Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat -- Universal Suffrage

Despite popular demand, I do sometimes repost poetry from my poetry blog, Lance Strate's BlogVersed, over here. And given the close proximity, and in my mind confluence, of two great American holidays this year, I thought I would bite the bullet and include this particular entry here on Lance Strate's Blog Time Passing. But since this is the more intellectual of the two blogs, I've decided to add pictures here for the benefit of my better educated readers.

This is the point where someone else would say, "Enjoy!" I don't know about you, but I hate when people say that. I think it's terribly presumptious of them, if you know what I mean. I make no assumptions about whether you will enjoy this or not. In fact, I rather imagine you will suffer through it, if you haven't already clicked away to some other web page or other. So, suffer you shall, that is why the call it suffrage, isn't it?

Universal Suffrage
a poem by
Lance Strate

The monsters are on the loose!
The monsters are on the prowl!
The monsters are on the hunt!
The monsters are after

The monsters are on the move!
The monsters are on the march!
The monsters have hit the trail!
The monsters are after your
Frankenstein for President!
An electrifying speaker
Really gets into the nuts and bolts of the issues
Has a health care plan that will patch you up in no time
Promises to support the technology sector
And increase funding for research and experimentation
Says there's no problem that can't be solved
By using our brainpower
Vows to be gooood to our friennnds
And CRUSH our enemies
His running mate
The Invisible Man
A safe choice
Looks to be a traditional Vice-President
And not call attention to himself
Will keep things under wraps
Believes in the importance of espionage and intelligence
Loves to use new media
Especially IM
But there are some concerns about his stability
And alleged ties to the pharmaceutical industry
Vote or die!
So the monsters cry!
Vote or die!
Dracula for President!
Knows how to handle predatory lenders
And vows to cut the taxes that are sucking the life out of the economy
Experienced to an extreme
Extraordinarily well-seasoned
Ready to lead
Knows how to persuade and command
Skillful in diplomacy
Adept in foreign policy
Will increase defense spending on much need impalements of war
But will not intervene in the internal affairs of other nations
Unless we are invited in
Says he is reluctant to spill even one drop of our young soldiers' blood
On foreign soil
A man of honor and nobility
And faith in the power of religion
His choice for Vice-President
The Mummy
Who says to call him by his nickname
A favorite of beach volleyball moms
And very knowledgeable when it comes to the conflicts of the Middle East
False rumors claim he's a secret Muslim
He counters that his religion is a highly personal matter
Affirms he would be a strong defender of the national treasury
But troubled by the threat of indictment for alleged involvement
In a pyramid scheme
Vote or die!
So monsters cry!
Vote or die!
The Wolfman for President!
Dark horse favorite of the youth
A fierce defender of the environment
And animal rights
But assures us he's no vegetarian
A libertarian who believes in survival of the fittest
And capital punishment
Promises to take a bite out of crime
While maintaining that there is no silver bullet to solve all our problems
An advocate of change
Some accuse him of flip-flopping on the issues
Every month
Some think him too impulsive
Some curse him
And call him lunatic fringe
Especially after picking the Creature from the Black Lagoon
As his Vice-Presidential candidate
Who insists on the need for naval power
Wants to build more nuclear submarines
Supports increased consumption
Tells people to take longer vacations
And go swimming
A favorite son of California
But given the likelihood that the Wolfman could become incapacitated
Voters wonder if the Creature is fit to be President
Or just too green?

Vote for the monster of your choice!
Vote for the monster of your dreams!
Vote and let them hear your voice!
Vote and let them hear your screams!


This poem was written in response to a challenge issued in a poetry group on MySpace as part of a contest for the month of October. The challenge was to write a poem that involved all six of those monsters, all of which appeared in movies produced by Universal Studios, the Hollywood studio that was known for its Famous Monsters from Filmland. And if you are of a certain age, you might remember the way cool magazine of that title. Not surprisingly, it has a website of its own,, not to mention a wikipedia entry. Mostly, I remember the magazine covers, hmmm, if I close my eyes I can almost see them now...

Hmm, that last one is rather poignant, isn't it? The King Kong of 1976 atop the Twin Towers... There are monsters in filmland, but they're nothing in comparison to the monsters in the real world. But let's keep things light, okay?

So, trick or treat! But beware the candied dates, okay? Presidential election campaigns are monsters, so choose your evil, but remember that the really scary part comes after Election Day, when they all take off their masks.


Psst, did you bring the shaving cream, eggs, and toilet paper???

Oh, and let's give The Boss the last word--Halloween Greetings from New Jersey, courtesy of the Jersey Devil:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spaced Out

So, one of the fundamental distinctions in the media ecology of Marshall McLuhan, Edmund Carpenter, Tony Schwartz, and related to that of Walter Ong and Edward T. Hall, is the distinction between acoustic space and visual space. This concept first appears in an article that McLuhan and Carpenter publish in their Explorations journal in the fifties, and reprint in their anthology Explorations in Communication, sadly long out of print.

Visual space is the sense of space that we have become accustomed to over the past five centuries or so, as it is the sense of space associated with literacy, especially alphabetic literacy and the habits of reading that go along with that, and intensified by print media--McLuhan particularly emphasized the fact that our eyes were trained to use a fixed point of view, a form of vision that does not come naturally to us. Visual space is also the sense of space that has its roots in Euclidean geometry with its linear, and rectilinear bias, is associated with the development of perspective in art during the Renaissance, and is linked to Newton's notion of absolute space.

It's worth noting here that Alfred Korzybski associated his non-Aristotelian system of general semantics with non-Euclidean geometry and non-Newtonian (Einsteinian) physics just as electric technologies and media were shifting our sense of space away from the visual and back to the acoustic. That is a wave of change that we are still riding today.

So, it was a pleasure to come across this charming YouTube video that parodies the Mac vs. PC commercials to provide a pithy introduction to the concepts and distinctions between acoustic and visual space. And they did it for a media ecology class--how cool is that? Well done, guys!

Oh, and if you want to go see them in their native habitat, here's the link: I'm Acoustic Space And I'm Visual Space.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Korzybski's General Semantics as an Ecological Approach

As I mentioned in previous posts, specifically Thoughts About Time-Binding 1, Thoughts About Time-Binding 2, and Thoughts About Time-Binding 3, and Thoughts About Time-Binding 4, I recently went back over Alfred Korzybski's first book, Manhood of Humanity, where he discusses his notion of time-binding, and how that process might be improved. Manhood of Humanity was published in 1921, before Korzybski had developed his system called general semantics, which was detailed in Science and Sanity, published in 1933.

The specific volume I was reviewing, however, was the second edition of Manhood of Humanity, published in 1950, the year Korzybski passed away, and this second edition contains new material of no small interest. In this post, I am only going to refer to one item that was added in lieu of a new introduction for the second edition (which Korzybski was unable to write), entitled "What I Believe" (Alfred Korzybski, Manhood of Humanity (2nd ed.). Brooklyn, NY: Institute of General Semantics, 1950, pp. xli-lvii). This piece was originally written in 1948, fifteen years after the publication of Science and Sanity, and provides some insight into Korzybski's own thoughts about his general semantics project.

I should note that if you want a summary of what general semantics is all about, you can find it at the Institute of General Semantics website. In this post, I only want to note some points that I find of particular interest in this essay, especially in light of the connection between general semantics and media ecology. Neil Postman was known to refer to media ecology as general semantics writ large, and it is not that great a leap from understanding how language influences our thought and behavior to understanding how the new languages we call media infuence our thought and behavior.

But I want to go a little further than that, and note how Korzybski himself was working on an ecological approach. It is worth noting that Korzybski must have been sympathetic to mechanical approaches, given his background as an engineer and his prediliction for science. But of course science had undergone radical change in the 20th century, and this certainly colored Korzybski's view of things.

