Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Chapter 38 - "General Semantics": 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.

At the start of 1931, Korzybski still lacked one main formulational piece for the book—a label for his own approach more specific than “non-aristotelian”. The work of a number of other individuals could be called non-aristotelian too. What he had attempted to formulate strained the conventional vocabularies of every discipline he drew from and required new terminology, including a new name. His theory encompassed, or at least intersected with, ‘psychology’, ‘philosophy’, ‘logic’, etc., but couldn’t exactly be encompassed by any one of those fields. He had eliminated “human engineering” and “humanology” as choices. The “general theory of time-binding”, while broadly descriptive, didn’t quite get to the way he was looking at human behavior. He liked “general anthropology” and considered it fitting, but his friend C.K. Ogden didn’t. Alfred deferred to Ogden. He mentioned the term in the book, but continued to look around for another way to describe the discipline he was forming. 

He needed a name for his basic subject—what he was studying. As much as he wrote about language, he was actually focused on a particular holistic (non-elementalistic)—and more general—view of human behavior. Any use of language (mathematics included) inevitably involved a related, non-verbal response. It was this non-verbal response that concerned him:
...the psycho-logical reaction of a given individual to words and language and other symbols and events in connection with their meanings, and the psycho-logical reactions, which become meanings and relational configurations the moment the given individual begins to analyse them or somebody else does that for him.” (1) 
This non-verbal reaction, by necessity psychophysiological, involved an organism-as-a-whole functioning with and as a nervous system in an environment. Electro-colloidal correlates had to be involved. As much as he admired Pavlov’s work, Korzybski did not want to neglect the importance of the so-called ‘subjective’ or ‘introspective’ dimension of the individual’s response—a direct fact for the individual, which had to be inferred by others. A suitable name for this form of non-elementalistic reaction would also have to do away with the elementalistic separation of ‘emotion’ from ‘intellect’, ‘thinking’ from ‘feeling’.

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. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 24.

Part 2 > 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chapter 37 - Knowledge, Uncertainty, And Courage: Part 4 - Courage

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 and Mira had indeed reached the ‘zero hour’ and were ‘going over the top’. The Great Depression had settled in. They had seriously started to look for a publisher and publishers seemed leery. They had to face up to selling a big and demanding book at a time when many people were going to think twice about buying any book at all. And the book was going to ask a lot more from its readers than just an investment of money. Alfred wasn’t just espousing another ‘philosophy’. He had ‘taken the aristotelian bull by the horns’. To show how the non-aristotelian orientation worked in practice, he had changed the structure of the language in his book in all the ways noted above. He and Mira had to gather up the courage to proceed and persist in their project despite these difficulties.

Mira and Alfred, circa 1930

Readers would have to have courage too. The hefty book, both in size and content, would look daunting to many. Regarding intimidating content, despite its appearance otherwise, it was not about the technical details of science and mathematics but rather about the psycho-logical, evaluational aspect of science and mathematics as human behavior, among other forms of human behavior. Alfred made this point explicitly and did his best to encourage readers who were not professional scientists or mathematicians. He had written the book in such a way that reading it would teach the reader how to read it. A reader was going to be required to learn a new way of talking. One who approached the work with sympathy and effort (reading it at least twice) would more likely begin to look at things differently, talk differently, and begin to deal with problems differently. He or she would have to work at it. An unsympathetic reader who refused to go along, even tentatively, with what Korzybski suggested would likely find the book—as a number of people did—repetitious and trivial, when not puzzling. But Korzybski had seen enough evidence, from working on himself and other people and from hearing Graven’s reports on patients, to indicate that his system provided a valuable self-help approach to ‘mental’ hygiene and better problem-solving, a method for dealing with fears in what were becoming increasingly fearful times.

Embracing uncertainty with knowledge—and knowledge with uncertainty—made it possible to develop courage and find stability in one’s personal life despite difficult and changing circumstances. Ignorance and, even more, ignorance of ignorance and false knowledge encouraged by various kinds of identification, could breed serious maladjustments. “When we live in a delusional world, we multiply our worries, fears, and discouragements, and our higher nerve centres, instead of protecting us from over-stimulation, actually multiply the semantic [evaluational] harmful stimuli indefinitely. Under such circumstances ‘sanity’ is impossible.”(34)

For sure, Korzybski expected to ‘catch some hell’. He was not aware of anyone else in his time, who had done quite what he had. Some critics later seemed to behave as if he didn’t even have the right to attempt something Aristotle had done over 2000 years before, i.e., to formulate “a general method for ‘all’ scientific work.”(35) But Korzybski felt that whatever his own inadequacies—which he was ready to attest to—he had as much right as anyone else to aim for a 20th century version of this: an applied update of how we know what we think we know. He wanted his work to be judged on its merits. He thought he had developed something important and he had to carry it through. In keeping with the thrust of his work (consciousness of abstracting, etc.) he made a point not to claim perfection or finality. Indeed, in the book he was modestly stressing the limitations of his work (despite its generality of application), recommending research, and inviting corrections and suggestions. Nonetheless, the notion that he had come up with “a general method not only for scientific work, but also life,…”(36) was going to be too much for some skeptics to ever swallow. Korzybski’s reach would exceed their grasp. There was nothing to be done at this stage except to get the book into print and then deal with whatever ‘hits’ would come his way.

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. 
34. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 481. 

35. Ibid., p. li. 

36. Ibid., p. lii.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Chapter 37 - Knowledge, Uncertainty, And Courage: Part 3 - Uncertainty

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.

