Wednesday 1 September 2004

Korzybskian Realization (2004)

From The Philosopher, Volume LXXXXII No. 2 Autumn 2004

Ancient Wisdom, Modern Thinking
and the method of
Korzybskian Realization
By Ted Falconar

The notion of Realization (or 'seeing reality') came from the Buddha, if not rather earlier. Certainly Count Alfred Korzybski independently gained the same general idea from his study of the way Albert Einstein thought. I believe it is the greatest philosophical idea there has ever been.

But to explain it is a problem that has baffled Buddhists for 2,500 years, Korzybski for thirty to forty years and me, myself for some twenty years.

Yet the idea is very simple: in essence it is that after childhood we no longer use our senses fully. We recognise things cursorily and name them. We do not look really closely. A.H. Maslow, the author of Motivation and Personality, used the word perception for the way we should think, that is to say, that we should not try to recognise but instead to perceive. This was the main characteristic of what he called his 'higher' people - the self-actualised.

The Buddhist way of explaining the idea that is most familiar to those in the West, comes via the Zen philosophy of Japan, which itself came out of Chan (the same word) in China and Dhyan, the original Indian version. The method of Zen is to confront students with riddles called koans. The first was said to come from the Buddha. When asked what reality was he simply held a rose over his head and smiled. This meant that the rose has to be sensed, it is beyond words, it can only be known through the senses.

Most koans are nonsensical with the purpose of making students understand the limitation and unreality of words. One such of these paradoxical koans is called the Sound of the One Hand: In clapping the hands a sound is heard: What is the sound of the One Hand?

Alas, the results from this way of explanation are very poor, hardly any students have become 'Realized'.

The Tibetan method of teaching Realization is more rational and entails actual meditation in various states: Dharani, Samath and finally Samadhi. Respectively: absorption, tranquillisation and what D.T.Suzuki, author of Essays in Zen Buddhism, called 'earnest contemplation'. This last comes near to being Realization.

The importance of Buddhism in Tibet is that when Hinduism reasserted domination over Buddhism in India, there was a danger of elements of Buddhist teachings being lost, but the Tibetans faithfully transferred many such Buddhist teachings and safeguarded them.

I once listened to twelve lectures by the Rimpoche Samdhong who was the then Principal of the Centre for Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath, Benares. He told the group I was with that he had never helped anyone, yet Realization was the main subject he was teaching. It seems that it is a subject that cannot be explained rationally except to a very few people.

I myself went to India fifteen times, ten of them for three months each year to learn the method. It was only after about seven of these visits that I returned home and came across Korzybski's book Science and Sanity, and it suddenly all came to me.

In this book I read of the 'Structural Differential', [my illustration is at the foot of this article] that he had designed in a failed attempt to explain his system to John Dewey, the philosopher of education [and sometime contributor to The Philosopher - Ed.] and John Watkins, the Behaviourist at a symposium in New York. It came to me as a revelation. Korzybski explained that without using the 'Structural Differential', it was practically impossible to grasp this kind of non-Aristotelian thinking.

So what is the theory? What is Realization all about? Let me offer ten pointers.
1. When children learn words the joy of their childhood ends and the colours fade into a black and white world of words. Later many of them are bored, they want to get away on holidays, to be entertained and so on. Yet there is a wonderland all round them.

2. Words throw out senses, thus our senses, which are in touch with reality, are replaced by words that have nothing to do with reality. Korzybski called words a primitive language not even having the same structure as reality; only mathematics has the same structure as reality.

3. Visualization is the language of Reality for it mirrors reality; its pictures are of real things. Its written language is Higher Mathematics. It unmasks abstractions: words that are not about reality.

Mind you, even mathematics is not wholly accurate. Albert Einstein once said: 'As far as the Laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are uncertain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality'. Korzybski thinks, as he puts it, that: 'Visualization represents the most beneficial and efficient form of human "thought".'

4. Visualization is the most beautiful language. One of the greatest mystics, Kabir, said we must:
'... make our body a house of pictures'. We can make it what we will- a garden more magnificent than any physical garden or we can make it a hell. He visualized an Ocean of Pearls and made it his real home: his homeland. Visualization is the light of the mind.

5. The Indian Guru, Rajmeesh, wrote that senses are the doors of the body into the infinite. If we don't use them the body is a dungeon, moreover without visualization it is a dungeon without light. Examples of people using the senses are artists, poets and creative people who all sense and do not recognise or see similarities with other things. Artists teaching at an Art School were always saying to students LOOK AT THE MODEL. Students had their own idea in their minds of an arm leading to grotesque arms, they were not seeing reality: not seeing real arms.

6. Korzybskian thinking is not just useful for arts but for all life including everyday, practical matters like managing factories and so on (I myself used to manage one for Tetley Tea) and because by using it we force ourselves to see reality.

7. Love and its fading is caused by a change from an emotional and sense relationship to a verbal and intellectual one. Whereas animals never lose their ownersĂ­ affection because it is a sensing friendship not an intellectual one. This is a knowledge that can give a large benefit in human relations. Words act like a barrier but it is sensing and emotions including visualization, that lead to rapport.

8. Nothing is more rare than a truly original or first-hand idea. We are taught things, we read things, we see things on the Internet, we recognise things, we see resemblances between things. All this is second-hand. What is original and first-hand? You can go out into the first-hand universe and see or sense something in a new way like an artist. That is original.