So, let's start with a passage that firmly established Korzybski as an ecological thinker:

I could not use, in my further studies, the older 'organism-as-a-whole' approaches, but had to base my analysis on the much more complex 'organism-as-a-whole-in-an-environment'. I had to include neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic (evaluational) environments as environments, and also had to consider geographic, physico-chemical, economic, political, ecological, socio-cultural, etc., conditions as factors which mould human personalities, and so even group behaviour. This statement is entirely general, and applies to highly civilized people as well as the most primitive. (pp. xliv-xlv)
And, well, I guess I could end this post right there, that about sums things up, ecologically speaking, but I think I will continue on. In the next paragraph to follow, Korzybski sets up an interesting distinction between what he considers to be the best and worst case scenarios for the human psyche:

Common sense and ordinary observations convinced me that the average, so-called 'normal person' is so extremely complex as to practically evade an over-all analysis. So I had to concentrate on the study of two extremes of human psycho-logical reactions: a) reactions at their best, because of their exceptional predictability, as in mathematics, the foundations of mathematics, mathematical physics, exact sciences, etc., which exhibit the deepest kind of strictly human psycho-logical reactions, and b) reactions at their worst, as exemplified by psychiatric cases. In these investigations I discovered that physico-mathematical methods have application to our daily life on all levels, linking science with problems of sanity, in the sense of adjustment to 'facts' and 'reality'. (p. xlv)
I am fascinated by this contrast between the psychiatric concept of insanity, and what might be considered a kind of supersanity associated with a scientific orientation. Korzybski parts company with Sigmund Freud on the opposite end of insanity, in that Freud just looked for people to be well-adjusted to the norms of society, and instead Korzybski in some ways parallels Carl Jung, who argued for concept of consciousness as evolving, and now ready to move on collectivey to a higher level. Whether science really represents humanity at its best is of course debatable, and ultimately a value judgment, but it is certainly true that science is characterized by "exceptional predictability"--scientific method represents the best way to make accurate assessments and predictions about reality.

Skipping ahead a paragraph or two, Korzybski makes a basic point about language and symbolic communication:

Linguistic and grammatical structures also have prevented our understanding of human reactions. For instance, we used and still use a terminology of 'objective' and 'subjective', both extremely confusing, as the so-called 'objective' must be considered a construct made by our nervous system, and what we call 'subjective' may also be considered 'objective' for the same reasons. (p. xlvi)
We see then a skeptical orientation, and a step towards what would later be termed social construction or constructivism, the idea that reality is constructed by our communication. There is a kind of irony in that, looking at objecitivity objectively reveals our inescapable subjectivity, which stands as an objectively verifiable fact. Of course, we all share in our subjectivity, so that it is a shared subjectivity, or as Martin Buber put it, intersubjectivity.

Next, Korzybski discusses the key distinction he makes between two different levels, the silent and the verbal. This is fundamental to general semantics, just as other polar oppositions have been elsewhere in media ecology (ear vs. eye, orality vs. literacy, space bias vs. time bias, cool medium vs. hot medium, script vs. print, print vs. electronics, interpersonal communication vs. mass communication, dialogue vs. public speaking, interactivity vs. one-way communication, etc.):

My analysis showed that happenings in the world outside our skins, and also such organismal psychological reactions inside our skins as those we label 'feelings', 'thinking', 'emotions', 'love', 'hate', 'happiness', 'unhappiness', 'anger', 'fear', 'resentment', 'pain', 'pleasure', etc., occur only on the non-verbal, or what I call silent levels. Our speaking occurs on the verbal levels, and we can speak about, but not on, the silent or un-speakable levels. This sharp, and inherently natural, yet thoroughly unorthodox differentiation between verbal and non-verbal levels automatically eliminates the useless metaphysical verbal bickerings of millenniums about 'the nature of things', 'human nature', etc. For many metaphysical verbal futile arguments, such as solipsism, or 'the unknowable', have been the result of the identifications of verbal levels with the silent levels of happenings, 'feelings', etc., that the words are merely supposed to represent, never being the 'reality' behind them. (p. xlvii)
The silent levels correspond to perception, and the verbal to language and symbols, of course, and media ecologists such as Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, Edmund Carpenter, Tony Schwartz, and others have emphazed the importance of perception as the basis of human understanding. Korzybski acknowledges that his general semantics draws on several other approachs, including phenomenology (which emphasizes the role of perception), in the next paragraph:

Such psycho-logical manifestations as those mentioned above can be dealt with in a unified terminology of evaluation, with the result that an empirical general theory of values, or general semantics, becomes possible, and with its roots in the methods of exact sciences, this can become the foundation of a science of man. For through the study of exact sciences we can discover factors of sanity. Different philosophical trends as found in disciplines such as Nominalism, Realism, Phenomenalism, Significs, Semiotic, Logical Positivism, etc., also become unified by a methodology, with internationally applicable techniques, which I call 'non-aristotelian', as it includes, yet goes beyond and brings up to date, the aims and formulations of Aristotle. (p. xlvii)
An interesting definition of general semantics appears here: "an empirical general theory of values." And he does make it clear that he is not anti-Aristotelian--had he been doing this work in the late 20th century he no doubt would have called general semantics post-Aristotelian.

Going into the next paragraph, Korzybski sums up the point about the disconnect between percept and concept:

Whatever we may say something is, obviously is not the 'something' on the silent levels. Indeed, as Wittgenstein wrote, 'What can be shown, cannot be said.' In my experience I have found that it is practically impossible to convey the differentiation of silent (unspeakable) levels from the verbal without having the reader or the hearer pinch with one hand the finger of the other hand. He would then realize organismally that the first–order psycho-logical direct experiences are not verbal. The simplicity of this statement is misleading, unless we become aware of its implications, as in our living reactions most of us identify in value the two entirely different levels, with often disastrous consequences. (p. xlviii)

And moving on to the next paragraph, he sums it all up in one pithy sentence:

I firmly believe that the consciousness of the differences between these levels of abstractions; i.e., the silent and verbal levels, is the key and perhaps the first step for the solution of human problems. (p. xlviii)

Moving to the next paragraph now, Korzybski continues to emphasize the importance of perception over language:

There is a tremendous difference between 'thinking' in verbal terms, and 'contemplating', inwardly silent, on non-verbal levels, and then searching for the proper structure of language to fit the supposedly discovered structure of the silent processes that modern science tries to find. If we 'think' verbally, we act as biased observers and project onto the silent levels the structure of the language we use, and so remain in our rut of old orientations, making keen, unbiased observations and creative work well-nigh impossible. In contrast, when we 'think' without words, or in pictures (which involve structure and therefore relations), we may discover new aspects and relations on silent levels, and so may produce important theoretical results in the general search for a similarity of structure between the two levels, silent and verbal. Practically all important advances are made that way. (pp. xlviii-xlix)
Hard not to think of how Albert Einstein imagined himself riding on a beam of light here, but I also can't help but think about the connection to autism, given that Einstein might have been on the autism spectrum--a bit of a disconnect from language, and the strong visual imagination, can be found in many high functioning individuals with autism. I get into this in my book, Echoes and Reflections: On Media Ecology as a Field of Study, and I won't bother to here. Certainly, following Howard Gardner's work on intelligence, we know that different people have different kinds of intelligences, some visual, some verbal, some mathematical, some socio-emotional. But again, that's a discussion for another time and place.

So, on to the next paragraph, and Korzybski makes a point I find highly significant, on the primacy of relationship or relations:

So far the only possible link between the two levels is found in terms of relations, which apply equally to both non-verbal and verbal levels, such as 'order' (serial, linear, cyclic, spiral, etc.), 'between-ness', 'space-time', 'equality' or 'inequality', 'before', 'after', 'more than', 'less than', etc. Relations, as factors of structure, give the sole content of all human knowledge. (p. xlix)
And this does bring me back to the point I started out with, Korzybski's ecological perspective. I believe that an emphasis on relationships is the basis of an ecological approach, so I think that last sentence bears repeating:

Relations, as factors of structure, give the sole content of all human knowledge. (p. xlix)
Knowledge is not in or of things per se, but in the relationships among things. It's the basic understanding of the universe according to Einstein, and the basic understanding of humanity according to Buber. Can you relate?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Poetry is Easy, Comedy is Hard

Last month, in a post entitled What Makes a Poet, I mentioned one of my MySpace friends, Si, and Si posted a video on his blog that I found too funny to pass up. And I'm not too proud to rip it off, all for the benefit of the Blog Time Passing reader (I know there's only one of you, and you're it!).