Uncertainty was built into the abstracting process. Perhaps the most ‘certain’ (least uncertain) knowledge came when we learned how a map did not fit a given territory:
All knowledge is hypothetical, in which…[t]he most important facts must be negative. When the [linguistic and empirical] structures do not match, then we learn something quite definite about the empirical structures. (22) 
Because words are never the things we speak about, the sole link between languages and the objective world being structural, the only ‘positive’ facts about this world are of the old ‘negative’ character. (23)

Around the time Korzybski was writing this, Karl Popper in Vienna was developing related notions while writing what would become his first book, Logik der Forschung, to be published in 1934. Popper’s book, later published in English as The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), was his opening volley in the theory of knowledge and scientific methodology. His work centered around the importance of falsification (disconfirmation). According to Popper, a theory that couldn’t conceivably be tested and shown false was not scientific. The best tests of a theory applied the most rigorous, potentially falsifying challenges to it. We could learn something definite when a theory did not pan out. A successful scientific theory, one with better predictivity than others at a given date, had simply better survived attempts to test it.

A minimal ‘maybeness’ pertained to even the best, nigh certain scientific theories. As Popper wrote in the closing pages of his book:
The old scientific idea of episteme—of absolutely certain, demonstrable knowledge—has proved to be an idol. The demand for scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that every scientific statement must remain tentative for ever. It may indeed be corroborated, but every corroboration is relative to other statements which, again, are tentative. Only in our subjective experiences of conviction, in our subjective faith, can we be ‘absolutely certain’. (24)

I have found no evidence that Korzybski was ever aware of Popper. Popper apparently didn’t know or think much of Korzybski’s work (according to Stuart A. Mayper, chemist, korzybskian scholar/teacher, and a former editor of the General Semantics Bulletin, who studied with Popper at the University of London).(25) Nonetheless, their complementary views both pointed to an uncertaintist perspective.

With similarity (not ‘sameness’) of structure providing the sole link between different levels of abstracting, one could only have varying degrees of similarity of a map with a territory, giving varying degrees of predictability. You could not have a ‘perfect’ map. But you could strive for maximum probability of predictability in a map at a given date. In 1931, Korzybski formulated this in terms of a “general principle of uncertainty”:
…on objective levels we deal structurally with absolutely individual stages of processes and situations and by necessity we speak in higher order abstractions and generalities and use many multiordinal terms (without the use of which no speaking is possible), so any possible statement about the objective levels must be only probable in different degrees, which introduces a fundamental and entirely general Ā principle of uncertainty. Heisenberg’s restricted principle in physics appears only as a special case. (26)
The implications of this for Korzybski seemed profound. For one thing, it resolved the problem of “indeterminism” brought to the fore by the development of quantum physics. Many scientists and philosophers were ‘reeling’ from the replacement of classical, two-valued determinism with statistical approaches for understanding the submicroscopic world. Many had leaped to assuming the end of causality and perhaps the loss of confidence in scientific knowledge. Many, like Bridgman, appeared to despair or rail at this conclusion. Einstein, for example, accepted the findings of quantum physics but rejected the fundamental nature of the statistical approach (although he had helped develop it). He continued to embrace classical determinism, searching for hidden variables behind the probabilities of quantum physics. He could never accept that ‘Herr Gott’ might play dice with the universe.
Does God Play Dice? 

Korzybski agreed with Einstein: indeterminism was not a scientific option. He argued that ‘indeterminism’ would involve a denial of structure or relations, an inherently contradictory viewpoint since, as he wrote to William Alanson White in early 1931,
the language of causation which in a subtler analysis requires series (mathematics) is a characteristic of human rationality and [as such] has little to do with the world, but it is also the foundation of relations and structure and a non-aristotelian system. If empirical data lead us to indeterminism verbally, such language is in structure non similar to the world and our nervous system and simply should be changed to another language which retains determinism. (27)
Here was another echo of Leibniz. One of Leibniz’s guiding principles had been that of “sufficient reason”—“nothing happens without a sufficient reason why it should be thus rather than otherwise.”(28) According to Leibniz’s 17th-century scientific ‘faith’, anything that happens exists within the compass of potential human understanding and knowledge. Korzybski could be seen to have held an updated form of Leibniz’s principle: any knowledge—‘scientific’ or otherwise—involved a search for structure. Determinism provided the test for structure. But for Korzybski, determinism must involve probabilities.

Unlike Einstein, Korzybski did not see causality as at odds with chance. He embraced the fundamental role of probabilities in our knowledge of anything. Accepting the generalized uncertainty of all statements (not only the statements of quantum mechanics) did not require abandoning the search for knowledge and predictability. It did require abandoning the “one cause, one effect” determinism, which seemed based upon two-valued ‘certainty’. This had to be refashioned into a probabilistic, many-valued determinism which would require a many-valued logic of probability in which two-valued logic remained as a special case.* (Korzybski argued for such a probabilistic logic, but didn’t develop one himself.) Second-order certainty of degrees of uncertainty remained. “If so, then invariably and always so” had to give way to “If so, then probably so, which could depend upon multiple factors, e.g., x, y, z, etc.” Knowledge and uncertainty existed together, inexorably intertwined.
     * Korzybski only rejected the universality of two-valued, either-or ‘logic’ as a general orientation. Within a multi-valued orientation, either-or distinctions sometimes appeared appropriate. As he wrote to Keyser soon after the book was published, “... mathematics in the main (1934) ( only) would be impossible if today 1 + 1 = 2 and tomorrow 1 + 1 ≠ 2 . So when we want sharp tools we use two-valued orientations, but that’s VOLITIONAL. I try to establish some sharp tools for efficiency in human orientations, and once in a while I must use two-valued orientations...” [AK Collected Writings, p. 186]. He had already made this point in Science and Sanity [Korzybski 1994 (1933), pp. 94, 195, 405, 760–761], and continued to do so in later writings. Still, petty criticism about his supposed rejection of two-valued ‘logic’ would also continue.

