Manhood's Fallacy

May 26, 2013

© Copyright 2013 by Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr.


27 years after the publication of Manhood of Humanity Korzybski had nearly three decades to possibly grow his understanding of science and apply the principles of general semantics to his upcoming second edition.  We see that little change has been made.  I'm not surprised.  Both culture and people follow Newton's first law of motion. (Look it up if you don't know it.)

Irving M. Klotz, The N-Ray Affair, Scientific American Vol. 242, May 1980 noted:

"Early in this century an eminent physicist discovered a new kind of radiation, and others confirmed his work.  The radiation turned out to be totally imaginary, proving that believing can be seeing." p. 168
"Maxwell is said to have observed in an introductory lecture on light: "There are two theories of the nature of light, the corpuscle theory and the wave theory; we used to believe in the corpuscle theory; now we believe in the wave theory because all those who believed in the corpuscle theory have died." p. 175
In 1950 Korzybski published his considered view in "What I believe" in the second edition of "Manhood of Humanity".

Remember as you read this what Korzybski wrote in 1950 about what he wrote.
 "This was originally written in 1948 in response to an invitation from Mr. Krishna Mangesh Talgeri, M.A. of 26, Atul Grove, New Delhi, India, to contribute to a symposium entitled, The Faith I Live By. It is to be published soon, and includes such international contributors as Gandhi, Nehru, Montessori, John H . Holmes, Radhakrishnan and others. I admit that without Mr. Talgeri's invitation, and the most valuable assistance of Miss Charlotte Schuchardt, which I wish to gratefully acknowledge, I would never have undertaken the difficult task of formulating such a condensed summary of life studies and experiences which any `credo' would require.

What follows is in the form of a dialogue in which I "answer" the statements made by a dead nervous system - which is what time-binding is supposed to be about. As you read this, remember that it represents Korzybski's views as of 1948 (written) -1950 (published). Thus begins the comment and modern response on this second addition to Manhood of Humanity.

pp. Xlii

AK: My observations and theoretical studies of life and mathematics, mathematical foundations, many branches of sciences, also history, history of cultures, anthropology, `philosophy', `psychology', `logic', comparative religions, etc., convinced me that:
1) Human evaluations with reference to themselves were mythological or zoological, or a combination of both; but,

RK: In other words, Humans believe they were either divine creations of a diety or evolved from lower order animals. The tension between religion and science was heavy in the context with fighting in the courts over teaching the bible vs evolution.

AK: 2) Neither of these approaches could give us a workable base for understanding the living, uniquely human, extremely complex (deeply inter-related) reactions of Smith1, Smith2, etc., generalized in such high-order abstractions as `mind', or `intellect' ; and,

RK: Each view did, and still does, have its paradigm, and each paradigm explains how humans came to be and fit into the world, as well as well as directly or implicitly places demands on our behavior, and the adherents of each group managed and still manage to carry on with their lives.  What Korzybski is saying is that he thought he had a better way to explain "man" as a species.

AK: 3) A functional analysis, free from the old mythological and zoological assumptions, showed that humans, with the most highly developed nervous system, are uniquely characterized by the capacity of an individual or a generation to begin where the former left off.

RK: This characterization suffers from a glossing over of the difficulties and completely ignoring the amount of learning a child must go through before he or she can even begin to advance beyond where his parents (former generation) was continuing to go. Every person must learn a fraction of the human historical record and choose a portion - an extremely limited portion - of the information available to learn and make it his or her own knowledge. Then, and only then, when he or she can begin to navagate the information maze with little or no *additional* help from living teachers, will he or she be able to begin to construct new information that he or she or other teachers can impart as knowledge in new students.  Information accumulates with every generation, but no human can learn that information; it is far too vast. A human learns the basics through the first twenty years of schooling in developed countries, perhaps ten years in primitive cultures (with much less information). In all cases, this preliminary learning is through direct contact with "elders" or others previously so initiated. We have the capacity to find a limited, very restricted, set of information that we can learn up to the current frontier of that information, making it our own knowledge, so we can begin abstracting to new ideas and contributing to advancing the frontier by encoding our new knowledge into new recorded information and expanding the frontier of that recorded information, and hopefully we, and those we worked with, can use their knowledge of this newly recorded information to assist others in making this new information a future copy of the knowledge (in new people) of how to use it.