So, this is comedy about poetry, by an English comedian named Rik Mayall, and it dates back to the early 1980s, but the humor is pretty up-to-date. And so, without further ado, here's Rik:


So, my conclusion is as follows: Poetry is easy, comedy is hard... or vice versa!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pinhole Glasses? The Eyes Have It!

So, before I get to the topic of pinhole glasses, let me tell you a little bit about my eyes.

I've been nearsighted since childhood, mostly in one eye, the other one being pretty close to normal. I don't know if I exactly have one of those lazy eyes, but it definitely is not a hard worker. I remember reading in one of Carlos Castaneda's book that brujos or shamans tends to have that kind of optical asymmetry, and I think maybe my mother associated it with being a witch and giving someone a "bad eye" (aka evil eye).

Of course, Marshall McLuhan pointed out a long time ago that perception can be modified through training, and as literates, we train ourselves to be nearsighted as well as to use a fixed point of view. This was long before they started to have kids do eye exercises, and I don't know if they would have helped me as a kid, but I wish I had the option back then. Instead, I was prescribed glasses back when I was in the fifth grade, but avoided using them most of the time, except when I was sitting in the back of class and couldn't read the blackboard. As an adult, I used glasses for driving, and eventually for going to the movies, shows, etc., anytime I have to see things for a distance. Like most folks my age, my vision is not what it used to be.

I never tried contact lenses, and as for laser surgery, well, I don't think so. I got progressive lenses a couple of years ago, which are kind of like trifocals, but I have not been able to read with them, much to my disappointment. I guess I'm atypical in that I don't like to read looking downwards.

So, I was asked to take a look at the website for pinhole eyeglasses, which you can see for yourself by clicking here. And here's what they look like:

I thought the idea was quite intriguing. For some time now, I have been taking my mother to a retina specialist on account of her having developed macular degeneration. And I noticed that one test that they tried with her was to have her look through pinholes and see if her vision improved at all (it didn't). So I gather that there is some solid basis for this alternative to prescription lenses. In fact, here is their page on the Science of Pinhole Glasses. Their claim is that this can help with myopia, hyperopia, presbyopia, astigmatism, computer vision syndrome or cataracts, while prescription lenses lead to acquired myopia.

So I agreed to receive a sample pair of pinhole glasses and post a review. The product itself is intriguing, and the price is cheap enough, at $14.99 a pair. And they look unusual enough that they could be used as part of a Halloween costume (think compound eye, as in spiders) or maybe create an interesting look for someone who's going out clubbing (I would definitely have worn these to CBGBs back in the day).

So, I tried the pinhole glasses out. They create an interesting effect, and I actually can read the words on the computer screen with my very nearsighted eye with them on, whereas it's all a blur without them. This is with no corrective lenses involved, mind you, just the pinholes narrowing the light. Very interesting. I think whatever you're looking at needs to be well lit, though. I'm not sure I'd want to watch a movie with them, and I didn't feel comfortable reading the newspaper with them either, but then again I don't normally use any glasses when reading anything. So, I think I may continue to experiment with them, but in all probability I will just have to settle for being a brujo.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Thoughts About Time-Binding 4

So, once more I take up the topic of how time does bind, following up on Thoughts About Time-Binding 1, Thoughts About Time-Binding 2, and Thoughts About Time-Binding 3 with a fourth installment based on my recent rereading of Manhood of Humanity by Alfred Korzybski, the founder of general semantics, having been written before he founded general semantics.

As previously noted, time-binding is the term Korzybski used to refer to the distinctly human capacity to pass on information and knowledge from one generation to the next, and thereby make progress over time. And Korzybski also distinguished between the slow, gradual time-binding of most human cultures, and the rapid progress made possible by science and engineering, and believed that it would be in the best interests of humanity if we were to apply a scientific approach not just to the specialized sectors associated with science and technology, but to all human affairs.

Something that struck me as quite interesting about Manhood of Humanity, especially in light of the current financial meltdown, is that he devotes considerable attention to the topic of economics. Now, it seems to me that Korzybski, who was Polish, was in close proximity to the newly formed Soviet Union during the First World War, before he immigrated to the United States. He certainly was no Marxist, but the question of economic systems must have been on everyone's mind at the time. Economics shares with the hard sciences a decidedly materialist orientation, as well as a penchant for quantification, but Korzybski rightly identifies it as pseudo-science. Of course, Karl Marx was not a numbers guy, and neither was Thorsten Veblen, who shared with Korzybski an interest in engineering, as noted in Thoughts About Time-Binding 3.

But let's start with a quote from Korzybski about production, a term quite familiar in Marxist discourse:

all problems of production come ultimately to the analysis of

(1) Natural resources of raw material and natural energy, freely supplied by nature, which, as we have seen, in the form as produced by nature alone, have very little or no value for humanity;

(2) The activity of the human brain (because human muscles are always directed by the brain) which gives value to the otherwise useless raw materials and energies.

Hence, to understand the processes of production, it is essential to realize that humanity is able to survive only by virtue of the capacity of humans to exploit natural resources—to convert the products of nature into forms available for human needs. If humanity had only the capacity of apes, depending exclusively on wild fruits and the like, they would be confined to those comparatively small regions of the globe where the climate and the fertility of the soil are specially favorable. But in the case supposed, humans would not be humans, they would not be time-binders—they would be animals—mere space-binders. (pp. 84-85)
So, the means of production are the product of time-binding. That is not a very radical notion, as this amounts to an acknowledgment of technological progress, and the idea, widely-accepted in anthropology, that humans could not survive without some form of technology.

A bit further into the book, Korzybski devotes two chapters to "Wealth" and "Capitalist Era" so economics is very much on his mind here. Consider now how he applies the concept of time-binding to economics in a way that the "dismal science" typically overlooks:

The potential use-values in wealth are created by human work operating in time upon raw material given by nature. The use-values are produced by time-taking transformations of the raw materials; these transformations are wrought by human brain labor and human muscular labor directed by the human brain acting in time. The kinetic use-values of wealth are also created by human toil—mainly by the intellectual labor of observation, experimentation, imagination, deduction and invention, all consuming the precious time of short human lives. It is obvious that in the creation of use-values whether potential or kinetic, the element of time enters as an absolutely essential factor. The fundamental importance of time as a factor in the production of wealth—the fact that wealth and the use-values of wealth are literally the natural offspring of the spiritual union of time with toil—has been completely overlooked, not only by the economics, but by the ethics, the jurisprudence and the other branches of speculative reasoning, throughout the long period of humanity's childhood. In the course of the ages there has indeed been much “talk” about time, but there has been no recognition of the basic significance of time as essential in the conception and in the very constitution of human values.
It is often said that “Time is Money”; the statement is often false; but the proposition that Money is Time is always true. It is always true in the profound sense that Money is the measure and symbol of Wealth—the product of Time and Toil—the crystallization of the time-binding human capacity. IT IS THUS TRUE THAT MONEY IS A VERY PRECIOUS THING, THE MEASURE AND SYMBOL OF WORK—IN PART THE WORK OF THE LIVING BUT, IN THE MAIN, THE LIVING WORK OF THE DEAD. (pp. 116-117)

I very much like the way he argues for a time consciousness that is generally lacking from all aspect of human thought, not just economics. And economics is certainly one-dimensional, not only in its focus on space rather than time (wealth as existing in the present rather than the past), but also, as other media ecology scholars have noted, because economics reduces production to quantitative value, rather than considering the qualitative impact of innovations on consciousness and culture. Not surprisingly, there have been a number of economists who have expanded their scholarship to consider and focus upon technology. One of the most notable is the esteemed Canadian political economist, Harold Innis, who wrote about space bias and time bias in cultures as associated with their media of communication and transportation, and also the Harvard economist David Landes, who authored both The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, and Revolution in Time, a study of clock technology.

