Korzybski: A Biography
by Bruce I. Kodish
"That's a crazy book!" Albert Einstein said in the early 1950s, when asked his impression of Alfred Korzybski's 1933 work Science and Sanity. More than a decade later, Richard Feynman found Korzybski's notion of "time-binding" crucial for answering the question "What is science?".
Feynman didn't know that it was Alfred Korzybski who had coined the term "time-binding" in his first, 1921, book Manhood of Humanity to label what he considered the defining characteristic of humans: the potential of each generation to start where the former leaves off and thus to accumulate useful knowledge at an ever-accelerating rate. In the exact sciences and technology, time-binding seems to work reasonably well. In the rest of human life, not so much. Korzybski, a patriotic Polish nobleman and an engineer who had lived under Tsarist tyranny and had seen the horrors of World War I on the Eastern Front before coming to the United States, realized the results of the disparity between rapid but narrow scientific-technological advancement and broader but snail-paced ethical-social development: a seemingly endless cycle of crises, revolutions and wars. Seeking a way out, he studied a broad range of disciplines from physics to psychiatry-fields that others felt had little to do with each other-and discovered factors of sanity in physico-mathematical methods. Comparing the ways of thinking that scientists and mathematicians exemplify when working at their best and the ways of thinking that they and other people unsanely or insanely tend to use the rest of the time, Korzybski linked science and sanity in a new world outlook with an accompanying methodology (labeled "general semantics")-simple enough to teach children.
Traces of Korzybski's pioneering work can be found today in a variety of fields such as cognitive science, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy, communication, media ecology, medicine, organizational development, philosophical counseling and philosophy, etc. In spite of this, Korzybski's radically interdisciplinary work remains relatively unassimilated into standard academic fields and hard to accurately fit into familiar popular categories. Thus, Korzybski, who originated the saying "The map is not the territory," remains a relatively neglected and misunderstood figure, shrouded in controversy: some people have considered him a genius while others have called him a crank. Drawing on an array of sources including Korzybski's personal correspondence, notes, scrapbooks, and both published and unpublished writings, as well as personal discussions and interviews with some of Korzybski's closest co-workers, Bruce I. Kodish situates Korzybski's contributions in the context of his times and provides surprising insights into his work as a whole. Kodish's clear prose provides a compellingly readable narrative of Korzybski's very busy, sometimes too busy, exciting and exhausting life while making accessible some of the most complex areas of Korzybski's thought. For years to come, this outstanding biography will remain the standard work on Alfred Korzybski's extraordinarily adventurous and significant life and work.
Softcover. 694 pages. ISBN 0970066406. 2.4 lbs.