It is my privilege and pleasure to introduce this second essay by new contributing editor Don Steehler. He happened on to the SynEARTH.network in early April and has quickly identified with the worldview of synergic science. Since then, he has read Korzybski’s Manhood of Humanity and quickly understood the power of the metaphors “space-binding” and “time-binding“.
In this morning’s essay, he integrates his new knowledge of Korzybski’s work with his own knowlege base. Enjoy!
Thinking Out Loud with Korzybski, Fox and Bronowski
In the Introduction to The Manhood of Humanity, Korzybski uses the distinction between an arithmetical progression and a geometrical progression as a means for distinguishing space binding from time binding. Korzybski’s graphical representation of arithmetical progression:
reminded me of something I had read earlier – Chapter 9 (“Consciousness Out of Context“) in Robin Fox ‘s The Search for Society. Here is an excerpt from Fox’s discussion which reminds me of Korzybski:
So, I return to my point that these `progressive’ changes are illusory: they are merely oscillations about a point-swings of the pendulum further and further away from that naggingly persistent, irrational, but totally human central condition or basic state that is the community fitted to our environment of evolutionary adaptation.
THE DECLINE OF THE WEST
Where, in time, is this basic state to be found? The answer is straightforward: in the Late Paleolithic, some fifteen to forty thousand years ago. It is really that simple. We were fully formed modern Homo sapiens sapiens ; we had reached the top of the food chain—we were doing quite a bit better than the other carnivores. Then, with a frightening rapidity, it all began to go wrong—or to go ‘too far,’ as Bell would have it. Population was squeezed into the Middle East and southwestern Europe by the ice, and the unprecedented social density thus created led to a burst of self-conscious activity evidenced by the fantastic art of the period (Bell’s ‘search for order in art’?). Hot on the heels of this came the warm interglacial in which we are still living (and which has almost run its course), and the first of the violent oscillations happened—the domestication of plants and animals. After that, the swings of the pendulum went on, sometimes at a leisurely pace, sometimes wildly. At the points between the wildest swings,we get the most terrible upheavals and carnage; and each huge swing has the effect of sending the pendulum wildly off in another direction. The only progress’ in this view is the cumulative ability to indulge in even wilder and more rapid swings, aided by technology and rationality.
These swings are roughly illustrated in the accompanying diagram. The `upward’ movement is merely chronological and does not imply progress, except as cumulative technological change. Also, the extremes of the swings are simply my own highly condensed judgements; other observers will stress different ways in which the swings went (or will go) too far. For example, under blanket headings like Feudalism and Industrialism all the effects of these new systems of production have to be included. Thus, I have not included Industrial Capitalism or Socialism or Welfare Liberalism, and so forth under Industrialism, since these are all effects of the industrial revolution. Nor have I added refinements like Monopoly Capitalism or Multinational Corporations or Imperialism since these again are subdivisions of the more general headings. Again, the major wars I have indicated are those that have reflected or led to features of the major shifts. Thus the Fall of Rome and the Barbarian Invasions led to Feudalism; the Franco-Prussian War (see Michael Howard’s excellent description of it) and the American Civil War reflect the impact of Steam Power which led to railways, and the `nation in arms’: universal conscription in France; the dominance of Ideology in America. These were the first great modern wars.
It should also be remembered that many cultures did not participate in these shifts, at least until the Western powers forced the results onto them. It can be argued that the picture is Euro-centered. True. We are not here presenting a scheme of world history, but a map of the major swings of the `progressive’ pendulum, and these mostly took place in Europe after the Middle Ages; a fact that has obsessed modern social science. We cannot help but be centered on the West, and in consequence on the decline of the West, for this is where the pendulum did its latest and most damaging swinging. Bell is only pointing the way to another such swing, and at the same time realizing that something human is here being denied. I guess that all I want to do is keep calling attention to this humanity and to plead against its denial. If we can’t go back to the `Paleoterrific’ then perhaps we can at least drop the nonsense about progress and rationality and start thinking about how we can serve that stubborn human core within the context of the inhuman super society. Perhaps it is only marginally possible. But it certainly won’t be possible at all if we don’t recognize the problems.