But what is really striking in Korzybski's analysis is the idea that wealth is mostly not something that people earn, contrary to our own myth of the American dream, possibility of success, Horatio Alger tales of going from rags to riches. Rather, most wealth is inherited. Unlike Marx, Korzybski is not concerned with the fact that inherited wealth tends to stay in the hands of a small population over time, generally within families, with a socioeconomic class. Instead, Korzybski focuses on wealth as a common human inheritance. Let's read some of what he has to say about the capitalistic era:

It may seem strange but it is true that the time-binding exponential powers, called humans, do not die—their bodies die but their achievements live forever—a permanent source of power. All of our precious possessions—science, acquired by experience, accumulated wealth in all fields of life—are kinetic and potential use-values created and left by by-gone generations; they are humanity's treasures produced mainly in the past, and conserved for our use, by that peculiar function or power of man for the binding of time. That the natural trend of life and the progress of the development of this treasury is so often checked, turned from its natural course, or set back, is due to ignorance of human nature, to metaphysical speculation and sophistry. Those who, with or without intention, keep the rate of humanity's mental advancement down to that of an arithmetic progression are the real enemies of society; for they keep the life-regulating “sciences” and institutions far behind the gallop of life itself. The consequence is periodic social violence—wars and revolutions.
Let us carry the analysis of potential and kinetic use-values a little further. All potential use-values left to us by the dead are temporal and differ in utility. Many potential use-values are found in museums and have very limited value to-day in practical life. On the other hand some roads or water-ways built by the ancients have use-value to-day; and an almost endless list of modern potential use-values have or will have use-values for a long time to come, such as buildings, improved lands, railroad tracks, certain machines or tools; the use-value of some such items of material wealth will last for more than one generation. Kinetic use-values are permanent in their character, for, though they may become antiquated, they yet serve as the foundation for the developments that supersede them, and so they continue to live in that to which they lead.
I would draw attention at this point to one of the most important kinetic and potential use-values produced by humanity—the invention of the steam engine. Through this invention, humanity has been able to avail itself, not only of the living fruits of dead men's toil, but also of the inconceivably vast amounts of solar energy and time bound up in the growth of vegetable life and conserved for use in the form of coal and other fuels of vegetable origin. This invention has revolutionized our life in countless directions. To be brief, I will analyse only the most salient effects. Human Engineering has never existed except in the most embryonic form. In remote antiquity the conception and knowledge of natural law was wholly absent or exceedingly vague. Before the invention of the steam engine, people depended mainly upon human powers—that is, upon “living powers”—the powers of living men, and the living fruits of the labor of the dead. Even then there were manifold complications.
The invention of the steam engine released for human use a new power of tremendous magnitude—the stored-up power of solar energy and ages of time. But we must not fail to note carefully that we to-day are enabled to use this immense new power of bound-up solar energy and time by a human invention, a product of the dead.
The full significance of the last statement requires reflection. The now dead inventor of the steam engine could not have produced his ingenious invention except by using the living powers of other dead men—except by using the material and spiritual or mental wealth created by those who had gone before. In the inventor's intellectual equipment there was actively present the kinetic use-value of “bound-up-time,” enabling him to discover the laws of heat, water, and steam; and he employed both the potential and kinetic use-values of mechanical instruments, methods of work, and scientific knowledge of his time and generation—use-values of wealth created by the genius and toil of by-gone generations. This invention was not produced, let us say 6000 years ago, because civilization was not then sufficiently advanced: mathematically considered, the production of this great use-value had to await all the accumulated work of six thousand years of human ingenuity and human labor. So, if we choose, the steam engine may be considered a kinetic use-value in which the factor of time is equal to something like 6000 years, or let us say roughly 200 generations.
It is obvious that, in one life time, even a genius of the highest order, could not, in aboriginal conditions, have invented and built a steam engine, when everything, even iron, was unknown. Of course if the same inventor could have had a life of several thousands of years and could have consecutively followed up all the processes, unhampered by the prejudices of those days, and been able to make all of these inventions by himself, he would represent in himself all the progress of civilization.
By this illustration we see the profound meaning of the words—the living powers of the dead; we see the grave importance in human life of the factor TIME; we behold the significance of the time-binding capacity of man. The steam engine is to be seen anew, as in the main the accumulated production of dead-men's work. The life of one generation is short, and were it not for our human capacity to inherit the material and spiritual fruit of dead men's toil, to augment it a little in the brief span of our own lives, and to transmit it to posterity, the process of civilization would not be possible and our present estate would be that of aboriginal man. Civilization is a creature, its creator is the time-binding power of man. Animals have it not, because they belong to a lower type or dimension of life.
Sophistry avails nothing here; a child, left in the woods, would be and remain a savage, matching his wits with gorillas. He becomes a civilized man only by the accumulation of, and acquaintance with dead men's work; for then and only then can he start where the preceding generation left off. This capacity is peculiar to men; the fact can not be repeated too often.
It is untrue to say that A started his life aided exclusively by the achievements of (say) his father, for his father's achievements depended on the achievements of his immediate predecessors; and so on all the way back through the life of humanity. This fact, of supreme ethical importance, applies to all of us; none of us may speak or act as if the material or spiritual wealth we have were produced by us; for, if we be not stupid, we must see that what we call our wealth, our civilization, everything we use or enjoy, is in the main the product of the labor of men now dead, some of them slaves, some of them “owners” of slaves. The metal spoon or the knife which we use daily is a product of the work of many generations, including those who discovered the metal and the use of it, and the utility of the spoon.
And here arises a most important question: Since the wealth of the world is in the main the free gift of the past—the fruit of the labor of the dead—to whom does it of right belong? The question can not be evaded. Is the existing monopoly of the great inherited treasures produced by dead men's toil a normal and natural evolution?
Or is it an artificial status imposed by the few upon the many? Such is the crux of the modern controversy.
It is generally known that the invention of the steam engine and other combustion engines which release sun-power for mechanical use, has revolutionized the economic system; for the building of engines in the scale of modern needs, it is necessary to concentrate a great number of living men in one place, to build factories, to set up machines used in producing the engines, and all this requires the use of vast amounts of money. That is why this era is called the capitalistic era. But it is necessary to stop here and analyse the factors of value in the engine to be made and in the money used for the purpose of making use of the stored-up energies of the sun. We have found that the major part of the engine and all factors connected with its production are the combined power of dead men's labor. We have found that wealth or capital and its symbol, money, are also, in the main, the bound-up power of dead men's labor; so that the only way to obtain the benefit in the release of sun-power, is by using the product of the toil of the dead. It is further obvious that only the men or organizations that are able to concentrate the largest amounts of money, representing the work of the dead, can have the fullest use of the stored-up energies of time and the ancient sun. Thus the monopoly of the stored-up energies of the sun arises from monopolizing the accumulated fruits of dead men's toil. These problems will, in the future, be the concern of the science and art of Human Engineering. (pp. 119-125)
This is certainly not all that much at odds with the basic foundation of "scientific socialism" associated with Marxism, but again Korzybski is not talking about the abolition of private property or advocating communal living, he is simply acknowledging that most wealth is the common inheritance of all human beings, and arguing for the need for rational governance of human societies.

