Thursday, December 30, 2010

Work In Progress (12/30/2010)

Damned hard to do much weblog posting lately.

My excuse?

Finishing up the biography of Korzybski that I've been working on for the last seven years.

Two days ago I wrote the last sentence of the final chapter.

Today I finished writing Acknowledgements and am starting on Language Notes and Polish Pronunciation Guide. I still have an Introductory Note for the Endnotes Section in the back of the book.

Then we print out the whole manuscript, do the final edit and proofreading before doing the index.

We have a designer and a basic cover design that needs to get done.

And then...gulp...the book will be just about ready to come out.

Korzybski: A Biography due to be published in the Spring of 2011.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Korzybski & GS in India 2010

Here's a report on the third national workshop-cum-seminar on “Alfred Korzybski and His Impact on Language, Communication and Cultural Studies” organized by Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences, Baroda, India and the English and Foreign Languages University, Shillong, India. The workshop took place in Shillong from 25th-27th October, 2010.

Korzybski Conference in India

Monday, December 6, 2010

Quote of the Day- "Humanity"

“Humanity is a peculiar class of life which, in some degree, determines its own destinies; therefore in practical life words and ideas become facts—facts moreover, which bring about important practical consequences.”
———Alfred Korzybski*

* Manhood of Humanity, Second Edition. 1950 (1921), p. 47. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

From the Stray Thought Bin - "...And More Maps"

Some people seem to use the saying "The map is not the territory," as a way to wash out all claims and viewpoints into some kind of tepid equivalency: "It's all just opinions...B.S. ...your narrative...your map...my map...maps all we have...yadda yadda yadda." Post-Modernist Couldn't-Care-Less-ism.

Sure, up to a point, we can't get beyond viewpoints and opinions.  Everything that is said is said by someone—opinions and viewpoints...Maps.

But...

We do presume some 'territory'. (At least I do.) There are 'things' we bump into whether we want to or not.

Some viewpoints provide a better look at a presumed territory. Some opinions seem more useful. We shouldn't be shy. Some maps  give us greater predictability, seem more useful, thus better than others for given purposes in dealing with the 'territories' of life. Including the fact that other  people may operate by dramatically different maps.

We can and should strive for more fruitful viewpoints, more informed opinions, better maps. Which presumes that some maps may be better than others for some purposes. Indeed, yes.

And yes, our maps will still not be the territories they represent—ever. As far as I know.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

From the Stray Thought Bin - "...And Maps"

"The map is not the territory."

"What kind of idiot would say that a map was the territory?"

What kind of idiot would act as if it was? 

Monday, November 29, 2010

From the Stray Thought Bin- "Maps and Maps"

To someone convinced that their map 'is' THE territory, saying that "the map is not the territory" doesn't have to present them with a problem; it just doesn't apply to their map.

Friday, November 12, 2010

From the Stray Thought Bin-New Media

The existence of a new communication medium does not obliterate the need to remain conscious of abstracting. Au contraire—whatever new possibilities Twitter brings, your Tweet is not the territory either.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From the Stray Thought Bin - Dirty Windows

In the old lingo, one’s ‘mind’ mediates one’s knowledge of anything. 

And it seems all too easy for people to treat their ‘minds’ like ‘windows’ which they look through but never see. 

It may not be so easy to get people to see the ‘window’ and to see, among other things, the obscuring, distorting ‘dirt’—some of it language-related—that they've gotten used to ignoring. 

First, you have to look at your own ‘dirty window'— hard work even for the most intelligent. 

From the Stray Thought Bin - Walking the Talking


One has to consciously work to develop a habit of talking differently, 
not just talking about talking differently. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Map and Territory...Again

Another korzybskian echo...


The controversial satirist Michel Houellebecq has won France's top
literary award, the Goncourt Prize, for his book The Map and the
Territory


Houellebecq Wins Top French Book Prize

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

From the Stray Thought Bin- Verbalism

For most of his life he fed on definitions and now he suffered from hardening of the categories. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Count Korzybski"- A Note on the Polish Nobility

Alfred Korzybski was born into an aristocratic Polish family in 1879, a time when the power and prestige of the Polish nobility had already considerably faded. He acquired the title of "Count" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hrabia) from both his mother's and father's side. The Korzybski family in particular, part of the huge Habdank Skarbek clan, traced its noble lineage back to earliest days of the Polish nobility (or szlachta), before the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They remained one of the few families allowed to use the noble title after the Commonwealth was established.Although the szlachta were disappearing as a class by the time of Korzybski's birth, their culture had become inextricably linked with Polish national culture. The culture of the szlachta also left an enduring mark on Korzybski.

Nobility-related norms had gradually filtered into all levels of Polish society to become the basis of what historian Jan Szczepanski called the "traditional Polish personality ideal." Among other things, this ideal consisted of "readiness for the defense of the Catholic faith, readiness for the defense of the fatherland, a highly developed sense of personal dignity and honor, and full-blown individualism, an imposing mien, chivalry, intellectual brilliance, and dash." (1) So brought up in the late 19th Century among what was left of the Polish aristocracy (and from one of the most ancient families), it is not surprising that Korzybski's personal behavior as an adult reflected much of this ideal in action. (Although he had fairly early abandoned the Roman Catholic faith as a value worth defending.)

By the time he began his work in America, Korzybski had generalized the szlachta ethic: He had come to accept the potential 'nobility' of every human. And in tending to consider everyone as his 'noble' equal and himself as theirs, he also tended to treat everyone (whatever his or her credentials, rank, or fame) with equal respect—and equal directness. This appears to have bothered some individuals who seemed to have considered themselves deserving of special deference.