AK: I called this essential capacity 'time-binding'. This can be accomplished only by a class of life which uses symbols as means for time-binding. Such a capacity depends on and necessitates `intelligence', means of communication, etc.

RK: Korzybski's "Etc.", must include all of the childhood learning and education involving contact with parents, teachers, role-models, and others, that brings the child to the state of experience and knowledge necessary to assimilate even a fraction of the symbolic information and to know how to use it. But that 'etc.' does not include "super-intellects" who can assimilate "all" of current human information, so no-one can begin where the entire generation left off.

AK: On this inherently human level of interdependence time-binding leads inevitably to feelings of responsibility, duty toward others and the future, and therefore to some type of ethics, morals, and similar social and/or socio-cultural reactions.

RK: Here Korzybski commits the naturalistic fallacy.  He is projecting his own long frustrated longing for peace in a world with no wars.

Studies have supported kinship altruism (behavior that appears to be "altruistic" correlates with a survival advantage to the genes in the pool of related individuals), but otherwise the studies were ambiguous or conflicting.

Time-binding, the capacity to communicate and to build the supply of symbolic information about the world and everything humans can think about and talk about also facilitates all the negative human actions, beliefs, and behaviors. The more communicating you do, the more information you will assimilate, including information about the culture, the economy, the behavior of others, their wealth, where they keep it, other secrets, and knowing how to "lie" allows using that information againsts others as well as for others.  The diference is determined by the values held by the individuals, and the groups they inhabit, and those values vary across the board - from murderous through apathy through sacrafice.

So called "time-binding" include all the abilies of humans enhanced by communications and motives, not just the ones that benefit the entire species. As a matter of fact, having a variety of value systems tends to enhance the survival in varying conditions.  In May 2013 athropologics revealed corroborating physical evidence that the 60 Jamestown colonists survived by resorting to human cannibalism. Korzybski fails to consider the full range of human activities, and blindly assumes that "Knowledge" [obtained from information] would be used to benefit everybody whereas human behavior has shown that the vast majority of the ways information is used is in survival, which entails competition with peers, competition for jobs, for homes, for cars, for status, for power, for "keeping up with the Joneses", etc. The prevalence of cheating in schools and in colleges shows just one part of this.

Korzybsk is going from "is" (in this case his abstracted description) to "ought" (in this case his long frustrated hatred of war), picking out his dream of how humanity might be.  As long as we live with any semblance of haves and have-nots in our culture, there will be a force of conflict and competition.  The difference will push the underdogs to want "a fair and equal distribution" and it will push the overdogs to protect their territory, to keep their way of life. 

Descriptions of humanity, including as a symbol users building an ever increasing store of information, can not be abstracted to a value that that is the way they should behave. Values are relative to organisms and contexts, and neither is an absolute determiant of behavior. Nor does thinking about it provide any method of going from quantified predicate calculus to deontic logic.  It is the difference in level of abstraction, in fact, it is the incompletenes theorem of Gödel. Descriptive level can not get to values level without adding a new axiom, and that axiom, postulate, assumption, is choosing to value one kind of behavior over another. Different choices produce different, and conflicting, systems as the evidence of clashing religions shows. Korzybski commits the naturalistic fallacy by confusing levels of abstraction between descriptions and values.  Since the major thust of Manhood of Humanity is exactly this project of getting humans to "behave better", he has tripped himself up by committing the fallacy. We know the argument is flawed. In addition to being fallacious, it tries to do what Gödel's incompleness theorem proved cannot be done.