Fox’s account of the “pendulum swings” appears to capture the same thought that Korzybski expresses as the arithmetical progression of society. Fox is a well-informed, capable social scientist; he also seems to have arrived at a pessimistic conclusion about human society. Here is an excerpt of the concluding section of his essay:
|WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US |
On balance? Taking a hard look at the situation I am more pessimistic than optimistic. The brain is in some ways its own worst enemy. Its capacity for illusion and self delusion, while an evolutionary advantage to `primitive’ hunters (as Carveth Read saw in 1920), turns into a terrifying suicidal capacity in (post) industrial society. No wonder people turn again to cults, to astrology, to magic, to hedonistic forgetfulness, and to socialism. Socialism is, in its way, yet another cry for a return to the communal ethic. But it fails because like our other modern social philosophies it operates totally within the confines of history and even of industrial history. It has not—except in the insignificant agrarian and anarchistic versions—anything better to offer than more and more industrial progress, with a more equitable sharing of the products of the rape of the earth. It is a prisoner of the assumptions of progress and a leading example of the power of technological hubris. It holds out millenarian hope, and people will cling to this as they cling to the possibility of intervention by benevolent aliens. Both are about as likely to succeed in saving us from ourselves.
Since the beginnings of civilization we have known that something was wrong: since the Book of the Dead, since the Mahabharata, since Sophocles and Aeschylus, since the Book of Ecclesiastes. It has been variously diagnosed: the lust for knowledge of the Judaic first parents; the hubris of the Greeks; the Christian sin of pride; the Confucian disharmony with nature; the Hindu/Buddhist overvaluation of existence. Various remedies have been proposed: the Judaic obedience; the Greek stoicism; the Christian brotherhood of man in Christ; the Confucian cultivation of harmony; the Buddhist recognition of the oneness of existence, and eventual freedom from its determinacy. None of them has worked. (or as the cynic would have it,none of them has been tried.) The nineteenth century advanced the doctrine of inevitable progress allied to its eighteenth-century legacy of faith in reason and human perfectibility through education. We thought, for a brief period (`recent history’!) that we could do anything. We can’t. But it comes hard to our egos to accept limitations after centuries of `progress.’ Will we learn to read those centuries as mere blips on the evolutionary trajectory? As aberrantly wild swings of the pendulum? As going too far? Will we come to understand that consciousness can only exist out of context for so long before it rebels against its unnatural exile? We might, given some terrible shock to the body social of the species, as Marx envisioned in his way. (Thus returning us to our state of Gattungswesen—species-being—where we existed before the Greek invention of the polis cut us off from nature in the first great act of alienation.) But we might also never recover sufficiently from the shock to form the classless, nonindustrial communities that were the—albeit vague—Marxian dream of the communalistic future; a dream which is as embarrassing to his followers as Christ’s egalitarian pacifist dream has been to the Christian nations.
Being on the side of man, unfortunately, requires more than just good will. And if man won’t be on his own side, that’s his privilege as an intelligent, rational, self conscious, culture-bearing creature, who has passed beyond the grubby necessities of natural selection to bigger and better things. For as so many well-meaning commentators have so proudly and earnestly proclaimed, he is unique.
Although Fox acknowledges that technological change is a form of progress, he also notes than none of the historic social philosophies and ethical codes have really worked (or even been tried). Fox has focused his attention on one aspect of Korzybski’s distinction (space binding), observing that human society has displaced human consciousness from its original evolutionary context. To me, it appears to be a valid observation.