In this next passage, Korzybski tries to transcend politics in making a powerful ethical argument:

Whether we be capitalists or socialists or neither, we must learn that to prey upon the treasury left by the dead is to live, not the life of a human being, but that of a ghoul. Legalistic title—documentary ownership—does not alter the fact. Neither does lust for the same.
When we have acquired the just conception of what a human being is we shall get away from the Roman conception according to which a human being is instrumentum vocale; an animal, instrumentum semivocale: and a tool, instrumentum mutum. To regard human beings as tools—as instruments—for the use of other human beings is not only unscientific but it is repugnant, stupid and short sighted. Tools are made by man but have not the autonomy of their maker—they have not man's time-binding capacity for initiation, for self-direction, and self-improvement In their own nature, tools, instruments, machines belong to a dimension far lower than that of man. (p. 133)
In this passage, Korzybski's profound humanism is quite clear. He is particularly concerned with dehumanization, with the loss of our humanity either by not living up to our potential, or by turning ourselves into tools, instruments, machines.

And what follows shortly afterwards, interesting enough for scholars of communication and media, is a statement about the news media:

One of the greatest powers of modern times is the Press; it commands the resources of space and time; it affects in a thousand subtle ways the form of our thoughts. It controls the exchange of news throughout the world. Unfortunately the press is often controlled by exploiters of the “living powers of the dead,” and so what is presented as news is frequently so limited, colored and distorted by selfish interests as to be falsehood in the guise of truth. Honest, independent papers are frequently starved by selfish conspirators and forced to close down. Thus the press, which is itself the product in the main of dead men's toil, is made a means for the deception and exploitation of the living. Indeed the bitter words of Voltaire seem to be too true: “Since God created man in his own image, how often has man endeavored to render similar service to God.” Those who want to use such “God-like” powers to rule the world are modern Neros, who in their wickedness and folly fancy themselves divine. To deceive, and through deception, to exploit, rob and subjugate living men and women, and to do it by prostituting the living powers created by the dead, is the work, I will not say of men, but of mad men, greedy, ignorant and blind. What is the remedy? Revolution? Revolution is also mad. The only remedy is enlightenment—knowledge, knowledge of nature, knowledge of human nature, scientific education, science applied to all the affairs of man—the science and art of Human Engineering. (pp. 137-138)

Here again we can see how the unfortunate phrase "human engineering" (which Korzybski eventually abandoned due to its negative connotations), and we can also see that what he is really talking about is education. And he is also talking about human freedom:

Freedom, rightly understood, is the aim of Human Engineering. But freedom is not license, it is not licentiousness. Freedom consists in lawful living—in living in accord with the laws of human nature—in accord with the natural laws of Man. A plant is free when it is not prevented from living and growing according to the natural laws of plant life; an animal is free when it is not prevented from living according to the natural laws of animal life; human beings are free when and only when they are not prevented from living in accord with the natural laws of human life. I say “when not prevented,” for human beings will live naturally and, therefore, in freedom, when they are not prevented from thus living by ignorance of what human nature is and by artificial social systems established, maintained, and protected by such ignorance. Human freedom consists in exercising the time-binding energies of man in accordance with the natural laws of such natural energies. Human freedom is thus the aim of Human Engineering because Human Engineering is to be the science of human nature and the art of conducting human affairs in accordance with the laws of human nature. Survival of the fittest, where fittest means strongest, is a natural law for brutes, for animals, for the class of mere space-binders. Survival of the fittest, where fittest means best in science and art and wisdom, is a natural law for mankind, the time-binding class of life. (p. 153-154)
We see here a critique of social darwinism, and after all, we have come to understand that cooperation plays an important role in the biological survival of species, as well as competition. And the key to freedom according to Korzybski is the unlocking of the potential inherent in human nature. What stands in the way of human freedom is an inability to understand and function in sync with our time-binding capabilities:
Such are the children of folly: (1) Drifting fools—ignorers of the past—disregarders of race experience—thoughtless floaters on the shifting currents of human affairs; (2) Static fools—idealizers of the past—complacent lovers of the present—enemies of change—fearful of the future; (3) Dynamic fools—scorners of the past—haters of the present—destroyers of the works of the dead—most modest of fools, each of them saying: “What ought to be begins with Me; I will make the world a paradise; but my genius must be free; now it is hampered by the existing ‘order’—the bungling work of the past; I will destroy it; I will start with chaos; we need light—the Sun casts shadows—I will begin by blotting out the Sun; then the world will be full of glory—the light of my genius.” (p. 169)
This sounds downright biblical! And here is what Korzybski immediately goes on to say:

In striking contrast with that three-fold division of Folly, the counsel of Wisdom is one, and it is one with the sober counsel of Common Sense. What is that counsel? What is the united counsel of wisdom and common sense respecting the past? The answer is easy and easy to understand. The counsel is this: Do not ignore the past but study it—study it diligently as being the mightiest factor among the great factors of our human world; endeavor to view the past justly, to contemplate it as it was and is, to see it whole—to see it in true perspective—magnifying neither its good nor its evil, neither its knowledge nor its ignorance, neither its enterprise nor its slothfulness, neither its achievements nor its failures; as the salient facts are ascertained, endeavor to account for them, to find their causes, their favoring conditions, to explain the facts to understand them, applying always the question Why? Centuries of centuries of cruel superstition—Why? Centuries of centuries of almost complete ignorance of natural law—Why? Centuries of centuries of monstrous misconceptions of human nature—Why? Measureless creations, wastings and destructions of wealth—Why? Endless rolling cycles of enterprise, stagnation, and decay—Why? Interminable alterations of peace and war, enslavements and emancipations—Why? Age after age of world-wide worship of man-made gods, silly, savage, enthroned by myth and magic, celebrated and supported by poetry and the wayward speculations of ignorant "sages"—Why? Age upon age of world-wide slow developments of useful inventions, craftsmanship, commerce, and art—Why? Ages of dark impulsive groping before the slow discovery of reason, followed by centuries of belief in the sufficiency of ratiocination unaided by systematic observation and experiment—Why? At length the dawn of scientific method and science, the growth of natural knowledge, immeasurable expansion of the universe in Time and in Space, belief in the lawfulness of Nature, rapidly increasing subjugation of natural forces to human control, growing faith in the limitless progressibility of human knowledge and in the limitless perfectibility of human welfare—Why? The widely diverse peoples of the world constrained by scientific progress to live together as in one community upon a greatly shrunken and rapidly shrinking planet, the unpreparedness of existing ethics, law, philosophy, economics, politics and government to meet the exigencies thus arising—Why? (pp. 169-171)

So, what is Korzybski's vision for the future manhood of humanity, Utopian though it may be? Here, take a look:

In humanity's manhood, patriotism—the love of country—will not perish—far from it—it will grow to embrace the world, for your country and mine will be the world. Your “state” and mine will be the Human State—a Cooperative Commonwealth of Man—a democracy in fact and not merely in name. It will be a natural organic embodiment of the civilizing energies—the wealth-producing energies—characteristic of the human class of life. Its larger affairs will be guided by the science and art of Human Engineering—not by ignorant and grafting “politicians”—but by scientific men, by honest men who know.
Is it a dream? It is a dream, but the dream will come true. It is a scientific dream and science will make it a living reality. (pp. 199-200)
Interesting, and not a bad thought at all. Of course, the devil is in the details:

