culture. For centuries, a European tour had been de rigueur for young noble Poles. So not surprisingly, 22-year-old Alfred looked West and South as well. The rest of Europe beckoned.

Notes 
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. 

Part 2 >


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chapter 3 - A Good Engineer: Part 3 - The Machine of Alfred Korzybski

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.

In his coursework, Alfred continued the pattern he had found so useful at the realschule for getting by with a passing grade. He attended classes consistently, following his teachers’ lectures closely, taking notes, participating in labs as needed, and building for himself a comprehensive view of the various subjects. Outside of class, though, he continued to pursue his own reading and barely touched his textbooks, except to cram for examinations. Such cramming sessions often took place on the day of the exam. His lack of preparation led to some ‘interesting’ situations. He had already learned how to successfully take shortcuts on exams based on his understanding of the underlying principles of a subject. This had allowed him to deal with test problems whenever he had failed to learn a specific formula and other significant details, or whenever he felt he could save time and effort. He probably had perfected this method at the realschule.

The instructor of one mathematics class there had given the students a difficult problem and told them he wanted them to solve it using only algebra. At Rudnik, multi-lingual Alfred had sometimes accomplished his troubleshooting by translating between speakers of different languages. His method for solving the algebra problem followed this method of translation. Alfred first solved the problem by using differential calculus—ultimately simpler than using algebra, if one knew calculus—then translated what he had done back into algebra. He not only passed the test but, in addition, gained something even more important. Having to translate between algebra and calculus gave him greater insight into the interconnections between these two branches of mathematics. Furthermore, a sense of mathematics as language seemed to have taken shape in Alfred’s awareness. His experience with algebra and calculus as forms of language provided a clear example of the fact that different modes of expression could serve a particular purpose with different degrees of usefulness.

At the Polytechnic, Alfred discovered that his failure to adequately prepare for lessons could backfire and that his subsequent need for 'short cuts' might actually result in having to take a longer way around. During one final examination in higher mathematics, he needed
some formulas he hadn’t memorized. So before he could solve the test problem, he had to derive the formulas from scratch. He finished the test—thirteen hours later. The instructor, though livid, had allowed him to complete it. Alfred passed but realized the professor had justification to fail him. 

In order to graduate, Alfred also had to pass an oral examination for a physics/mechanics course. As he remembered it years later:

I was told to build up a machine or instrument by X,Y,Z. Some famous stuff. Now I knew the principle of the…machine, but I didn’t know the details. …I knew what the machine was supposed to do. Oh, it took me an hour or two to do that on the blackboard, but I did it. And the professor in the meantime was busy with somebody else…Then the professor [asked] “What is it?” and I say “Well, this is the machine of XY.” “What! XY. I’m sorry. There was never a machine like that.” My answer was “But, professor, this machine is supposed to do so and so.” “Yes,” answered the professor, “But this is not the machine of XY. This is the machine of Alfred Korzybski.” I say, “Never mind, the machine does work.” The professor say[s], “Prove it to me.” And damn it, I went on to prove it to him that the machine does work…The professor told me…that it has nothing to do with the machine of XY, but he approved that the machine worked. So I passed the examination.
 In the meantime somehow I was not feeling so well about the machine so at home I began to verify my machine, not XY machine, but my machine, and I came to the conclusion that the machine does not work. The professor…also felt uneasy about it. He sweated all night on that machine and discovered that the machine did not work. Several days later I met the professor after the graduation and all that successfully. And we were then no more in the relation of student and professor. So he told me “You certainly are a so and so. You kept me awake all night verifying your damn machine…But I’m not sorry that I passed you in the examination because you have shown by independent work that you are fit to solve problems." Of course, granting the mistake, the professor praised my independence. He was a very big man.(5)

Alfred had successfully graduated. Yet afterwards, he did not look for engineering work. Indeed, for the remainder of his life he never held a formal job as an engineer—chemical or otherwise. In spite of this, as he later said, he continued to operate with the attitude of an engineer: “I was always a good engineer. I had always to do with engineering of some sort. Practically I was. ”(6)

Like Leibniz, another scientific-philosophical synthesizer, Alfred's early desire to "grasp the whole" by finding underlying connections, included the necessity of connecting theory with practice.  His time at the Warsaw Polytechnic refined his natural way of behaving by socializing him into the professional engineer’s ethos of making things work by applying what we know. He had not completely wasted his time there. 