What, then, do we make of the other aspect of Korzybski’s distinction – time binding? I think it’d be worthwhile to consider one of the “well-meaning comentators” who has “proudly and earnestly proclaimed” that man is “unique” – Jacob Bronowski . The following quotation is from Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man:
|I use the word ascent with a precise meaning. Man is distinguished from other animals by his imaginative gifts. He makes plans, inventions, new discoveries, by putting different talents together; and his discoveries become more subtle and penetrating, as he learns to combine his talents in more complex and intimate ways. So the great discoveries of different ages and different cultures, in technique, in science, in the arts, express in their progression a richer and more intricate conjunction of human faculties, an ascending trellis of his gifts. Of course, it is tempting – very tempting to a scientist – to hope that the most original achievements of the mind are also the most recent. And we do indeed have cause to be proud of some modern work. Think of the unravelling of the code of heredity in the DNA spiral; or the work going forward on the special faculties of the human brain. Think of the philosophic insight that saw into the Theory of Relativity or the minute behaviour of matter on the atomic scale. |
Yet to admire only our own successes, as if they had no past (and were sure of the future), would make a caricature of knowledge. For human achievement, and science in particular, is not a museum of finished constructions. It is a progress, in which the first experiments of the alchemists also have a formative place, and the sophisticated arithmetic that the Mayan astronomers of Central America invented for themselves independently of the Old World. The stonework of Machu Picchu in the Andes and the geometry of the Alhambra in Moorish Spain seem to us, five centuries later, exquisite works of decorative art. But if we stop our appreciation there, we miss the originality of the two cultures that made them. Within their time, they are constructions as arresting and important for their peoples as the architecture of DNA for us.
In every age there is a turning-point, a new way of seeing and asserting the coherence of the world. It is frozen in the statues of Easter Island that put a stop to time – and in the medieval clocks in Europe that once also seemed to say the last word about the heavens forever. Each culture tries to fix its visionary moment, when it was transformed by a new conception either of nature or of man. But in retrospect, what commands our attention as much are the continuities – the thoughts that run or recur from one civilisation to another. There is nothing in modern chemistry more unexpected than putting together alloys with new properties; that was discovered after the time of the birth of Christ in South America, and long before that in Asia. Splitting and fusing the atom both derive, conceptually, from a discovery made in prehistory: that stone and all matter has a structure along which it can be split and put together in new arrangements. And man made biological inventions almost as early: agriculture – the domestication of wild wheat, for example – and the improbable idea of taming and then riding the horse.
In following the turning-points and the continuities of culture, I shall follow a general but not a strict chronological order, because what interests me is the history of man’s mind as an unfolding of his different talents. I shall be relating his ideas, and particularly his scientific ideas, to their origins in the gifts with which nature has endowed man, and which make him unique. What I present, what has fascinated me for many years, is the way in which man’s ideas express what is essentially human in his nature.
Bronowski, I believe, nicely epitomizes Korzybski’s time binding: “Man is distinguished from other animals by his imaginative gifts.” In Chapter 3 (Knowledge as Algorithm and as Metaphor) of The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, Bronowski lucidly elaborates:
|Let me write for you two symbolic expressions. The first is one which occurs in the work of Newton; it says that “the gravitational attraction between two massive bodies is proportional to the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between some point in each mass.” If any single utterance by a scientist has reshaped history, it is this, the law of inverse squares. Ludwig Boltzmann’s gravestone was inscribed with the symbol for entropy, S = klogW, and I suppose if Newton had had any control over what was to be put on his gravestone, he would have chosen . Now we all understand that as a symbolic expression which describes in some way the structure of our experience. Let me now write for you another symbolic expression which I take from “The Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake. I take a couplet almost at random; this one says, |
Now the extraordinary thing about that verse is that it appears to have none of the formal structure of Newton’s formula. Yet it is a highly general statement and everybody in this room knows exactly what it means, and I mean exactly. My “exactly” may not be your “exactly,” but in some way we all know with an immediacy which we derive from language and experience what
means. I would say that everybody understands this, whereas there must be a good many people in the audience who, in fact, are taking on trust.