Even with some degree of uncertainty, reliable knowledge remained possible. Indeed, under some circumstances—when developed through a scientific approach—higher order abstractions (also known as generalizations or inferences) could provide the most reliable knowledge possible at a date. Some people later got the notion that Korzybski was against making generalizations. This conclusion could not have come from a careful reading of his book. “It is no mystery that when we want to look further into the past and future we need higher and higher order abstractions.”(29)

Linking knowledge with uncertainty also related to a conscious recognition—at the heart of non-elementalism—of the importance of non-additivity. “As a structural fact, the world around us is not a ‘plus’ affair, and requires a functional [relational] representation.”(30) Yet it was especially easy to misrepresent complex, non-additive, nonlinear processes, relationships, organizations, etc. as ‘plus’ affairs. Since the early 1920s—long before the formal development of systems theory, ‘chaos’ theory, ‘complexity’ theory, etc.—Korzybski had been concerned with this additive or plus tendency in people’s evaluating, reflected in their language. The addition of one ‘small’ factor in a situation didn’t necessarily lead to the ‘same old thing’. One mother and one father ‘plus’ one small baby involved a whole new, complex set of relations as a couple became a family. An uncertaintist perspective, informed by non-additivity, could prepare one to expect the unexpected and thus reduce undesirable shocks from the new.(31) Korzybski devoted an entire chapter of the book “On Linearity” to the ramifications of this. After the book was published, “New factors: the havoc they play with our generalizations” became a prominent focus of his teaching and writing.(32)

Interestingly Leibniz had written that, “Those great principles of a sufficient reason and of the identity of indiscernibles, change the state of metaphysics. That science becomes real and demonstrative by means of these principles; whereas before, it did generally consist of empty words.”(33) Korzybski’s parallel principles of structure and of non-identity—with their attendant redefinition of knowledge in terms of structure, generalized uncertainty, probabilistic ∞[infinite]-valued determinism, non-additivity, etc.—seemed to Korzybski to change the state of 20th-century metaphysics, epistemology, etc., into something real and demonstrative, and of potentially great human significance—a foundation for a science of ‘man’.

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. 
22. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 324. 

23. Ibid., p. 365. 

24. Popper, p. 280. 

25. Stuart A. Mayper, Personal communication. 

26. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p.760. 

27. AK to W. A. White, 2/4/1931. AKDA 23.246. 

28. Leibniz 1979 (1951), p. 222. 

29. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 483. 

30. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 605. 

31. Korzybski believed that a basic study of permutations and combinations could help give a feel for the complexities that arise from increasing the number of elements in a situation. Later, in his seminars, he would recommend Stanley Jevon’s chapter “On The Variety of Nature” from The Principles of Science as a good introduction to this. 

32. See “Introduction to the Second Edition”, Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. lv-lvii. 

33. Leibniz 1979 (1951), pp. 228–229. 

< Part 2(a)      Part 4 >

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Chapter 37 - Knowledge, Uncertainty, and Courage: Part 2 (a) - The Language Filter

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.

For centuries, thinkers had already questioned aristotelianism on many fronts. Tearing down the separating wall between experience and language that Aristotle had bolstered if not erected, Korzybski ranks among the boldest of those who challenged aristotelian metaphysics and its assumptions about language and symbolism.

In 1924 Korzybski had written, “All human knowledge is conditioned and limited, at present, by the properties of light and human symbolism.”(19) Since then it had become even clearer to him that if there were no ‘facts’ free from the share of the observer’s ‘mind’, then language and other symbolic media were not neutral. For good and for ill, language served as a major ‘filter’ for human knowledge. Understanding the structure of knowledge required exploring the structure of representational language and its relation to human action. A non-aristotelian revision of the sciences and life required linguistic revision—a new consciousness of what language does with us and what we can do with language.

Of course, it was important not to consider ‘language’ elementalistically. As a product of human nervous systems and a form of human behavior, no language existed entirely separate from the ‘culture’ and ‘consciousness’ of the individuals who used it with others. Humans in societies created their languages, and their languages in turn also affected them. Although not the sole determinant of ‘thought’ and behavior, it appeared to Korzybski that an individual’s language with its related evaluations had tremendous power to channel his ongoing actions.

Any language could be said to have structure, indeed multiple levels of structure. Korzybski had particular interest in the implicatory aspects—the implications, presuppositions, and assumptions a language might ‘entice’ us to project upon the world. Humans tended to act according to the way they mapped the world—‘logical’ destiny. Without consciousness of the mapping effects related to their language, people could react to words, and whatever experiences they processed verbally, like Pavlov’s dog salivating to the sound of a bell. One could change the way one responded to the world by finding some ways to circumvent language (to the extent this could be done, e.g., through silent observation, visualization, etc.). One could also change the structure of one’s language. Contemplation of and practice with the Structural Differential encouraged both of these methods. In addition, Korzybski contended that the use of non-elementalistic terms and various other changes in the structure of everyday language (taken from the simplest of mathematics) could promote greater consciousness of abstracting and a more up-to-date outlook. People could learn to use language more consciously to orient themselves more extensionally (according to ‘facts’) and thus more sanely.

