KKRO Reporter, Hindi Wala, Speaks About An Intergalactic Connection

The Philosophy Of Allan Kurzberg: A Brief Summary, Part 2.

Allan Kurzberg was suspicious of philosophies that seemed to utilize ad hoc neologisms and undue complexity.  “To be sure, mathematics may become highly abstract and complex.  However, such complexity has a specific purpose:  to try to gain as precise an understanding  of a particular concept.  In philosophy, complexity often masks a lack of understanding of fundamental concepts”.  He would shake his head when he thought of the writing of F.S.C. Northrop, “This writer seems to list a string of adjectives that make his ideas well-nigh incomprehensible!  I defy anyone to tell me what the following statement means:  “The economic-political socio-historical physical-analytical process of Italy evolved in artistic and scientific conceptualizing, while maintaining its unique global outlook.”  Allan would remind me of Stuart Chase’s book, The Tyranny of Words.  “Robert!  If you ever get the chance, read Stuart’s book and think about some of his criticism!  Words are fine in their own way.  As a character in a Samuel Beckett novel stated, “Words are no shoddier than what they peddle.”  “However, in philosophy we should attempt to elucidate and explain rather than bewilder and confuse.  I might add Piet Hein’s Grook:  “To make a name in learning when other paths are barred, take something very simple and make it very hard!”

Allan liked to ponder on free will and determinism.  He would tell me that to prove there is no free will all one had to do was to take an event, say t7, and show that one had no choice but to act as one did.  If you could do that, then for all events after t7 and preceding it the same conclusion must be true, because you can’t say that you did not have free will for t7, but you did for t11, or t4.  Kurzberg himself did not believe in free will.  He thought that once you were placed in an environment, a host of influences arising from that environment would begin to serve as forces that you would sway you in a particular direction when making any decision.  He would say, ” The philosophical belief that at birth the mind is”tabula rasa” is not tenable, because we know by definition that humans come into the world with motivational forces that I call: E+, E-, OE+, OE-, and r.  That is, humans are irrational beings that are mostly capable of rational thought.  The belief of Rousseau in “the noble savage” is equally false.  And the overemphasis on the role of rational thought from The Age of Enlightenment is also not supportable.  It has taken two world wars and a host of smaller ones to show what motivational forces influence the human mind…”

In the next segment I will show what event what brought Allan and I together and how we shared some important experiences.

The Philosophy of Allan Kurzberg: A Brief Summary, Part 1.

Before summarizing some of Allan Kurzberg’s fundamental philosophical ideas it is well to note what Allan’s concept of philosophy was.  Kurzberg  used to take issue with philosophies, which he called those that “stopped the car”.  He meant philosophies that never got beyond a defined point A to a defined point B.  The problem with such philosophies, he asserted, was that they are based on undefinable terms.  Consequently, advocates of these philosophies have unlimited opportunities of interpreting these terms freely, since no precise definition impedes the pathways of their thoughts.  Certainly, to think about what constitutes the beautiful, for instance, does add to our perception and appreciation of the aesthetic.  However, aesthetics as a philosophy can never state that as a consequence of a conceived definition of beauty, the following must occur, because “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”.  In other words, aesthetics is a philosophy that “stops the car”.  Kurzberg was not opposed to the study of aesthetics or other “immovable” philosophies, but he maintained that the study of philosophy should include philosophies that provide movement from one defined point to another.  And that is what Allan tried to do through his four postulates and two corollaries in The Theory of Us.  He tried to reassert the universal power of mathematical reasoning into a theory of human interactions.

Personal Note:  When I was a student at USC, I was quite interested in the ideas of historian and literary scholar, Erich Kahler.(I still have a stack of typed notes from his work, Man the Measure, which covers man’s early history to 1943.  He didn’t know how WWII would turn out!).  Kahler had written an intriguing essay based on an Ohio State lecture, “The True, the Good, and the Beautiful”.  His ideas focused on some of the more important points of Greek philosophy.  Impressed with his concepts, I decided to give this pamphlet to a Taiwanese girl that I knew from the comparative literature program.  After a few days she returned it, and I asked her what she thought of it, expecting effusive praise.  However, she looked at me critically and said,”Robert!  This is not the only way of defining these concepts!  In China, we have entirely different ways of understanding these ideas, and, in my opinion, they are just as valid!  So I learned that my reliance on Greek thought had blinded me to philosophical schools in other parts of the world!