Well now, I wish I could lecture on generalizations of the form of “a Robin Red breast in a Cage,” but I can only do so much on one occasion. There are two things, however, I want to say about both of those statements. One is that they are both general statements; let no one tell you that this quotation is only a particular statement. It derives its general appeal to us all from its high specificity, and that is the miracle of this kind of remark; but it is a statement which says something about the human situation and not just about a robin or a cage. Secondly, neither statement has the form of a syllogism; neither says all As are Bs or any of those things that occur in the textbooks on logic in which sentences are always written as if they described classes. It is my view that that is very foreign to human language, that no scientific statement and no poetic statement is of the form, “all As are Bs.” This is what these two have in common. This kind of symbolism is a highly active kind. Do not be deceived by the equals sign. It says something which describes what happens when you do something. In discussing statements of this sort, scientific statements, I am going to treat science as a language. I am going to say that this formula is a sentence in the language, that all such statements are sentences in the language, and that the way we construct this language mirrors the way human language evolved. However, I should make one preliminary about it and explain to you that science is a rather peculiar language because it only contains statements that are, in the context of a particular theory, true. We do not, for instance, say, “Well, is a sentence in this language. And another sentence in this language is .” In the language that we are discussing, is not a sentence. There are statements in the language of science which have a simple and fairly descriptive form. For instance, when Kepler said in 1609 that the planets run on ellipses round the sun as focus and sweep out equal areas in equal time, that is a fairly descriptive sentence. The sentence which Newton wrote about the gravitational attraction is a more abstract sentence and in fact summarizes the description of what Kepler said. For the purpose of the discussion today that is not an important difference, and I will not labor it.
We are always looking for a language in science which mimics or mirrors the structure of reality. And the problem is, How does it do that? My claim is that it does it in exactly the same way in which human language evolved from animal language, by analyzing the sentence into constituents which represent separable entities in the outside world-things or actions. So science constantly seeks in the descriptive sentences for separable entities which can either be perceived in the outside world or, more of ten, have to be inferred speculatively in the outside world. The structure of reality is not self-evident, and the structure of the scientific language is not self-evident. When Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus during the First World War, he thought that you could make a language out of ordinary discourse, more or less, which could somehow give you the structure of reality. He said that the very fact that “I love you” and “I hate you” have the same kind of structure tells you something about the relations, that the relations are built into the grammar. Now, it is true that the relations are built into the grammar, but we have to get a very specialized grammar, the grammar of science, as Karl Pearson rightly called it, in order to demonstrate the structure.
During the Second World War Craik tried to show that the nervous system actually mimics these structures within our brain, and that was an equally unsuccessful attempt.1 No, we have to tease out the structure from the observational sentences when we make them into abstract sentences. How do we do that? Well, we do it essentially by treating nature as, in Leibnitz’s phrase, a gigantic cryptogram, a gigantic series of coded messages. And we seek to decode it in such a way that entities emerge which are conserved under various changes and transformations. Mass is such an entity. Newton was not able to define mass; nobody in a sense can define mass. Indeed, you could say that the great step from Newton to Einstein was that Einstein was the first person who gave a reason for what had already puzzled Newton, namely, why gravitational mass and inertial mass are the same mass. Of course, you and I think we know what a mass is; we know it in the sense that we know what we think we are saying when we ask for a pound of butter. But that is a knowledge which itself comes late in the development of language. Incidentally, it also comes late in the development of children. Remember that children before the age of four are always very puzzled when you pour liquid out of a tall beaker into a broad beaker and say to them, “Is it the same amount of liquid? Which would you rather have?” Without exception, children say they would rather have the orange juice in the tall narrow beaker. And if you say to them, “Why?” they say, “Well, there is more.” And then if you say, “But there is not more; I can pour it into here and I can pour it back,” they are not in the least persuaded. Why should they be? Why should they regard it as a law of nature that orange juice remains invariant in mass when you pour it from a narrow thin beaker into a small flat beaker? That is a real theorem.