How is the thing to be done? No one can foresee all the details, but in general outline the process is clear. Violence is to be avoided. There must be a period of transition—a period of adjustment. A natural first step would probably be the establishment of a new institution which might be called a Dynamic Department—Department of Coordination or a Department of Cooperation—the name is of little importance, but it would be the nucleus of the new civilization. Its functions would be those of encouraging, helping and protecting the people in such cooperative enterprises as agriculture, manufactures, finance, and distribution.
The Department of Cooperation should include various sections, which might be as follows:
(1) The Section of Mathematical Sociology or Humanology: composed of at least one sociologist, one biologist, one mechanical engineer, and one mathematician. Their work would be the development of human engineering and mathematical sociology or humanology; promoting the progress of science; providing and supervising instruction in the theory of values and the rudiments of humanology for elementary schools and the public at large. The members of the section would be selected by the appropriate scientific societies for a term fixed by the selectors.
(2) The Section of Mathematical Legislation: composed of (say) one lawyer, one mathematician, one mechanical engineer, selected as above. Their task would be to recommend legislation, to provide means for eliminating “Legalism” from the theory and practice of law, and to bring jurisprudence into accord with the laws of time-binding human nature and the changing needs of human society. Their legislative proposals, if ratified in a joint session of sections (1) and (2), would then be recommended to the appropriate legislative bodies.
(3) The Educational Section: composed of two or three teachers, one sociologist, one mechanical engineer, one mathematician, selected as above. They would elaborate educational projects and revise school methods and books; their decisions being subject to the approval of the joint session of sections (1), (2), and (3).
(4) The Cooperative Section: composed of mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, production engineers, expert bookkeepers, accountants, business managers, lawyers and other specialists in their respective lines. This section would be an “Industrial Red Cross” (Charles Ferguson) giving expert advice when asked for by any cooperative society.
(5) The Cooperative Banking Section: composed of financial experts, sociologists, and mathematicians; its task being to help with expert advice new cooperative people's banks.
(6) The Promoters' Section: composed of engineers whose duty would be to study all of the latest scientific facts, collect data, and elaborate plans. Those plans would be published, and no private person, but only cooperative societies, would be permitted by law to use them. The department would also study and give advice respecting the general conditions of the market and the needs in the various lines of production. This section would regulate the duplication of production.
(7) The Farming Section: composed of specialists in scientific and cooperative agriculture.
(8) The Foreign Section: for inter-cooperative foreign relations.
(9) The Commercial Section.
(10) The News Section: to edit a large daily paper giving true, uncolored news with a special supplement relating to progress in the work of Human Engineering. This paper would give daily news about the whole cooperative movement, markets, etc., etc.
All men selected to the places for this work should be the very best men in the nation. They should be well paid to enable them to give their full energy and time to their duties. All the selections for this work should be made in the same manner as mentioned above—through proven merits not clever oratory. Such appointments should be considered the highest honor that a country can offer to its citizens. Every selection should be a demonstration that the person selected was a person of the highest attainments in the field of his work.
The outline of this plan is vague; it aims merely at being suggestive. Its principal purpose is to accentuate the imperative necessity of establishing a national time-binding agency—a Dynamic Department for stimulating, guiding and guarding the civilizing energies, the wealth producing energies, the time-binding energies, in virtue of which human beings are human. For then and only then human welfare, unretarded by monstrous misconceptions of human nature, by vicious ethics, vicious economics and vicious politics, will advance peacefully, continuously, and rapidly, under the leadership of human engineering, happily and without fear, in accord with the exponential law—the natural law—of the time-binding energies of Man. (pp. 200-203)

And there you have it! Simple! Well, okay, it is a bit naive, in retrospect, but I present this here for its historical interest. And maybe it is time once more to start thinking about alternate ways to organize ourselves, in light of the spectacular failures of our economic and political systems recently. As Korzybski pointed out, it doesn't hurt to dream, to speculate, and to think about the future, about where we are going, about where we want to be going, about where we have been. And it really does all begin with a consciousness and understanding of time, and time-binding.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thoughts About Time-Binding 3

So, following Thoughts About Time-Binding 1 and Thoughts About Time-Binding 2, it's time for the third installment of this timely series.

But first, a big THANK YOU to Bruce Kodish for posting an entry on his own blog saying nice things about what I've been writing here: Some Strate Talk About Time-Binding. Bruce is our leading expert on Alfred Korzybski who, as you know, is the fellow who came up with the idea of time-binding, and general semantics, and was the founder of the Institute of General Semantics. Bruce is currently completing a biography of Korzbyski, and his blog, Korzybski Files, is a great resource available to all (and I have added a link to this blog to my listing over on the right).

Now then, back to the binding of Isaac, er, I mean the binding of time (sorry, some residue from the High Holy Days). Korzbyski's concept of time-binding is related to the idea that human beings have supplemented biological evolution with cultural evolution, and through culture, language and symbolic communication, the accumulation of knowledge, and technological innovation, we have progress. Time-binding is a basic characteristic of the human species as a "class of life," to use Korzybski's own terms, so that it is, in one sense, universal to all human societies.

But in another sense, Korzybski was non-Aristotelian even before coming up with his non-Aristotelian system, and realized that time-binding of one sort is not the same as time-binding of another sort. Specifically, some forms of time-binding allow for relatively rapid progress, while others allow for only slow, gradual evolution. The difference was akin, in metaphoric-mathematical terms (mathemetaphor?, hey Ray Gozzi, how about that?), to the difference between arithmetic and geometric progressions.

So, all human societies are characterized by slow, gradual time-binding. Some human societies, however, managed to develop an accelerated form of time-binding in specialized sectors, specifically those associated with science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. And so, Korzybski reasoned, if we could generalize from those sectors to the rest of society, we could achieve rapid progress in all aspects of human life, allowing our species to reach its true potential, which he referred to in the title of his book as the Manhood of Humanity.

Having not yet arrived at the discipline of general semantics, Korzybski instead puts forth a vaguer notion involving the application of scientific method to all human affairs, and refers to it as human engineering. This was an unfortunate choice of words, as it at once summons associations with Communist attempts to create a "new man" via Pavlovian conditioning techniques, Nazi eugenics and racial sanitation/ethnic cleansing, controversial notions of social engineering, and in contemporary culture, genetic engineering. And not surprisingly, Korzybski backed away from this sort of terminology later on. Engineering had a cachet in the early 20th century that it lost in light of the Nazi's all-too-efficient concentration camps and gas chambers, and the atomic bomb. And after all, what we're really talking about here is education. A much better term, don't you think?

But let's look at some of what Korzybski said in Manhood of Humanity, shall we? For example, here he draws a sharp contrast between science and non-science (or should that be nonsense?):

Some technological invention is made, like that of a steam engine or a printing press, for example; or some discovery of scientific method, like that of analytical geometry or the infinitesimal calculus; or some discovery of natural law, like that of falling bodies or the Newtonian law of gravitation. What happens? What is the effect upon the progress of knowledge and invention? The effect is stimulation. Each invention leads to new inventions and each discovery to new discoveries; invention breeds invention, science begets science, the children of knowledge produce their kind in larger and larger families; the process goes on from decade to decade, from generation to generation, and the spectacle we behold is that of advancement in scientific knowledge and technological power according to the law and rate of a rapidly increasing geometric progression or logarithmic function.
And now what must we say of the so-called sciences—the pseudo sciences—of ethics and jurisprudence and economics and politics and government? For the answer we have only to open our eyes and behold the world. By virtue of the advancement that has long been going on with ever accelerated logarithmic rapidity in invention, in mathematics, in physics, in chemistry, in biology, in astronomy and in applications of them, time and space and matter have been already conquered to such an extent that our globe, once so seemingly vast, has virtually shrunken to the dimensions of an ancient province; and manifold peoples of divers tongues and traditions and customs and institutions are now constrained to live together as in a single community. There is thus demanded a new ethical wisdom, a new legal wisdom, a new economical wisdom, a new political wisdom, a new wisdom in the affairs of government. For the new visions our anguished times cry aloud but the only answers are reverberated echoes of the wailing cry mingled with the chattering voices of excited public men who know not what to do. Why? What is the explanation? The question is double: Why the disease? And why no remedy at hand? The answer is the same for both. And the answer is that the so-called sciences of ethics and jurisprudence and economics and politics and government have not kept pace with the rapid progress made in the other great affairs of man; they have lagged behind; it is because of their lagging that the world has come to be in so great distress; and it is because of their lagging that they have not now the needed wisdom to effect a cure.
Do you ask why it is that the “social” sciences—the so-called sciences of ethics, etc.—have lagged behind? The answer is not far to seek nor difficult to understand. They have lagged behind, partly because they have been hampered by the traditions and the habits of a bygone world—they have looked backward instead of forward; they have lagged behind, partly because they have depended upon the barren methods of verbalistic philosophy—they have been metaphysical instead of scientific; they have lagged behind, partly because they have been often dominated by the lusts of cunning “politicians” instead of being led by the wisdom of enlightened statesmen; they have lagged behind, partly because they have been predominantly concerned to protect “vested interests,” upon which they have in the main depended for support; the fundamental cause, however, of their lagging behind is found in the astonishing fact that, despite their being by their very nature most immediately concerned with the affairs of mankind, they have not discovered what Man really is but have from time immemorial falsely regarded human beings either as animals or else as combinations of animals and something supernatural. With these two monstrous conceptions of the essential nature of man I shall deal at a later stage of this writing.
At present I am chiefly concerned to drive home the fact that it is the great disparity between the rapid progress of the natural and technological sciences on the one hand and the slow progress of the metaphysical, so-called social “sciences” on the other hand, that sooner or later so disturbs the equilibrium of human affairs as to result periodically in those social cataclysms which we call insurrections, revolutions and wars. The reader should note carefully that such cataclysmic changes—such “jumps,” as we may call them—such violent readjustments in human affairs and human relationships—are recorded throughout the history of mankind. And I would have him see clearly that, because the disparity which produces them increases as we pass from generation to generation—from term to term of our progressions—the “jumps” in question occur not only with increasing violence but with increasing frequency. (pp. 19-23)