After he came to America, he did not insist on the title although he certainly did not eschew his lineage. Although some people used it as a term of respect when addressing him in letters or referring to his person, some critics found it a reason for suspicion . As Allen Walker Read, a close friend and student of his, noted:
"Being a 'foreigner' (I use quotation marks) also was a disadvantage to him, especially when he had the suspicious title of 'Count'. Lecturers from abroad, like the flamboyant Count Hermann Keyserling, had imposed themselves by self-promotion on American gullibility . Too many German Freiherren had paraded themselves as 'Counts'. (I may say, parenthetically, that Korzybski did not seek out the title 'Count', in spite of the standing of his family in the Polish aristocracy, but it was fostered by his wife, a talented American portrait painter, who believed it was useful to her to be called "Countess Korzybska .")" (2)
Notes
1. Jan Szczepanski. Polish Society, New York: Random House (1970), p. 167

2. Allen Walker Read. "Changing attitudes toward Korzybski’s General Semantics." The Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, 1983. General Semantics Bulletin 51 (1984), p. 16

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Quote of the Day - Science and Schizophrenia

"Generally speaking, the systems of natural science do not differ from schizophrenic systems because of any difference in a desire for a unifying logical integration. The difference lies solely in the treatment of empiric data. With systems of natural science, the empiric data are primary and the theory secondary; at every step the logical implications of the theory are tested empirically, with the theory modified in the light of the empiric observations. With schizophrenic systems, on the other hand, the theory comes first and the facts are selected, defined, and correlated for the sake of buttressing the theory..."* 
——George Kingsley Zipf 

*Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort: An Introduction to Human Ecology, p. 304

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

From The Stray Thought Bin- Delayed Evaluation

defamiliarize

dehabituate

decondition

degree of conditionality

differentiate

differentially activate

disentangle detachment

delight

despair

do it again

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Evaluation, Language and Politics (Democrats, Republicans and...?)

Although I am not a partisan of either major political party, I find this article by George Lakoff ( a fairly adamant liberal Democrat) very interesting because of its general evaluational (semantic) slant. Lakoff is well-known as a cognitive linguist and has written some very interesting books on the broader aspects of how people make 'meanings' and how this relates to behavior, political and otherwise. I think readers of this blog will find his article of interest too.  


But as someone of classical liberal/libertarian/centrist views, I take issue with something which Lakoff puts forth, something which seems rather significant about how he looks at the world. He indicates people are "inconsistent" if they they appear to straddle what he calls the 'liberal' frame and the 'conservative' frame. Perhaps some are. But if  there are more than two frames, people like me may simply have a different frame which may appear inconsistent to those stuck in a two-valued one. Those like Mr. Lakoff? 



Thursday, September 16, 2010

From the Stray Thought Bin-"Humility is Endless"

I am humble.
You are more humble than me.
You are arrogant about your humility.
I am humble about mine.
I guess that makes me more humble than you.
Hmm, I guess that's pretty arrogant of me to think that.
Given that, I feel quite humble now.
Which makes me more humble than you.
Hmm, I seem rather arrogant about my humility.
I guess I should feel some more humility about that.
Now I'm even more humble than I first thought.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Quote of the Day-'The Art of Science'

"After all, science as science is nothing more than scientific method, as has often been remarked; and scientific method is nothing more than an empirically verifiable language. On the other hand, the art of science, like any other art, is a knowledge of the great questions, and the discussion and solution of these questions in terms of a particular kind of social language—the language of empirical verifiability—which to a very considerable extent is acultural. If one will, one may say that the arts include science, whose medium of expression is the language of empirically verifiable operations."
—— George Kingsley Zipf *

*Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort: An Introduction to Human Ecology, pp. 330-331.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Growing Up Sci Fi"

Don Fagen, co-leader of the legendary Jazz-Rock group Steely Dan, has written about the influence that Korzybski's work had on him via his science fiction reading—A.E. Van Vogt, etc.—as a kid growing up in the Fifties. Interesting stuff!  Here's the link:"The Cortico-Thalamic Pause: Growing Up Sci Fi" 


Sunday, August 22, 2010

From The Stray Thought Bin- "Know Thyself!"

"Know Thyself!"
Oh, of course, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Not so fast, it's one of the most difficult tasks you can do.
Really.

"My Dear Russell": Korzybski and Bertrand Russell Part III

Korzybski felt a deep indebtedness to Bertrand Russell for his theoretical insights (for years he kept a small photographic portrait of Russell, along with one of Einstein, on his office wall). The two men carried on an intermittent correspondence for years, eventually meeting face-to-face in 1939 when Russell, in Chicago, came for a brief visit to the Institute of General Semantics to see Korzybski there.

Afterwards, although, their correspondence remained polite, Alfred gradually began to vent more of his frustrations to Russell (it would have been out of character for him not to speak bluntly and Russell had demonstrated that he hadn't bothered much with Korzybski's work). In a lengthy letter to Russell in 1946 (perhaps the last one he wrote to him), Korzybski said: 
"Some of my students in London told me some amusing gossips that my Science and Sanity was so against your grain that you threw the book into the Atlantic. Should this be true, it would be sad news, because your great work in Mathematical Foundations is at the very core of a non-aristotelian revision...Well, my dear Russell, your bloody ‘types’ if translated…and applied in daily life do work…Your behavior and platonic verbal fictions, no matterhow clever, and ‘academic’, are read by few ‘intellectuals’, but they cannot be workable, and so cannot be applied in general education. Yet your ‘types’ gave a formulation in crisp terms. I worked it out in a language applicable to life, and when people are trained in it in childlike terms, which applied even to ‘mentally’ ill it works astonishingly…"(1) 

In a short note Russell told Korzybski that he had heard the story too but assured him but that he had not thrown Science and Sanity into the Atlantic. (2)

Notes
1.  A.K. to Russell, 7/27/1946. IGS Archives. 
2.  B. Russell to A.K., 8/9/[1946]. IGS Archives. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"My Dear Russell": Korzybski and Bertrand Russell- Part II

At the end of his Introduction of Mathematical Philosophy (1919), Russell had presented no remedy for the misleading aspects of ordinary language other than to retreat into the use of logical symbolism. (1) Russell seemed to maintain this attitude throughout his life. Thus when he wasn’t ‘speaking mathematically’ he tended to fall into the ‘traps’ of ordinary language. On the other hand, Korzybski came to accept that language as behavior could be used with skill in order to formulate experience of the world in a different way. Mathematicians seemed notable to Korzybski for their creative use of symbolism and there existed no inherent reason that our everyday language could not be similarly amenable to purposeful change. Since Russell did not accept this, he never understood how Alfred made use of his (Russell’s) work to help people make their everyday language less misleading.

There we have the crux of Korzybski’s problems with Russell. The two men simply had their heads in different places. Korzybski ultimately made clear his rejection of Principia’s logicist program to derive mathematics from logic. On the contrary, he accepted that ‘logic’ derives from mathematics and indeed that all human knowledge and language has a mathematical structure. Methods and symbolism from the recognized discipline of mathematics (including mathematical logic) could be searched to yield baby-like ways to change the structure of ordinary language and experience. In Science and Sanity, he showed how Principia Mathematica’s theory of types fit into a broader theory of human evaluation, bringing Russell’s work down to earth. Russell, a brilliant but impractical theoretician, couldn’t do this, couldn’t recognize that Korzybski had done so, or even that it was possible. Philosopher Bryan Magee who got to know Russell toward the end of the great mathematical philosopher’s life, called him a genius for theory who “treated practical problems as if they were theoretical problems. In fact I do not think he could tell the difference.” (2) Korzybski, with a genius for the practical, even in relation to theoretical issues, didn’t have that problem.