My Dad, Atrophy And Mathematics

To bring back and extend Dad’s concept of numbers, my sister, Nancy, and I have been giving him simple math problems.  My sister is giving him addition problems that require carrying. I’ve been trying to get him to relearn the multiplication table.  Both my sister and I realize that part of his brain has atrophied.  But we believe that a better knowledge of numbers will not only help him solve basic mathematics problems, but also improve his ability to reason and strengthen his confidence.   I was astounded yesterday morning to see my Dad at 95 solve all my problems in ten seconds!  He was definitely proud of his accomplishment and so was I!

My Dad at work.

 

The Radical Philosophy Of Allan Kurzberg And His Fundamental Postulates, Part 3.

In this post, P2 is discussed along with its consequences:

By means of the Corollary of Human Existence, which follows from P2, Kurzberg proposes another theory of evolution:  “…  I call my 2nd Postulate:  Reason developed late in human existence.  Thus, humans were affected by strong emotions and irrational tendencies long before reason appeared.  The corollary from this postulate is, I believe, a most important corollary, because through it we can gain a true understanding of humanity.  All human events be they historical, personal, or otherwise should be revealed through the corollary.  I term this corollary:  Corollary of Human Existence.   What it means is that those forces that shaped humans before reason arose are like large emotional magnets that pull us in different directions.  I call these emotional magnets OE- and OE+.  They stand for overwhelming negative emotion and overwhelming positive emotion.  By overwhelming, I mean that they are strong enough to overcome our sense of reason.  Of course, we possess E- and E+, negative and positive emotions, respectively, but these are not strong enough to overcome reason and do not cause major problems.  We enjoy them as simply negative or positive sensations.  Hence, I will concentrate on OE- and OE+, for they are the central forces that govern human behavior.  The Corollary of Human Existence:  Human behavior is fundamentally irrational and is governed by OE- and OE+.  Thus, when we read that man is a rational being, we are forced to admit the falseness of such a statement.  The statement should read that man is an irrational being that is capable of rational thought.  This raises interesting questions about evolution and humanity’s true place in the universe.  For, when we conceive of the countless planetary bodies that are scattered throughout the universe and apply the principle of probability, which works so well in quantum mechanics, we are compelled to concede that there may be beings in which reason developed earlier than us.  If so, then reason would become the powerful magnet that keeps OE- and OE+ in check, or keeps E+ and E- from becoming OE+ and OE-.  If such a civilization exists, how would it differ from our own?  Could we learn valuable information from such a civilization and prevent annihilating our species through reckless, irrational behavior patterns?  These questions continued to occupy my thinking, so I composed an interview between myself and another being, “Exchanging Thoughts with a Being from Another Planet.”  I also realized that there might be civilizations in which reason came into being at a later stage than ours.  In this case, OE- and OE+ would have even more more power over them than they do over us.  If we let small ir denote a completely irrational civilization, then we are somewhere between it and a completely rational civilization.  By rational, however, I do not mean devoid of emotion.  I do mean that such a civilization would be spared many of the problems we face due to a lack of reason.

If we are to survive, we must undergo some evolution away from menacing destructive behavior towards more rational behavior.  It seems we are just beginning to “know ourselves” and that must be our great adventure.  A catalog of parts of OE- seems overwhelming, but there is one aspect of OE- that dwarfs all others and that will be the subject of my 3rd Postulate. 

A barred spiral galaxy that contains who knows how many stars with planetary bodies circling them. “How instructive is a star.  It can tell us from afar just how small each other are.”–Piet Hein from Grooks

The Radical Philosophy Of Allan Kurzberg And His Fundamental Postulates, Part 2.