Korzybski needed to treat the prescrption as a value to sell to humans, but trying to take the value choice away with a fallacy, in violation of Gödel, just works against him. ( It gets worse when he starts throwing the "animal" label at people who don't comply. )  Korzybski would need to claim direcly that he is adding a value to the description and advocating its behavior - but that has already been done as with the "golden rule", and you just have to look around to see how effective that was absorbed. I have my reasons for accepting it, but they do not include the fallacious idea that it follows in a logical and scientific way from my symbol use cooperation.  I got it at my mother's knee, but I also chose to keep it, because it promises less conflict and stress, but based on the actions of bullies in high school, it does not protect me from that hostile action.  I was forced on one occasion to resort to their tactics, and punch the kid in the nose, just to stop them from abusing me.  It took a couple of these incidents to to "establish" that I was not at the bottom of the pecking order.  In doing so, I did not feel proud, but it did gain me some peace for the rest of school. So even choosing such a value in a culture of varied value systems does not guarantee what Korzybski BELIEVED would follow "logically" from his "time-binding nature" of humankind.

AK: In the time-binding orientation I took those characteristics for granted as the empirical end-products of the functioning of the healthy human nervous system.

RK: He has swallowed his own fallacy, succumbed to his own propaganda, hoisting himself by his own petard. The use of this fallacy and the constant and continued repetition as a "science of man" becomes a broken record with a broken message.

AK: It was a fundamental error of the old evaluations to postulate `human nature' as `evil'. `Human nature' depends to a large extent on the character of our creeds or rationalizations, etc., for these ultimately build up our socio-cultural and other environments.

RK: He's misrepresenting multiple views. Humans have been described as "moral" by religions, as "evil" in the characterization of the evolutionists by the religious and amoral by relativists, as well as simply relativists. But we can agree with him that human "behavior" depends on these things. We can't know what "human nature" means, because if we thought we did, we would simply have a model that would be either scientific (and testable) or not scientific (and hence a matter of faith). In true Gödel fashion we have many value systems, especially religions, most of which clash with each other, because their primary "value" axiom is stated differently, and expanded with multiple cultures. Korzybsk seems to ignore the value systems which deny that man is "evil".  Well, presenting half the story (lying by omission) is part of propaganda, salesmanship, competition with other views (Oh, look at that - he's behaving in Animalistic competitive manners trying to "sell" his view).

AK I believe that our approaches to the problems of humans have been vitiated by primitive methods of evaluation which still often dominate our attitudes and outlooks.

RK: ("Bad" habits of thinking - no longer used in science.)  Also, Korzybski's paradigm did not include evolutionary epistemology. His view was basically a fusion of Logical Positivism and Nihlism where Logical Positivism builds on observation and Nihlism accounts for the inability to "know" what is going on.  The parabola in the structural differentiatl represents the unknown (epistemological nihlism) and the remainder, object and label levels represent what we "know".  I would add that the "knowledge" is strictly internal to people, hence resides at non-verbal levels. Once verbal levels are transitions into symbols, they become mere information, as the "knowledge" cannot be removed from the nervous system of the beholder. Each of us has our own unique "knowledge", caused by interaction with what is going on, but not of what is going on.  It is merely our model to use for predicting future experiences, which sometimes works and sometimes does not.

AK: With a time-binding consciousness, our criteria of values, and so behaviour, are based on the study of human potentialities, not on statistical averages on the level of homo homini lupus drawn from primitive and/or un-sane semantic (evaluational) reactions which are on record.

RK: Often enough values are determined by behavior, the reverse of Korzybski's order; however, as I showed above, values do not follow from the description of humans as time-binders, so consciousness that we bind time, and how we bind time, has no bearing on what is valued, other than as it facilitates our survival. Studying human potentialities - what we could do, can include nefarious conflics and how to win just as easily as how to cooperate.  Korzybsk is again applying the naturalistic fallacy and assuming that the study of human potentialities will show better results than what? Moreover, studying "potential" is studying projections of the person doing the studying.  Potentials are not observations.  Potentials are conjectures.  This is about as pure an intensional orientation as one can get.   We would need experiments with tests to gain something extensional to study.  Secondly he couples "statistical averages" with human predators, and assumes that all records of human behavior have not used scientific methods. We are lead to folow his implication that the statistical averages on record are primitave and un-sane.  I dare say the bureas of prisons would disagree.  If it weren't for knowledge of the naturalistic fallacy, we might have been sucked in long ago, but everything is contaminated by the naturalistic fallacy, which as I note above is also related to Gödel's incompleteness theorems.