For example, in order to promote a non-elementalistic outlook, it helped to purposefully—and with understanding—use non-elementalistic terms like “abstracting”, “time-binding”, etc. Much mathematical terminology had a non-elementalistic character as well, and could be carried over, when appropriate, into everyday speech. (He recommended Keyser’s Mathematical Philosophy for suggestions in this regard.) Korzybski created other non-elementalistic terms in the book by connecting two terms with a hyphen whenever he wanted to make certain relationships explicit. For instance, ‘logic’ (which he now saw as an aspect or part of mathematics) seemed to him a highly significant product of human nervous systems, involving and affecting human behavior. Therefore Korzybski felt it necessary to link ‘logic’ to the study of ‘psychology’ (human behavior) and came up with the new term “psycho-logics” to make that linkage explicit—although the usage and its significance seemed difficult for many logicians, philosophers, mathematicians, and psychologists to accept. In addition, when using a term with potentially elementalistic or other misleading implications in a given context, Korzybski decided to use single quotes (more common in British usage) as a kind of warning to ‘watch out’ and not objectify the term. Thus ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’, ‘matter’, ‘substance’, ‘language’, etc., might be used with single quotes. He applied such single quotes to terms he found consistently elementalistic or otherwise problematic, like ‘psychology’, ‘logic’, and ‘philosophy’. Some ‘psychologists’, ‘logicians’, and ‘philosophers’—among others—may have considered it silly or felt offended, but Alfred felt he had a useful point to make.

In the book he also used indexes to highlight individuals within categories. For example, as he wrote about it later in his introduction to the second edition of the book, ‘houses’ could include a variety of buildings, some with termites or hidden structural flaws, which had to be examined extensionally as individuals—house1 was not house2, etc. One didn’t want to simply buy a definition, which was what advertisers tended to try to sell.(20) Korzybski also made extensive use of temporal indexing or dating to bring out the awareness of space-time processes. For example, when he knew the book would definitely get into print by the end of 1933, he made sure to emphasize that his statements about science referred to ‘science 1933’—a move that probably irritated some readers. But he wanted to make the point that he was not in a position to legislate for ‘science’ for ‘all’ time. Of course, he didn’t expect his work to go out of date by 1934. Still, he wanted to acknowledge, as part of his non-finalistic outlook, that readers in 1934 or 1974 or 2024, etc., would have to check out what he said in 1933 and possibly revise it.

Throughout the book he had made many statements with lists of examples that he completed by writing “etc.” (et cetera). He was writing “etc.” so many times that he decided to create a non-aristotelian extensional punctuation where a period would represent the “etc.” combined with whatever other punctuation was used with it (for example, “etc.,” would be represented by “ . ,”. Some people treated this punctuation as a quirk on Korzybski’s part and undoubtedly many people ignored it. A proper reading of the book required attending to it. For Korzybski, who later referred to it as “junior infinity”, the use of “etc.” was a tangible reminder of non-allness. He would say that the extensional punctuation (with “etc.” as a period) could help put a stop to a “a period and stop attitude”.

He had to go through the manuscript quite carefully to expunge any uses of ‘is’ that smacked of identity. (Some years after the book was published someone sent him a letter excoriating him for retaining some such ‘illegitimate’ ‘ises’. He spent a number of hours combing through the given page references before he concluded that his critic was not correct.) He also got rid of any uses of the term ‘same’ without quotes. If he was serious about non-identity, he had to apply it in his writing.

Korzybski also emphasized the multiordinality of terms, which was based on the multi-leveled, self-reflexive structure of the human nervous system and its mappings—the fact that we could map our maps and react to our reactions. Awareness of multiordinality could increase a person’s vocabulary tremendously and also opened up a large and relatively unexplored (because previously difficult to talk about) field for students of human behavior. It now made sense to talk about ‘positive’ second order reactions such as “curiosity about curiosity, attention of attention, analysis of analysis, reasoning about reasoning… knowing of knowing…evaluation of evaluation…”; morbid second order reactions such as “worry about worry, fear of fear…pity of pity...belief in belief…conviction of conviction,…ignorance of ignorance”; and reactions where “the second order reverses and annuls the first order effects” in a constructive way such as “inhibition of an inhibition…hate of hate…[and] doubt of doubt….”(21)

Korzybski used certain terms so often that he introduced a number of abbreviations which he used throughout the book. 
Table of Abbreviations from Science and Sanity, Chapter I, "Aims, Means And Consequences of A Non-Aristotelian Revision, p. 15

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. 
19. Korzybski, “Time-Binding: The General Theory (First Paper)” in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings,
p. 59. 

20. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. lxv. 

21. Ibid., p. 440.

< Part 2      Part 3

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Chapter 37 - Knowledge, Uncertainty, And Courage: Part 2 - Knowledge

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.

Keyser had stated the basic structural-relational premise: “To be is to be related.”(5) The premise of non-elementalism—“There is no such thing as an object in absolute isolation.”(6)—could be viewed as a corollary. One important example of non-elementalism related to human knowledge. The classical interpretation of ‘objectivity’ tended to treat knowledge as if it existed in absolute isolation from human observers/formulators in their contexts of time and place. This view had to go. 