Notes
1.  Russell 1919, p. 205. 
2. Bryan Magee, Confessions of A Philosopher (1997, 1999), p. 210.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Quote of the Day - "New Idea"

"New idea - An old idea that you are hearing for the first time." 
— Jules Berman

"My Dear Russell": Korzybski and Bertrand Russell- Part I

Korzybski had started writing to Bertrand Russell in 1921 right after Manhood of Humanity was published, having sent Russell a copy of the book. He continued writing to Russell on an intermittent basis for many years to come. In his letters to Russell, Alfred—who in a way revered the mathematical logician—always expressed his gratitude to Russell for his work, especially the work in mathematical foundations. [Notice the portraits on the wall behind Korzybski in his Chicago office—Albert Einstein on the left, Bertrand Russell on the right.] Korzybski would send Russell materials and ask for his opinion. Eventually Russell responded, mostly to apologize for not replying to letters in a timely fashion or for not having time to study Korzybski’s work further.

Prior to its 1933 publication, Korzybski had sent him proofs of Science and Sanity. Russell cabled back to him “Your work is impressive and your erudition extraordinary. Have not had time for thorough reading but think well of parts read. Undoubtedly your theories demand serious consideration.” (1) This testimonial was important for Alfred although he had been disappointed that Russell had not been able to study the book more.

Subsequent correspondence years later makes clear that Russell never did take time for a thorough reading. In 1939 he wrote to Korzybski “I should like very much to know about the semantic definition of number that you mention [in a previous letter to Russell].” (2) If Russell had read with any care either the page proofs or the published copy of Science and Sanity that Korzybski sent to him, then he would not have missed Korzybski’s suggested improvement upon Russell’s definition of number, discussed in detail in Chapter XVIII of Science and Sanity and mentioned in various places throughout the book.

Notes
1. B. Russell to Alfred Korzybski (telegram), 4/7/1933. Alfred Korzybski Digital Archives 25.2551
2. B. Russell to Alfred Korzybski, 1/14/1939. Institute of General Semantics Archives.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

From The Stray Thought Bin - Glibness

Glibness can be a gift that masks superficial thought. If you find writing easy, you may not be doing it right.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

July 2010 Update on Korzybski Biography

My wife Susan and I just completed the editing of the first draft of the Korzybski biography that I've been working on for the last six years. That hasn't left me much time for blog posting, for which I apologize. We have some pruning to do as I've written a massive book filled with detail and I want to shorten it as much as I can, without sacrificing the details that people will want, to make it as unintimidating as possible to interested readers. So we are working very hard and hope to have the book out, certainly by this time next year if not earlier.

After reading the first draft manuscript Susan gave a very capable summary of Korzybski's life in two sentences:
"He had a very busy, sometimes too busy, exciting and exhausting life. Then he died."
Measured by today's lifespans he wasn't that old when he died, a few months short of his 71st birthday. But he packed a helluva lot of living into those years. I think readers will be pleasantly surprised about what they learn about Korzybski, what he was aiming for, and his incredible accomplishments. I'll keep you posted on the books progress toward publication, which will be soon.

Friday, July 9, 2010

From the Stray Thought Bin-'Medium and Message'

The medium is the message.
The message the medium.
It's all message, all medium.
All 'happy' and tedium.
Call the media ecologist.

Call the media ecologist.
And watch the show.
Call the media ecologist
And watch the commercial.
What's the show? the commericial?
And how do you know?
Call the media ecologist.

Symbolic environments.
Artificial plants?
Call the media ecologist.
Is it 'real'?
Is it Memorex?
How bad am I hexed?
Call the media ecologist.

Show me the garden.
Show me the bricks.
I'm going to start digging.
I'll build something with sticks.
I'd like to stop talking, the computers, blackberry,
The deluge of info seems all the more hairy,
I'd like it to stop if just for a minute.
There's no way out though,
but just getting through with it.
Call the media ecologist.


I've got to get conscious of what I'm about.
About it about it,
No other way out.
And so in the meantime
Best give out a shout:
CALL THE MEDIA ECOLOGIST!

Friday, July 2, 2010

General Semantics Glossary - 'Multiordinality'

Multiordinality; Multiordinal Terms: recognition that terms can be assigned different 'meanings' depending on the level of abstraction on which they are used; terms can be applied to themselves at different levels of abstraction, taking on different 'meanings'; terms as variables until level of abstraction is specified.

When 'Art' Becomes 'Science' and 'Science' 'Art': Charles Biederman and Alfred Korzybski

In October 1948, Charles Biederman’s long-awaited, lavishly illustrated, 710 page Art As The Evolution of Visual Knowledge appeared. Some people might feel puzzled to find Alfred Korzybski’s ‘general semantics’ linked with ‘art’. But when Biederman gave a copy of his book to Korzybski signed, “To my teacher Alfred Korzybski I dedicate this volume [signed] Charles Biederman”, he didn’t exaggerate; his attendance at Korzybski’s 1938 seminar had made a profound influence on his art and his theory of art. Following Korzybski, he had taken as his motto “Nature is not words.” According to Biederman’s biographer and friend Niel Larsen,
Korzybski’s thinking was far more sophisticated than this simple example suggests, and he proved enormously influential to Biederman, more so than any other single individual save Paul Cezanne...Korzybski’s seminar not only opened Biederman’s eyes to semantics and the scientific method, but it focused his thinking regarding the evolution of western art and started him on the path to writing his own ambitious book,...a project that he anticipated would take him a year or two to complete. It took ten. [Neil Larsen, Dec. 2000. “Charles Biederman: A Brief History.” http://www.charlesbiederman.net/biography.html]
John W. Barnes and Joan Waddell Barnes, husband and wife students of Korzybski, wrote an extensive 18-page review of Biederman’s book, which the Institute printed and distributed as its April 1949 membership mailing. In their analysis, Biederman had presented the function of ‘art’ as a series of statements about and means of orientation toward ‘reality’ and had pointed to the ultimate possibility of a merger of ‘art’ and ‘science’ with other aspects of human culture:
Biederman’s work suggest...the first basic extension which Korzybski’s theories have yet received...‘art’ and ‘science’ must eventually function (and can to a degree, now function) as related methods for our orientation to reality, hence for sanity. (The issues are of course extremely complex. Thus, in one way, when ‘art’ becomes a ‘science’ it will function as another related system within the non-aristotelian-system-as-a-whole. Perhaps this is the significant consideration.)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From The Stray Thought Bin - 'Updating Yourself'

I opened up an Adobe software program I'm learning to use and got the message to check for updates. The updater program began to go through its paces and shortly, the following window appeared on my desktop screen. 