Looking at what Korzybski is saying from a media ecological perspective, we see an emphasis on the role of technology and science in human history, what Siegfried Gideon referred to as anonymous history. We also see a critique of the scientism of the social sciences. Moreover, we can discern in the disparity the need to find a way to gain some measure of control over our technological and scientific development.

Further, in considering what it means to be human, which was one of the basic questions Korzybski was asking (as discussed in Thoughts About Time-Binding 2), he argues that human beings are by nature social and cooperative--Kenneth Burke makes a similar argument in Rhetoric of Motives, stating that the whole point of symbolic communication is to establish, maintain, and increase a sense of common ground and identification among individuals), and that we are by nature creators (a point made more recently by Daniel Boorstin, in The Creators, natch) and inventors, that we require technology to survive (a common point in much of the anthropological literature, and especially among technology scholars in the media ecology intellectual tradition, going back at least to Lewis Mumford):

What is achieved in blaming a man for being selfish and greedy if he acts under the influence of a social environment and education which teach him that he is an animal and that selfishness and greediness are of the essence of his nature?
Even so eminent a philosopher and psychologist as Spencer tells us: “Of self-evident truths so dealt with, the one which here concerns us is that a creature must live before it can act. ... Ethics has to recognize the truth that egoism comes before altruism.” This is true for ANIMALS, because animals die out from lack of food when their natural supply of it is insufficient because they have NOT THE CAPACITY TO PRODUCE ARTIFICIALLY. But it is not true for the HUMAN DIMENSION.
Why not? Because humans through their time-binding capacity are first of all creators and so their number is not controlled by the supply of unaided nature, but only by men's artificial productivity, which is THE MATERIALIZATION OF THEIR TIME-BINDING CAPACITY.
Man, therefore, by the very intrinsic character of his being, MUST ACT FIRST, IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO LIVE (through the action of parents—or society) which is not the case with animals. The misunderstanding [pg 073] of this simple truth is largely accountable for the evil of our ethical and economic systems or lack of systems. As a matter of fact, if humanity were to live in complete accord with the animal conception of man, artificial production—time-binding production—would cease and ninety per cent of mankind would perish by starvation. It is just because human beings are not animals but are time-binders—not mere finders but creators of food and shelter—that they are able to live in such vast numbers.
Here even the blind must see the effect of higher dimensionality, and this effect becomes in turn the cause of other effects which produce still others, and so on in an endless chain. WE LIVE BECAUSE WE PRODUCE, BECAUSE WE ARE ACTING IN TIME AND ARE NOT MERELY ACTING IN SPACE—BECAUSE MAN IS NOT A KIND OF ANIMAL. It is all so simple, if only we apply a little sound logic in our thinking about human nature and human affairs. If human ethics are to be human, are to be in the human dimension, the postulates of ethics must be changed; FOR HUMANITY IN ORDER TO LIVE MUST ACT FIRST; the laws of ethics—the laws of right living—are natural laws—laws of human nature—laws having their whole source and sanction in the time-binding capacity and time-binding activity peculiar to man. Human excellence is excellence in time-binding, and must be measured and rewarded by time-binding standards of worth.
Humanity, in order to live, must produce creatively and therefore must be guided by applied science, by technology; and this means that the so-called social sciences of ethics, jurisprudence, psychology, economics, sociology, politics, and government must be emancipated from medieval metaphysics; they must be made scientific; they must be technologized; they must be made to progress and to function in the proper dimension—the human dimension and not that of animals: they must be made time-binding sciences.
Can this be done? I have no doubt that it can. For what is human life after all?
To a general in the battlefield, human life is a factor which, if properly used, can destroy the enemy. To an engineer human life is an equivalent to energy, or a capacity to do work, mental or muscular, and the moment something is found to be a source of energy and to have the capacity of doing work, the first thing to do, from the engineer's point of view, is to analyse the generator with a view to discovering how best to conserve it, to improve it, and bring it to the level of maximum productivity. Human beings are very complicated energy-producing batteries differing widely in quality and magnitude of productive power. Experience has shown that these batteries are, first of all, chemical batteries producing a mysterious energy. If these batteries are not supplied periodically with a more or less constant quantity of some chemical elements called food and air, the batteries will cease to function—they will die. In the examination of the structure of these batteries we find that the chemical base is very much accentuated all through the structure. This chemical generator is divided into branches each of which has a very different rôle which it must perform in harmony with all the others. The mechanical parts of the structure are built in conformity to the rules of mechanics and are automatically furnished with lubrication and with chemical supplies for automatically renewing worn-out parts. The chemical processes not only deposit particles of mass for the structure of the generator but produce some very powerful unknown kinds of energies or vibrations which make all the chemical parts function; we find also a mysterious apparatus with a complex of wires which we call brain glands, and nerves; and, finally, these human batteries have the remarkable capacity of reproduction.
These functions are familiar to everybody. From the knowledge of other physical, mechanical and chemical phenomena of nature, we must come to the conclusion, that this human battery is the most perfect example of a complex engine; it has all the peculiarities of a chemical battery combined with a generator of a peculiar energy called life; above all, it has mental or spiritual capacities; it is thus equipped with both mental and mechanical means for producing work. The parts and functions of this marvelous engine have been the subject of a vast amount of research in various special branches of science. A very noteworthy fact is that both the physical work and the mental work of this human engine are always accompanied by both physical and chemical changes in the structure of its machinery—corresponding to the wear and tear of non-living engines. It also presents certain sexual and spiritual phenomena that have a striking likeness to certain phenomena, especially wireless phenomena, to electricity and to radium. This human engine-battery is of unusual strength, durability and perfection; and yet it is very liable to damage and even wreckage, if not properly used. The controlling factors are very delicate and so the engine is very capricious. Very special training and understanding are necessary for its control.
The reader may wish to ask: What is the essence of the time-binding power of Man? Talk of essences is metaphysical—it is not scientific. Let me explain by an example.
What is electricity? The scientific answer is: electricity is that which exhibits such and such phenomena. Electricity means nothing but a certain group of phenomena called electric. We are studying electricity when we are studying those phenomena. Thus it is in physics—there is no talk of essences. So, too, in Human Engineering—we shall not talk of the essence of time-binding but only of the phenomena and the laws thereof. What has led to the development of electric appliances is knowledge of electrical phenomena—not metaphysical talk about the electrical essence. And what will lead to the science and art of Human Engineering is knowledge of time-binding phenomena—not vain babble about an essence of time-binding power. There is no mystery about the word time-binding. Some descriptive term was necessary to indicate that human capacity which discriminates human beings from animals and marks man as man. For that use—the appropriateness of the term time-binding becomes more and more manifest upon reflection. (pp. 72-77)
Note that all instances of capitalization and italics are from the original text.