Korzybski had accepted that “…all we know is a joint phenomenon of the observer and the observed,...”(7) One could no longer study how people know what they presume they know (epistemology) without scientific understanding (at a given date) of the ‘physical’, ‘neuro-biological’, ‘psycho-social’, ‘linguistic,’ etc., factors affecting human observers. Over the past decade, the observer-observed relation had remained the constant focus of Korzybski’s scientific, epistemological research on the process of abstracting in science, maladjustment, and daily life. 

Korzybski’s new emphasis on structure gave him greater clarity about the relations between the inferred process universe and the different levels of abstraction. As he replenished the book in 1930, he realized that as a multiordinal term, “structure” could refer equally to any of the different vertically arranged levels of the Anthropometer—the presumed structure of the process world (represented by the parabola), the implied structure of the nervous system, the structure of non-verbal ‘objective’ level experience (the circles), the structure of a language in its representational aspects (the various hanging labels), etc. Structure was also shown in the horizontal differences between different human abstractors and between human and animal abstractors. Within a few months of his October presentation, he had changed the name of the Anthropometer (a name he had grown to dislike) to the “Structural Differential”.

With his more conscious structural viewpoint, his non-aristotelian system seemed more coherent to Korzybski as a system of interrelated formulations. He continued to work out the implications as he revised. For example, he got more explicit about one of his basic assumptions about the structure of the world, i.e. non-identity

Non-identity involved the complete denial of ‘identity’—defined as the ‘absolute sameness’ in ‘all’ aspects of any two things. ‘Identity’ could never be found in the world inside or outside our skins. No two individuals labeled with one name under a category were exactly the ‘same’ in all respects. Furthermore, since we live in a process universe, anything humans dealt with on the ‘object’ levels—an iron bar, an apple, a toothache, etc.— represented a space-time event. So even to say that “something is identical with itself”, i.e., absolutely the same in all aspects of itself from one moment to the next, seemed invariably false to facts. (Korzybski made sure to point out that this didn’t have to lead to “metaphysical shivers”. If ‘absolute sameness’ in ‘all’ aspects didn’t exist in this world, neither did ‘absolute difference’: “In a world of only absolute differences, without similarities, recognition, and, therefore, ‘intelligence’, would be impossible."[8])

Regarding ‘identity’, when things changed—in the view of Aristotle and his followers—their underlying ‘substance’ still remained ‘the same’.(9) Things which existed in the world remained ‘the same’ for all. Different humans could have ‘the same’ ‘mental’ experience of those things. Knowledge consisted of finding the ‘essence’ of a thing’s underlying nature or substance, which could be expressed in a definition. This quote from the beginning of Aristotle’s On Interpretation epitomizes what could be called the aristotelian “essentialist” approach: 
Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images. (10) 
With the assumption that ‘mental experiences’ were the same for all, Aristotle had set the horizon for his program. One could conclude that different people’s differing forms of language and symbolism did not affect their ‘mental experience’ in any significant way (for if it did, ‘mental experience’ would surely not be the ‘same’ for all). This radical separation between symbolism and mental experience reduced the need to question or change basic assumptions and the language or symbolism expressing them. Aristotle’s metaphysics—which posited the ‘fixed’ nature (according to our categories) of the things which our mental experiences depicted—remained intact. Attention stayed focused on studying and classifying things according to their ‘essential’ nature and coming to reliable conclusions and agreement through the use of logic. 

The premise of non-identity—fundamentally non-essentialist—significantly diverged from Aristotle’s metaphysical emphasis on fixed substances. Its process view had been foreseen in the poetical teachings of the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed. You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters and yet others go ever flowing on.”(11) 

Non-identity could be stated in terms of the “principle of individualization” or the “atomistic principle” which Korzybski had mentioned in the second Time-Binding paper. Briefly, it postulated “...the absolute individuality of events on the un-speakable objective levels,...”.(12) Leibniz had recognized the significance of this in what he called his principle of the “identity of indiscernibles”:
There is no such thing as two individuals indiscernible from each other. An ingenious gentleman of my acquaintance, discoursing with me, in the presence of her Electoral Highness the Princess Sophia [Electress of Hanover, mother of George I of England, and one of Leibniz’s patronesses] in the garden of Herrenhausen, thought he could find two leaves perfectly alike. The princess defied him to do it, and he ran all over the garden a long time to look for some; but it was to no purpose. Two drops of water, or milk, viewed with a microscope, will appear distinguishable from each other. ...To suppose two things indiscernible, is to suppose the same thing under two names. (13) 
However, in referring to this in terms of “the identity of indiscernibles”, Leibniz seems to have reduced the full impact of his insight. He was not able to abandon ‘identity’ altogether, retaining the notion as legitimate in the realm of propositions and ‘necessary’ truths. Wittgenstein also seemed to have noted problems with ‘identity’ in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Roughly speaking, to say of two things that they are identical is nonsense, and to say of one thing that it is identical with itself is to say nothing.”(14) (Korzybski had underlined this proposition in red in his copy of the Tractatus.) But the practical import of this did not seem clear in Wittgenstein’s work either. 