9. Senses have been neglected. For instance in a survey of American men and women, it seems 80% of the former and 70% of the latter could not tell the difference between the four primary tastes : sweet, sour, salty, musty. It is as Aldous Huxley once wrote in the Doors of Perception, only drugs will induce a wonderful view of reality. Yet we do not have to take drugs, we can instead just cultivate the senses and sense reality. Reality truly is wonderful - a wonderland.

10. Finally, remember Korzybski studied the way Einstein thought. Creativity follows from Korzybskian thinking. H.D.Thoreau made his whole life a creative art. Every day he went out to look for beautiful ideas. He called his life his Elysium.
Of course, these ten points are not just for information but to be put into action: they must be experienced.

In Thoreau's Journal, all our senses are paraded: here are sound and sight and smell. The episodes all demonstrate Korzybski's way of the Structural Differential: Sense-Feel-Visualize-Verbalise. They may end in what is called 'Creative Rapture' or 'the Peak Experience' - which is the highest mental joy.

Thoreau's Journal entry of January 8, 1852:
I go forth each afternoon and look into the West a quarter of an hour before sunset, with fresh curiosity to see what new picture will be painted there, what new panorama exhibited, what new dissolving views. . . . Every day a new picture is painted and framed, held up for half an hour in such lights as the Great Artist chooses, and then withdrawn, and the curtain falls. And then the sun goes down, and long the afterglow gives light. And then the damask curtains glow along the western window. And now the first star is lit and I go home.
June 16 ,1852. An evening in Concord, New Hampshire:
A sultry night. A flute from a villager. How rare among men as fit a thing as the sound of a flute at evening! The sonorous note of bullfrogs is heard a mile off in the river, the loudest sound this evening. Ever and anon the sound of his trombone comes over the meadows and fields a-lulling all Concord to sleep -- Have not the fireflies in the meadow relation to the stars above, ETINCELANT? Do not the stars, too, show their light for love like the fireflies.
Etincelant: that is glistening, sparkling. Scents such as I remember in America. Alexander von Humboldt, while travelling on the Orinoco, wrote of Columbus approaching the New World:
The grateful coolness of the evening air, the ethereal purity of the starry firmament, the balmy fragrance of flowers wafted to him by the land breeze, all led him to suppose that he was approaching the Garden of Eden, the sacred abode of our first parents. The Orinoco seemed to him one of the four rivers, which according to the venerable tradition of the ancient world, flowed from Paradise to water and divide the surface of the earth, newly adorned with plants. 
 The sounds of nature, the songs of birds and noises of animals... Thoreau too wrote about those little flasks of music when he heard the Bobolink,

Journal, June 1, 1857.
It is as if he touched his harp within a vase of liquid melody, and when he lifted it out, the notes fell like bubbles from the trembling strings. . . . It is the foretaste of such strains as never fell on mortal ears, to hear which we should rush to our doors and contribute all that we possess and are. 
And I myself must describe his 'Coral Island music box':
In Bermuda I heard the sound of a pure and celestial flute in the night. It was bell-like in its clarity. I saw in my mind some magic bird, a nightingale of the Coral Islands. In the morning I found the flute player-a small green frog like an emerald brooch adorning a tree. I marvelled at it, a frog not even an inch long, no larger than a thumb nail. I knew then that it was more inspiring than if the sound had come from an Orphean bird. I saw this frog as a small jewel box, a matrix, in which pure notes of music were formed and cut as by a skilled diamond cutter and then released as glittering, crystalline jewels.
I have hardly written yet of taste and touch, the last the most neglected of our senses. Andre Gide wrote in his wonderful book The Fruits of the Earth (Nourriture Terrestre in the original, although a French man told me it seemed an inferior title to the English translation) of pomegranates that their flowers look made of wax:

They are coloured like the fruit.
Guarded treasures, honeycomb partitions,
Richness of flavour,
Pentagonal architecture.
The rind splits; the seeds fall
Crimson seeds in azure bowls
Or drops of gold in dishes of enamelled bronze.

Not only do we not read this with real understanding so that we can redeem our lives, but even Gide wrote in his Journal that he never regained the Rapture he felt while writing The Fruits of the Earth: surely a supremely sad admission.

What can we make of this? By using his senses in the creative way, Thoreau preserved his Elysium; Gide abandoned his for the intellectual world. Let us not think this entails a confrontation between the two approaches, however, using the senses is merely another dimension of our talents and facilities.

Our senses have been neglected for millennia, perhaps many millennia, though the worst of the neglect may have begun only with the printed word. Of these Touch seems to be the least used for art by modern humans. However Love must be the most universal experience of Touch, indeed it galvanises all our senses. But Robert Bridges' lovely poem: 'So Sweet Love Seemed' (unfortunately rather long for such an article as mine) tells us how love does not endure. These episodes show how we can use our senses for art and for our whole lives.

A friend once said that sense impressions are the raw material of art. More than this, our senses are our only direct contact with reality: if we don't make use of them, we are alienated from Reality - indeed we are alienated from everything.

Address for correspondence:

Ted Falconer
Slieau Lewaigue
Isle of Man IM7 1BG

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