AK: Instead of studying elementalistic `thinking', `feeling', `intellect, `emotion', etc., a misguiding approach implying the inherited archaic, artificial, divisions or schizophrenic splits of human characteristics which actually cannot be split, I investigated functionally and therefore non-elementalistically the psycho-biological mechanisms of time-binding-how they work.

RK: This what we call psychobabble. The notion of elementalism, defined as "split[ting] ... characteristics which actually cannot be split."  All the words we use abstract some characteristics, which we wish to examine both as differentiated from their context as well as in relation to other abstractions in the concept.  Calling the use of a word an "elementalism" suggest that we should not use the word or talk about the characteristic.  Where would we be if we could not talk about hydrogen and oxygen separately because they were "elementalism", and we were forced to speak only of water?  We cannot examine a structure at a lower level of abstraction if we cannot differentiate it into sub-structures and look at the relations among those sub-structures and how they contribute to understanding the whole. We have "thinking and feeling", and how we talk about each depends on how we differentiate them, and how we characterize each. They are, after all, maps, and we know the map is not the territory; what's more, we do not know what "actually" "is", so any claim that something "actually can not be split" confuses the map with the territory. Neither we nor Korzybski knows what "actually is the case" with regard to any "territory" our words are are chosen to abstract characteristics from.

The attitude theory of emotions by Nina Bull provides a structuring for motor attitude, well described in her experiments, feelings, as identified by subjects with specific labels (words) and behavior as described by trained observers.  If you always have to put think-feel together, you are only allowed to talk about the higher level of abstraction in a context in which geting more extensional was the entire purpose of the experiments. Virtually all so-called "elementalisms" are arbitrary prohibitions on taking the perspective and discussion to a more extensional level, which, by the way, is one of general semantics specified means of resolving confilict.  Characteristics of human behavior are abstraction we make to be more extensional - to address some part of human interaction a) in isolation so as to formulate it, b) in relation to other abstractions, c) to hypothesize and consider a structural model to account for some of the overall behavior, and d) to devises way of testing the model.

In Korzybski's time this may have been thought of as "disecting" human experience.  During the early part of the twentieth century "scientific management" was taking complete control of workers, down to specifying what finger movement to make when. This "Taylorism", dehumanizing human workers in the name of total management control for efficiency, dominated in the 1910's and 20's.  The humanity of the workers was irrelevent. Also, various theories of society supposedly applying biological concepts to sociology and politics from the 1870's on became known in 1944 as "social Darwinism" a pejorative term opposing those "mechanistic and amoral" characterizations of humans.  This process literally showed that humans could be and were characterized as "nothing but (more intelligent) *animals*".  "SCIENCE" was stripping humanity of humanity, and the religious backlash included the "Scopes Monkey Trial" (1925).  By claiming in "Manhood of Humanity" that, with a new way of looking at people, animals, and plants, science could abstract a scientific human system of ethics and values.  It would also counteract the claim that "Man was just an animal" by showing a way to see man as majorly different from animals without having to resort to religion to do so.  The dimensions of chemistry, space, and time, which directly paralleled the hard science physics MASS, LENGTH, and TIME dimensions, promised to restore humanity to its exalted status "above" the animals, and put science on par with the religions that already offered that status.  So Manhood of Humanity counteracted the dehumanizing work of management, of social darwinism (before it was called that), and simple science that only classified us in mineral, plant, and anaimal. It did it, however, by selling a fallacy in the name of science.  But human nature, being what it "is", (which we cannot say), went right on behaving as it does with more great acts and more horendous acts, and more science, some of which proved that there can be no such human science based ethical and value system, because the values are independent of the descriptions, leading to the ability to have various different ethical and value systems.  So, we still have all the religious and nonreligious ethical and value system that co-exis - often in conflict, some of which have the value to wipe out all others. Logic will not solve the problems because we live in symbolic and semantic environments superimposed on top of physical environments.