As far as Korzybski knew, he was the first to explicitly state the principle of “non-identity” (the denial of ‘identity’) as a basic system premise, exploring its implications and attempting to apply it in science and daily life. In mathematics and ‘logic’, the assumption of ‘identity’ could be done away with. It no longer seemed necessary to interpret “A = A” or “1=1” as “A is ‘identical’ to A” or “1 is ‘identical’ to 1.” Instead the “ = ”sign could be taken to symbolize equivalence, which depended on an agreement by some humans to ignore differences when they didn’t make a difference. 
If we take even a symbolic expression 1=1, ‘absolute sameness’ in ‘all’ aspects is equally impossible, although we may use in this connection terms such as ‘equal’, ‘equivalent’,. [etc,.] ‘Absolute sameness in all aspects’ would necessitate an identity of different nervous systems which produce and use these symbols, an identity of the different states of the nervous system of the person who wrote the above two symbols, an identity of the surfaces ., [etc.,] of different parts of the paper, in the distribution of ink, and what not. To demand such impossible conditions is, of course, absurd, but it is equally absurd and very harmful for sanity and civilization to preserve until this day such delusional formulations as standards of evaluation, and then spend a lifetime of suffering and toil to evade the consequences. This may be comparable to the spending of many years in teaching and training our children that one and one never equal two, that twice two never equal four . , [etc.,] and then they would have to spend a lifetime full of surprises and disappointments, if not tragedies, to learn, when they are about to die, that the above statements are always correct in mathematics and very often true in daily life,...(15) 
This seemed difficult to deny and, for some people, equally difficult to accept. One world-renowned ‘philosopher’ would later ‘report’ that Korzybski had claimed here that “1=1 must be false because the two sides of the equation are spatially distinct.”(16) Whoa! This misinterpretation was subsequently quoted with authority by others as representing Korzybski’s views. He got used to having his views distorted like this and often said “I say what I say. I do not say what I do not say.” 

He would also say that in a world of structure, whatever you say something ‘is’ is not it. This led him to advocate avoiding the “is of identity”. It could mask discernible differences between different individuals placed under a single category. It could also obscure important temporal changes in a single individual. This didn’t mean for Korzybski that all versions of the verb “to be” must be eschewed or that we should somehow stop using categories or classifications—the latter impossible for abstracting nervous systems. However, to remain conscious of abstracting when speaking, people somehow had to remember that any individual thing labeled within a classification/category is not exactly the same in all respects to any other thing so labeled. A label is not the thing labeled. A map is not the territory. 

Beside non-identity, the premise of non-allness characterizes any map-language. In the asymmetrical relation between a territory and a map, a territory always contains more than what any map of it could represent. So a map-language about some object-territory cannot cover ‘all’ of the territory it represents. In this light, it appeared futile to try to capture the ultimate ‘essence’ of any object of knowledge with any particular verbal/symbolic formulation. No finite human abstraction can finalistically cover the apparently infinite field of possible knowledge, represented on the Structural Differential by the parabola—the ‘ultimate’ territory. However, the fruitlessness of an aristotelian search for ‘essences’ clearly did not do away with the possibility of any reliable knowledge. Indeed, Korzybski could see that structure constitutes the sole content of knowledge. As he put it in the chapter “On Structure”:
If words are not things, or maps are not the actual territory, then, obviously, the only possible link between the objective world and the linguistic world is found in structure, and structure alone. The only usefulness of a map or a language depends on the similarity of structure between the empirical world and the map-languages. If the structure is not similar, then the traveler or speaker is led astray, which, in serious human life-problems, must become always eminently harmful,. [etc.] If the structures are similar, then the empirical world becomes ‘rational’ to a potentially rational being, which means no more than that the verbal, or map-predicted characteristics, which follow up the linguistic or map structure, are applicable to the empirical world. (17) 
Further exploring these notions, Korzybski formulated the centrality of identification to faulty habits of abstracting. ‘Identity’, as the absolute sameness in all aspects of two or more different individuals (things), does not exist in the world. However, it is possible to identify—to attribute ‘identity’ or ‘sameness’ (overemphasize similarities while ignoring important differences) to different individuals and/or to one individual from one time to another. Identification, equivalent to confusing orders or levels of abstractions (stratified both horizontally and vertically), constituted the chief ‘idol’ to be knocked down through the use of the Structural Differential. (See below.) 
Structural Differential, Vertical and Horizontal Stratifications, S&S, p. 396

With each individual observer, each successive horizontal level of abstraction represented a mapping of the previous level: the object level served to map or provide some similarity of structure to some event level ‘territory’ but is not the event level and does not cover all of that event territory; a lower order verbal description mapped a particular object level experience but is not that object level territory and does not cover all of it; a statement about the previous statement mapped the previous statement but is not the ‘same’ as that statement, i.e., an inference is not a description; et cetera. When you didn’t distinguish these levels, you identified. When you didn’t distinguish your abstractions from those of other observers (other vertical levels), you identified too. You talked and acted as if your map ‘was’ the territory, and could represent ‘all’ of the territory. 

Beside non-identity and non-allness, there was another significant characteristic of the mapping/modeling/abstracting process: self-reflexiveness. You could always make another map about your current map, another statement about the last statement, and go on indefinitely. As Josiah Royce had pointed out, someone in England attempting to produce a ‘perfect’ map of England would have to include ‘all’ of the details of England including himself producing the map of England. And in order to be complete he would have to produce a map of himself producing the map of himself producing the map of England, etc. (The artist Norman Rockwell made a picture of this kind of self-reflexive process in his 1960 painting, Triple Self-Portrait.) This process, infinite in extent, could never be completed. There could be no final, complete map, no last word. 