At the Polytechnic, Alfred also had gotten a thorough grounding in the technical details of the physical science of 1898–1902, a period in the midst of great changes. This helped prepare him for his later assimilation of relativity, quantum theory and other innovations in 20th Century science and mathematics, which had such importance for his own formulating. His Polytechnic experiences also confirmed for him his sense that he could solve problems. In relation to this, he had gained an increasing respect for what he later called “the miracles of mathematics”. His seat-of-the-pants troubleshooting experiences since childhood were now supplemented by an even greater appreciation of the ‘magic’ in a mathematical approach to problems, where and when one could employ exact methods. Indeed, the exactness of mathematics, which seemed to assure agreement, became an ideal for him that he would struggle to understand. What stopped it from being extended to areas that seemed beyond the reach of traditional mathematics?


Notes 
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. 

5. Korzybski 1947, pp. 44-45. 

6. Korzybski 1947, p. 32.




Monday, June 23, 2014

Chapter 3 - A Good Engineer: Part 2 - A Chemical Education

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.

In the late 19th Century, chemical engineering had just emerged as a separate profession from mechanical engineering. With a boom in industrial chemical technology, Wladyslaw Korzybski seems to have hoped his son would be able to leap onto a lucrative bandwagon. So in spite of Alfred’s clear attraction to mechanical engineering—he enjoyed working with electrical and mechanical tools and in subsequent years invented and constructed a number of mechanical devices for his own and others’ use—he majored in Chemical Engineering and minored in Organic Chemistry in order to satisfy papa.(4) His classes also covered mathematics, physics, and basic engineering subjects.

In 1898 the science of chemistry had not yet reached the level of theoretical, mathematical treatment that physics had achieved and which Alfred, the lover of mathematics, seemed to yearn for. Yet it seems hard to imagine that he did not find interest in at least some of what he was learning. For example, in chemistry, as in the rest of 1898 science, fundamental discoveries and changes in basic understandings had been coming fast and furiously. This followed a relatively stagnant 2000 or so years from Democritus until Lavoisier at the end of the 18th Century.

Only at the start of the 19th Century had John Dalton developed his atomic hypothesis and attempted to classify the elements. New elements had been discovered throughout the century. And then in 1869, only 10 years before Alfred’s birth, the Russian Mendeleev had his vision of the periodic table, which revolutionized chemistry with its systemization of the qualities of elements by their atomic weights. The periodic table allowed Mendeleev to predict new elements and their characteristics, which were then subsequently discovered. Throughout the 1890s, elements forming an entirely new chemical group, the inert gases, were being found. They fit into Mendeleev's schema with remarkable ease.

In the physics of matter, the invisible atom, the basic elemental unit once thought indivisible, had begun to reveal an inner structure. In 1897, two years after Rontgen discovered x-rays emanating from cathode tubes, the British researcher J. J. Thomson found a particle discharged from such tubes which he named the “electron”, thought to be a constituent of the atom. Strange energy related to certain elements had also recently been discovered—phenomena that scientists could not easily understand in terms of established chemistry or physics. In 1896 Becquerel had discovered a powerful kind of ray labeled “radioactivity” coming out of the element uranium. Recently in Paris, Alfred’s compatriot Marie Curie, with her French husband Pierre, had begun to isolate another new element, radium, from pitchblende ore and to explore its radioactive properties. Matter was beginning to seem like something other than a solid brick. Alfred nigh undoubtedly followed many of these developments.

Thermodynamics had become a separately recognizable discipline within the previous 50 years. Here, Maxwell’s, Bolzmann’s, and Gibbs’ independent but related work in statistical mechanics challenged older accepted notions of determinism. This work demonstrated probability as basic to the study of the energetic changes in the physical-chemical systems Alfred was studying. As time went on probabilistic thinking would take on ever greater importance to Alfred in his understanding of the world beyond physics and chemistry and how humans think about it.

Alfred's minor field of organic chemistry, the chemistry of carbon-based compounds, had also been born in the 19th Century. Its applications to the manufacture of dyes, synthetic materials, explosives, drugs, etc., had great importance for a chemical engineering career. One aspect of organic chemistry probably had more lasting interest for him: its emphasis on structure. Louis Pasteur had found that the characteristics and reactivity of molecules depends not just on the proportions of their constituent atoms but also on their arrangements in space. Investigating samples of racemic acid, a residue seen on the wooden barrels used to ferment grapes, he isolated two crystalline forms. He discovered that the two forms of the acid rotate polarized light in opposite directions. In other words, they exist in right-handed and left-handed versions. He went on to find that these mirror-image molecules of the ‘same’ substance have different chemical and biological properties as well. With his minor in organic chemistry, Alfred would have had to learn about and visualize such molecules. He would not have been able to miss the significance of structure, which, in a much more generalized form, became central to his later work.