I had to laugh at this multiordinal message as I clicked 'OK'.  

Then I realized that I could take this message as advice. First of all, before I am capable of checking for updates in the world around me, I must update myself.  

I think there's something to that. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Quote of the Day: 'History'

"...Perhaps in the future we may learn more from history than the admitted fact that we have to date learned little from history."
——George Kingsley Zipf
(National Unity and Disunity (1941), p. 404)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Quote of the Day: 'Writing'

"A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
——Thomas Mann

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Quote of the Day: 'Skepticism'

"Skepticism is simply not skeptical enough for my taste—it depends too much on the reification of doubt."
——Billy Vaughn Koen (Discussion of the Method, p. 202)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Quote of the Day - 'Man'

"Man has ever been the greatest puzzle to man."
——Alfred Korzybski (Manhood of Humanity, p. 66)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Korzybski's Books in Two Sentences

In Manhood of Humanity (1921), Korzybski developed a theory of how humans function as a species—time-binding. In Science and Sanity (1933), he elaborated upon the mechanism of time-binding and how an individual could use this mechanism to develop his or her human potential.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Let Us Consider" by Russell Edson

In his poem "Let Us Consider" Russell Edson is talking about us, our human potential for nuttiness and identification (in the korzybskian sense of the term) not just about some 'strange' wackos. You can read in Korzybski's book Science and Sanity about the continuum that he saw from objectification of higher order abstractions, to delusions, to illusions, to hallucinations. You can also read about the fuzzy continuum from 'sane' (and who is fully sane) to unsanity to insanity. I know many so-called 'normal', so-called 'sane' people who are clearly going in the 'wrong' direction along that continuum and are not as far as they think from frying roses and scraping shadows. Some of them have thought of themselves as 'general semanticists'. I, of course, am not excluded from consideration. "Let Us Consider", indeed. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Crack In The Stoics Armor?

In his The Enchiridion, the 1st century C.E. Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote that,
"Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them." [qtd. in Albert Ellis's Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, 1962 (1977), p. 54]
Since I consider the Stoics, important and still relevant predecessors of Korzybski's work, the following opinion piece on Stoicism in this New York Times blog caught my interest. A Crack In The Stoic Armor. I find it a thoughtful piece although I don't believe that the writer, Nancy Sherman characterizes Stoicism accurately. I greatly admire Admiral James Stockdale and have gotten a great deal from his writings and I don't think that his philosophy of life gets adequately summarized by the motto "Suck it up." See some of the subsequent comments on the blog page for other people's reactions to this. Worth reading and pondering.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Note on Martin Gardner

I noticed Martin Gardner's obituary in the NY Times this week and since I've written about his character and career assassination of Korzybski and since he included a letter by me in one of his books (yeah, Martin and I had a little 'love' spat going), I figured I would have to write something here. But I simply haven't had time (until now) in a very stressful and busy week. (It may have been stressful for Martin too, but I'm sure he's not too busy now.)

Any way in the meantime, here's a nice post by TravelMarx, a review of Gardner's first book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science

TravelMarx qualifies as one of the many reasonable and well-intentioned people (so-called skeptics) who were misled by Gardner's writings. Certainly misled about Korzybski. And God knows what else. Gardner certainly defamed and did great harm to the reputation of an important thinker. In my article "In The Name of Skepticism: Martin Gardner's Misrepresentations of General Semantics" I document in detail Gardner's mistakes, misrepresentations, exaggerations, and yes, down-right lies. He wasn't a fool. He had to realize that he was telling some real stretchers, as Mark Twain used to put it. Here's the link to the article published in the General Semantics Bulletin in 2004: "In The Name of Skepticism: Martin Gardner's Misrepresentations of General Semantics"

When I first wrote the article, I offered it to Michael Shermer the Editor of Skeptic magazine, for publication. He told me that Korzybski and General Semantics are dead issues. Well I don't think so. And I don't think that ignoring my well-documented and well-argued case for Gardner's serious lack of skepticism says very much for those who identify themselves as 'skeptics' and embrace Gardner and his methods. I don't deny that Gardner wrote and did many good things. But my article gets to the root of some serious rot at the core of the skeptic movement and it would be a healthy thing for leaders and followers of that movement to fess up to Gardner's serious mistakes. It remains an open question for me, who else if anyone did Gardner malign in his lifelong campaign 'in the name of science?'

Thursday, May 27, 2010

From The Stray Thought Bin - 'Committment'

Anthropologist Margaret Mead is said to have said,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Well, I don't know if that's the only thing.
I would certainly add that a small group of committed people with an inadequate grasp of what's going on, can thoughtfully and royally foul things up beyond all recognition.

'Words, Music, Movement'

"The same idea can be expressed in words, in music, in movement"

There are extraordinary people who can conceive an idea in more than one kind of symbolic ingredient or "letters" and can even choose their own formulation, in whatever com­prehensive structure they feel at ease with, whether words, numbers, colors, tones, or whatever.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslav is said to have declared that if people were able really to hear his teaching, the melody as well as the words, the dance of it, they would be released from the bondage of reality.

In other words, the same idea can be expressed in words, in music, in movement.