And I mention that theorem only to remind you that all our prejudices about the external world tend to be built into the language of science. Then, when somebody shows that the whole thing was nonsense, that we put our prejudices into it, we are always taken aback. I mean, in 1900 if you had said to somebody, “Could my watch run faster if I were standing at the equator than at the north pole?” everybody would have said, “But that is rubbish! Only children think that kind of thing.” When in 1905 Einstein wrote a paper in which he said just that, everybody said, “But that is marvelous. What a child’s vision he has.” Which is true. Let me give you one more example. What about r , the distance between these two masses? Well, I suppose in theory you could say that you could take a foot rule, lay it down something of the order of 109 times, and say, “We have proved it, that is the distance between the earth and the moon.” But, of course, you cannot do astronomy with that kind of distance. And it is very interesting to see how these concepts again have to be teased out of the cryptogram of nature.
Let me tell you one of the most beautiful and simplest experiments on this that was ever conceived. It was conceived by a man called Olbers; it is called Olbers’s paradox and is more than a hundred years old.2 Olbers said, “The sky is full of stars, and they are obviously pumping energy into space. Now we can assume that the universe is reasonably old, and that therefore it has settled down to some kind of state of equilibrium. If that is so, then every object in the universe has reached a stage at which the amount of energy that is being radiated to it from the star must be exactly the same amount which it is radiating back.” And so Olbers said, “It is very clear that if we go out into the night sky, it should be as bright as daylight because there is all the energy in a state of equilibrium, and there should be no local disturbances. How can we avoid this?” And, indeed, there was no way of avoiding it at the time. The only possible way of avoiding it that could be suggested was that the universe was rather young and was only just settling down, which seemed slightly improbable.
How do we avoid this? Why do we now say that it is really quite understandable? We can say this because Bondi made the following beautiful argument: “The stars are pumping energy into space, and it ought all to be coming back. It ought all now to be well mixed up, like the hot and the cold water in the bath. If it is not coming back, where is it going? It must be going into a volume of space which is greater than that from which it originated.” And so Bondi says, “We can do a very simple experiment. We can say that there are three possible states for the universe: it might be contracting, it might be of stationary size, or it might be expanding. If it is contracting, then night ought to be brighter than day because there ought to be more energy coming in simply from the background than the sun is actually supplying. If it is stationary, then night and day ought to be equally bright. And if the universe is expanding, then night ought to be dark.” I invite you to perform that experiment tonight. Go out and look, and when you observe that it is dark, you will have made the fundamental observation which shows that the universe is expanding.
We had that information a hundred years ago at least, but until people did terribly expensive experiments with analysis of red shifts and so on, nobody was willing to believe this explanation. But let me invite your attention to the word “expanding.” What does it mean? It means that our measure of distance in this universe between us and any other galaxy must be growing larger. Do we have any way of actually measuring this? Of course we do not. We can only do it because the whole language in which we are writing “mass” and “radiation” and “distance” defines things like distance in such a way that all these things come out to make a consistent language. The thing about nature is that when you challenge her with questions as we have just done with Olbers’s paradox, you rely on the fact that she does not cheat, that she gives back consistent answers.
If we treat our knowledge of the external world in this way, then we are constructing a language of science which has three features. There are, first of all, symbols which stand for concepts or inferred entities which have the character of the words in these sentences. Then there is a grammar which tells us how these things are to be put together, so that for instance is a grammatical sentence. If you did not put r 2 down but r 3, that would be ungrammatical and the sentence would not be allowed in the language. And finally there is a dictionary of translation which relates a sentence like this to specific problems like determining the period of the moon. After all, when Newton thought of that, the first thing he did was to calculate the period of the moon. And then he said modestly, when he told this story to his housekeeper, “I found it to answer pretty nearly.” He made the period of the moon twenty-eight days so he felt that r2 was right. These are the three characters of the language of science. The grammar is essentially the rules of operation specified by the axioms; the dictionary of translation is essentially the way we apply the sentences to our common experience; and the symbols or concepts are the solutions of the cryptogram.
Let me give you a different kind of sentence.