Notes 
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. 
4. Korzybski, “American Men of Science Application, 1948”. IGS Archives.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chapter 3 - A Good Engineer: 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.

Alfred had no passion for chemistry. But he would do as his parents wished. Deeply frustrated, he resigned himself to attend the Warsaw Polytechnic.
 

The original Polytechnic, the Preparatory School for the Institute of Technology was 
founded in 1826. The Tsarist government closed the Institute after the failed Polish Insurrection of 1831. It was reopened as the Emperor Nicholas II University of Technology in 1898.(1) Fifty years later, in 1948, the 68-year-old Korzybski wrote that he spent four years there, from 1898 to 1902.(2) Having lost his personal records from Poland, he did not feel definite about those dates. But other references he gave for events around this part of his life, are consistent with this time period. That four-year period would have placed him among the new students of the entering class at the just-reopened school.

The reopening, after so many years, of a Polytechnic in Warsaw would likely have felt like a day of celebration to Polish students. Whatever joy Alfred may have felt would
not have come unmixed with disappointment. As a Polish patriot, he would have found grating the official Russian name for the school and the use of Russian as the language of instruction. And personally, he also felt cut adrift from the dreams he had held for so many years: “My life became aimless. I could say deal in chemical engineering… I just went ahead, [but I] lost interest, certainly lost interest in engineering…”(3)


Notes 
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. “Warsaw University of Technology - University History”, Warsaw University of Technology (Polytechnika Warszawska) http://eng.pw.edu.pl/University/History (accessed on 10/21/2010)
2. Korzybski, “American 
Men of Science Application, 1948”. IGS Archives. 
3. Korzybski 1947, p. 52. 



Part 2 >



Friday, June 20, 2014

Chapter 2 - Young Alfred: Part 7 - "The First and Greatest Frustration"

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.

Alfred turned 18 in the summer of 1897 and may have graduated from the realschule earlier that year or in the spring of 1898 (no record exists of when he actually did so and in later years Korzybski could not recall the exact year). Alfred’s great ambition had been to become a mathematician, a physicist, or lawyer. So it came as a shock to him, around this time, when he realized that his parents’ choice to place him in the realschule, rather than in a classical gymnasium, would prevent him from entering a university program in any of his favored professions. The fact of the matter remained: he had not studied Latin or Greek. Facility in both languages was necessary at that time to enter a university program in mathematics, science, or law in Poland, the rest of Russia, or anywhere else in Europe. His parents had wanted him to become an engineer, like his father. They believed, in particular, that with the growing chemical industry, Alfred would be able to make good money as a chemical engineer. They had enrolled him in the realschule to put him on a track for an engineering career, not for the professions he most desired.

Alfred’s discovery that he couldn’t get into a university became what he later called "the first and greatest frustration I ever had."(30) Despite his middling grades, he felt that he had a decent background in mathematics and science, as well as literature and the humanities. He spoke and read French, German and Russian well and thus had linguistic access to the major languages, other than English, in which scientific research was conducted at the end of the 19th Century. As far as he was concerned, he definitely had what it took to do decent work as a mathematician, physicist, or a lawyer. Yet, as far as he knew, he would not be able to find employment researching mathematics or physics anywhere in Europe with just an engineering degree and not a university PhD. And to become a lawyer, he also needed Latin, Greek, and university.


Alfred at the Realschule in Warsaw, around 18 years old


Did Korzybski overestimate the problem of pursuing a mathematical/scientific research career with just a Polytechnic degree? After all, such a degree did not ultimately stop Albert Einstein (also born in 1879). On the other hand, even Einstein had initial difficulties finding what he considered suitable employment after graduating from the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich. Einstein could only get temporary jobs in a technical school and in tutoring before finding a position as a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office. Even after he had produced his epoch-making papers of 1905 (written while working at the patent office) he had to work as a Privatedozent, a poorly paid lecturer, at the University of Bern before he finally obtained his first professorial post at the University of Zurich in 1909, with pull from supporters there. Alfred was probably not exaggerating his own obstacles. 