There is a basic ground for correspondence of things, a fundamental unity behind the variety of modes of expression or symbols.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From In the Beginning, p. 188, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


You may view the latest post at
http://arthurkurzweil.com/2010/05/the-same-idea-can-be-expressed-in-words-in-music-in-movement/

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From The Stray Thought Bin - Postponing Procrastination

When I delay doing something I 'postpone' it. When I do it now, am I 'poning' it? If I'm not procrastinating, am I 'crastinating'? Hmm, I think I'm having a Carlinian moment.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Quote of the Day - Folly

"A person does not commit a transgression unless a spirit of folly enters into him."
—Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sotah

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Steinbeck on Consciousness of Abstracting

From The Log From The Sea Of Cortez:
The safety-valve of all speculation is: It might be so. And as long as the might remains, a variable deeply understood, then speculation does not easily become dogma, but remains the fluid creative thing it might be. Thus, a valid painter, letting color and line, observed, sift into his eyes, up the nerve trunks, and mix well with his experience before it flows down his hand to the canvas, has made his painting say, "It might be so." Perhaps his critic, being not so honest and not so wise, will say, "It is not so. The picture is damned." If this critic could say, "It is not so with me, but that might be because my mind and experience are not identical with those of the painter," that critic would be the better critic for it, just as that painter is a better painter for knowing he himself is in the pigment.

We tried always to understand that the reality we observed was partly us; the speculation, our product. And yet if somehow, "The law of thought must be the law of things," one can find an index of reality even in insanity. [p. 265, Viking Press, 1951]

Korzybski and Psychedelia - The 13th Floor Elevators*

They came out of the heart of Texas inspired by Korzybski and L.S.D—one of the first of the psychedelic rock bands of the 1960s. They had a singer Roky Erickson, who had the vocal range of a Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger rolled-into-one. Tommy Hall, who—inspired by his study of Nietzsche, Gurdjieff, Korzybski, and others—wrote many of the lyrics, played an amplified jug (that strange rhythmical 'tooka-tooka-tooka' sound you can hear in the background).

Here's a quote from the liner notes—that Tommy Hall wrote—from their first album "The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators":
"Since Aristotle, man has organized his knowledge vertically in separate and unrelated groups -- Science, Religion, Sex, Relaxation, Work etc. The main emphasis in his language, his system of storing knowledge, has been on the identification of objects rather than on the relationships between objects. He is now forced to use his tools of reasoning separately and for one situation at a time. Had man been able to see past this hypnotic way of thinking, to distrust it (as did Einstein), and to resystematize his knowledge so that it would all be related horizontally, he would now enjoy the perfect sanity which comes from being able to deal with his life in its entirety.
Recently, it has become possible for man to chemically alter his mental state and thus alter his point of view (that is, his own basic relation with the outside world which determines how he stores his information). He can restructure his thinking and change his language so that his thoughts bear more relation to his life and his problems, therefore approaching them more sanely. It is this quest for pure sanity that forms the basis of the songs on this album."
Now take a roller coaster trip here with the Elevators. Come on let it happen to you:


Friday, May 7, 2010

From The Stray Thought Bin - 'Progress'

It will be a big step toward human progress to learn how not to become victims of human progress.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Buckminster Fuller on Alfred Korzybski

Buckminster Fuller had at least one meeting with Alfred Korzybski, probably sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s in Chicago. Each man certainly knew of the others' work, although there is no evidence that either man had much influence on the other.

I see Fuller and Korzybski as important 'fellow travelers' on the ever-ascending spiral path of human knowledge and development. Although both had an engineering mentality (not separating knowledge and practice) they had somewhat different concerns. Whereas Fuller (like L. L. Whyte) sought comprehensive knowledge of the structure of the universe in order to develop universal design principles; Korzybski designed universal methods of evaluation based on a comprehensive search to understand the structure of human knowledge. Fuller focused on what is and can be known about the world, though not entirely neglecting the knower. Korzybski focused on what could be known about the knower, not neglecting what is and can be known about the world. If, as Fuller and Korzybski both knew, there exists no known without a knower, Fuller's work and Korzybski's concerns meet somewhere 'in the middle', along the hyphened continuum between the two.

After Korzbyski died in 1950, Fuller joined the teaching staff of the Institute of General Semantics, lecturing for several years at the IGS summer seminar-workshops. In the "Introduction" of his book Synergetics, he had some words to say about Korzybski.
The human brain is a physical mechanism for storing, retrieving, and re-storing again, each special-case experience. The experience is often a packaged concept. Such packages consist of complexedly interrelated and not as-yet differentially analyzed phenomena which, as initially unit cognitions, are potentially reexperienceable. A rose, for instance, grows, has thorns, blossoms, and fragrance, but often is stored in the brain only under the single word-rose.
As Korzybski, the founder of general semantics, pointed out, the consequence of its single-tagging is that the rose becomes reflexively considered by man only as a red, white, or pink device for paying tribute to a beautiful girl, a thoughtful hostess, or last night's deceased acquaintance. The tagging of the complex biological process under the single title rose tends to detour human curiosity from further differentiation of its integral organic operations as well as from consideration of its interecological functionings aboard our planet. We don't know what a rose is, nor what may be its essential and unique cosmic function. Thus for long have we inadvertently deferred potential discovery of the essential roles in Universe that are performed complementarily by many, if not most, of the phenomena we experience. But, goaded by youth, we older ones are now taking second looks at almost everything. And that promises many ultimately favorable surprises. The oldsters do have vast experience banks not available to the youth. Their memory banks, integrated and reviewed, may readily disclose generalized principles of eminent importance.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Kodishes Celebrate

I may not have quite reached the time to break out the champagne but after 5 and 1/2 years of researching and writing, I completed the manuscript of my biography of Korzybski tonight.

Jacques Barzun has said that "When the first draft is done, the back of the book will be broken."

This qualifies as at least a second, not the first draft since every chapter has gone through revision and rewriting already. However, now I can look at the book as a whole, and editing each part in relation to that whole will now lead to a new phase of revision, etc. Whatever obstacles lie ahead, I really do feel that I've reached a milestone. 'The back of the book' is indeed broken.

Calloo, Callay!!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quote of the Day - 'Sanity'

"Quisnam igitur sanus? Qui non stultus."

(Who then is sane? The one who is not a fool.)
—Horace

from The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations: The Illiteratis Guide to Latin Maxims, Mottoes, Proverbs, and Sayings

Friday, April 9, 2010

Logicomix, Science, and Sanity

I consider Logicomix a very important book for anyone who wants to begin to understand some of the important people and issues in the foundations of mathematics that profoundly influenced Alfred Korzybski in his work.