In the seventeenth century Mr. Glauber made Glauber’s salts. And after about another hundred years we learned to write his reaction in the form that if you mix salt with sulphuric acid you get Glauber’s salts and hydrochloric acid. Now if you actually were to read Glauber’s description, which is full of words like “muriatic acid” and other splendid phrases that I am afraid I have forgotten, you would not, of course, recognize it as the same reaction. Why not? Because you have all been brought up with a code in which NaCI is what you say for salt and H2SO. is what you say for sulphuric acid. But, of course, the whole thing has been translated into a kind of Morse code. And what has been elucidated by the Morse code is that this sodium atom here is an element and that this hydrochloric acid is not an element—a fact which was much in dispute in the time, say, of Humphrey Davy. So that the code teases out the elementary symbols. We solve the cryptogram by doing this. And I do not have to tell you that if you were now to write this in terms of its valences and in terms of the free electrons and so on, you would be breaking down the code step by step into the codes that we now have for nuclear processes. This is why I say that we are making the language. We are making the symbols by the challenge of question and answer, which gives us real statements about the world that we then break down.
I want to come back to this because it reminds you that the grammar has to do with explanation, the dictionary has to do with description, and the symbols have to do with those concepts with which the whole of our consciousness is now full but for which the only evidence for most of us is that somebody told us in a lecture or that it says so in the textbook. Words like hydrogen and helium, nuclear processes, inhibition in biology, inhibition in psychology have become new words in our vocabulary. But they owe their existence to being decoded out of statements of this kind.
I have been giving you a highly personal account of how we practice science. And the obvious question is “Are we inventing the whole thing?” You may say to me, “Aren’t you just a thoroughgoing idealist? Do you really think that there are not any atoms?” I spoke of Boltzmann and the inscription on his gravestone a little while ago. Ludwig Boltzmann committed suicide in a fit of depression. Why? Because he could not persuade his colleagues that atoms were real. It may not seem to you something to take your life over, but it was to him. The irony, of course, was that had he only held his hand for another year or two, all his colleagues would have been persuaded.
Now, are the atoms real or are they not? And if the atoms are real, are the electrons real or are they not? When we do this decoding, are we discovering something which is in nature, or are we not? Are we creating the concepts out of which we make science, or are they there hidden all the time? Now this is a tremendous intellectual bifurcation. And also a fairly emotional one. For example, the world is pretty well divided into people who are proud of being machines and people who are outraged at the thought of being machines. And the world is, therefore, pretty well divided into people who would like to think that our analysis of nature is a personal and highly imaginative creation and those who would like to think that we are simply discovering what is there.
I wrote the chapter on twentieth-century science for the UNESCO history.3 If you read it, you will find that it carries behind it a streamer as long as a comet’s tail of violent phrases of dissent by young Russian scientists saying: “This is all a terribly idealistic picture. This man does not believe that atoms are real,” and so on and so on. Now these questions are not idle ones. Picture yourself for the moment in 1867, a hundred years ago. Supposing you had then asked yourself, “Well, is it real? Is Newton’s gravitation a real thing?” Everybody would have said, “Well, of course.” Shortly after Newton published the Principia in 1687-88 Richard Bentley, the great classical scholar of Trinity College, asked his permission to give some sermons on Divine Providence.4 And the force of these sermons was that we now understood what Divine Providence was because it was really gravitation. I am simplifying Bentley’s sermons somewhat, of course. But the point is that Bentley was enormously impressed with the fact that we now understood in some way how God worked, how nature worked. And from the time of Newton until well into the last century everybody was persuaded that this was so. Everybody was persuaded that we understood the great truths of science, had understood them since the time of Newton, and that what we were now doing was filling in the details. At the end of the last century there were physicists who were perfectly willing to say that there was no need to produce another Newton because there was nothing as fundamental as gravitation for another Newton to discover. And after all, they had the excellent evidence of Adams’s and Leverrier’s discovery of a planet that no one had observed, one whose existence they had predicted entirely because the perturbations that they observed could only be explained by the presence of another planet, and there it was. Since then, the world has fallen about our ears. There is almost no scientific theory which was held to be fundamental in 1867 which is thought to be true in that form today. We have lived through a century of the most amazing firework display of new discoveries. Not discoveries of a superficial nature, but ones which have radically altered our whole picture of nature. In 1899 when Max Planck could not make the continuous equations work to match the experiments of his colleagues on black body radiation, he finally made up his mind that radiation came in discontinuous lumps. And that afternoon, when he took his little boy for their usual walk, he said to him, “I have today made a discovery as profound as Newton’s.” Those were very prophetic words. And the only sad thing about them is to say that the little boy whom he took for a walk was, in fact, murdered by the Nazis because he took part in the plot against Hitler’s life in 1944.