Interesting to see the reference to the materialization of time-binding, in reference to human invention, innovation, and technology. This was an important point that unfortunately becomes overshadowed by the emphasis on scientific method and human engineering in Manhood of Humanity, and verbal/symbolic communication in Korzybski's later work on general semantics, but of course it was enough for him to deal with those topics. The comparison of the human being to a battery may put you in mind of the science fiction film, The Matrix, in which human beings actually were depicted as living batteries kept in a virtual coma by artificially intelligent machines. There is also a reversal here from the way that scholars of technology understand technology to be extensions of the biological and human, a kind of reverse engineering if you will. But there is also an understanding that the material technology (or biology) cannot be considered separately from the software, instructions, technique, operating system. The reference is not to the metaphysical, but the methodological, and metacommunicational, or put another way, the medium.

Here now is a kind of summary statement from Korzybski:

It is essential to keep in mind the nature of our enterprise as a whole, which is that of pointing the way to the science and art of Human Engineering and laying the foundations thereof; we have seen Human Engineering, when developed, is to be the science and art of so directing human energies and capacities as to make them contribute most effectively to the advancement of human welfare; we have seen that this science and art must have its basis in a true conception of human nature—a just conception of what Man really is and of his natural place in the complex of the world; we have seen that the ages-old and still current conceptions of man—zoological and mythological conceptions, according to which human beings are either animals or else hybrids of animals and gods—are mainly responsible for the dismal things in human history; we have seen that man, far from being an animal or a compound of natural and supernatural, is a perfectly natural being characterized by a certain capacity or power—the capacity or power to bind time; we have seen that humanity is, therefore, to be rightly conceived and scientifically defined as the time-binding class of life; we have seen that, therefore, the laws of time-binding energies and time-binding phenomena are the laws of human nature; we have seen that this conception of man—which must be the basic concept, the fundamental principle and the perpetual guide and regulator of Human Engineering—is bound to work a profound transformation in all our views on human affairs and, in particular, must radically alter the so-called social “sciences”—the life-regulating “sciences” of ethics, sociology, economics, politics and government—advancing them from their present estate of pseudo sciences to the level of genuine sciences and technologizing them for the effective service of mankind. I call them “life-regulating,” not because they play a more important part in human affairs than do the genuine sciences of mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and biology, for they are not more important than these, but because they are, so to say, closer, more immediate and more obvious in their influence and effects. These life-regulating sciences are, of course, not independent; they depend ultimately upon the genuine sciences for much of their power and ought to go to them for light and guidance; but what I mean here by saying they are not independent is that they are dependent upon each other, interpenetrating and interlocking in innumerable ways. To show in detail how the so-called sciences will have to be transformed to make them accord with the right conception of man and qualify them for their proper business will eventually require a large volume or indeed volumes. (pp. 95-97)
But of course, Korzybski was also presenting a decidedly utopian vision of human beings and society governed by the rational, scientific principles of human engineering. In doing so, he took his place as part of a tradition that dates back to Plato's Republic, and includes Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels notorious Communist Manifesto, Edward Bellamy's science/speculative fiction novel, Looking Backward, and Thorsten Veblen's The Engineers and the Price System published in the same year as Manhood of Humanity, 1921. To be fair, Korzybski did not overtly forward a prescription for technocracy (see the interesting wikipedia article on the technocracy movement). In the same sense that we can substitute education for engineering, Korzybski's approach emphasized individual enlightenment rather than autocratic social control, which was why it wound up having a great deal of influence over the human potential movement, and various forms of psychotherapy.

We can also discern in Manhood of Humanity an implied theory of history, broken up into three stages of human development. The first stage could be referred to as pre-scientific, characteristic of all traditional societies, where time-binding exists, but progress is very slow. Korzybski has relatively little to say about this stage, as he was not an anthropologist or historian. Perhaps he might have referred to this as the infancy of humanity (which is not to say that I support such a characterization).

The second stage would be scientific, wherein the adoption of scientific method allows for rapid progress in specialized sectors such as applied science, technology and engineering, and in our knowledge of pure science and mathematics--but not in any other aspect of human affairs. This is what Korzybski means by the childhood of humanity.

The third stage, yet to come when Korzybski was writing this first book in 1921, and arguably still yet to come today, would be when all human life is informed by and governed by a scientific approach, human engineering as it were. I think we could refer to this period as post-scientific, not because science would be obsolete, but simply because it would become ubiquitous and environmental; this follows the same logic in which Fredric Jameson explains that the postmodern is considered the period following modernization, in which the process of modernization has been completed and is no longer an issue. This period would be the manhood of humanity, our mature phase, a stage he believed we were about to enter.

Now it's true that developmental models were all the rage in the early and mid 20th century, Toynbee's world history being a prime example, and that they have since been discredited--societies are not like organisms, evolution is not teleological, at least not from a scientific perspective. And even if we are not trying to be scientific in the sense that Korzybski advocated, I do think that our ideas have to be at the very least consistent with established scientific understandings of the world.

Be that as it may, models of historical and cultural change are not unfamiliar in other areas of the media ecology literature. For example, the pre-scientific period clearly connects to oral culture, while it is writing and especially printing that go hand in hand with the development of science. This development is especially well discussed and explained in physicist Robert K. Logan's book, The Alphabet Effect. Writing and printing are materializations of our time-binding capacity that change the very nature of time-binding itself, applying time-binding to time-binding in self-reflexive manner, another aspect of non-Aristotelian dynamics. The technologies of writing and printing give rise to other technologies and techniques, to applied science and pure science, and to the technique of scientific method, which further improves upon our capacity for time-binding.

So, the shift from pre-scientific to scientific societies follows the shift from orality to literacy, from oral culture to literate culture. And it also follows the shift from what Neil Postman in his book Technopoly referred to as tool-using cultures and technocratic cultures. Postman's taxonomy follows a common enough understanding about technological development, and his use of the term technocracy refers not so much to government by engineers (although it does coincide with the advent of social science, which was often used in the service of governmental bureaucracy), but to the advent of modern science, belief in progress, and emphasis on technological development that increasingly overshadowed all else, but remained confined within its specialized sector.

So what of the post-scientific society that Korzybski looked for? We might see in Postman's dystopic vision of technopoly, which he argued is already with us, the shadow, the dark side of Korzybski's vision, the society ruled by technology, where no sector is safe from the technological imperative, where it is all but impossible to say no to technology or imagine a value other than efficiency to invoke when deliberating and decision-making. Again this is the opposite of what Korzybski was anticipating, but they form a dialectic of sorts.

Postman's three cultures, tool-using, technocracy, and technopoly line us with the three main media environments often discussed in the media ecology literature, the oral, the literate and especially the print or typographic, and the electronic. I have discussed these correspondences elsewhere and won't go into them here.

But how interesting to consider McLuhan's vision of electronic interdependence, the global village, everyone involved in depth with each other, all in light of a post-scientific age. McLuhan wrote about a new ecological awareness that does not seem inconsistent with Korzybski's ideal of mature consciousness, nor does the related turn to relativism in the late 20th century. Yes, there seems to be a contradiction when McLuhan spoke of a return to the tribal, but on a global scale, but then again, Marx's view of a just and rational world was linked to a return to communal living, hence the term communism. The electronic age is characterized by both irrationality and hyperrationality. And the computer, the electronic medium par excellence, represents the triumph of a rational and mathematical approach to the world. Might it be that the computer represents the materialization of the third stage of time-binding? Just some speculation, mind you, but I do think there is an important connection between general semantics and digital technologies that has yet to be established.

Well, this post sure took a lot of time to put together, and there's still more to be said, which I'll save for next time...