by Viliam 4 min read14th Aug 201519 comments


(I started reading Alfred Korzybski, the famous 20th century rationalist. Instead of the more famous Science and Sanity I started with Manhood of Humanity, which was written first, because I expected it to be more simple, and possibly to provide a context necessary for the later book. I will post my re-telling of the book in shorter parts, to make writing and discussion easier. This post is approximately the first 1/4 of the book.)


The central question of Manhood of Humanity is: "What is a human?" Answering this question correctly could help us design a civilization allowing the fullest human development. Failure to answer this question correctly will repeat the cycle of revolutions and wars.

We should aim to answer this question precisely, using the best ways of thinking typically seen in exact sciences -- as opposed to verbal metaphysics and tribal fights often seen in social sciences. We should make our "science of human" more predictive, which will likely also make it progress faster.

According to Korzybski, the unique quality of humans is what he calls "time-binding", described as "the capacity of an individual or a generation to begin where the former left off". The science itself is a glorious example of time-binding. On the other hand we can observe the worst failures in psychiatrical cases. This is a scale of our ability to adjust to facts and reality, and the normal people are somewhere in between.

Let Korzybski speak for himself:

If we succeed in finding the laws of human nature, all the rest will be a comparatively easy task - the ethical, social, economic and political status of Man should be in accord with the laws of his nature; then civilization will be a human civilization - a permanent and peaceful one - not before.

[...] if we humans radically misconceive the nature of man - if we regard man as being something which he is not, whether it be something higher than man or lower - we thereby commit an error so fundamental and far reaching as to produce every manner of confusion and disaster in individual life, in community life and in the life of the race.

Humanity must know the natural laws for humans, otherwise humans will not create the conditions and the customs that regulate human activities which will make it possible for them to have the most favorable circumstances for the fullest human development in life [...]

However, not everyone will share this goal:

Clearly police states of secrecy, withholding from the people knowledge of, and from, the world, or twisting that knowledge to suit their purposes, 'iron curtains', etc., must be classified as saboteurs among time-binders, and certainly not a socio-cultural asset to the evolution of humanity.


Time-binding requires intelligence and means of communication. It creates an interdependence among humans, and leads to feelings of responsiblity, duty towards others and the future, various forms of ethics, morals, and culture. Our morality depends on our beliefs and rationalizations. Time-binding helps us judge humans not only against the statistical averages of our everyday experience, but according to human potential. Studying the mechanisms of time-binding is an important part of understanding humans.

Our communication creates another layer of our interaction with the world. It is very important to be aware of the difference between the verbal level, and the underlying "silent levels". The silent levels include the world outside our skins, but also reactions inside us, such as emotions. Otherwise we can get confused by mistaking the words for the underlying reality.

We can 'think' on the level of words, and 'contemplate' ('think' in feelings or pictures) on the silent levels. We usually need both.

When we try to solve everything on the verbal level, we can run into indefinitely long chains of asking "why?". The problem is that things on the silent level sometimes do not have a simple verbal explanation. But if we don't realize that we are no longer on the verbal level, we may be tempted to invent metaphysical "explanations"... and then at some point invent another metaphysical "explanation" for why asking "why?" is forbidden past that point.

A more fruitful way of dealing with the endless chains is to define our scope: In science, we limit our questions to the data we have, and avoid questioning without data. In mathematics, we start by axioms, which are not questioned later. If we limit our scope for asking "why?", we can explore within that space more easily, and we can expand the scope afterwards; this is generally a better strategy than following the chains of "why?" too soon too far.

Religion and science are both human attempts to explain the world, including ourselves. But religion is a 'primitive science' created unconsciously; science is a conscious attempt to satisfy our intellectual-emotional needs.


Without human productivity, our globe would be too small to support the current human population. Humanity must produce or perish. Human factor is extremely important for productivity. We should act in conformity with certain psychological laws, which can be determined by studying human nature.

Production is essentially a task of scientists and engineers: discovering new laws and applying them to solve problems. Every engineer must understand the materials they work with, and the natural laws of these materials, discovered by observation and experiment, and formulated mathematically. Production requires science, and cooperation of the relevant sciences; it is not a task for barren metaphysical reasoning in vacuo.

Problem is, people in general do not like precise reasoning, which usually manifests as "not liking math". Sure, sometimes we do not understand the domain enough to simply apply math and be done. But often people deliberately refuse to use math even in situations where it is possible; they prefer worse reasoning to the better.

We should have a science of Human Engineering. No, that's not the same as philosophy: engineering made verbal philosophy and metaphysics obsolete; the speculation itself is not productive. The Human Engineering should be done by scientists, because they are qualified for the task. The scientists should increase their sense of responsibility beyond their narrow specialization. Some may believe that the situation is hopeless, but such pessimism is just a blind belief. The scientists of all kinds should cooperate. The united judgement of scientists and engineers would be a tremendous power. But they must be coordinated, and foremost they must feel the desire to do so. Which is what Manhood of Humanity aims to do.

Educating people, not just the scientists and engineers, is how you can help at the beginning. We should not let the world be governed by people who don't understand it; that is too dangerous and expensive.


When we look at arithmetical progression and geometrical progression, we see that the values increase really fast when instead of incrementing by the same difference there is a multiplier, a rate of growth. Analogically, if we want our scientific progress to be fast, we should discover and invent things which in turn make further discovery and invention easier. A steam engine, a printing press; analytical geometry, calculus; Newtonian gravitation, etc.; each of them stimulated further progress. Science and technology develops faster and faster.

We see rapid progress in mathematics, in physics, in chemistry, in biology, in astronomy. But what about ethics and jurisprudence and economics and politics and government? These have lagged behind.

"Social sciences" seem to focus on the past, exploring traditions and habits. They often use verbal philosophy and metaphysics, instead of scienfic method. They often serve political interests. But most importantly, they have a wrong understanding of humans. They usually regard humans as animals, or something supernatural, or a combination of both.

This progress of technology without a corresponding social progress leads to an inequilibrium, which sooner or later results in revolutions and wars.

Let's not despair though! There was a moment in human history when we didn't have science at all, only theology and philosophy, which kept bringing interesting but almost always factually wrong explanations. And yet, here we are now.

A science is more than just a heap of facts. Yes, it must have a lot of facts, but also testable hypotheses, theories that generate the hypotheses, and the natural laws. The primal function of a science is to enable us to anticipate the future in the field to which it relates.

Neither philosophy nor the social sciences fare very good under this standard. For example, they failed to predict World War I. (Note: The book was published in 1921.) They have different doctrines, each with its devoted followers, not much differently from religion.

And this was in a way already criticized by Francis Bacon who wrote about the "four species of idols that beset the human mind": Idols of the Tribe (biases shared by all humans, anthropomorphic and anthropocentric view of the world), Idols of the Den (biases created by our individual education and experiences), Idols of the Market (improper use of language, such as generalization), and Idols of the Theatre (dogma and philosophy, things that impress people).