And it turns out that in its treatment of the relationship between 'logic', 'mathematics', and 'sanity', Logicomix comes close to some of Korzybski's most central concerns about mathematics, science, and sanity. Indeed Korzybski's work seems like 'the elephant in the room' in the story—not mentioned by name, perhaps not even recognized, but all-pervasive. For no one treated the relation of mathematics and science to human 'sanity' with greater depth and seriousness than Korzybski.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Korzybski on the 'Almighty' and the Cosmos


In the spring of 1949, Alfred Korzybski and his confidential secretary, student and colleague, Charlotte Schuchardt [later, Read] were in New York City, working to prepare the Second Edition of his first book Manhood of Humanity for publication, including preparing a new introduction, a piece of writing that Korzybski considered of extreme importance for conveying a proper understanding of his entire body of work. The notion of time-binding, brought forth in Manhood, had become more significant to him in the last few years, and he sought more than ever now to show how his subsequent work came out of that foundational formulation.

In April before tackling the introduction (he had already written several drafts over the last year), he and Charlotte were preparing new appendices, making corrections, choosing paper, etc. for the printer. And Alfred was putting the finishing touches on a piece he had written the year before, his 'Credo', "What I Believe," which he had written for an Indian anthology, and which he planned to use as Appendix VI in the new edition.

How did Korzybski work? Through reading and research—including self-observation, he had developed an understanding of the role of unconscious processes in creation and discovery, which he consciously applied to his own creative work. His process of writing usually involved a lot of preliminary out-loud formulating, spitting things out in writing, and multiple rounds of editing, re-writing and that ‘g-d de-lousing’ (close proof-reading to correct spelling, grammar, typos, etc.). During any part of this process—even after mostly completing a piece of work—he might return to talking out various issues in order to refine what he wanted to say. And he preferred to have someone to talk things out to. During the writing of Manhood of Humanity and Science and Sanity, his wife Mira had fulfilled that role, which had long since descended onto Charlotte—Korzybski’s amanuensis. His formulating might lead into areas that would never reached print; although some interesting digressions could also lead to new and important insights to bring out. As she took dictation, part of Charlotte’s job involved helping Alfred to corral his ‘thoughts’ with queries, questions, and doubts.

Whether they reached print or not, her notes from these sessions—which Charlotte would sometimes type up from the penciled, partly-shorthand dictations she had taken—reveal some interesting formulational byways. On April 17, while they were finishing up work on the ‘Credo’, Alfred talked about matters of religion and cosmology. Charlotte took notes. His 'thoughts' although in need of further development, remain suggestive. :
AK: 4/17/49 re. Credo
Re.: We being the ‘builders of our own destinies’.

Suppose we do discover some day an ‘almighty’. Still it will remain our knowledge of it, never it. By understanding that ‘eventual’ ‘almighty’ we will be able to adjust ourselves to ‘him’ (we shouldn’t say ‘him’). We have to adjust ourselves to the conditions at hand.

The essence of our knowledge depends on self-reflexiveness. Cannot avoid it. The secret of humanity is connected with the nebula, cosmic dust, the character of which is not known.

We learn from astronomers that there are inter-stellar dark bodies. Assumption is they are ‘cosmic dust’. Personally I believe that as we are made of atoms, bombarded all the time by cosmic rays, and what not, the supreme mystery, beyond our understanding, is the structure of the atom. The whole trick about humanity and life is self-reflexive, is a higher order structure.

The secret of life and the universe and humanity is the secret of the atom. Humans are the end product of that extremely complex organization.

Why should there be spiral nebulae?

We record the end process of living because we feel it.

We have to forget anthropomorphisms. So far religions built in the image of man. We are a tiny bit of sensitive combination of atoms.

We are accustomed to the nearest milky way, which has a definite shape for millenniums. A spiral nebula is an incredible freak (of course it cannot be a freak). Far as we know, there are a great many universes, and the other universes have approximately the structure of our solar system.

A ‘supreme power’ is there – no two two’s about it. But we don’t know the character.

We can only discover the structure, never the it.

The statement: ‘Has the universe a purpose?’ is anthropomorphic. The only thing we can say is it ‘was, is, and will be’. We are still too anthropomorphic. To answer that this universe is finite or infinite – neither makes sense. I would say, ‘stop talking non-sense’.

For example, you will never discover in actuality 3.1415…….

The calendar business [they had recently had a visit from Elizabeth Acheilis, a wealthy lady whom Mira had years before become friendly with and done a portrait of, who had dedicated her life and fortune to world calendar reform]: nothing is regular, there are cycles in this world where length of days, months or years – theoretically the calendar is never permanent.

There is no explanation of how this world could happen. Whatever you say, it makes not sense.

The first thing is to formulate the question so that the question would make sense.

It may be, life is as old as the solar system and the universe. This looks definitely reasonable. Viruses – life, not life – coming in cosmic rays. I cannot imagine this universe devoid of life. Life happened to be a rather rare phenomena. But the viruses – to me this world was, is and will be, life is bound to have happened an infinite number of times. Where life dropped – in favorable or unfavorable conditions. Random. This applies the theory of evolution to the universe.

Eternal transformation solidified stars. Collisions. We know from astronomy. Life must have existed. We cannot imagine the beginning or the end. (1)
Notes
(1). [Notes of 4/17/1949 taken by Charlotte Schuchardt. "AK- Re.: We being the 'builders of our own destinies'." IGS Archives.]

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Quotes from Time-Binding: The General Theory 1924

In Korzybski's 1924 and 1926 Time-Binding lectures he first set forth the theory that later became known as 'general semantics'. He had each lecture printed when he first delivered it. Later, in 1949, the Institute of General Semantics published them together in one booklet which remained on the Institute publication list for many years. Later, they were both included in Korzybski's Collected Writings. They are well worth reading, indeed remain necessary reading for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of Korzybski's work. As a 'teaser' I'm including a few quotes here from the 1924 paper, that I have underlined in my copy of the Collected Writings[Available from the Institute of General Semantics]. The quotes show the vigor of expression—more typical than not—of Korzybski's prose:
All human knowledge is conditioned and limited, at present, by the properties of light and human symbolism.

The theory of relativity has established another fact, that all we know and may know is a "joint phenomenon" of the observer and the observed.

Man to be a man and think as a man must be a relativist, which is an inevitable consequence of the application of correct symbolism to facts. He knows that he does not know, but may know indefinitely more, that his knowledge is only limited by his own ingenuity and nothing else.

Gross empiricism is a delusion, and he who professes it as a creed is probably more mistaken than the old metaphysicians were.

A "knowing class of life" begins with "knowing," therefore, scientific method and science is not a luxury for the privileged few; it is the very thing which differentiates "Smith's" "thinking" from Fido's "thinking." The consciousness of abstracting which is so fundamental for man, is the awareness of a faculty, and in this special case we can use this faculty only when we are aware that we have it.