As a corollary of self-reflexiveness, the existence of a map always implied a map-maker at a date. You could look at the Structural Differential as a highly abstract portrait of yourself the mapmaker—abstractor, knower, etc.—at any given moment. The parabola’s broken-off edges (visual et ceteras)—sometimes also put on the last hanging label—self-reflexively indicated the incompleteness of any abstractions, including the best scientific knowledge at-a-date. Awareness of this could prevent you from treating any particular abstraction as final. You could best approach the seemingly infinite universe by becoming conscious of abstracting, acknowledging the finitude of your abstractions at a date and indefinitely continuing to explore beyond their limits. In this way, you’d more likely continue abstracting afresh instead of staying stuck in your model of the moment. 

‘Knowing’—the “end-product” effect (at a given date) of this self-reflexive process—“must be considered also as a causative psychophysiological factor”(18) in an individual’s and others’ ongoing behavior because of the spiral structure of human knowledge and action. (Linking of the ‘last’ label to the parabola indicated this circular or spiral structure of human knowing.) Self-reflexively acknowledging this spiral character of map-making, and studying the mapmaker, including yourself, could lead to a new level of responsibility in knowing and living. To bring self-reflexiveness into conscious practice in this way involved a different, more conscious use of language. 

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. Keyser 1927, p. 94. 

6. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 61. 

7. Korzybski, “The Brotherhood of Doctrines” in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 43. 

8. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 165. 

9. ‘Identity’ was implied but not directly mentioned in Aristotle’s works. Along with the laws of contradiction and the excluded middle—which Aristotle did explicitly advance—what became known as the aristotelian law of identity (A is A) constituted one of the traditional “laws of thought”. These ‘laws’, interpreted as more than just basic ‘logical’ rules, implied deeply-rooted structural assumptions about the world. 

10. Aristotle, “De Interpretatione” in McKeon, p. 40. 

11. Heraclitus (Philip Wheelwright translation), qtd. in Lakoff and Johnson 1999, p. 359. 

12. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 93. 

 13. Leibniz 1979 (1951), “Mr. Leibniz’s Fourth Paper; Being an Answer to Dr. Clarke’s Third Reply”, p. 228-229. 

14. Wittgenstein 1921, Proposition 5.5303 

15. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p.194–195. 

16. Quine 1960, p. 117. 

17. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 61. 

18. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 12. 

< Part 1      Part 2(a) >

Friday, December 26, 2014

Chapter 37 - Knowledge, Uncertainty, And Courage: 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.

Korzybski had been working on his second book since 1921. From 1930 until the book was finally published in October 1933, he was consumed by the effort to bring it out. Though he traveled a bit (mainly on book-related business), most of the time he could be found in the penthouse studio in Brooklyn. He spent hours upon hours there, reading and writing at his desk. (The writing would include at least a thousand letters—a conservative estimate—mostly related to the book.) Every so often he would get more dismal news from Poland, which reminded him of the need to return as soon as possible in order to sort out his mother’s downward-spiraling business affairs. But what he had hoped would be a relatively short period of time (a number of months) to edit the first draft and get the book out, stretched into four more years. 

Completing the book came in two broad, overlapping phases. First, he had to revise and fill in the content. He didn’t consider that truly done until the fall of 1931. By then, with the substance of the book fairly well in shape, the next phase—further editing, finding someone to publish it, and seeing it into print—had become the major focus.

Mira’s and Maddren’s criticisms notwithstanding, Korzybski didn’t consider what he had written as too bad. Granted the English needed polishing, some of the lengthy chapters needed splitting up, and some of the material could be rearranged. Nonetheless, the first draft had the basic ‘skeleton’ and most of the ‘flesh’ he thought the book required.

But he had to agree it lacked something. A few additional chapters, on colloids and on conditional reflexes, filled in some gaps. But more fundamentally, the integrating sense of the non-aristotelian system that he had in his head hadn’t come through in the manuscript as he had wished. In February, he was struggling with this issue when he had a breakthrough. He wrote at once to Mira, in Florida with her sister:
My dearest one,
At least I have something really important to tell you and for a year or so [for] the first time they are rather cheerful. 
I HAVE SOLVED AT LEAST the problem of the difficulties I had with myself and readers of my MS. You and other had often a feeling of lack of continuity in the book, I COULD NOT RECONCILE myself to this discontinuity, to me it had continuity, yet somehow it must not have been apparent to the reader.  
The solution is structure. The whole book is written from the point of view of structure and I did not make it quite clear. In reading the MS. at present at each page I eliminate here and there some silly word like ‘natural’…etc. and add structural instead. The whole book is getting NEW VIGOR AND NEW GENUINE CONTINUITY, and it looks really cheerful.  
But by Jove it takes some pains to make such one step and see finally the ‘flood of light’…(1)

Korzybski defined structure as a complex of relations consisting of multi-dimensional order. Each term—“structure”, “relation”, “order”—could be circularly defined in terms of the other two (perhaps along with “difference”, “dimension”, etc.). Eventually one reached the un-speakable, non-verbal level, which meant that these terms represented the basic assumptions, the bare-bones metaphysics, of the worldview Korzybski was trying to elucidate: accepting the world and everything in it—ourselves included—as a world of structure, relation, order. Structure (relation, order) had no opposite; although it could be obscured by ignorance.

Although he continued to add to the conditional reflex material for the rest of 1930, “structure” became that year’s main formulational theme in “replenishing” the book. (He used this term because he wasn’t doing much rewriting, but rather adding a word here and there to the text or appending additional remarks to what he had already written.) As an experiment he took his Time-Binding essays and inserted “structure”, “structural”, “structurally” throughout these texts where they seemed suitable. The result impressed him favorably. He wrote about 12 pages on structure for the first chapter of the book. This eventually became a separate chapter “On Structure” and would lead off “Part II, General On Structure”. (He also wrote new material on the related notion of “relation”.) Although he had referred to the notion of structure in the first draft, he now proceeded to go through the manuscript adding “structure”, and the rest wherever they fit. Doing this made it seem to him as if a new book had emerged. By emphasizing structure, the formulational unity of the work had became much more apparent.