He looked into the possibility of getting tutored in Latin and Greek. Since he knew French well, he had some entry point into Latin, but Greek, was simply…well, Greek to him. He would need more time to become proficient in it. "In the meantime", as he described it later, “life was pressing. My parents were getting old. Father was getting ill; father was retired. I became more and more important in family management.”(31) And though they still remained "comfortable" financially, finances were becoming more and more a concern. Alfred just couldn’t see getting side-tracked to study Latin and Greek for possibly two more years to fulfill what he considered a useless formal requirement. So he decided. He simply would not waste his time studying them. He would become an engineer.


Notes 
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. 
29. Korzybski 1947, p. 450. 

30. Korzybski 1947, p. 52.


31. Korzybski 1947, p. 53.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Chapter 2 - Young Alfred: Part 6 - School Days

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 summer vacation at Rudnik provided a lively break from Alfred’s studies at the realschule (high school) which he attended in Warsaw the remainder of the year. (The family stayed in Warsaw during the winter, leaving the maintenance of Rudnik in the hands of a manager and the resident peasants.) The school routine kept him busy.
[G]oing to school meant getting out of the house at about 8 o’clock in the morning. Having some hasty breakfast, putting on my uniform, go to school, and in school I stayed up to three, four o’clock every day. And when I came home I was supposed to do three, four hours of home study of lessons. (21) 

‘Supposed to’ indeed. As the incident in the German class illustrates, Alfred did not do well with preparing his lessons. So he was by no means the best school student. He simply ‘got by’ on his examinations. Nonetheless he had become an excellent and eager learner by the time he left the realschule.

Alfred’s education had begun at home. From infancy, besides Polish and Russian, he had learned French and German from nurses and governesses. As a young child, he learned to read and write in those four languages and to do simple arithmetic. (He also may have had a rudimentary reading knowlege of English.) These early experiences with multiple languages (which he came to see as including mathematics) provided literal training in the notion which his work later helped to popularize—“the word is not the thing.” His ability to communicate in many tongues also made him conscious of the effects and importance of translation, i.e., finding different forms of representation and expression. His facility for learning languages also allowed him in later life to make himself at home wherever he lived.

Once Alfred knew how to read, he consumed books omnivorously. “The moment I began to read, I was reading whatever I could and then [inspired by] the training that my father had given me in physico-mathematical method. …I was personally indulging in scientific training, reading, reading, reading."(22)

One book he read quite early gave him a phrase which epitomized what seemed to him (even as a child) like an ideal attitude, that he later described in terms of delaying automatic reactions towards difficulties (not allowing them to unduly disturb him). In the book, an adventure story, the characters had gotten shipwrecked and were paddling away on some sort of flimsly raft surrounded by sharks. A shark went for the leg of one character, a British lord. To divert the shark the other passengers poked at the creature, who happily took a bite out of one of their paddles instead. Upon seeing the bitten-off paddle the lord exclaimed “Oh, how extraordinary!” Even as a young boy, Alfred found the attitude of ironic acceptance represented by this statement worth cultivating. For example, once at Rudnik a horse he was attempting to break to saddle threw him onto a pile of rocks. He felt considerable pain. Alfred recalled the phrase as he sat on the stones checking himself for broken bones (he had none)—“Oh, how extraordinary!” Korzybski applied the phrase to numerous ‘bitten-off paddles’ he encountered throughout his life. He recommended the phrase to his students as a salutary reminder.

After his formal schooling had begun, Alfred had spent several years at what he described as a “high-grade” private school where “we got less mathematics and physics, but we had a lot, too much, Latin and Greek”(23) (which he did not like or ever master). Then, his parents entered him in the realschule through what would roughly equal his middle school and high school years. The curriculum did not include Latin or Greek but rather focused on mathematics, physics, modern languages, and literature.

Alfred’s involvement with his own program of reading left him with little time for class preparation. In the course of his personal studies, he had evolved a system for approaching any subject. This approach helped him to keep up in class and get by on examinations. (The schools in Russian Poland gave out numerical marks and Alfred maintained the numerical equivalent of a C average.) In class during lectures he would sit in the first or second row. There he would scribble notes while closely attending to the teacher. “I listened like the dickens, trying to figure out what we are doing something for."(24) Generally, his teachers seemed to like him although some of them may have felt intimidated at times as Alfred sat there watching them with his serious furled brow and intent gaze. He was trying to find "the general principle…[the] general method” behind what they were presenting. (25) The principle of “grasping the whole”, and the methods he developed to do it, served as the basis for his later ability to understand different and difficult areas of scientific and mathematical knowledge (to the satisfaction of specialists) when developing his theory. He later recommended this approach, which included a method of reading and marking books, to his seminar students.