He who accepts uncritically the vocabulary made by X, accepts unwillingly and unbeknowingly X's metaphysics. This fact is of very great importance. If we accept the vocabulary made by X and the metaphysics made by Y, we are lost in inconsistency, the world is an ugly mess, unknown and unknowable.

We see that, as the structure of the atom is reflected in a grandiose manner in the structure of the universe, so is the structure of the knowledge of the individual man reflected in the collective knowledge of mankind called science, and vice versa.

Man is ultimately a doctrinal being. Even our language has its silent doctrines, and no activity of man is free from some doctrines, so that the kind of metaphysics a man has, is not of indifference to his world outlook and his behavior.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Korzybski's Trouble-Shooting Life

Korzybski took hardly a day off; then only, it seems, when forced by exhaustion or illness. He was mainly speaking for himself, when he told Ken Keyes in 1947 that,
"We just work and work and work. No rest for the wicked, Saturday or Sunday….We have some years ago discovered that once a week we simply have to take one day off completely. Simply we are dull the next week, and unfortunately as far as I am concerned, it turns out that I never have a Saturday or Sunday. When the weekend comes, then I have to start on something else to work, but occasionally I am just dead. Naturally." [Keyes Document, pp. 420-421]
Such devotion to work in his later years was not anything new, of course. He had always devoted himself with extra measure to whatever task he had set before him. And from his childhood on the farm at Rudnik when he was told “Alfred, do it!” and began to sort out troubles there among the peasants, soldier workers, horses, etc.; he functioned as a trouble-shooter.

His engineer father had given Alfred—5 or 6 years old— ‘the feel of the calculus’, a sense of the world as a dynamic net of relationships, fascinating to explore, at least partly understandable, and—however imperfectly—changeable for the better. Well before engineering school, he learned an engineer’s way of approaching troubles: to observe and study, figure out possible mechanisms, fiddle around to see what worked to get desired changes—and continue to observe, figure and fiddle along the way as conditions changed and you refined your methods. Continuing to develop his trouble-shooting skills, he had gotten through engineering school at Warsaw Polytechnic; and traveled in Europe; then managed his family’s properties; all the while studying on his own and contemplating the state of science, technology and the society around him in the Poland of Tsarist Russia.

By the time World War I broke out, he had gotten rather good at trouble-shooting. The ‘Great War’ would give him a lot more practice; first on the Eastern Front gathering wartime intelligence for the Russian Army; then in Canada and the U.S. working at Camp Petawawa, and in shipyard and factory, and traveling and speaking for the Polish-French Army and the U.S. Fuel Administration. Marrying portrait painter Mira Edgerly, another ‘work-a-holic’, and inspired by her idealistic devotion to spreading the golden rule; he’d decided that human stupidity (which he wasn’t exempt from himself) had entered significantly into the troubles he’d observed and experienced, including the waste of the war that sickened the both of them. Mira’s idealism needed grounding to bring her vision of peace into practice. From an engineering, trouble-shooting point-of-view, Alfred considered that this required understanding the nature and possibilities of human intelligence—the dynamics of human stupidity and human achievement. Digging to the core of this, he finally wrote Manhood of Humanity in white heat.

We humans needed to understand ourselves as time-binders, whose accumulative capacity to benefit from and build upon the experiences of others could be quashed or encouraged, held back or set free. His subsequent 12-year effort to explain the mechanisms of time-binding—culminating in Science and Sanity— aimed at a practical goal: to develop teachable methods to nurture time-binding to help people solve their practical problems—not just their scientific and professional ones, but their personal ones as well. Indeed, his research in the mid-1920s at St. Elisabeths, the Federal Psychiatric Hospital in Washington, D.C., and his study of psychiatry and the continuum of ‘insane’ to ‘unsane’ to ‘sane’ behavior, highlighted for him the prime importance of dealing with this personal aspect.

After publishing Science and Sanity, when he began to teach what he had developed, eventually founding the Institute of General Semantics; he remained in the trouble-shooting business, working with individual students. He described this work in terms of translation:
“…you have personal difficulties….And what I do I translate…your life history which I supposedly know into the new terms, but I date, I index and date.” [Keyes Document 1947, pp. 419-420]
It seemed all so simple but in practice oh so difficult. If he got satisfaction from his seemingly endless work, it also had its dark, unhappy aspects:
"I went through life watching the human immaturity, the human stupidity. And I am still doing that. Of course in a way, it’s a peaceful occupation, in a way. From another point of view, it’s a sad one. If things don’t look cheerful [it’s] just because I deal with human stupidity, lack of sanity, which does not mean insanity. We are dealing with problems which are on the borderline of the change of the tempo of one phase of human civilization to another. And I was the observer and from observation I got formulation how to handle that increasingly impossible situation." [Keyes Document 1947, p. 420]

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

From The Stray Thought Bin - 'Certainty'

Second-order certainty of uncertainty seems most certain. I'm fairly certain of that.

'Breaking Through'


In August 1947, the Institute of General Semantics had just become a membership organization and Alfred Korzybski sent a letter to new members. It nicely summed up what he wanted to accomplish with his work. His simple words can still serve as useful guidance for those of us who wish to continue upon the path he pioneered:
Dear Students and Friends:

In 1941 I wrote in my introduction to the Second Edition of SCIENCE AND SANITY: ‘Present day scientific researches and historical world developments show there is not doubt that the old aristotelian epoch of human evolution is dying. The terrors and horrors we are witnessing in the East and the West are the death-bed agonies of that passing epoch. …A non-aristotelian re-orientation is inevitable; the only problem today is when, and at what cost.’

‘Young birds,’ wrote Tolstoy, ‘..know very well when there is no longer room for them in the eggs’, nor ‘…can the fledgling be made to re-enter its shell.’ It often happens that the beak of the little bird is too soft or the shell is too hard, and the result is a rotten egg, utilized sometimes in political debates.

Whitehead said, more abstractly, ‘A civilization which cannot burst through its current abstractions is doomed to sterility after a very limited period of progress. …almost any idea which jogs you out of your current abstractions may be better than nothing.’

Our human shell of habits and prejudices is very hard and our old aristotelian beaks are not strong enough for us to emerge to mature and fuller life. In my work I tried to forge a method to break through the confining shell, but one man’s effort is not enough. My co-workers and I need your help, now.