What follows are Allan’s  thoughts on the implications of the First Postulate:  “…  Since mathematical reasoning is the highest form of reasoning that we humans have developed, and since, according to P1, we distort the truth more than any other species, we have the main reason for a universal study of mathematics:  to undo false reasoning through careful mathematical reasoning.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the more mathematical reasoning is applied to every facet of our lives, especially to our personal, the less contradictions will occur in our lives.  The reader might wonder why.  The answer lies in the kind of language that mathematics represents:  It is an objective language that seeks to prove statements through a series of conditional statements using precise definitions or previously proved theorems.  Mathematics does have synonyms and does use symbols that have different contextual meanings, but never foregoes consistency and brevity whenever possible.  In addition, mathematics involves a kind of generalizing that often leads to universals.  Most importantly, no mathematical system allows for contradiction, which is definitely not the case with other human-contrived systems such as political or social…  In my Theory of Us, I try to locate universals which will subsume all possible human interactive behaviors…  Thus, I feel that the primary reason for studying mathematics is the universal need to apply mathematical reasoning to disprove false statements, whatever field they arise from.  Such a universal need should be the first thing listed in any preface about mathematics.  Perhaps, some of the resistance many feel and fear about mathematics is due to the intrinsic awareness that mathematics is hostile and unmerciful towards human falsehoods and negative states of mind that so often engulf us.  I will call such overwhelming negative states OE-(negative overwhelming energy), which I will expand on later.  One thing I will say is that to attain world peace we must learn to detect, define and minimize OE-.  Our very survival may depend on our ability to do so…  People might say that not every one is capable of mathematics and on a certain level this is true.  Humans may vary enormously in their capacity for abstract reasoning and not everyone can prove limit theorems so essential for understanding calculus.  However, if we state simply that calculus enables us to delve into the infinite, helping us to study instantaneous motion, quantum mechanics, and the theory of relativity, the reader would at least gain some understanding of the enormous scope mathematics has.  I would add the above facts to our mathematical preface in a purely descriptive way so that many would understand the implication of mathematical reasoning.  I would also include some of the magic of the Cartesian graph, which enables us to view the behavior of simple and complex equations in our preface.  However, no such preface has ever been written…  Mathematics is a series of carefully defined and proven steps that lead to further growth in its carefully built structure.    Postulates and theorems have led to many branches of mathematics, which it would be ludicrous to ignore in any preface that purports to describe the purpose of mathematical thought.  But it is just as ludicrous not to describe mathematics as being reason’s most essential tool for dislodging falsehood, deception and misrepresentation…”

In the next post, Allan Kurzberg reveals his 2nd Postulate and what he calls the Corollary of Human Existence.

The Liebers And The Anti-SAMites

The Liebers, Lillian Rosanoff(Rosenberg) Lieber and her husband, Hugh Gray Lieber, were pioneers in conceiving of mathematics in terms of human values.  They also sought to link the disciplines of science, mathematics and art through informal and often entertaining writing accompanied by creative drawings.  Lillian Lieber was the mathematician, and her husband Hugh was the artist.

Mathematician and Educator, Lillian R. Lieber, Courtesy of Robert Jantzen.

Lillian Lieber was born in Nikolaev, Russia, on July 26, 1886 and died less than a month from her 100th birthday on July 11, 1986.  She did not marry until 1926, quite unusual for a woman at that time.  Her husband, Hugh Gray Lieber, was about ten years younger and died in his mid-sixties in 1961.  Together, they wrote some innovative books mostly about mathematics with insightful social commentary.  Lillian often linked the development of modern mathematics with ethics, politics and humanity.  The Liebers encompassed non-Euclidean geometry, lattice theory, the theory of the infinite and Einstein’s theory of relativity.  They also wrote an entire volume on the nature of logic.  However, their most popular volume was The Education of T. C. MITS, (The Celebrated Man In The Street), which begins with problems intended to show that things are not always what they seem!  Lillian’s language ranges from the informal to the formal and then to a downright questioning manner intended for the reader:  “But what are “Truth”, “Justice”,”Freedom”, “Reason”?  Do these words really mean anything?  And how can we be loyal to them if their meaning is not clear?  Are they not just “fakes” invented so that some people can make slaves of others by fooling them with such meaningless abstractions?…”  To explore and investigate such terms is a major part of her and Hugh’s educational purpose.