From the moment that Max Planck made that statement, we have had a constant upset of the accepted notions. is no longer regarded as a picture of the ultimate reality in nature. In 1905 Einstein published the first paper on relativity, which made it clear overnight that there was something wrong with this concept. And then in 1915-16 he published the great paper on general relativity, which substituted an essentially geometrical view of space-time in its place. If I may translate into geometrical terms, this really said, roughly speaking, that these two masses attract one another because they form depressions in space-time; and those depressions tend to make them run together just as if you put two lead balls into a bowl of jelly. Well, that is a fundamentally different conception of the world. It is a fundamentally different decoding of virtually the same sentences. No one would have thrown Newton out of the window if there had not been sentences which went wrong. If the perihelion of Mercury had remained where it was supposed to be, nobody would have been very troubled.
The new theory, of course, always subsumes more effects than the old. But the remarkable thing is that when it is discovered, it also wholly changes our conception of how the world works. Well then, was the decoding all a fiction? Is gravitational force a complete fiction? Is Einstein’s view of relativity now a fiction since it is by no means in as good order as it was in 1915-16? I regard this as a very important question. I regard it as a particularly important question in an audience like this which is not wholly composed of professional scientists.
Now I believe that everybody in this room is real. I really believe that you are all there. Moreover, I believe that your blood is circulating just the way that Harvey said, and not the way that Galen said. In other words, I believe that all the kind of scientific descriptions that we can make about one another are perfectly real. And yet, I believe that any theory that we as human beings make at any point in time is full of provisional decodings which to some extent are as fictitious as the notion of force in Newton. How can this be?
In my view, the answer is as follows. I believe that the world is totally connected: that is to say, that there are no events anywhere in the universe which are not tied to every other event in the universe. I regard this to some extent as a metaphysical statement, although you will see, as I develop it in the next lecture, it has a much more down-to-earth content than that. But I will repeat it: I believe that every event in the world is connected to every other event. But you cannot carry on science on the supposition that you are going to be able to connect every event with every other event. Even when you set a computer such a simple problem as playing a good game of chess on the hypothesis that the computer is really going to think out every consequence, it breaks down hopelessly. It is, therefore, an essential part of the methodology of science to divide the world for any experiment into what we regard as relevant and what we regard, for purposes of that experiment, as irrelevant.
We make a cut. We put the experiment, if you like, into a box. Now the moment we do that, we do violence to the connections in the world. We may have the best cause in the world. I may say, “Well, come on, I am not really going to think that the light from Sirius is going to affect the reading of this micrometer!” And I say this although I can see Sirius clear with the naked eye, and I have the impertinence to say that though the light of Sirius affects my rods and cones it is not going to affect the experiment. Therefore we have always, if I may use another Talmudic phrase, to put a fence round the law, to put a fence round the law of nature that we are trying to tease out. And we have to say, “For purposes of this experiment everything outside here is regarded as irrelevant, and everything inside here is regarded as relevant.”