We live in a period of socio-cultural spasms, and we as individuals must unite in a concerted effort toward more maturity, to bring about the eventual ‘manhood of humanity’.

August, 1947 Warmly, yours as ever
A Korzybski
Director
(Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings: 1920–1950, p. 585)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ben Hauck's Off The Map

My friend Ben Hauck, has just started a new GS-related weblog called "Off The Map." I wish him the best in constructive formulating. Speaking of formulating, he has some interesting formulations about the terms, 'formulating' and 'concept' in the course of which he quotes me. Here's the link: "What's the Big Deal About the word "concept"? A Big Deal No Longer Check out Ben's site. I've got a permanent link to it on my Blog-Link LIst on the right and will make sure to have a look on a regular basis.

Jacque Fresco on GS and the Future of Education

Interesting reference to GS on a Website about something called "The Venus Project" put together by Jacque Fresco, a social visionary who wrote a book a long time ago with Ken Keyes, Jr., a former student of Alfred Korzybski. Fresco wrote:
"Education should be more than the presentation of many facts to be memorized by students. The first aspects of an innovative education should have an emphasis on communication and the ability to resolve and avoid conflicts. This can be accomplished though an exposure to general semantics."
You can read the rest here: Jaque Fresco on the Future of Education

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Korzybski and the Battle of Los Angeles

In 1942, Alfred Korzybski traveled from Chicago to began a three-weekend seminar in Los Angeles on February 14. Befor the trip, he had written to Institute of General Semantics benefactor Cornelius Crane saying, “I am personally convinced that for nuisance sake Los Angeles will be bombed.” Indeed, he arrived there just in time to experience the most remarkable episode of ‘bombing’ on U.S. soil in the Second World War.

He and the Institute's Associate Director M. Kendig had gotten to the city by train several days before. He hadn’t felt enthusiastic about coming. Increasingly affected by his war injuries, traveling had become more bothersome. And although financially the Institute would come out slightly ahead, the considerable expenses and the time away from home, made him wonder about the worthwhileness of the trip. But the group of Los Angeles students, who organized this weekend series and another intensive in March, had been insistent. (Another group of students in San Francisco had organized a two-weekend seminar in Berkeley in April to follow.) Things seemed to be going well enough, though with the lectures and the personal interviews and whatever other appointments he had, he felt extremely pressed for time—in other words, not so different from his usual slave-driving of himself.

He had a suite at the Wilshire Arms Hotel, the site of the seminar. Alfred had the parlor that served as his bedroom and office with a bed in the wall and a table for his desk. The actual bedroom had two beds for Kendig, and for Charlotte Schuchardt who’d be coming out in a few weeks to replace Kendig as his assistant for the seminar. With a dinette and small kitchen, he found the place comfortable enough. He felt happy to have a small electric heater for his room to supplement the room heat. (He tended to get cramps in his legs if he didn’t stay warm enough and it could get surprisingly chilly in Southern California at this time of year.) With the lecture room in the hotel, he felt grateful that he didn’t have to commute elsewhere to teach since he tended to get breathless—apparently related to his ‘busted gut’, i.e., hernia—when he walked too much or got otherwise overexerted.

With a great deal of ongoing Institute business to take care of, Kendig returned to Chicago a few days after Charlotte’s arrival on February 26. Charlotte just missed by a day the ‘Battle of Los Angeles’, which had begun and ended on the morning of February 25.

A few days before, a Japanese submarine had surfaced off shore from Santa Barbara and shelled an oil facility there, about 100 miles along the coast north of Los Angeles. Although only minor damage occurred, Southern California—which had oil depots, airplane factories, and shipping facilities galore—had gone on alert. Then, in the early morning hours of February 25, something or things happened in the sky. Who and how many saw whatever happened does not seem clear. Police had reports of from one to 100 unidentified objects—Japanese aircraft?—flying along the coast from Santa Monica to Long Beach. Sirens blared to signal a blackout. Anti-aircraft batteries began firing (over 1,400 rounds) into the sky at the invaders. The ruckus likely awakened Korzybski in his downtown Los Angeles hotel room. Perhaps, he looked outside to see the ‘light’ show as did many people in Los Angeles.

Before the alert was over, five hours later, according to a newspaper account “Thirty persons, twenty of whom were Japanese, were arrested; two persons were killed in traffic accidents during the blackout and at least two houses were damaged by shells which had failed to explode in the air. Shrapnel which fell like hail in some sections broke windows and caused other minor damage.” Nonetheless, if there had been Japanese planes—if there had been any planes at all—they didn’t seem to have dropped any bombs.

No one in authority seemed to know what happened—or rather ‘everyone’ in authority seemed to be saying that different things had happened. While Henry Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War, praised the successful defense of Los Angeles by local military and civilian defense, Navy Secretary Frank Knox declared that the whole thing had resulted from “a false alarm”. Korzybski seemed confident, based on reports from one of his students involved in Los Angeles area civil defense, that the Japanese Imperial Air force had made its presence known. But after the war, the Japanese denied any wartime mission at this time to Southern California. One thing seemed clear, a little over two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, people had gotten very nervous. And shooting into the sky at unidentified flying objects and having different authorities giving different stories, were not going to do much to reduce the nervousness or to improve wartime morale.

Monday, March 1, 2010

60th Anniversary of Korzybski's Death


Today, March 1, 2010 marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Korzybski— as Sam Bois said, one of 'les grands coeurs' or 'great hearts' of civilization.

He died early in the morning of March 1, having collapsed on the evening of the day before while working at his desk. The details of his death, of considerable interest, take up much of the first chapter of my biography of him, a chapter which covers the last day of his life. In general terms, his associate, M. Kendig, wrote soon after his death about what happened:
The circumstances of his death, it so happened, were symbolic of his life and work. In working with students, he exhibited a tremendous power of caring about any individual bit of humanity before him. He was continuously aware that some infantile evaluation he might be struggling to change in an individual mirrored a symptom from the social syndrome. He spent the last few hours of his life at his desk working on such a problem. (1)
Finding out the details of what happened took a bit of detective work on my part. I uncovered a dramatic story. But I'm not going to tell it here. You'll have to read the book.

In the meantime, let's drink a toast to the memory of Alfred Korzybski. May his memory endure and the work he began continue and prosper.

(1) Kendig, M. "A Memoir: Alfred Korzybski & His Work" General Semantics Bulletin 3 (1950), Institute of General Semantics. pp.3-11. Reprinted in Manhood of Humanity, Second Edition.