In March, Mira (with her sister) returned from Florida. She had had a dearth of portrait business down there (her wealthy patrons were getting tighter with their money). She hoped to do better at Newport, where she planned to go with Amy in a few months. When Alfred showed his new material to her, Mira was pleased. She agreed that it provided some of the continuity that had been lacking in the book. Alfred was pleased too, but he was beginning to feel spent from his labors in the higher realms of abstraction. His ‘head’ had gotten restructured too with the rewriting and he needed a break.

He spent most of April arranging his tools into a nice little machine shop with lathes, motors, etc., in his corner of the apartment. For several weeks he kept happily busy supplementing, fixing, and redesigning equipment so he could more easily do minor wood and metal work, e.g., make anthropometer parts, fix Mira’s jewelry, or make small metal pieces like a multi-shelved equipment caddy he made out of sheet metal added to a small child’s wagon. (The caddy was eventually retrieved from a junk shed in Connecticut by GS writer Robert R. Potter, who gave it to me [BIK]. With a new paint job, it sits by my bedside and works quite well as a nightstand, holding books, tissues, and other such paraphernalia—probably what Korzybski used it for—and still rolling easily from place to place, although it could well be at least 80 years old now.)
Korzybski's Wagon
Alfred had unsettling news near the end of April when he learned of the sudden death of his good friend Jesse Lee Bennett, who had had a heart attack while fighting a fire that broke out on his Arnold, Maryland farm. Despite this blow, overall Alfred felt restored by the time away from his desk. He had hoped to present a complete paper on his work as a “theory of sanity” at the First International Congress on Mental Hygiene in Washington, D.C., being held in May. But even with William Alanson White as the conference organizer, he couldn’t get onto the program. Alfred attended anyway and managed to participate as one of the discussants of a paper given by Dr. Franz Alexander on “Mental Hygiene and Criminology”. Korzybski’s brief remarks were enough to get a number of psychiatrists interested in what he was doing, including Swiss psychiatrist M. Tramer, who began to correspond with him and helped edit the book, and American psychoanalyst Abraham A. Brill, translator of Freud’s and Jung’s work, who later became an honorary trustee of the Institute of General Semantics. Korzybski’s edited remarks were published along with Alexander’s paper in the Proceedings of the Congress, published in 1932.(2) 

Back at his desk, Korzybski continued replenishing the book through the summer. Mira had gone to Newport and he had no distractions. He took another break in September, when he went to Detroit to give a lecture and to Ann Arbor to see Rainich. Then he drove back with Sally Avery through Canada (including Toronto and Montreal) to Newport where he visited Mira, who was planning to come home shortly. After a few days with her, he went on to Cambridge, Massachusetts for several days, where he met with Bridgman, Huntington, Wheeler, Birkhoff, and other Harvard academics interested in his work. Perhaps his most noteworthy meeting was with Alfred North Whitehead, whose writings he so greatly admired, despite their—to him—lingering aristotelianism. Alfred returned to Brooklyn in mid-October and wrote to Keyser :
The main shock, and a joyful one was my meeting with Whitehead. Huntington to whom you introduced me some years ago is always much a helpful and charming man. Knowing that I will visit him he tried to get Whitehead but he was out of town. Then he telephoned in my presence trying to arrange a meeting between us. Well Whitehead knew about me and my work, and was seemingly eager to meet me and invited me for an hour chat to his home. Knowing about my work he asked a lot of very pertinent questions which apparently I answered to his satisfaction. I had the temerity to explain to him the generalized theory of types.  
Of course all my impressions may be mistaken, the more that some results are so unexpectedly simple and solve completely some of the most difficult problems we had in the past, that in short conversations there is always the danger that I may make a fool of myself, although given time I can always make good. (3) 

Whatever trepidations Alfred may have had in the fall of 1930, he felt far enough along with his new, structurally-informed work to present it in three papers which were accepted for presentation at the October 25 meeting of the American Mathematical Society in New York City. He thought he would have 10 minutes for each paper (he had hoped to have 30 minutes altogether to give an overview of his entire system) but the time was shortened to 15 minutes total—hardly enough time to even skim the surface. The abstracts of “On structure”, “A generalized theory of mathematical types”, and “A non-aristotelian system” were published in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society.(4)  They contained the basic framework of his work—a system linking knowledge, uncertainty, and courage.
Abstracts of three presentations by Korzybski at 283rd meeting of
the American Mathematical Society, New York City, Oct. 25, 1930.
From Alfred Korzybski Scrapbook, AKDA 2.676

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. AK to MEK, 2/11/1930. AKDA 28.112 

2. Discussion of “Mental Hygiene and Criminology” by Dr. Franz Alexander at First Interrnational Congress on Mental Hygiene, Washington, D.C., May 1930. Published in Proceedings of the Congress, Vol. 1, pp. 784-786. (New York, 1932). Reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, pp. 159–163. 

3. AK to C. J. Keyser, 10/19/1930. AKDA 22.648–9. 

4. “On structure”, “A generalized theory of mathematical types”, “A non-aristotelian system”. Reprinted in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 182.