Alfred’s devotion to self-study was not an anomaly in the Poland of the 1890s (although the intensity with which he pursued it may have qualified as unusual even there.) A self-education movement had sprung up among those seeking to perpetuate and peacefully advance Polish culture. For many Poles, study had become a revolutionary act as people held classes in their homes on Polish history and literature as well as in science, philosophy, etc.—in Polish. This could not be done openly at the time in the schools and universities of Russian Poland.

There was more than book-learning to Alfred’s life in Warsaw, however. Although he did not have the opportunities for physical activity that he had in the summer at Rudnik, Alfred participated enthusiastically in sports—despite, or perhaps because of, a slight congenital hip displacement. At the realschule, he had physical education classes consisting of the Russian version of Swedish gymnastics exercises which included faux-military drills and marching with sticks. Alfred didn’t actually dislike the drilling and later on expressed some appreciation for the attitude of discipline it encouraged. This may have been around the time Alfred started his solitary swims in the Vistula River, which flows through Warsaw. In what he called “competitions with myself” he would swim across and back the wide and wild waterway. Whenever he could he continued this kind of adventurous swimming, in the Vistula and elsewhere, into his adult life. (In his early years in the United States, he swam in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans when he had the opportunity.) 
It was also probably while still at the realschule that Alfred began fencing, taking lessons from a well-known Warsaw fencing teacher.

Alfred’s parents provided him with piano lessons. He learned how to play, but not well. He confessed, “I didn’t work enough to become an expert.” Nonetheless, he could read music and sing, studied the great composers, and beside Chopin, found two favorites, Wagner and Tchaikovsky. He memorized much of their work, enjoying their “sad music” most of all. (26)

Alfred also received ‘religious instruction’. His parents, nominal Roman Catholics, did not regularly go to church although his mother had wanted him to become a priest. As part of its program, the realschule required classes on Catholicism for at least an hour a week. Alfred appreciated one teacher, a seven-foot tall priest named Count Ledochowski. The class turned out to be only peripherally about Catholic religion. Rather, Ledochowski lectured on comparative religions and was in Korzybski’s words “only slightly partial toward Catholicism.” Alfred thoroughly enjoyed the class and became friendly with Ledochowski. “We saw each other privately after school for discussion of the great world movements in the field of philosophy, if you wish, dogmatism if you wish, but all of that was so extremely flexible..."(27) Later on as a teacher, Korzybski promoted the benefits of studying comparative religions. Throughout his life, he remained more or less an agnostic disdaining as he did both “rabid theism” and “active atheism”.(28)

Despite his friendship with the priest, who was rumored to be a member of the Jesuit Order (banned in Tsarist Russia), Alfred had also begun to develop a distaste for the Catholic Church and in particular the Jesuit Order, which he sometimes privately referred to in later life as the “Catholic Gestapo”.(29) Many of the old szlachta, including apparently Korzybski's family, considered themselves noblemen first before any religion. In addition, they may have felt that despite the efforts of some individual clerics, the Church had not done enough to promote the Polish cause. Some also resented what they perceived as the Church’s hostility to science. Korzybski’s negative attitude toward Catholicism as a creed and the Church as an institution reflected such views.



Notes 
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. 
21. Korzybski 1947, p. 461. 

22. Korzybski 1947, p, 416.

23. Korzybski 1947, p. 39. 

24. Korzybski 1947, p. 41. 25. Ibid. 

26. Korzybski 1947, p. 425. 

27. Korzybski 1947, pp. 447-448. 

28. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 140. Active atheists would probably have a problem with Korzybski’s openness on the question of “G. O. D”. When asked whether or not he believed in God, he would spell out the letters and ask his questioner, “What do you mean by ‘Gee Oh Dee’?” His late-life speculations about a ‘supreme power’ sounded like the views of a rather broad-minded agnostic: “Suppose we do discover some day an ‘almighty’...A ‘supreme power’ is there – no two two’s [buts?] about it. But we don’t know the character. We can only discover the structure, never the it.” [AK Manhood Notes of 4/17/1949 taken by Charlotte Schuchardt. “AK- Re.: We being the ‘builders of our own destinies’.” IGS Archives.] 

29. Korzybski 1947, p. 450.



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