Now I get a set of answers which I try to decode in this context. And I am certainly not going to get the world right, because the basic assumption that I have made about dividing the world into the relevant and the irrelevant is in fact a lie. In the nature of things it is bound to give me only an approximation to what goes inside the fence. And whether I treat that as a statistical approximation, or whether I get out some other concept, I am doing so in less than the total context of the world. Therefore, when we practice science ( and this is true of all our experience ) , we are always decoding a part of nature which is not complete. We simply cannot get out of our own finiteness. Now such decoding can certainly lead to good laws. If what we judge to be irrelevant is not very relevant, they will be good laws. But it does not follow that they give you the conceptual picture of what is in the world at all. And essentially the reason why we have made such enormous changes in our conceptual picture of the world in the last seventy years is because we have had to push out the boundaries of the relevant further and further. Every time we do so, we have to revise the picture totally. Now there is nothing to help us in the decoding. We have to do it in the same way that we invent any word in the human language—by an act of pure imagination.
1 K. J. W. Craik, The Nature of Explanation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1943).
2 Wilhelm Olbers, “Uber die Durchsichtigkeit des Weltraums,” Bodes Astronomisches Jahrbuch ( 1826), pp. 110-21.
3 J. Bronowski, “The New Scientific Thought and Its Impact,” in History of Mankind: Cultural and Scientific Development, vol. 1, pt. 1, edited under the auspices of UNESCO by K. M. Panikkar and J. M. Romkin (London: Allen & Unwin, 1966), pp. 121-65.
4 Richard Bentley, Sermons Preached at Boyle’s . . . ( 1692) (London: Frances Macpherson, 1838).
Bronowski’s narrative indicates how members of our species (can) change our conceptual picture of the world by acts of “pure imagination.” Bronowski’s account helps (I believe) to elucide Korzybski’s reference to “extensional” use of language. Fox and Bronowski exemplify the contrasting orientations which reflect Korzybski’s distinction between arithemetical and geometrical progression.
Now, I’ll offer a suggestion. First, consider the following table:
The first three columns of the table correspond to Korzybski’s distinctions of space/time binding, arithmetical/geometrical progression, and intensional/extensional use of language. The third column designates Fox’s and Bronowski’s respective orientations. The fourth column lists Hitler and and Einstein as examples of the dichotomy. The fifth column distinguishes between Machiavellian and ? intelligence. My motivation for constructing the table is to suggest a locution denoting the form of intelligence that corresponds to Korzybski’s “time binding” distinction: “Archimedian intelligence.”
Having noted “Archimedian intelligence,” I believe that it can be defined extensionally by examples. Two examples are Archimedes and Einstein. Other examples: Newton, Faraday, Kepler, Gauss, Buckiminster Fuller, Carl Sagan.
Pythagoras? Darwin? Arthur Young? Aristotle? Galileo? Korzybski? Leonardo Da Vinci? William Blake? Voltaire?
A book that (I believe) nicely exemplifies Korzybski’s conception of the geometrical progression (thus, Archimedian intelligence) is the Universe of the Mind by George Owen. It’s a history of scientific ideas, and it’s filled with interesting illustrations (rendered by the author). A book that suggests how human intelligence may have developed multiple modes (Machiavellian/Archimedian) is The Prehistory of the Mind.
The emergence of what Don Steehler calls Archimedian intelligence is of critical importance to the survival of our species. It is also the focus of N.Arthur Coulter’s “Modes of Thinking” from his classic Human Synergetics. He would explain that what Don has called Machiavellian intelligence is the Multiordinal mode of thinking and Archimedian intelligence is the Synergic mode of thinking. Both modes demonstrate the human behavior “genius”, however multiordinal genius may act adversarily while synergic genius will not.
It is the emergence of synergic genius that offers humanity a ray of hope in transending our Overpopulation-FossilFuelDepletion-GlobalWarming crisis.
This is why I am more optimistic than Fox. There is an old Hopi Indian quote you may have heard. “We are the people we have been waiting for.” It is up to our generation to solve this crisis. It our turn to leap into the fray and make the world better.
Don has also introduced Korzybski’s concepts of intensional and extensional which were the focus of Korzyski’s great work “General Semantics” as revealed in his classic Science and Sanity. These are enormously important concepts for which I have created the metaphor — The world of “Is” and the World of “Ought to Be” — to make them more easily understandable.
Thanks Don, nicely done,