The discovery of non-Euclidean geometry destroyed the notion that mathematical truths are eternal verities, for by changing one postulate(the parallel postulate), new geometries come into being such as a geometry based on a sphere, Riemannian geometry where the angles of a triangle are greater than 180 degrees and as much as 540 degrees!  But the Liebers stress that within the new freedom to create other geometries remains the recognition that such creations are systems with definite rules, which cannot allow for contradictions.  They then make a comparison between mathematical freedom and human freedom and warn that true human freedom does not imply unlimited license but careful responsibility.

The Anti-SAMite was a unique creation of the Liebers.  S/he was a person who opposed or was totally ignorant of the wonderful discoveries that had been made in science, art and mathematics.  They believed that these three subjects formed the building blocks of human culture and that all three were united through the passion of discovery, which encouraged further questioning and exploration.  As Joseph S. Alter states in his perceptive article on Lillian R. Lieber, “She called those intolerant of new ideas in these fields”anti-SAMites.”  Anti-SAMites were indifferent to “the good, the true, and the beautiful,” and there was a clear implication that anti-SAMites were responsible for prejudice and war.  To Lieber, war was the greatest danger facing humanity and SAM our greatest hope against its destructive forces.  Philosopher, Walter Kaufman, would have concurred. Allan Kurzberg, controversial thinker of the 1960s-1970s, would definitely not have.  In fact, he accused the Liebers of being just as intolerant as the anti-SAMites by using the latter as scapegoats.  Allan was not shy in including the Liebers as competent “Other” creators in his essay “Mathematics and World Peace.”  However, I will defer a more in-depth analysis of Kurzberg’s essay to another post.

On a personal note:  The Liebers influenced me greatly during my college days.  At that time I was reading Einstein’s theory of relativity, various studies in the philosophy of science and discussing all the above with Grandma Lillian.  It was an exciting time and people were considering all kinds of thought and alternate lifestyles.  I was caught in the brouhaha concerning the Vietnam War and voted for the Peace and Freedom party a few times.  The “establishment” and the “military industrial complex” were highly pejorative terms at that time.  Professors were open, and, with few exceptions, liked to be called by their first names.  I remember talking to my calculus professor, Charles Kalme, about the meaning of life and the importance of reason.  I remember him telling me with his Latvian accent:  “Who is to say that you’re born and you die, and what’s in-between doesn’t matter?”  Who indeed?  Compared to the dogmatic, but sometimes fun studies in high school, I felt an incredible freedom in college that I had never experienced before in an educational setting.  My freshman year was a blast and I enjoyed applying mathematics to linguistic structures and taking a course in semantics with an ex-judge at the Nuremberg trials, Wolf Helmut von-Rottkay. My comparative literature instructor, Al DiPippo gave stirring talks on Greek culture and Kierkegaard.  My young Russian professor, Edward Purcell, was one of the first to use computer exams.  Alas, the excitement of my freshman year would never be duplicated.

My last three posts bring a strong sense of deja vu.  Thomas Mann had a major impact on my concept of literature, especially though his knowledge and application of science, philosophy, music and time.  It was the art of literature that encompassed the whole human experience that engaged my curiosity.  Susanne K. Langer’s works on aesthetics and her pioneering study, Mind:  an Essay on Human Feeling in three volumes were close to my bed.  It is curious that in August Dover Publications has chosen to reissue Take a Number by the Liebers, a book written more than seventy years ago!  Also, they are reissuing The Development of Mathematics by E.T. Bell the same month.  This is an extensive volume, dealing with the history and evolution of mathematical thought.  The Liebers refer to Bell’s works on numerous occasions and Bell was effusive in his praise of the Liebers:  “I have been following the education adventures of T.C. Mits with absorbed interest, and in doing so have(I hope) acquired some education myself…”  For anyone interested in the growth of human though, I cannot recommend these two volumes too highly and I look forward to seeing them on my shelves.